Christmas Cactus – Care, Growing, Watering, Requirements, Propagation
A winter-flowering houseplant, Christmas cactus goes by many other names including ‘holiday cactus’ and ‘Thanksgiving cactus’.
Therefore, a better identification of the plant, it’s best to rely on its scientific name, which is Schlumbergera bridgessii.
Flowering in pink, purple, red, white and yellow, the Christmas cactus is an easy plant to grow if you follow the recommendations below.
Christmas Cactus Plant Care Tips
Just because this plant isn’t difficult to grow, certain factors can stimulate or hinder its growth and development, therefore, you must know exactly how to take care of a Christmast cactus plant in order to offer it the best chance for healthy development.
Here’s everything you need to know:
Commonly sold in 4″ or 6″ pots, Christmas cacti can grow up to 3 feet long. They continue to grow throughout their lifespan and can easily spread as much as 2 feet in a couple of years, adding new segments to its branches.
Given the size it can reach, you may need to prune the plant by pinching off branches between growth segments.
Bright, indirect light is what this plant prefers. That said, placing it in an east-facing window is usually fine as this way the plant will receive only moderate direct light. A north facing window is also good.
Avoid keeping the plant in direct light all day because leaves will scorch easily from the sun.
Christmas cacti don’t do well in arid conditions. Their soil must be moist but well drained and never soggy.
When watering your Christmas cactus, always check that the top inch of the soil is dried out.
On top of this, you should also consider the time of the year and the climate in creating a sound watering schedule.
For example, if you’re keeping your Christmas cactus outside during the summer in dry and warm weather, you will need to water it more often than if you were keeping it a humid environment.
In the winter, you will need to water it even less frequently to help the plant bloom.
It’s worth noting that Christmas cacti aren’t desert cacti, they’re tropical plants and don’t have the same water retention capabilities.
This is why you should avoid underwatering the plant. The same is true for overwatering. Because they do hold some water, the plant is susceptible to white rot disease, which you can easily cause by overwatering the plant.
Therefore, make sure to strike a good balance when it comes to watering this plant as extremes will cause issues.
Temperature & Humidity
Christmas cacti develop best in warm temperatures. Their ideal range is between 70 and 80 F. Colder nighttime temperatures of 50 to 55 F will help the plant to produce buds and then bloom.
Try to make sure that during winter, nighttime temperatures don’t go above 60-65 F. This temperature contrast is necessary to promote flowering.
Exposure to extreme temperatures as those caused by cold drafts or fireplaces and heating vents can damage the plant and cut its life short.
Christmas cacti are epiphytes, native to Brazil, and can be found in the wild growing on the nooks of trees, in a humid environment that offers it enough moisture for sustenance.
The roots of the Christmas cacti are deep within the decomposing leaves and debris that can be found on the side of the trees, which also offer some level of moisture to the plant.
Given the shallow growing medium, it dries out fast despite abundant rainfall in the area, which means that the Christmas cacti requires an extremely well-draining soil if it’s kept in a container.
The easiest way to offer the Christmas cactus the ideal soil is to buy commercial potting mixes designed for cacti. Alternatively, you can prepare your own mix.
You can use the following ‘recipes’ to create your own mix:
- 3 parts all purpose potting soil mixed with 2 parts perlite, or
- equal parts perlite, compost and milled peat
Make sure the top inch of soil dries out before you water your plant, but never let the soil dry out completely, nor should you let water sit in the saucer underneath the pot.
Make sure the pot has holes on its bottom, so that water drains quickly.
Use a balanced houseplant fertilizer or a half-strength water soluble fertilizer. From late winter to summer, you can fertilize once a month. There’s no need to fertilize during winter.
Once buds form, you can use a fertilizer with good potassium content twice a week.
Potting & Repotting
Getting slightly rootbound is not a problem for this plant, therefore, planting in a pot that doesn’t offer too much room for root growth is fine.
Repotting is rarely — if ever — needed more often than every 3 years.
Christmas Cactus Plant Propagation
It’s not difficult to propagate a Christmas cactus plant, in fact, it can be propagated from cuttings.
Take a one or two segment cutting and allow a callus to form over by letting the cutting sit in a cool and dry place for 2-4 days.
Use a sand/peat soil mix and plant the cutting one inch deep into the soil. Water sparingly to root.
Alternatively, you can root the cutting in water as well.
Different Types of Christmas Cacti
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned how you may find the Christmas cactus under several different names.
That’s because they’re all different types of Christmas cacti. They are all blooming varieties, but there are several differences in terms of leaf shape, stem type, and time of bloom, which coincides or is close to a few holidays, hence their names.
There are three common types of holiday cacti, depending on when they flower:
- Thanksgiving cactus, which blooms in late autumn. It has plump, flat stems and the edges of the leaves are hooked like claws. This type of cactus is also known as lobster cactus.
- Easter cactus, which has buds in February and blooms around Easter. Its leaves are more bristled. Periodically, they may bloom at other times of the year too.
- Christmas cactus blooms around Christmas and has smaller leaves with smooth edges.
Easy to propagate and easy to care for, these plants are an excellent choice to put on display during festive occasions like the holidays.
They produce colorful blooms and can be stimulated to flower by artificially re-creating the right conditions for blooming.
Christmas Cactus FAQs
Here are some interesting facts about these plants not covered above:
What is the Lifespan of Christmas cacti?
The lifespan of Christmas cacti can span over decades. Generally, if well looked after, these plants can live for 20-30 years.
If you meet their requirements and do your best to prevent diseases, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy the company of these plants for decades.
Are Christmas Cacti Toxic for Pets?
The ASPCA website does not list Schlumbergera bridgesii among plants that are considered toxic to cats and dogs, therefore, you don’t need to take any extra precautions if you own pets.
How to Make my Christmas Cactus Flower?
There are many reasons why Christmas cacti may not bloom, but chief among these reasons is the fact that your Christmas cactus isn’t receiving at least 12 hours of uninterrupted dark.
If you begin cutting down the amount of light the plant receives in mid-October, you can have a plant in full bloom just in time for the holidays.
Can you Grow Christmas Cacti Outdoors?
If temperatures in your region allow it, yes, you can grow Christmas cacti outdoors. Otherwise, you can keep Christmas cacti outdoors during the summer.
Make sure, however, not to expose the plant to strong direct sunlight. Shady or semi-shady locations are best. Sustained sun exposure will turn the leaves red and excessive sun will burn them.
Once summer turns into autumn and temperatures begin to fall below the accepted range, you must take your plants inside, where temperatures are once again optimal for them.
Are Christmas Cacti Prone to Diseases?
Most of the problems that you may encounter with a Christmas cacti are caused by a faulty watering schedule. Overwatering, in particular, is pretty dangerous any can cause both stem rot and root rot.
Other than these, Christmas cacti may have Botrytis blight, which is a silvery grey fungus that appears in high humidity or improperly ventilated room, and necrotic spot virus, which causes the plant to have spotted, yellow and wilted leaves.
Insect control, good ventilation, a good watering schedule, and a keen eye for spotting signs of disease are crucial in preventing these issues.
Holiday cactuses are a good choice for those that are looking for an impressive houseplant that doesn’t require a lot of upkeep, but keeps on giving nonetheless.
Once you understand the soil requirements and watering requirements of this plant, it’s easy to look after them.
The plant care tips in this article will serve as a good basis for all holiday cacti care but do make sure to cross reference these tips with the requirements of your particular holiday cactus variety.
My 20 year old Christmas Cactus – 3 feet wide – just succumbed to root rot. I guess I overwatered it. Can I dry out the plant/roots and replant it or do I have to start propagating a few leaves?