The common Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii), which blooms in the winter, is a lovely complement to almost any interior space. It is a superb contender for holiday gift giving because it is not only simple to maintain but also easily multiplies. Let’s examine how to grow and maintain a Christmas cactus.
Christmas cacti do not, strictly speaking, have a native environment. They are a hybrid species created through the mating of Schlumbergera truncata (the Thanksgiving cactus) and russelliana. So where are the natural origins of these parent species?
Both are jungle cacti, sometimes known as tropical cacti, which means they don’t typically grow in the same arid environments as many of their cactus siblings. They were first discovered in the same tiny region of tropical southeast Brazil, where they develop in wet, high-altitude woods while soaking up the humidity, shady sunlight, and warm temperatures.
Similar to other epiphytes like string of turtles, air plants, and arrowhead plants, they naturally grow on trees in a non-parasitic manner.
Members of the Rhipsalideae group, Christmas cacti are also known as Zygocacti in horticulture. They are epiphytic succulents that grow on trees, and their growth habit makes them simple to identify. The plants don’t actually have leaves; instead, they create cladodes, which are flattened, green stem segments that resemble long trailing leaves and are employed for photosynthetic purposes.
The flowers of a Christmas cactus are truly stunning, making it impossible to mistake them for anything else. The tubular blooms, which are found at the ends of the segmented stalks, bloom around the Christmas season because the short days and long nights cause them to open (and can bloom again in late winter, given the right conditions).
Selective breeding has produced an astounding array of flower hues, including the traditional red and pink as well as yellow, orange, white, and multicolored varieties.
Cultural significance and lifespan
This plant has unquestionably had significant cultural impact. It is a well-liked indoor plant that is utilized to spruce up homes throughout the holiday season in November and December not just in the US but all over the northern hemisphere.
Did you realize? This plant is called “flor de maio” in its home country of Brazil, which is in the southern hemisphere. This is due to the fact that it blossoms there in May, just before winter, rather than in December!
The plants are widely available starting in the middle of the fall, are cheaply priced while they are in bloom, and are frequently thrown away once they have finished flowering. Like poinsettias and amaryllis, Christmas cacti are frequently treated as seasonal houseplants.
However, Christmas cacti can be kept as indoor plants all year round. With proper care, they can easily live for 20 to 30 years, and in some cases, even up to 100 years or longer!
Can you picture giving your kids or grandchildren a houseplant as a living heirloom? Or getting a Christmas cactus that has been in the family for generations as an inheritance? (I enjoy obsessing about something like that!)
Additionally, you won’t have to stress too much about leaving your cherished plant to your heirs. A Christmas cactus requires only a little extra care to promote repeat blooming during the fall and winter. (Take note that even if your Christmas cactus doesn’t bloom every year, it may still be in good health.)
How should a Christmas cactus be maintained indoors?
Christmas cacti are highly common indoor plants, and for good reason too! They produce vibrant, tubular flowers that are pink or purple in hue when they bloom. They are a superb plant because of their lovely blossoms, lengthy bloom period, and simple maintenance needs. Someone in your family most likely owns a Christmas cactus!
About Christmas Cacti
The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) and its cousins don’t exist in hot, arid conditions like deserts or plains, in contrast to other cacti. These epiphytic succulents, which grow on tree branches and take in the high humidity, dappled sunlight, and moderate temperatures, are actually endemic to the tropical rainforests of southern Brazil.
Bottom line: Don’t handle a Christmas cactus like a typical succulent or cactus. They are unable to withstand the same kind of hot, dry weather that other cactus can. These cacti require more frequent watering than most succulents, but you also need to be careful not to overwater them. (See the care guidelines in more detail below.)
Thanksgiving, Easter, or Christmas Cactus?
The Easter cactus (S. gaertneri), Thanksgiving cactus (S. truncata), and Christmas cactus are the three main varieties of “holiday cacti” that are available (S. x buckleyi). The holiday that each cactus is named after often sees the most blooming. Thanksgiving cacti, which often bloom from November to February and hence go unrecognized as Christmas cacti, make up the majority of “Christmas cacti” sold nowadays. See our post on the several Christmas cacti species and how to distinguish them for more information.
Note: Because it’s the most widely used term and it applies to all three of these species, we’ll refer to all three of them on this page as “Christmas cactus” for simplicity’s sake.
Potting Christmas Cacti
- Choose a pot with a drainage hole on the bottom if you’re choosing one for a Christmas cactus. This prevents the soil from getting overly saturated.
- Most succulent-specific potting mixtures work well for Christmas cacti growth. It’s crucial that your potting soil drains properly.
Where to Put a Christmas Cactus
- Plants should be kept in indirect light that is bright. The best location has an east-facing window or a well-lit bathroom. The delicate leaves might be bleached by too much direct sunshine.
- It is preferable to have a daytime temperature of 70F (21C) and an evening temperature of 60–65F (15–18C).
- Christmas cacti do well in a more humid climate, so keeping them in a well-lit bathroom or kitchen is a smart idea.
- Christmas cacti can be kept in a shady area of the garden or on an unheated porch during the summer until the temperature drops below 50F. (10C). Keep them away from the sun’s rays outside.
How to Care for Christmas Cacti
- Water your plants every two to three weeks, but only when the top third of the soil feels dry to the touch. If the plant is in 6 inches of soil, for instance, water when the top 2 inches of soil feel dry. (Check with your finger!)
- When the soil is completely dry, wet it until water seeps through the drainage holes in the pot. To collect the water, put a tray underneath the pot. To prevent the pot from sitting in water, remove any extra water on the tray after 10 to 15 minutes.
- While the plant is in bloom, it’s very crucial to water thoroughly.
- Feed your indoor plants with a balanced houseplant fertilizer every two weeks from spring through early fall. Feed the cactus once a month in the fall and winter to promote fruitful blooming.
- To promote branching and more flowers, prune plants in the late spring. Simply cut a portion of each stem off; the plant will grow new branches from the incision.
- If desired, plant the cut pieces in potting soil that is only gently damp; they will easily root after a few weeks and make wonderful Christmas gifts!
How to Get Your Christmas Cactus to Bloom
The longer evenings and chilly weather of fall are what cause Christmas cacti and its relatives to bloom. The three major varieties of holiday cacti typically bloom on the following schedule:
- Thanksgiving cactus typically produce flowers from late October through mid-winter, making them the earliest and longest bloomers.
- Christmas cacti often bloom in the early to midwinter months.
- Easter cacti flower around the middle of spring through late winter.
If your cactus isn’t flowering, it can be getting too much light or being exposed to too much heat. Here are some suggestions to help you get blooms from yours!
- For a minimum of six weeks, the nights must be at least 14 hours long and the days between 8 and 10 hours. You might need to cover your cactus or relocate it to an area that is exposed to the natural light cycle if you have powerful interior lighting that is on at night.
- When the plant is kept at temps between 50 and 60F, flower buds form best (10 and 15C).
- By subjecting the plant to temps around 45F (7C) for a number of nights in a succession, you can jumpstart the budding process.
- While the plant is in bloom, be sure to water it consistently. The plant may lose its buds if it dries out too much.
- Don’t worry if the cactus loses its buds one winter; the following year it should bloom.
The three primary varieties of “holiday cacti” are as follows:
- Often mistaken for Christmas cacti, Thanksgiving cacti (Schlumbergera truncata) bloom from late October to mid-winter.
- Christmas cacti (S. x buckleyi) flower in the early to midwinter months.
- Late winter to mid-spring is the blooming period for Easter cacti (S. gaertneri).
- Make sure to water your Christmas cactus frequently and keep it cool when the buds on the plant appear ready to open.
- The optimum time to propagate cuttings is late spring when most holiday cacti start to grow after their winter hibernation.
Blossom loss: Your Christmas cactus will probably lose its blossoms if it experiences any kind of stress. As mentioned in the plant care section above, this could be caused by the amount of light or a sudden shift in temperature. Make sure your soil doesn’t become overly dry while buds are developing.
The plant could be vulnerable to mealy bugs and root rot if overwatered. If you experience issues, remove the affected sections and repot the plant in fresh soil.
Does the Christmas cactus require a lot of light?
Flowers are produced by Christmas cacti during a chilly, brief day cycle. It takes at least eight days of 16 hours of darkness and 8 hours of light every day for flower buds to begin to form. No matter where the plant is located, avoid using the lights at night, even for a little time.
Do Christmas cacti thrive more indoors or outdoors?
Christmas cactus grows best in direct, bright sunlight. If kept outdoors during the warmer months, place it under a tree or close to a window if indoors.
Despite its name, the Christmas cactus is not a desert plant; rather, it originated in the South American continent’s tropical rain forests. If you live in a dry region, keep a source of humidity handy, such as a shallow tray of water. The plant needs constant watering because it cannot withstand dry soil (done at the base of the plant).
On the other hand, too much water will make the leaves spotty and drop off. Before watering, let the soil’s top layer entirely dry out.
How often does a Christmas cactus bloom each year?
Whichever one you have, it’s possible for them to bloom more than once a year. For Your Reference, Here Are A Few Of Our General Houseplant Guides: Watering Indoor Plants: A Guide.
When should my Christmas cactus be repotted?
The best time to repot most plants is in the spring when they start to show new growth, but Christmas cacti should be potted after blooming is finished and the blooms have faded, which is in late winter or early spring. It is never a good idea to try to repot the plant when it is in full bloom.
Repotting Christmas cactus should be delayed because this tough succulent thrives when its roots are little congested. Frequently repotting a plant might harm it.
Repotting Christmas cactus is typically sufficient every three to four years, but you might wish to hold off until the plant starts to appear worn out or you see some roots poking through the drainage hole. A plant can frequently flourish happily in the same pot for years.
Why are my Christmas cactus’ limp leaves?
Lack of water or much sunlight can occasionally result in wilted or weak Christmas cacti. Start by giving the wilting Christmas cactus a small amount of water if you haven’t been watering it. Every few days, continue to water carefully until the soil is barely damp.
Christmas cactus issues can also result from excessively damp soil. The Christmas cactus cannot tolerate wet roots since it is an epiphyte in its natural habitat on the ground of tropical forests, where it takes moisture and nutrients from the air. The roots of Christmas cacti can become excessively wet and floppy because to poor drainage.
Move your wilted or limp Christmas cactus to a location with more shade, especially in the afternoon, if the leaves look dried or burned.
Do Christmas cacti benefit from coffee grounds?
During the growing season, give your cactus fertilizer with potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus once or twice a month. It is simpler to feed a plant when the fertilizer dissolves in water. Epsom salts can also be administered to it (more about this in a moment).
Do Christmas Cactus Like Coffee Grounds?
As much as you do, your Christmas cactus will appreciate a cup of joe. Potassium and nitrogen, two nutrients the cactus needs to be healthy, are abundant in coffee grounds.
Spread the grounds out to dry first before using them because wet grounds might get moldy if used immediately. Give your plant its daily dose of coffee by either dispersing the dried grinds on the soil or blending them with water. Use this method to fertilize your cactus no more than once every two weeks.
Is Epsom Salt Good For Christmas Cactus?
Your Christmas cactus will, in fact, enjoy some Epsom salt. It’s an excellent approach to guarantee that the plant receives all the magnesium it requires to flourish and expand. One teaspoon of salt should be added to one gallon of water when mixing the salt and water. As it only requires fertilizer and food during the spring and summer growing seasons, stop feeding it in the fall.
Should my Christmas cactus be misted?
Contrary to what its name might imply, Christmas cacti can survive well into the following year. In fact, with a little care and our guidance, they can live for up to 20 years.
Christmas Cacti need cooler temperatures.
Leaving Christmas cacti in a space that is between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit will cause them to bloom more fully and sooner. Keep them away from radiators, fireplaces, and warm windowsills, especially during the winter.
While they don’t need the heat of the sun, they do need its light.
The hard part comes at this point. A Christmas cactus needs lots of sunlight but cannot be kept in direct sunlight as it will dry out. So what should a cactus aficionado do? Your best option is to leave it in a part of your home that is shaded (or outdoors once summer arrives) and rotate it occasionally.
Just like you and I, Christmas cacti need their rest.
Your cactus needs between 1215 hours of uninterrupted darkness per day if its buds haven’t yet set. Cacti only require lots of light once their buds have fully developed.
You should be misting, not watering, every day.
Your cactus will die if you overwater it. But that doesn’t mean they never experience thirst. You should mist your cactus every day rather than watering it like you would a regular plant. You only need a few sprays from a spray bottle to maintain your cactus’ happiness. Only when the soil at the base of the plant feels entirely dry to the touch should you water it.
Christmas cacti need nutrient-rich soil.
Christmas cacti are strong plants that can endure harsher environments, although well-drained soil that has some organic matter is preferable for them. While organic soil is always available to purchase, you can also use your cacti as a little compost and add organic waste that you would typically discard.