The winter solstice, which occurs on December 21 in the Northern Hemisphere, is the day and night with the shortest lengths of the year.
Christmas cacti, poinsettias, kalanchoes, and chrysanthemums are a few common plants that people give as gifts during the holidays. Their flowering is perfectly timed for the shorter days that we enjoy during this season.
The development of flower buds in many plants is influenced by how much light the plants receive. “Photoperiodism” refers to a plant’s response to the length of the day. While some plants flower as the days get shorter, others do so as the days become longer. Some plants are neutral, meaning that day length has no direct impact on flowering.
Brazilian Christmas cacti are common indoor plants that come in a wide range of hues, including red, rose, purple, lavender, peach, orange, cream, and white. In shaded rain forests, these plants thrive as epiphytes among tree branches, and their cascading stems make them an excellent choice for hanging baskets. If the plants are managed at a temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit, flowering can last seven to eight weeks.
During this time of year, customers frequently phone the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension office upset because their Christmas cacti or other short-day indoor plants did not bloom. They are frequently shocked to discover that if these plants are kept indoors year-round, the artificial light in the home can interfere with their natural cycle of exposure to sunshine. In order to simulate natural daylight exposure with shorter days, it becomes a difficulty.
One option is to put these plants near a window in a room that receives only natural light, turning off the artificial lighting at night. A different choice is to keep these plants outside as long as you can in the fall and then bring them inside just before the risk of freezing weather. In the Atlanta region, this typically means keeping the majority of tropical indoor plants outside until close to the end of October. Short-day plants are already set to begin flowering during the approaching holidays at this point.
On his porch, my grandfather used to keep a Christmas cactus all summer long in a hanging basket before taking it inside just before the first freeze each year. It was a large plant that would blossom in large numbers between Thanksgiving and Christmas. He maintained this plant for almost ten years, and it gave him a lot of Christmas delight.
A Christmas cactus has the advantage of not losing leaves like poinsettias or other houseplants, which is one of its many advantages. Because Christmas cactus lack genuine leaves, photosynthesis takes place inside the green stem segments known as phylloclades. To encourage branching terminals for more flowers, pinch back the stems in the first few weeks of June. You can also utilize stem portions with three to five segments to root new plants.
Temperature control and photoperiod (control of day and night length) control are key factors in the fall flower bud formation of Christmas cacti. Before flower buds will set, each night must have at least 14 hours of nonstop darkness.
For a full bud set, long nights must begin around the middle of September and last for at least six weeks. Be aware that even two hours of intermittent lighting can prevent flower buds from setting. Typically, buds will appear in approximately four weeks. Once the buds are set, the photoperiod has little impact on flowering.
Christmas cacti may live in dry, marginally submerged environments in the spring and summer. Avoid letting the soil become soggy, especially during the lengthy winter evenings. To stop flower buds from dropping off after bud set in the fall, the soil must be kept consistently moist. In the saucer underneath the pot, never let water stand.
From the time new growth begins in late winter or early spring through the summer, fertilize plants every month using a liquid fertilizer of half strength, such as 20-20-20 with trace elements. Compared to many plants, Christmas cacti have a greater magnesium need. Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) should be used as a fertilizer every month during the growing season; however, it should not be used the same week as conventional fertilizer. Stop fertilizing in the late summer to increase the formation of bloom buds in the fall.
Can Christmas cactus be grown with Miracle Grow?
When Christmas cacti are tightly contained in their containers, they typically grow bigger and produce more flowers. But once the roots have nearly filled the pot, proceed as follows:
1. Choose a replacement pot with a drainage hole that is only 1 to 2 inches wider than the old one.
2. To help your Christmas cactus thrive straight away, fill the new container 1/3 full with Miracle-Gro Cactus, Palm & Citrus Potting Mix, which offers great drainage and a little amount of food.
3. After placing the plant in the pot, make sure the root ball’s top is positioned 3/4 to 1 inch or less below the pot’s rim.
4. Fill in the area around the rootball, leaving a gap of about 3/4 inch between the soil’s top and the container’s lip (for easy watering).
5. After giving the plant plenty of water, let it drain, then relocate it to a permanent location. (Place a water-resistant saucer underneath the pot to prevent spills on the furniture.)
Secret tip: After plants have recovered from blooming and begun to grow again in late spring, this is the ideal time to repot them.
What should I use as fertilizer for my Christmas cactus?
Give a 20-20-20 or 10-10-10 plant food diluted in water to 50% strength when feeding a Christmas cactus. A monthly application of a magnesium sulfate solution at a ratio of 1 teaspoon to 1 gallon of water should also be given to the plant, but not the same week you add the plant food.
When should your Christmas cactus be fertilized?
Christmas cacti generate beautiful flowers and trailing jointed stalks. These epiphytes, which are native to Brazil, are ideal houseplants. The majority of the time, cacti require little maintenance and flourish in conditions of average hydration, indirect, bright light, and well-draining soil. Monthly feedings of Christmas cacti are done during the growing season, which is typically from April to October. This will maintain your plants healthy so that they can develop buds and eventually have that completely blossomed appearance in time for Christmas.
You don’t have to fertilize your gift of cacti if you don’t want to maintain it. Eventually the soil will surrender all it has to offer and the plant will slowly starve to death. Any lazy cactus will liven up with fresh soil and the addition of houseplant food, but timing is crucial.
In the autumn, when the weather is cooler and the days are shorter, Christmas cacti form buds. In order to deceive the plant into producing buds, they require 12 hours of darkness. Christmas cactus may develop strong growth to maintain the blossoms if fertilized in the spring and summer. Additionally, the plant stores energy to support the development of buds. When fall hits, the plant is forced to produce magnificent hot pink to red blossoms by a harsh schedule of shorter days, cooler temperatures, less water, and no additional nourishment.
How can I maintain the blooms on my Christmas cactus?
Understanding the Christmas cactus bloom cycle—little water, dormancy, light, and temperature—will help you force a Christmas cactus to bloom.
Start by minimizing how much water the plant gets. This often occurs sometime in the fall, usually in or around October or the beginning of November (in most places).
Just enough irrigation should be reduced to keep the soil moist. Only water until the top 1 inch (2.5 cm) or so of soil feels dry to the touch. The plant will be able to go into dormancy as a result. A Christmas cactus needs to be dormant in order to blossom.
You must relocate a Christmas cactus such that it will experience 12 to 14 hours of darkness in order to further force the plant to bloom. While Christmas cactus can tolerate bright, indirect light during the day, it needs at least 12 hours of complete darkness at night to promote bud formation.
In addition to dark surroundings, your Christmas cactus needs cool temps. It should be between 50 and 55 degrees F on average (10-13 C.). As a result, confirm that the location can satisfy the needs for both light and temperature.
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.
How should a Christmas cactus be watered—from the top or the bottom?
To ensure that the water reaches the Christmas cactus’ roots, irrigate it from the bottom up. Continue adding water to the soil until it begins to seep through the pot’s openings. It hydrates the ground.
Ensure that there is no standing water beneath the pot once the soil has been thoroughly moistened. Never leave excess water in the planter; you don’t want mold, root rot, or insects laying eggs there. If the water is fully separate from the pot and is in a tray underneath the pot, that’s acceptable.
Mist the Leaves
You can sprinkle the leaves with water in a spray bottle to keep them as healthy as possible. When watering the plant, misting the leaves only once will be sufficient to provide appropriate hydration.
What affects the Christmas cactus does Epsom salt have?
QUESTION: I have a Christmas cactus, however it did not bloom during Christmas last year. Despite being incredibly vigorous and lush, it lacks blossoms. Epsom salts: Should I use them? I was informed that would be beneficial.
Epsom salts can enlarge a plant’s blooms, but they won’t result in flowers. Your plant could definitely benefit from frequent fertilizer. Fertilizing is typically required in the spring and summer. After that, allow the plant to rest for a bit in October and November. After nightfall, stow it away in a closet and leave it there. Only allow it to have indirect light when you take it outside throughout the day. Put it in direct light once the buds start to form, and it should start blooming in time for Christmas. A Christmas cactus is a tropical plant, not one that grows in a dry desert. Although it prefers moist soil, it dislikes being overwatered. Putting your plant in a slightly bigger pot might also be beneficial.
Why are my Christmas cactus’ limp leaves?
A Christmas cactus’ wilted or limp leaves can be brought on by a variety of factors, including as excessive or insufficient watering and too much exposure to the sun. Their ideal environment includes some shade, enough humidity, warmth, and moderate watering.
Give your plant a drink as soon as you can if underwatering is the reason for the limp leaves. Christmas cactus plants are prone to root rot, which is a key contributor to their limp leaves and is frequently brought on by overwatering.
Continue reading to find out how to repair a frequent problem that causes limp leaves and a lack of flowers in Christmas cacti.
How frequently does a Christmas cactus need to be watered?
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 tend to bloom from early December through mid-winter.
- 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.