I bought a Christmas cactus with lots of buds. A day or two later, it began losing three to four buds per day. By Christmas, everything will be gone at this pace! What should I do?
A: It appears like your new Christmas cactus is responding to an alteration in its surroundings. Overwatering, significant temperature changes, or a lack of light can all cause buds to fall off plants. Your plant received extra care to blossom around Christmas and was given the ideal growing environment at this time. It met less than optimal circumstances somewhere during travel, possibly within your house. The plant’s response to the challenging conditions is the bud drop that follows.
You can aid its recovery by giving it the necessities. A tropical plant known as the Christmas cactus needs a soil mixture that is highly organic, plenty of moisture, bright light, and normal indoor temperatures.
Take your Christmas cactus outside in the summer the following year, and fertilize it every month with diluted houseplant food. At the end of September, bring it back inside and keep it completely dark for 16 hours every day so the plant can develop blossom buds. The simplest way to do this is to leave it in a well-lit area for eight hours, cover it with a box, or store it in a closet for sixteen hours. It requires complete darkness; even a little period of daylight will prevent buds from forming. Keep the temperature between 60 and 70 degrees F throughout this forcing period, and avoid fertilizing the plant. Your Christmas cactus can be placed in regular light in early December and will bloom in a few weeks.
How can I avoid the buds on my Christmas cactus from falling off?
I sometimes think like everything is working against me and my plants. They can become unwell, fail to bloom, or fail to bear fruit for a variety of reasons. Christmas cactus bud drop can have a variety of causes, including improper cultural care, poor lighting, the plant’s erratic behavior, and environmental factors. These plants require more water than real cacti, and they need at least 14 hours of darkness each day for the buds to form. Incorrect hydration, drafty circumstances, hot or cold temperatures, and an abundance of buds are additional problems that could cause a Christmas cactus to drop its bloom buds.
The most frequent issue with Christmas cacti, aside from root rot, is bud drop. Being sensitive plants that were raised in tightly regulated conditions, it is frequently brought on by a change in the environment. Bud drop can be caused by just moving your plant to a different spot in the house, but fresh plants are going to experience a full host of shocks that could also cause buds to fall.
The plant will become confused by changes in temperature, humidity, lighting, and maintenance, and will cease producing all those gorgeous blossoms. Try to mimic greenhouse maintenance as nearly as you can.
- Water the soil evenly, but avoid letting it become wet.
- In the late summer, stop fertilizing.
- Maintain a range of 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (15-26 C.). Christmas cactus buds may fall off in temperatures over 90 F (32 C).
Brazil’s densely forested tropical jungles are home to Christmas cacti. These epiphytic plants grow in the warm, shady womb that the dense tree canopy and other vegetation create. To force bud formation, they need a time without much light. Give the Christmas cactus 14 hours of darkness from September through the end of November, but bright light the rest of the year to guarantee that there are no buds falling off and that production is dense.
The plant naturally experiences these “long nights” in its home country. The plant should be kept in bright light for the final 10 hours of the day, but keep it away from direct sunlight coming from southern windows. The fake lighting routine can be stopped once the buds have settled and started to open.
Why are my Christmas cactus’ buds dropping off before they open?
Christmas cacti are fairly adaptable, however as the flower buds are developing, changing temperatures frequently cause them to fall off.
Christmas cacti are indigenous to high Brazilian rainforest locations, where they are used to cooler temperatures and shorter days for the duration of the flower buds’ development.
For the first six weeks of September, strive to maintain an ideal temperature of about 60°F (15°C). The flower buds may drop if the temperature is much different from this.
A temperature of 68F (20C) is thought to extend the flowering period once the blooms have emerged.
- Christmas cactus loses its flower buds due to dry stress, changing temperatures, overwatering, and an excessive amount of artificial light at night.
- For six weeks starting in September, Christmas cacti need evenly moist soil, higher humidity, and more hours of darkness than light.
- The flower buds frequently try to orient toward more light and then drop off as a sign of stress if you move the cactus during flower bud production and change the direction of the brightest light.
- When the buds are developing, keep the Christmas cactus at cooler temperatures and mist the leaves to raise the humidity.
How can an overwatered Christmas cactus be identified?
Any cactus that has been left to sit in a saucer of water is probably less healthy. The Christmas cactus plant will manifest clear signs of suffering if it is overwatered. To avoid moisture gnats and preserve the roots from decaying, you should always dump the extra water from the saucer if it hasn’t dried in a day.
One of the first signs of overwatering on a Christmas cactus are limp leaves that begin to fall off, just in case you forgot to do this. The stems and branches will thereafter become mushy and spongy. In severe situations, the stem can entirely rot off and the symptoms will include a bad smell.
Prevention is easy to do. To avoid overwatering Christmas cactus, use a soil moisture meter.
How often should my Christmas cactus 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 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 flowers 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 temperatures around 45F (7C) for a number of nights in a row, 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.
How much water does a Christmas cactus in bloom require?
Remember that Christmas cactus plants prefer constantly moister soil than the majority of other succulents do. Typically, a Christmas cactus needs water when the top inch or two of soil are dry. Fill the pot saucer with pebbles and add water to just below the tops of the pebbles (the pot shouldn’t be sitting directly in water) to help improve the humidity surrounding the plant. As the water evaporation increases, the air will become more humid. (See below for advice on watering when attempting to encourage your Christmas cactus to rebloom.)
When a Christmas cactus is blooming, should you water it?
Watering: Mist your plant frequently when it is in bloom to keep the soil equally moist. Light: For moderate light and some direct sunlight, place the cactus in an east-facing window. Once buds start to grow, fertilize every two weeks with a high-potassium fertilizer.
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.
When should you put a Christmas cactus in the dark?
Put your Christmas cactus in complete darkness for at least 12 hours every day, beginning in October, to start blooming. In time for the holidays, the plant will have around eight weeks to develop buds and blossom as a result. To encourage your Christmas cactus to bloom again in February after the holiday flowering time, keep up this same pattern.
How long can a Christmas cactus live?
Christmas cacti can survive up to 100 years or longer if given the right care. Even news stories of families passing on their Christmas cacti to future generations as living heirlooms have been documented, such as this one about a particularly resilient plant that dates back to the 1860s. Wow!
The majority of Christmas cacti, however, only live for 20 to 30 years with proper care, despite the fact that they can last for decades and brighten your home every holiday season. By that time, the plants typically perish from widespread problems including overwatering, underwatering, freezing weather (if they spend part of the year outside), pests, illnesses, loss of interest, or simple neglect.
Help, my Christmas cactus is yellowing!
Yikes! Your watering routine is typically to blame if your Christmas cactus doesn’t seem to be growing well. These creatures require more water than desert cacti, but they also don’t want their soil to be wet.
You’re probably not watering your Christmas cactus enough if the leaves are becoming wrinkled and appear withered. You possibly overdid it if they’re more mushy and yellow-black in color. To get rid of any rotten roots and repot your plant in dry soil, you might need to uproot it.
Why are the leaves on my Christmas cactus limp?
Wilted leaves are frequently caused by improper watering because it is simple to provide too much water (rather than not enough). A Christmas cactus’ weak or drooping leaves are typically the result of either damp soil or root rot. If you have one issue, it will almost certainly lead to another.
Make sure that any extra water you give your Christmas cactus drains slowly but steadily through the drainage holes. If not, your potting soil may be too dense and may not be working. To promote aeration, you can repot the plant in bromeliad soil or fluff it up with perlite.
During the spring through winter growing season, keep the soil lightly moist; only water when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch. After the flowering season is over, it’s good to allow the soil get a little bit dry in the middle of winter between waterings, but don’t let it get completely parched.
Is a Christmas cactus toxic to cats and dogs?
I’ll keep this short: no. Although ingestion of any plant can lead to some light vomiting or diarrhea, Christmas cacti aren’t considered to be toxic according to the ASPCA.