From late November to late January, a Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera sp.) exhibits vibrant flowers on thick, scalloped stem segments, making it a well-liked Christmas gift. The health and vitality of your Christmas cactus might be improved if you stimulate the root growth of the plant. The cactus’ size, growth, and look can be improved by repotting it in a container that fits it tightly and utilizing excellent cultural techniques for the plant. Schlumbergera truncata, a type of cactus widely known as a Christmas cactus, can survive outdoors year-round in USDA plant hardiness zones 10 through 12.
Repot the Christmas cactus in a pot that is less large than the one it is now in. Make sure the new container has drainage holes at the bottom and is just big enough to hold the width and roots of the cactus. Shake off the potting soil by removing the plant’s present pot. Cactus potting mix or potting soil mixed with 1 part vermiculite or sand or 2 parts potting soil should cover about half of the bottom of the new pot. Equal parts of potting soil, leaf mold, and sand make up a second potting mix option. Put the Christmas cactus in the pot, then add whatever potting soil you decided to use to fill the remaining space. A Christmas cactus can grow slowly in a pot that is too big for it since this particular cactus operates best when it is pot-bound.
From early November to late January and subsequently from early April to late September, water the Christmas cactus whenever its soil is dry at a depth of 1 inch. Don’t overwater the cactus, and don’t let it stand in water. Reduce watering to once a week between late January and early April, and once more between late September and early November.
Every month from early April to early September, fertilize your Christmas cactus with 1 teaspoon of Epsom salt dissolved in 1 gallon of water. From April through September, fertilize it once a month with 1/2 teaspoon of water-soluble 20-20-20 fertilizer per gallon of water, but not the same week that you apply the Epsom salt-water solution. Applying these solutions as you would typically water the cactus’ soil can be used in place of watering.
During the fall and winter, keep the plant’s indoor air temperature between 60 and 68 F. Prior to bud drop, the room temperature may be as low as 50 F. Keep the plant in an area with partial shade, such as a north- or east-facing window, during fall and winter. To promote bud growth and flowering, the plant shouldn’t receive more than eight to ten hours of bright light per day during that time. The cactus can be kept in a dark room for 13 hours every night from the middle of September to the middle of October, or until the buds appear, as one alternative.
During the spring and summer, keep the Christmas cactus’ room at a temperature of 70 to 80 F, but no more than 90 F. Keep it in a spot that gets direct sunshine during that time, like a south or west-facing window.
Why won’t my Christmas cactus grow?
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.
Soil that is overly damp causes Christmas cactus difficulties also. 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.
How can you encourage the growth of a Christmas cactus?
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.
Why isn’t my cactus expanding?
You need to give your cactus adequate sunlight so that it can flourish. While extreme heat in their natural environment causes them to become dormant, you must give your cactus enough sunshine for it to develop in the summer. This is assuming that you experience hot, humid summers and chilly, icy winters.
The majority of cacti, particularly desert cactus, need a lot of bright light. The indirect, bright light is preferred by tropical cactus. Both require a lot of strong, primarily indirect light. Cacti can be kept in the summer on a windowsill, balcony, or even outside.
But intense midday heat can harm your cacti. Outside, it’s frequently OK, but inside a glass, the heat can burn. Additionally, avoid letting your cactus spend more than a few hours in direct sunshine, especially during periods of extreme heat. Species will influence that, though.
Another crucial point to keep in mind is that while cacti are accustomed to persistent, intense heat and sunlight in their native habitats, they are not accustomed to it at home. You must gradually acclimate them to sunlight, especially during winter hibernation, to prevent burns that might potentially kill cacti.
If you mist cactus, you should do so either very early in the morning before sunrise or late in the day after sunset. This is because the spines will only be slightly heated, aiding in the evaporation of the water. Avoid misting your cactus while it’s hot outside since the water will act as a lens and will burn your plants.
To put it simply, cactus require a lot of bright (and occasionally shaded) light to flourish. Never place a cactus in a dim bathroom or on a shelf (unless it is tolerant of low light). Your cactus will progressively stop growing if you do it this way.
The majority of cacti species do best when placed on windowsills that face south, south-east, or south-west. Cacti on south-facing windowsills may require shading during busy times. Window sills with a west or northwest orientation are ideal for cacti from the desert or the tropics, as they prefer filtered or shaded light.
#3: Allow proper air exchange
Cacti require adequate air exchange to survive and adore it. They detest high humidity and stagnant air, and if they have to live there, they will slowly perish. Having said that, keep cactus away from drafts and keep air conditioning away from them because they don’t like sudden temperature changes. In the winter, keep away from radiators and put in a cool spot.
Place your cacti in a light area of your home, such as a balcony, windowsill, or even outside. Cacti shouldn’t be kept in closed terrariums since they can’t tolerate high humidity.
If possible, leave your cacti outside during the summer.
They can only grow with fresh air. Never water your plants at night, though, if the temperature where you live drops very low during the summer (below 55F, or 13 Celsius). In this situation, bring them inside.
In order to simulate morning dew when nighttime temperatures are low and subsequently rise significantly, hot water misting or morning watering are fantastic options. Most cacti thrive at summertime temperatures between 80 and 86 F (27 and 30 C).
Try to use cactus for terrariums only briefly, for a few days. This is so that cactus can’t easily absorb water from a glass container. Cacti have a difficult time absorbing water in terrariums since there are no drainage holes and multiple layers of soil, rocks, and charcoal.
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. The ASPCA states that Christmas cacti are not dangerous, despite the fact that ingesting any plant may cause some mild vomiting or diarrhea.
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 cacti are the earliest and longest bloomers, typically producing flowers from late fall through mid-winter.
- 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.