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.
What makes it a Christmas cactus?
The origin of the Christmas cactus is entrenched in hot, tropical climates in Brazil, which heightens the mystery. Christmas cacti are a member of the Schlumbergera family and get their name from the season in which they bloom in the Northern Hemisphere. They bloom in their native area from April to May, hence the popular name is meaningless. Because of their clawed limbs, they are known as crab cactus in Europe.
The primary Schlumbergera species number six. Several of these have the label “holiday cacti in commercial manufacture.” These are forced to bloom between September and February and are then sold as gift plants during Thanksgiving and Christmas, hence earning the names Thanksgiving cactus and Christmas cactus. The name of the genus is a tribute to French botanist and exotic plant collector Frederic Schlumberger. Allen Cunningham found the group of holiday cacti in the early 1800s, and by the 1900s, there were a number of hybrids.
These were included in Christian holiday customs since Thanksgiving and Christmas fell during their blossoming seasons.
How long is the lifespan of a Christmas cactus?
During the holidays, the Christmas cactus may be seen everywhere, and with good cause. It’s a blooming succulent that requires little maintenance, produces lovely blooms, and, with the right care, can last up to 100 years! That is correct! This plant may endure for a long time, bringing color to your holidays for many years. For a plant that is as cheap and uncomplicated as the Christmas cactus, that’s a fairly great investment!
Why place a Christmas cactus in a gloomy area?
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.
Are Christmas cacti lucky charms?
This holiday season, if you’re fortunate, you might get a Christmas cactus as a gift. Although the Christmas season is when this ubiquitous house plant blooms, its long, green arms are lovely all year long. It is a plant deserving of praise with cultivars in a kaleidoscope of colors. If you receive a Christmas cactus this holiday season, these ten facts about them will help you take good care of it.
1. It is known as a “cactus, yet it does best in cold climates. It’s important to keep Christmas cacti away from heat sources. A Christmas cactus will continue to bloom for a longer period of time, according to Purdue University Extension Service, if only exposed to cool temperatures. Put your Christmas cactus in a cool location, away from heaters and fireplaces, without a lot of drafts for optimal outcomes. The cactus blossoms may drop before they open as a result of drastic temperature changes. 68 degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal temperature for Christmas cacti.
2. To bloom, Christmas cacti require light. Purdue University Extension claims that the secret to extending the blooming period of your Christmas cactus plants is to maintain them in a sunny area indoors. Although too much direct sunlight might scorch the leaves, if you bring them outside in the summer, you’ll have the most success in a somewhat shaded area.
3. The native land of the Christmas cactus is Brazil. According to Clemson University Cooperative Extension, these epiphytes (plants that grow on top of other plants without becoming parasitic) are at home among tree branches in the Brazilian rain forest. They are tropical plants, thus they do best in humid environments.
4. Christmas cacti require a good night’s sleep. The Cheyenne Botanic Gardens’ horticulture specialists advise placing your Christmas cactus in a room that is never lit at night. Christmas cacti need 14 hours or more of nonstop darkness each day for the bloom buds to develop. The plants can tolerate nighttime light, though, once the flower buds have matured.
5. Unlike another holiday staple, the poinsettia, Christmas cacti are safe for dogs and cats to consume. It is well known that poinsettias are toxic to cats and dogs. The ASPCA assures pet owners that if Fido or Fluffy nibbles on a Christmas cactus, they shouldn’t worry about their pets being ill or throwing up like they would if they ate a poinsettia.
6. Christmas cacti have a 20–30 year lifespan. Can you picture giving your children or grandchildren a living, blossoming plant? Christmas cacti, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, can thrive for 20 to 30 years with adequate care. The Christmas cactus may be made to bloom year after year if you give it lengthy evenings beginning about October 1. It also benefits from cool nights for blooming.
7. Christmas cacti should be misted every day, but excessive watering will harm them. A Christmas cactus should only be watered when the soil is dry to the touch, according to a horticulturist with the Oregon State University Extension Service. Instead, to maintain the optimum level of humidity surrounding the plant, Walter Reeves, the Georgia Gardener, a horticultural expert and radio personality, advises spraying the leaves of the Christmas cactus every day.
Christmas cactus is frequently afflicted by 8. 5 illnesses. An informative knowledge sheet covering the plant diseases that commonly plague Christmas cacti is offered by Penn State University Extension scientists. Their list includes phytophthora root rot, pythium root rot, impatiens necrotic spot virus, basal stem rot, and botrytis blight.
9. The pests that attack Christmas cacti most frequently include fungus gnats, flower thrips, and root mealybugs. Avoid overwatering, which is the main factor in pest attraction to Christmas cacti. Another advised strategy is preventive maintenance, such as getting rid of infested plants. Commercial producers have access to pesticides, but home gardeners might not be able to do so.
10. Just so you know, the Christmas cactus you are purchasing is most likely not one. Surprise! U-Mass Extension Service claims that “Schlumbergera truncata, sometimes known as the Thanksgiving cactus or Zygocactus, is the species that makes up the majority of commercial cultivars of holiday cacti. Schlumbergera truncata and Schlumbergera russelliana interspecifically hybridized to produce the true Christmas cactus, which first appeared in England about 150 years ago. Although it is a typical houseplant, commercial cultivation is uncommon.
Are Christmas cacti uncommon?
In this blog, I’ll discuss how to distinguish between Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti as well as share a link to a video I made for my Cacti & Succulent You Tube Channel called Desert Plants of Avalon in which I go into greater detail about the distinctions between Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti as well as Easter cacti.
Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti are epiphytic cacti that normally grow in tropical rainforests hanging from trees where they receive more moisture and shade than their desert sun-loving siblings. They are members of the Schlumbergera cactus family.
Schlumbergera cacti usually flower from mid-October to late-January, but it’s not uncommon for these cacti to bloom at other times of the year as well, especially if they’re cultivated indoors with artificial lighting.
Schlumbergera buckleyi, the real Christmas cacti, flower later than Schlumbergera truncata, the Thanksgiving cacti that are more frequently seen for sale. Schlumbergera buckleyi (Christmas cactus) blooms from early December to late January, while Schlumbergera truncata (Thanksgiving Cactus) blooms from early October to late December.
The Thanksgiving cactus, Schlumbergera truncata, is also known as the crab cactus because of its stem segments’ crab-like edges (see diagram below). Because of this, Schlumbergera truncata is frequently called the crab cactus.
Schlumbergera truncata, also known as the Thanksgiving Cactus, comes in a wide range of colors thanks to the numerous hybrids that are currently on the market. This cactus is the one that is most frequently seen for sale around the Christmas season and is also mistakenly referred to as the Christmas Cactus when it is actually a Thanksgiving Cactus.
Schlumbergera truncata has blooms that are more upright and do not hang down like Schlumbergera buckleyi.
The actual Christmas cactus, Schlumbergera buckleyi, has stem segments that are flattened and have smooth, scalloped edges rather than teeth ( see diagram below ). These days, this cactus is extremely infrequently offered for sale in garden centers and nurseries, and if you have lately purchased a cactus marked as a “Christmas Cactus,” it is almost always a truncata and not a buckleyi.
The actual Easter Cactus is Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri, and it likewise has stem segments that are highly spherical with scalloped edges, hairy coverings at the tips of each segment, and frequently red edges ( see diagram below ) Easter cacti typically bloom from March to April and their flowers are also significantly smaller.
Here is a video I did for my Cacti and Succulent You Tube channel called Desert Plants of Avalon where I go into great detail on how to distinguish between Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter Cactus.
In the coming days, I’ll be creating a blog post and a video on how to take care of Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti, so keep an eye out for them.
From the entire Emerald Isle, I’m sending you all my love, happiness, and an abundance of PLANT POWER.