We’ve made Christmas cactus care easy by sharing all the important details of caring for your plant.
Festive and cheerful, holiday cactus overflow with colorful flower buds just in time for the holiday season.
The ever popular Christmas cactus are fairly easy to grow and widely adored for their exotic, bright flowers.
Though they are generally low maintenance, these Christmas plants do need well-draining soil in order to prevent root rot. They also crave high humidity and indirect but bright light. And in order to get their buds to set you must get one key thing right!
Luckily, we’re dishing it all on these dashing delightful cacti – join us so you can give your new plants perfect growing conditions.
If we haven’t met, my name is Jamie and I’ve been a houseplant enthusiast for over a decade. Let me share my experience growing Christmas cactus with you here.
Christmas cacti are known as Schlumbergera bridgesii in Latin.
Also referred toa short day plants, the cacti produces new leaf growth in the warm summer months, then needs cooler temperatures and shorter days to set buds in the fall.
Christmas cactus bloom in late fall to mid winter with beautiful flowers in various shades of pink, red and white.
These beautiful holiday houseplants feature cascading green clades (leaves), and distinctive winter flowers featuring purple anthers.
The leaf segments are flat and feature scalloped edges, as opposed to a Thanksgiving cacti which have pointed leaf clades. (Learn all about the differences between the two plants here).
These tropical cactus find their native homes in the shaded, humid rain forests of Brazil. Like air plants, they are epiphytic, growing off the bark of tree branches and in decaying matter found in crevices of rocks.
They do not receive direct sunlight in their shady native environments.
These Christmas plants can easily be grown indoors as a spectacular and impressive houseplant. When given proper care these vibrant succulents may bloom once in both winter and spring. They can have a very long life span, even up to 100 years!
As an added bonus, these holiday cacti can easily be propagated from their stem segments, resulting in lots of new plants to share and enjoy.
The Schlumbergera genus includes the popular indoor plants Thanksgiving cactus and Easter cactus.
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Where To Find Christmas Cactus
Christmas cactus and Thanksgiving cactus are often sold interchangeably, but they are actually two separate plants.
This very afternoon I spotted a gorgeous Thanksgiving cactus boasting a Christmas cactus tag- they are often falsely advertised.
Luckily the care needs for these two plants are identical, and you can purchase both to have a succession of blooming holiday flowers.
To find a true Christmas cactus takes a little effort. They can sometimes be found at specialty garden centers, but more often are passed down from friends and family members or purchased on Etsy.
Use the shape of the leaf, bloom time and appearance of the flower in order to correctly identify Christmas cactus.
We found the beautiful Christmas cactus below at Tsagawa’s nursery in SW Washington. The best time to search for a Christmas cactus is in November through December, when holiday cacti are being sold for the season.
Christmas Cactus Care Guide
When grown as a houseplant, Christmas cactus must be given certain growing conditions in order to thrive.
Well draining soil is the top priority, followed by a consistent watering schedule, proper lighting, and the right temperature and humidity.
Get all the essential care details right here:
Key Takeaway: Water your plant deeply when the top layer of soil is dry, then allow it to dry out before watering again. Too much water and soggy problems will cause bacterial problems for the plant.
Christmas cactus benefit from a regularly watering routine, especially during the growing season. Water when the top two inches of soil is dry.
You can use a soil moisture meter, like this one, or simply insert your finger into the soil to see if their is moisture below the surface. Be careful not to disturb the plant’s roots!
If your plant is small enough, you can also pick up the container and see how heavy or light it is. A light cacti container indicates dry soil.
Water Christmas cactus plants deeply, until soil runs out of the bottom of the pot. Use a gentle stream of water at the base of the plant- water well but don’t flood your holiday cactus!
We recommend using a chemical free source of water for your houseplants, such as collected rain water.
Overwatering holiday cactus is a common problem. Pesky fungus gnats, rotten stems and putrid soil can be caused by giving the cacti too much water. Conversely, not watering enough will stress your plant and cause the leaves to shrivel up!
A good watering routine must be accompanied by a container that has drainage holes in the bottom of the pot.
These holes will allow the water to drain off the roots and prevent moisture build up that will lead to fungal disease like root rot.
If you purchase a holiday cactus with a decorative outer pot, be sure to remove it prior to watering. These festive outer containers often have no holes and will collect excess water, causing problems for your plant.
In their native environment Christmas cactus grow as epiphytes in the coastal mountains of Brazil.
This means that they grow off of other plants: decaying plant matter found in the crevices of rocks or hanging from the bark and branches of other trees.
This native growing medium is very loose and well draining, and also full of nutrients. When grown as indoor plants these cacti need a well-drained soil that features really good drainage just like in their natural habitat.
The pH level in this soil substrate is slightly acidic, around 5.2-6.5.
This can easily be accomplished by combining one part potting soil to two parts orchid bark and perlite. Read our step by step instructions here.
All potting soil will eventually runs out of nutrients. Christmas cactus need to be re potted about once every three to four years, or when they outgrow their container.
Christmas cactus do best in bright, indirect light. Remember that these tropical plants come from shady jungle areas, where the light is diffused.
Direct light can sunburn the leaves and damage the plant.
We currently have our Christmas cactus in a North facing room with a lot of windows – where lots of bright, indirect light falls throughout the day.
My mom has a south facing sun room, and we found her plant was getting too much direct light on the Christmas cactus leaves as the sun set in that location.
Sometimes you need to experiment with locations just a bit before finding the right spot that has enough bright light and no harsh direct sun rays.
Holiday cactus are short day plants, and they will need at least 12-14 hours of darkness each day in the fall to set their flower buds.
Christmas cactus thrive in a humid environment with a level around 50-60%. Humidity levels vary based on your growing zone, the season and your specific environment.
While many home environments do not reach this humidity level there are a few easy hacks you can use to raise the levels in your home:
- Run a humidifier to raise the humidity levels near your plant
- Keep your cactus near an area with naturally high humidity, such as a bathroom
- Keep your houseplants grouped together to encourage the formation of a micro climate full of high humidity. According to Feline Jungle, this is one of the best ways to increase humidity levels.
During the summer months holiday cactus are doing the most growth and love warm temperatures in the 70’s and 80’s.
As fall approaches, they will need cooler temperatures in order to set their buds, around 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit.
The best time to feed a Christmas cactus is when it is actively growing, from late winter into late summer. Once it starts producing buds in the fall, you can stop fertilizing.
Holiday cactus benefit from a balanced fertilizer of 10-10-10 or 20-20-20 applied once a month. Dilute the fertilizer to half strength and apply at the base of the plant.
On an alternate week, feed your plant with a dilution of epsom salts, which helps meet the plant’s need for magnesium. Use one teaspoon per gallon of epsom salts.
We recommend Jack’s All Purpose soluble plant food, diluted to half strength and applied once a month in the growing season.
How To Get Christmas Cactus To Bloom
Christmas cactus are called short day plants because they need shorter days of light and cooler temperatures in order to bloom.
To encourage your plant to bloom, make sure it gets 12-14 hours of darkness per day with temperatures between 60 and 68 degrees for a period of 3-6 weeks in the fall.
Depending on your location and micro climate, your plant may already be receiving these optimal conditions for developing buds.
But if your cacti is not receiving enough night time hours, you can set it in a dark location, like a closet, for 12-14 hours per day. Some people opt to cover their plant with a dark cloth or bag.
Keep in mind bloom times can range, and it can be normal for a cactus to bloom a tad early or late.
Here are a few of the most common problems that occur with Christmas cactus and how to address them:
Fungal diseases like root rot can occur from over watering and damp conditions. These diseases will lea to limp leaves, black spots, and eventual death of the plant.
The best thing to do for your plant to be preventative in your approach. Encourage dry conditions by waiting until the top inch of soil is dry before watering, and making sure you have great drainage in the bottom of the container.
Fungus gnats are attracted to overly moist conditions. As their name implies, they feast on fungal growth, but will also chomp into the roots of your plants.
Prevent a gnat infection by letting soil dry out before watering to prevent mold and fungus. Do not flood your plant with water. You can treat an active infestation with these sticky bug traps.
Darkening, purple leaves indicates trouble with your cactus. They may be receiving too much direct light, have root rot, or may be in an environment that is too cold.
Failing To Bloom
A Christmas cactus can fail to bloom when it is not given enough hours of darkness for the buds to set.
Depending on where you live, you may need to encourage the plant to bloom by setting it a dark location for at least 12-14 hours a day. These short days will stimulate bud development.
A plant that is under stress because of poor soil or root rot may also fail to bloom.
Christmas cacti are a popular houseplant that bring lots colorful flowers to the holiday season.
When given the right care these plants will thrive, adding a vibrant and natural element to your holiday decor.
These low-maintenance plants bloom at Christmas time and make excellent gifts for a host- or to enjoy yourself!
As always, leave us a note in the comments if you have any questions or comments!