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How Often To Water Christmas Cactus? Best Guide

If you’ve owned a holiday cactus for any time, you’ve probably wondered, “How often should I water a Christmas cactus?”

The answer lies in the specific growing conditions in which your plant is living and the quality of potting soil you’ve given it!

green christmas cactus plant

Correct watering for a Christmas cactus will keep your plant lush and healthy and prevent diseases like root rot and bugs like spider mites from settling in.

Giving your plant the right amount of water and proper care will encourage it to bloom during the holiday season!

Tip: Though they are different plants, Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus have the same watering needs. You can follow this watering guide for both types of holiday cactus. 

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How Native Environment Impacts Watering

Unlike typical desert cacti, Christmas cacti originate from the humid Brazilian rainforest where the air is full of moisture and rain showers are not uncommon. This is not your typical drought-loving succulent!

In addition to more frequent rain showers, Christmas cactus plants are epiphytic- they grow in the decaying matter of tree branches and other plants.

These tropical plants love fast water drainage and frequent showers. 


Because of this, excellent soil drainage is essential. The plant must have a proper watering routine, drainage holes in the bottom of the container, and quality soil.

(Get more tips for Christmas cactus care here). 

Seasonality will also affect how often a plant craves water- during the growing season in the spring and summer months, your cacti will crave more H20.

Over-watering can lead to root rot, a common issue that compromises the health of these indoor plants. Conversely, under-watering can cause the leaves to become limp and lifeless.

Monitoring the soil moisture is essential when watering these colorful houseplants, and I’m excited to show you exactly how to care for your plant’s water needs today!

Learn about the difference between Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus here.

How Often To Water Christmas Cactus

The short answer: Water a Christmas cactus when the top two inches of soil are dry. Use your finger or a soil moisture meter to check the soil for dryness before watering your Christmas or Thanksgiving cacti. 

Do not blindly follow a set amount of days in between watering your plant. Always check the soil.

Several factors will affect how often you water your plant. Climate, seasonality, and the soil medium the plant has rooted in will all impact how much water your Christmas cactus craves:

Climate

Did you know you have a specific microclimate in your home? Each home’s specific humidity, light, and temperature will impact how often your plant needs to be watered. 

And every environment is different! However, understanding your specific climate is critical to giving your plant the right water.

Dry conditions will change how quickly water evaporates from the soil. And in a humid climate, your plant’s soil will retain moisture for longer. ​

Temperature and light will also impact how quickly water evaporates from the soil. In cooler temperatures, you may need to water less, and if the heat is cranking, the soil may dry out faster. In general, holiday cacti crave temperatures around 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit.

The exception is in fall evenings when the plant needs cool temperatures at night to set its blooms. 

Light can also affect how often your plant craves water. Bright, direct sunlight can be detrimental to your cactus and increase it’s water needs. Remember that holiday cacti thrive in bright indirect light. 

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Some of these factors will be out of your control. Ideally, however, your plant craves bright, indirect light, moderately high humidity, and temperatures in the 70s.  

As an example, I currently reside in a dry environment in SW Idaho. My mom lives in a moist (dare we say sopping) climate in SW Washington. Because of the dry weather, my indoor plants need more frequent watering.

Remember that fireplaces and air conditioning dry out the air, while lots of running water and steam add humidity back into the environment.

Key takeaway: The specific environment in which your plant lives will impact how frequently it needs watered. Checking the soil for moisture before watering is crucial. Do not blindly follow a watering schedule. 

Soil

The soil your Christmas cactus grows in will significantly impact it’s watering needs. A well-draining soil will keep water off the roots of your plant, preventing disease and bugs like fungus gnats that are attracted to moist soil.

Orchid bark helps to break up the soil, adding porosity.

The best soil mix for Christmas cacti consists of equal parts orchid bark, soil and perlite. These elements mimic the natural environment your plant grows in and provide both nutrition and drainage.  (Learn how to make your own potting soil here).

When you use this ideal potting soil, you will need to water more frequently because the soil medium provides drainage and prevents soggy roots and pooled water.  

A thicker soil will not have the elements needed for quick drainage, and water will tend to pool longer. Though this will decrease how often you need to water, it can cause problems for your plant. 

This fall, I picked up a new Thanksgiving cactus this winter at a big box store. The soil was very thick and retains a lot of moisture, causing water to sit on the roots of the plant.  Soil that stays damp for a long time, combined with cooler temperatures, can lead to stem rot, so this soil is not ideal. ​

Many cacti purchased at big box stores or garden centers come with poor soil, and it’s a great idea to upgrade the plant to a well-draining soil medium. ​

In addition to good quality soil specific to the Schlumbergera species, make sure the container has adequate drainage holes on the bottom of the pot. 

Seasonality

Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus experience different growing cycles throughout the year. The water needs of your plant vary during these different seasons, as the plant will increase its growth in the spring and summer:

  • Winter– The plant enters a rest period after it blooms in late fall to early winter. It’s Watering needs will be down as it slows growth production. Check the soil every week and water when the top 2-3 inches are dry.
  • Spring– In mid to late spring, your plant will begin to put energy into new growth. Regularly check the soil for moisture loss. Again, water when the top few inches of soil are dry. This time add in a quality holiday cactus fertilizer to support growth.
  • Summer– Your plant continues to grow, and an increase in temperatures and dryness may mean more frequent watering. Check the soil every few days for dryness. Stop fertilizing in early September.
  • Fall– Flowering season is upon us! Be careful not to over water during the blooming season, or the buds can fall off. Carefully check the soil and water only when it is dry. 

How To Water 

Water your Christmas cactus with a gentle stream, rotating around your plant to ensure each section gets enough water.

Water deeply until you see moisture trickling out of the bottom of the container. Don’t drown your plant, but be sure to water thoroughly. Wait patiently to water your plant again- do not over water!​

For best results, use a chemical-free source of water, like rainwater or natural spring water. Please read our guide to the best water for houseplants here. ​

We use this watering can for indoor plants – it gives excellent control over how much water flows at what time.  

How Often To Water Christmas Cactus Cuttings

Water a Christmas cactus cutting when the top 2-3 inches of soil are dry. ​
These festive holiday plants can easily be propagated in soil, water, or air. Once the plant has rooted into the soil, you will need to tend to its watering needs.

Because the pot is smaller, the water will evaporate more quickly. Check the soil every few days and water when the top few inches are dry. 

Problems With Overwatering + Underwatering

Oy! So many problems can occur with incorrect watering. Too much water will cause the leaves to droop, and the roots may begin to rot! Overwatering can cause major problems- avoid it all at costs.

Under watering can starve your plant of water and nutrients. The tell-tale sign is shriveled, wilted leaves. ​Get more help troubleshooting problems with Christmas cacti here. 

white Thanksgiving cactus

​Featuring beautiful flowers that bloom during the holiday season, Christmas cacti are a low-maintenance plant that bring lots of joy to winter.  

When given the right conditions, including the right amount of moisture, your plant will thrive.

When it comes to watering, always check the soil rather than following a blind watering schedule. Remember that elements like warmer weather or dry winter months can increase the water your plant needs to thrive. 

Do you have any questions or comments? Please feel free to drop me a note below. I love hearing from my readers and respond to every comment.  

Read more about Jamie here.

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5 Comments

  1. Should you have your plant holders with holes in the bottom setting in a container that doesn’t let water leak out???

    1. Hi Linda, you need to have good drainage, but it’s fine to have a saucer underneath your plant. However, let the pot drain for a few hours after watering before putting it on the saucer. Additionally, make sure to empty the saucer regularly so that no sitting water is on the roots of your plant. I hope this helps!

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