Did you receive one of these beautiful treasures and need to know how to take care of a Christmas cactus?
After getting such a beautiful holiday present, hosting gift or seasonal addition to the indoor plant décor, you may need to know how to take care of a Christmas Cactus. You are not alone!
There are many people looking for an easy, step-by-step guide on how to care for a Christmas Cactus. We have done all the work for you and compiled this easy to follow list of things that will help you in caring for one of these plants at home.
Usually these types of plants are gifted around the time that they bloom, so first we will focus on care through the winter. We will then go through the standard care guidelines for watering, soil, light, temperature, fertilizing, issues they often face, propagation, and finally how to get a Christmas cactus to bloom.
Immediate Care and Watering
First things first. Enjoy and delight in the beauty of nature that can bloom during the coldest and darkest times of the year. The Christmas Cactus is one of a popular trio of holiday cacti. All three are named for the holidays celebrated around the time that they bloom.
The three varieties of cacti are very similar in care requirements, with slightly varying physical characteristics and bloom time. We will cover the main three varieties and their differences later in the article.
For now, understanding how to care for the recently bestowed botanical beauty is of most import. Firstly, if the plant is currently blooming, ensuring that it gets a regular watering is essential.
I advise against treating it like a succulent, That is to say with loving neglect. Contrary to commonly held knowledge of cactus care, the Christmas Cactus originally hails from tropical rain forests of southern Brazil.
Because of their love of humidity, a bright bathroom or kitchen is best for placement. When in bloom, or if the plant is near a vent, fan, duct or other location that contributes to it drying out more quickly, once a week watering might be needed.
The same can be applicable during the hot, dry summer months. A good rule of thumb for watering is to check with a finger to see how the soil feels. If the top 1/3 is dry, give it a good watering. If not in bloom, and not in need of once a week watering, once every 2-3 weeks make sure to give the Christmas cactus a good drink.
While the Christmas Cactus is not to be treated as a succulent when it comes to the watering schedule, it actually does quite well when potted in a light succulent mix.
The ideal pH of the soil is between 5.5 and 6.2; which is to say neutral to slightly acidic. Adding peat moss to the soil mixture can help provide adequate drainage as well as help the acidity of the soil. Terra Cotta or clay pots are ideal as they help keep the soil from staying too moist.
Unlike most of the Christmas Cactus’ similarly named plants, it does not like full sun. In fact, if left in full sun, it can get burned. Bright, indirect light is best.
An Eastern or Southern facing window out of direct sunlight will provide a great amount of light that will keep it happy. During the summer months they do enjoy being placed in a shady location outdoors.
The ideal temperature for the Christmas Cactus is between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. (10-20 degrees Celsius.) Being a native tropical plant, it can tolerate higher temperature, but the danger lies in the exposure to anything approaching freezing temps.
The problem with higher temperature comes when it is time for the plant to bloom. If the temperature are too high, the plant has a harder time blooming. This is why they do their best blooming when in a semi-controlled environment where they have a bit more consistency in the temperature.
The Christmas Cactus likes a well-balanced, preferably water-soluble houseplant fertilizer. During the winter months, while blooming, once a month feeding is best.
Spring through Fall, when the plant is growing, temperature are higher and the days longer, feeding the plant twice a month will produce the best results.
Generally the watering schedule is similar to the feeding schedule with most plants. With the Christmas Cactus, you want to make sure that while it is blooming- during the winter months- the watering is maintained while the feeding has been tapered down.
It is worth reiterating that good drainage is very important. Often these come in grower pots in shiny holiday colored wrappings that can retain water, so be careful to remove this and either place the grower pot into a cachepot.
A cachepot is a decorative pot, often times without drainage holes, that you place a well draining potted plant into to allow for easy removal for watering.
Issues That Arise When Learning How to Take Care of a Christmas Cactus
The lovely, if problematic, holiday wrappings or ill-draining pots the Christmas Cactus often comes in can end up causing more issues by water retention producing the dreaded root rot. (You can tell roots that have been effected by root rot most easily by their color.
Healthy roots are generally white in color. Yellowish or brown coloration is a sign of damaged roots.) Any plant that suffers the effects of root rot needs to be removed from it’s pot, the pot cleaned, and fresh clean soil replaced. The effected roots and any damaged growth need to be removed with a clean sharp knife or scissors, and the plant placed back into its container.
Due to the plant being a tropical plant and the need for more water than the typical “cactus”, other water-heavy issues need to be looked out for. Fungus, gnats, spider mites, and other common houseplant pests can attack the beloved Christmas Cactus, but standard houseplant pest control mechanisms are just as effective here. (My favorite is a light mix- a capful– of dawn dish soap and water sprayed lightly every couple of weeks until the pests are gone.)
Late Spring is the best time to propagate the Christmas Cactus. When propagating, make sure enough of the plant is left that it will be able to continue to grow well. Do not remove more than 1/3 of the mother plant in order to maintain a healthy mother.
Anywhere you remove sections, the mother plant will branch or split. Two new branches will grow from the wound. If looking to get new plants, between one and four sections are best for removal. Even better is to select an existing branch, plus one more section down to include the “Y” on the propagation.
Once a length of plant is selected to be removed, place the cutting flat and allow to dry for 2-3 days in order for callouses to form. This will help the cutting to develop roots instead of rot because of the moist soil it is to be placed in.
Once the callouses have developed, place the cutting 1″ deep in moist soil for 2-3 weeks to develop roots. Let the soil dry between watering. Allow the cutting to grow roots and develop for 8-10 weeks before re-potting into it’s forever home. These make fantastic holiday gifts!
How to Take Care of a Christmas Cactus – Blooming Cactus
There is no special trick to get a Christmas Cactus to bloom. Most plants get exposed to lower temperature and less daylight as the winter months approach, and when it comes down to it, this is what triggers the Christmas Cactus to bloom. If detailed specifics are desired, I’ll oblige.
If your Christmas Cactus is not blooming, there may be too much light or too high temperature. The nights need to be at least 14 hours and the days 8-10 hours at most for at least 6 weeks. Sometimes indoor lighting can make this difficult so sometimes a cover is used, or the plant is moved to a less artificially lighted/more naturally lighted area.
Blooming can be kick started by exposing the Christmas Cactus to temperature of 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius) for several nights in a row. Be careful with this though! Extended exposure to these temperatures can damage the plant, forcing it to focus on healing instead of blooming.
Maintain a steady watering schedule whilst the plant is blooming. If the plant gets too dry the blooms and/or the buds can drop. If it drops buds or blooms one winter, don’t worry, it should bloom fine the next winter.
The Holiday Cacti
There are three types of holiday cacti, named for the holidays celebrated during the time these plants bloom. There is the Thanksgiving Cactus, the Christmas Cactus and the Easter or Spring Cactus. The Thanksgiving Cactus blooms from late fall to early winter.
The Christmas Cactus is the longest blooming of the three. Often blooming from early to late winter. The Easter Cactus blooms from late fall to early spring.
Are you trying to determine which variety during a non-blooming time period? Looking at the edges of the segmented stems can help.
(Hybridization can make these standard deviations in stems more difficult to tell apart, and may even make a particular variety run counter to the traditional distinguishing physical characteristics.)
- The Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera truncate) has pointy, jagged stem edges with clearly defined “spikes”.
- The Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera russelliana) has smooth, rounded stem edges.
- The Easter Cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaetneri) has bristles on the stem edges and a less defined plane between the ridges of the stem.
(Did you know?: Many of the “Christmas Cacti” sold in stores are actually Thanksgiving Cacti, being mis-labled for seasonal sale.) No matter which is selected, all of their blooms are long-lasting and beautiful!
Now You Know How to Take Care of a Christmas Cactus
Are specifically looking for a Christmas Cactus or did you receive one as a gift? Having the information to know how to take care of a Christmas Cactus is essential! Make sure the joy and beauty it provides is maintained throughout the entire year.
New plants can be daunting, and ones given as gifts even more stressful, because those that gave the gift might look for it upon subsequent visits. With this easy-to-follow guide there is no reason to worry! These easy to use tips for Christmas cactus care will keep it healthy and looking great all year long!
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