The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera buckleyi) is a unique and beautiful houseplant that blooms in the winter months. Popular to give and receive as a holiday gift, Christmas cactus is a cheery addition to many homes during the holiday season. Here’s what you need to know about Christmas cactus care.
What is a Christmas cactus?
We tend to think of cactus as growing in dry, desert-like conditions, but the Christmas cactus originates from the tropical rainforests of Brazil. Christmas cactus prefers a moist, humid environment in contrast to most cacti. There are three species of holiday cacti: Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter.
Each cactus blooms around the holiday it’s named after. Christmas cacti bloom at Christmas and throughout the winter months adding bright color to your interior. Christmas cacti produce bright flowers in shades of red, pink, purple, or white, which bloom at the ends of pendulous branches. Each branch has a row of flat green leaves and each leaf has rounded teeth. Each flower is about 3 inches long and blooms for approximately two weeks. With optimal growing conditions and care, you can enjoy this merry houseplant for years to come.
How much sunlight does a Christmas cactus require?
Christmas cactus grows well in an average indoor environment with moderate care. The plant will bloom more profusely when exposed to bright, indirect light, but it will adapt to low-light conditions as well. Keep your plant out of direct sunlight as it may burn the leaves.
How often should I water a Christmas cactus?
First, check the soil. If the top layer feels dry or if the leaves begin to wrinkle, it’s time to water. Never let your plant sit in water as it can lead to root rot. If your indoor heat is dry, set a saucer of water next to the plant to add humidity to the air. Plant your Christmas cactus in a light, well-draining soil to allow water to move through the pot and out the bottom hole.
Should I fertilize my Christmas cactus?
Feed your Christmas cactus monthly with a blooming houseplant fertilizer or a water-soluble formula at half strength. Feed the plant from late winter to late summer. Cease feeding from late summer to early winter while the plant is dormant. Also, fertilize it every other week with a mixture of one teaspoon of Epsom salts to one gallon of water to meet the plant’s need for magnesium.
How often does the Christmas cactus flower?
Christmas cactus typically blooms once a year around the Christmas holiday, although some plants grown in optimal conditions have been known to bloom again in February.
How I can encourage my Christmas cactus to flower again?
Your plant may flower again on its own, depending on indoor growing conditions. But, if not, your holiday plant will need to experience a dormant cycle to encourage it to rebloom.
Here’s how to coax your Christmas cactus to bloom again:
- Place the plant in an indoor location such as a closet where it can experience 12 to 14 hours of darkness per day for 8 weeks. It requires this period of darkness to bloom again.
- Water the plant less. The soil should be kept slightly damp for a period of 3 to 6 weeks. Delay watering until the top 1/4 to 1/2 inch of potting soil feels dry to the touch.
- Set the plant in a cool room with temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees F.
- When new buds appear, move the plant back to a location with bright, indirect light. Resume your regular care routine and enjoy the new blooms.
Can I propagate a Christmas cactus?
Yes, you can! Check out our how-to below.
- Locate the joint on a branch. This is where two stem segments meet.
- Gently bend and twist to remove a leaf section at the joint. It should come off easily.
- Place the leaf section on a paper towel and place the towel in a cool, dry place for 2 to 3 days. This gives the section time to form a callus.
- Add a lightweight potting mix to a small plant container. Add water until the soil is damp.
- Gently push the bottom 1/2 inch of the leaf section into the soil. Mound the soil with your finger next to the leaf section to help secure it upright and in place. Gently press the soil around it with your thumbs.
- Place the container in bright, indirect light. Soon tiny roots will appear.
- Mist the stem section every other day to add moisture.
- Water the soil when the top of the soil feels dry.
- When the section develops a strong root system, transfer the cutting to a larger pot.
Danny Lipford, home and garden expert adds, “Treat the cuttings just like an adult plant, and within a few weeks they’ll be rooted and growing.”
More Tips for Christmas Cactus Care
- Replace the potting soil every third year or so with a mix of one-half potting soil to one-half fine sand. Or, a blend of one-half potting soil to one-half perlite.
- Pinch off stem ends after blooming to encourage new growth.
- Root plant cuttings by allowing a leaf edge to callus and then place it in a sand/soil mix or vermiculite to root.
- Christmas cactus can be moved outdoors in warmer months. Place it out of direct sunlight as it can burn the leaves.
- Monitor your plant for pests such as scale or mealybugs. Combat insects with a quality horticultural soap.
- Each bloom will last 5-7 days, depending on indoor conditions. Christmas cactus blooms in stages, so flowering time will last from 3 to 6 weeks.
- If you notice reddish leaves on your plant, it may be due to too much light or not enough moisture. Move the plant out of direct sunlight and ensure it receives adequate moisture.
Christmas cactus care is easy. With a little patience, you can keep this merry houseplant alive and blooming during the holidays, and for years to come.