How to care for a Christmas Cactus

Are you lucky enough to have a new Christmas cactus in your life this year? They’re the neatest plants — with such oddly pretty leaves and beautiful, graceful blossoms in the winter! The stems can grow as long as three feet (eventually), and you can find those that flower with red, white, yellow, pink, or purple blossoms. Each bloom lasts a few days, and the entire plant will bloom for several weeks, right through the holiday season!

BTW, there’s also a Thanksgiving cactus and an Easter cactus, and they’re different varieties (Schlumbergera truncate hybrid and Rhipsalidopsis hybrid) of the same plant, not the same exact plant renamed for different holidays! The Christmas cactus is Schlumbergera x buckleyi. Here’s a good visual and written explanation of the different types of holiday cacti. They’re all pretty and fun!

Here’s how to take care of Christmas cactus: (The same care applies to Thanksgiving and Easter cacti.)

christmas cactus with bright pink buds

Light

For your Christmas cactus to bloom, it needs bright light. (It’ll survive in less light, but it won’t blossom as well.) Don’t give it too much direct sun, though, or you might burn the leaves. An east-facing window, where it will get moderate light and some direct sun is usually a good bet. I’ve also had good luck with a south window covered by a sheer curtain. 

Soil

Make sure your plant is potted in good quality potting soil. A soil that’s a bit on the sandy side is ideal, because it’ll keep the roots from getting soggy. And make sure that the pot you use has a drainage hole. If you bring home a plant wrapped in foil for the holiday, take the foil off or it will hold water. 

Temperature

Your Christmas cactus would love a daytime temp of about 70 degrees F and an eve temp of between 60 and 65 degrees F. That’s ideal. But if you keep your home a bit warmer than that (most of us do!), no worries; it’ll do fine. 

You can even keep your Christmas cactus outside in the summer, in a shady spot. Don’t forget to bring it in after the temps dip down around 50 degrees F, though. 

Humidity

Christmas cacti grow in the tree branches in the Brazilian rainforest, so they like humidity! Mist it regularly, especially when it’s blooming. Or place it on a tray of pebbles filled with water. (This is a nice way to add some humidity to the room, too!) Don’t let the bottom of the pot sit in water, though, or you may wind up with root rot.

light pink Christmas cactus flowers outdoors

Water

Over the holidays, water your plant whenever the top inch of soil feels dry. (Stick your finger in — If it’s dry past the first knuckle, it’s time to water.) In the spring and summer you can water it a bit more, so that the soil is slightly moist, but not soggy. 

Fertilizer

Fertilize your Christmas cactus twice a month with a high-potassium fertilizer from spring through early fall. In fall and winter, fertilize monthly.  

Post-holiday care

If you want your plant to bloom again, it needs extended periods of darkness and cool temps. Follow these directions when your plant is finished blooming for a repeat performance:

  • Repot with fresh soil.
  • Move it to a cool area, around 50 degrees F. (A cool basement or attic is an option.)
  • Keep the soil just barely moist, and don’t fertilize it.
  • Give your plant 10 hours of light and 14 hours of darkness for a month or so — until buds appear. 
  • Then move the plant to a warmer room (60-70 degrees minimum).
  • Water and fertilize as usual (see above).
bright pink holiday cactus bloom

To propagate

Holiday cacti are very easy to propagate! Late spring is the best time to do this, because the plant is eager to grow. But you can do it anytime. 

Simply cut a short piece from the end of a stem. Include one entire (Y-shaped) segment. Plant about ¼ the length of the segment in potting soil or vermiculite, then water until the soil is moist. Place in indirect light. The plant should grow new roots in no time! (If you want to fill a pot quickly, simply tuck a number of segments into the same pot for rooting.)

Do you have a Christmas cactus? Have you nurtured one along year after year (and does it continue to bloom for you)? 

You might also enjoy:

Poinsettia plants — Tips to keep your poinsettia looking its best for the holidays

Bulbs for winter blooms — How to force flower bulbs indoors

Christmas tree shopping — How to find the best tree!

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