Christmas cactus (Schlumbergerera x buckleyi) originated in the jungles of Brazil, where it grows on the branches of trees. Although happy on trees, it’s equally content in pots.
Light & Soil
Christmas cactus is easy to grow. It looks good in hanging baskets or footed pots, where its graceful branching habit is best displayed. It prefers moist, well-drained soil. If exposed to too much moisture, its roots will rot. If kept too dry, its roots will die.
Christmas cactus needs bright, indirect light, so a window with an eastern exposure is ideal. It also likes to be outside in the summer in a lightly shaded spot, but don’t place it in the ground — slugs love its stems.
Buds begin to set in the fall as days become shorter and nights cooler. If the plant has been outside, leave it out, but don’t let it get too cold. Treat it much like a poinsettia.
Once a Christmas cactus has finished blooming, reduce watering and feeding and allow it to remain dormant for several months.
Rooting Christmas Cactus
After the plant has flowered, cut stems that are about 5 inches long and have several branches. Since the Christmas cactus is succulent, allow the cuttings to dry before potting the stem.
A rooting hormone will speed up new growth. Use a quick-draining potting mix with organic matter. Clay pots are best since they breathe, so the cutting won’t rot from overwatering. Place the cutting in bright, indirect light and keep the soil moist. It should develop roots in several weeks.
Dividing Christmas Cactus
If you don’t wish to start new plants from cuttings, you can separate several leaf stems (with roots intact) from the mother plant and reset them in a new pot. Do this only once every 3 or 4 years.
Christmas cactus prefers to be pot-bound, so add only a little top dressing of soil in the spring. In the summer, resume regular water and feeding routines.
When next Christmas rolls around and new flower buds on your cactus appear, the blooms will spark memories of shared plants and a season of joy.
Christmas cactus loves to be root-bound, so you can keep it in a small clay pot until you’re ready to move it to a larger container.