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Growing Christmas Cactus for Brilliant Blooms: A Master Gardener’s Guide

by | Nov 10, 2023 | Gardening, Holiday | 0 comments

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 fantastic 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.

A potted, flowering Christmas cactus on a window sill

A potted, flowering Christmas cactus on a window sill.

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.

Closeup of the brilliant blooms of a Christmas cactus

Closeup of the brilliant blooms of a Christmas cactus.

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.

FAQ: Christmas Cactus Care

Q. How often should I water my Christmas cactus?

A: Water your Christmas cactus whenever the top inch of soil feels dry. Typically, this is about once a week, but you should adjust based on humidity and temperature conditions in your home.

Q. What kind of light does a Christmas cactus need?

A: Christmas cacti prefer bright, indirect light. Too much direct sunlight can burn the leaves, so place them in a spot with filtered sunlight.

Q. How can I encourage my Christmas cactus to bloom?

A: Ensure your Christmas cactus experiences shorter daylight hours and cooler temperatures (around 50-55°F) at night, about 6-8 weeks before you want it to bloom.

Q. When is the best time to repot a Christmas cactus?

A: The best time to repot a Christmas cactus is in spring after it has bloomed. Choose a pot only slightly larger than the current one, as a too-large pot can lead to waterlogging.

Q. What kind of soil is best for a Christmas cactus?

A: Use a well-draining soil mix designed for cacti and succulents. You can also make your own mix with one part potting soil, one part perlite or sand to ensure proper drainage.

Q. Can I propagate my Christmas cactus? How?

A: Twist off a healthy stem segment and allow it to dry for a day before planting it in moist soil. Keep the soil lightly moist until roots develop.

Q. Why are the leaves on my Christmas cactus limp and drooping?

A: Limp and drooping leaves usually indicate overwatering. Ensure the pot has good drainage, and allow the top inch of soil to dry out between waterings.

Q. Can I put my Christmas cactus outside?

A: Yes, but acclimate it slowly to outdoor conditions in the spring and place it in a spot with filtered light. Remember to bring it back inside before temperatures drop in the fall.

Q. Why is my Christmas cactus not flowering?

A: Lack of flowers may be due to insufficient light during the growing season, overly warm temperatures at night, or the need for a specific photoperiod to initiate blooming. Adjust the plant’s environment to meet these needs.

Q. How do I deal with pests on my Christmas cactus?

A: Watch for common pests like spider mites and fungus gnats. Use a gentle insecticidal soap or neem oil solution to treat infestations, being careful to avoid overuse.