How to Care for Your Christmas Cactus

My Garden Life
December 9, 2020
Table of Contents
The plant known as the Christmas cactus is in fact not a cactus at all. Rather, it’s a succulent epiphyte that grows in trees or attached in the cracks of rocks. Hailing from the tropical coasts of Brazil, the Christmas cactus generally favors humid, moderately sunny conditions. The exception to this rule is when the Christmas cactus begins to prepare itself for its dazzling December display.

Christmas Cactus Blooming Cycle

Christmas cactus, Schlumbergera bridgesii Easter cactus, Rhipsalidopsis species Thanksgiving cactus, Schlumbergera truncata
Christmas Cactus Easter Cactus Thanksgiving Cactus
A true Christmas cactus will begin to set its buds in late November or early December. With proper care, the plant will provide stunning blossoms just in time for Christmas. Although there are several plants that are sold as “Christmas cactus,” be aware that they may in fact be Thanksgiving cactus, or even Easter cactus. The only difference in the care between these species, is the holiday season in which they bloom.

Setting Buds on Christmas Cactus

potted Christmas cactus on porch

To prepare your Christmas cactus for its seasonal spotlight, it’s important to first remove it from bright light. Christmas cacti need up to six weeks of darker conditions and cool temperatures to form flower buds. To begin this process, simply place your cactus in a dark room, closet, or even basement for 13-16 hours daily. For best results, pick a location that is about 55°F (13°C). During this time, water the plant sparingly and don’t fertilize.

Christmas Cactus Flowering

Christmas cactus in flower

After buds begin to appear on the outside edges of the plant’s stems, it’s ready to reintroduce into warmer temperatures and longer periods of light. Place the cactus in a moderately sunny area where the temperature is approximately 65°F (18°C). Within six weeks, the blooms will open, showcasing their vibrant, cheerful colors just in time for the holidays.
Christmas cactus flowers closeup

With a small amount of planning, and a whole lot of “hands off’ attitude, you will find your Christmas cactus flourishing in no time at all. Because of its easy-going nature, this houseplant offers a perfect starting point for any beginner looking to exercise their green thumb. With a variety of colors to choose from, there is no doubt that anyone can find the right Christmas cactus to beautify their own home.
For more information on how to care for your Christmas cactus and lots of other low-maintenance succulents, check out our collection of articles, All About Growing Succulents.

6 Comments

  1. Faye Simpson

    I would like to know how much water? And why my leave just get dead and muddy and die, I love these plants but no luck with them.

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Faye,
      It sounds like root and stem rot as a result of overwatering. Christmas cactus is a succulent plant that tends to do better with a little neglect. Put it in a bright location, preferably by a south or west-facing window, but not directly in the hot sun. Water when the top inch of soil is dry to the touch, or the plant signals that it is thirsty with drooping stems and soil that feels dry. If your plant is in a grower pot set into a decorative pot or plastic sleeve that doesn’t have drainage, it’s possible that the inner pot is sitting in accumulating water. If that’s the case with your plant, you’ll need to pour off any excess water that could build up at the base of the roots.

      Reply
  2. Faye Simpson

    I need house plants for oxygen. Please tell me what plants are best? I don’t get much sunlight in my house. Please tell me what is best to help me out. Thank You

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Faye,
      All plants produce oxygen. NASA published research results in 1989 that suggested that – among the 12 plants that were included in the study – some plants were better at removing certain impurities from the air than others. Those include gerbera daisy, peace lily, Dracaena species, Sansevieria, and bamboo palm. However, since the study was released, it has been determined that the number of plants you would need to purify the air in just a single room is not practical. The best thing you can do is choose plants that you like, and that are suited to the growing conditions/light you can provide, knowing that any plant you choose will release oxygen into the air.

      Reply
  3. Tina

    How often, when and with what should you fertalize a Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter cactus?

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Tina,
      It’s best to fertilize when the plant is actively growing, typically early spring through late summer. You can use a standard liquid fertilizer for indoor houseplants mixed at half the normal rate, one application per month. Look for a formulation that contains micronutrients in addition to the basic nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium for added benefits for your plant. You can stop feeding through fall and winter; a time when the plant normally blooms and takes a rest from growth.

      Reply

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