3 Easy Ways to Root a Christmas Cactus

My Garden Life
September 6, 2021
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The Christmas cactus offers an enticing blend of beautiful looks, easy care and a dramatic display at the height of the holiday season. This houseplant makes a great gift, especially for people who are less experienced in caring for houseplants.
Several plants are sold as “Christmas cactus”, but be aware that they may in fact be Thanksgiving cactus or Easter cactus. (The plant used in the photos for this article is a “Thanksgiving cactus” although it was labeled as “Christmas cactus”.)
The only difference in the care between these species is the holiday season in which they bloom. You can propagate all these types of cactus with any of the methods presented here. And luckily, if you already own any of them, it’s easy to grow new plants for free by rooting cuttings.

How to Take Cuttings from a Christmas Cactus

 
Rooting a new cactus starts with taking a healthy stem cutting from the parent plant. Each branch of the Christmas cactus is made up of distinct sections known as pads. For successful rooting, you can remove a single pad from a branch, so long as the very bottom tip isn’t damaged.
The easiest way of doing this is to gently twist the top of one pad while holding the one below lightly. The entire pad should come free. Inspect it for tears or other damage, and if everything looks okay, you’re good to go.
Or, you can take lengths of several pads if the parent cactus needs cutting down to size. Twist off cuttings as described above, or use a sharp, sterile blade or scissors to slice the top few pads off a branch, ensuring there’s at least one intact join between two pads.

In all cases it’s best to allow the cuttings to dry for a day or two in a cool dark place. This allows the succulent tissue to heal and will help stimulate root growth as well as reduce the chance that your cuttings might rot. You then have three options for rooting the cuttings.

1. Propagate a Christmas Cactus Directly in Soil

Cuttings with undamaged ends are most easily rooted by leaving them in a cool, dark place for one to two days to prompt the pad’s natural rooting response. After this, plant the cutting upright in fresh potting soil so that the whole pad, or the bottom one of a length, is completely covered.

  • For best results use a sterilized soil formulated for cacti and succulents, but any light, well-draining soil can work.
  • Place the pot out of direct sunlight, water it lightly, then keep the soil moist but not wet for two to three weeks. Roots should then start to form and your new cactus will begin to grow.

2. Root a Christmas Cactus on the Soil Surface

The second method is more suited to cuttings of two or three pads, or for ones where the lowest rooting tip has been damaged a little. As with method one, leave the cutting in a cool, dark place for a day or two to dry a little. Then, place the cutting flat on the soil, ensuring a joint between two pads is in firm contact with the surface.
  • Water the soil gently, taking care not to splash the cutting itself, which can lead to rot.
  • Continue to keep the soil lightly moist, and roots should start to form after two to three weeks.

3. Root a Christmas Cactus in Water

The last method shows the quickest results but involves an extra step which less experienced growers may find a little delicate. As with the other methods, letting the cutting dry for a couple of days is essential. But in this case, leave the cutting a little longer until the leaf starts to thin but doesn’t wrinkle.
  • After drying, place the entire cutting in water, which you should change every few days to keep it clear. Roots should start to form more quickly than with soil-based methods. The Christmas cactus will root in a few weeks.
  • Once the roots are an inch or two long, carefully transplant the whole cutting into a pot of well-draining soil. This is the extra step that can cause difficulty as the young roots are easily damaged, so take it slow and easy.
  • Finally, place the planted cutting into a warm location with plenty of indirect light until growth appears above the soil.

How to Grow and Care for Christmas Cactus

For all three methods, as the plant starts to grow it can be gradually moved toward the warmer, brighter, drier conditions an adult plant thrives in. Read our expert guide to caring for your new Christmas cactus to keep it happy and healthy until it’s time to gift it to your loved one.

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