The Christmas cactus (scientific name: Schlumbergera bridgesii) is not really a cactus but a succulent.
It is commonly called Christmas cactus because it blooms during the holidays.
A Christmas cactus has flat-shaped, glossy-green segments that make up its hanging branches.
They produce abundant beautiful tubular red, yellow, pink, purple, or white blooms with proper care. This plant is easy to care for but needs a strict regimen to form flower buds during the winter season.
This article will walk you through the planting and propagation of a Christmas cactus, as well as the things you will have to do to make sure it thrives.
Read on and learn about what type of soil you should use for your Christmas cactus, the amount of water and sunlight it requires, and the general maintenance you will have to do.
At the end of this article, you will be confident enough to grow this cactus.
The Right Potting Mixture for Your Christmas Cactus
A Christmas cactus loves a lightweight and well-draining potting mixture.
This plant originated in the rainforests of Brazil, where it grows on the trunks of big trees and gets its much-needed moisture from the air.
Its roots will dig into the decomposing leaves and other organic matter that settled on the sides of the trees.
This makeshift soil would dry out quickly due to its small volume and the plant’s position high in the air.
As such, the best soil for your Christmas cactus should be very well-draining.
I recommend this wonderful cacti soil mix by repotme. It is easy to use and very well draining.
You can use a commercial mix for cacti and succulents or bromeliads because this type of potting mix is formulated to ensure excellent drainage, but you can also make your own.
The easiest would be to use three parts regular potting medium and mix it well with two parts perlite.
This combination would provide adequate drainage.
You can also mix equal parts perlite, milled peat, and compost if you have all these on hand.
Others, meanwhile, just mix one-third sand with two-thirds of their regular potting soil.
Generally, Christmas cactus grows excellently in most container soils provided that it drains well.
So it is equally important that your pot or container has adequate drainage holes.
Planting and Propagating Your Christmas Cactus
Repotting Your Christmas Cactus
As long as it is kept under favorable conditions, a Christmas cactus is a prolific grower.
As such, it will need to be repotted eventually to accommodate its growing size.
While repotting your Christmas cactus isn’t very complicated, it can get rather tricky.
First, you will have to prepare a pot or container that is only slightly larger than its current one.
This plant does not like to be transferred into something that is much more spacious.
In other words, it doesn’t like its pot oversized and would prefer to be a bit cramped in a container.
In fact, you may only have to upgrade it into a larger pot once every two to three years.
You will also need to bore a drainage hole at the bottom of the new pot. A Christmas cactus may like moisture, but without air, its roots will rot.
Next, gently remove your Christmas cactus from its current pot. Make sure you include its surrounding ball of soil and carefully loosen the roots.
If the soil ball is a little too compact to be loosened by hand, you can soften it with a little water and gently wash it off the roots.
Place your Christmas cactus in its new pot.
Ideally, the top of the root ball should be one inch below the pot’s rim.
Add fresh potting mix inside the pot, making sure to cover the roots. Lightly pat the soil or potting mix to remove air pockets and water moderately.
Place your repotted Christmas cactus in the shade for two to three days.
Your Christmas cactus is easy to propagate.
However, for first-timers, it may be a little bit of trial and error. If, on the first try, you don’t succeed, give it a second try.
You can also try propagating through other methods and see which one works best for you.
The simplest method to propagate is to cut a short Y-shaped segment from healthy stem tips.
Plant the cutting in slightly sandy soil or potting mix.
Around a quarter of the cutting’s length should be planted.
Moisten the soil evenly and place your newly planted cutting in a well-lit area but away from direct sunlight.
Another way to root a Christmas cactus is by getting a Y-shaped stem segment and letting it sit in a cool and dry place for about three to four days.
If the cutting is under the right conditions, where there is little heat and humidity, they could start to root in 48 hours.
- You can then plant the rooted cutting in a container filled with a mix of peat meat and sands.
- Once planted in soil, water your Christmas cactus sparingly because overwatering can cause root rot.
- You can also root your Christmas cactus in water.
- Start with cutting segments, around three to four inches long, with three or four leaves on every side.
- Place the cutting in a clean, empty glass jar.
- Fill the bowl with pebbles or stones, about two inches deep.
- Add water and place your cuttings in the jar.
The humidity in the jar will keep root rot at bay.
This also ensures that water does not evaporate. So, if you see, the water level is very low, then add more water.
Roots will take around two to three weeks to form.
Once you can see them, you can transplant your now-rooted plant, cutting into a pot. Also, during the rooting process, it is best to keep your cutting moist, not soaked. It will also need just the right amount of sun.
How Much Sunlight Does a Christmas Cactus Need?
Place your Christmas cactus in an area that is bright but does not get exposed to too much direct sunlight.
Otherwise, its leaves will turn dark red, which means they get sunburnt.
The most ideal placement for this plant is on your east-facing window, where it can get moderate light and just the right amount of direct sunlight.
In the summer, your Christmas cactus may be placed in a shady area in your garden or an unheated part of your balcony or porch until the temperatures drop to below 10°C (50°F).
It is important to keep the soil of your Christmas cactus moist but not overwatered.
Water your Christmas cactus when the top inch of its soil feels dry to the touch. Do not allow it to dry completely in between waterings.
You can soak its soil until the water runs through the drainage holes of its container.
Make sure to throw away whatever water is collected in the tray so that your Christmas cactus does not sit in water.
In the spring and summer, your plant will need watering on a regular basis.
However, during the fall and winter, less water is needed.
Avoid saturating or soaking its soil when you are watering it frequently because this can cause root rot.
Moreover, it is especially important to regularly water your plant while it is flowering.
Just remember that drainage is more important than water volume.
You will need to watch for puckering or wrinkling along the plant’s flattened stems because this could indicate that you are either under- or over-watering it.
Ideal Temperature for Your Christmas Cactus
A Christmas cactus prefers temperatures between 15˚C to 21˚C (60˚F to 70˚F).
It prefers average to high humidity, too.
So, to add more humidity, especially if you are keeping the plant indoors, you can place a tray of pebbles filled with water under your plant’s pot.
When your Christmas cactus has stopped flowering, usually by fall, you should allow it to undergo a dormancy period of about six to eight weeks.
After this, you can allow the plant to rebloom.
To make way for the dormancy cycle, cut back on moisture, and reduce temperature and sunlight.
You can do this by reducing the watering and making sure that the plant gets 12 to 14 hours of darkness.
Moreover, keep the temperatures at an average of 10˚C to 12˚C (50˚F to 55˚F) and keep your plant away from drafty spots.
Abrupt changes in temperatures can also cause flowers to drop when it is blossoming season, whether due to the cold or hot air blowing from your windows, heaters, fireplaces, or air conditioning units.
The Right Fertilizers to Use
While your Christmas cactus thrives with well-draining soil, adequate watering, average moisture, excellent humidity, and bright yet indirect sunlight, feeding it with fertilizer will keep your plant in top condition so that it forms abundant buds in the winter.
Feeding should be done once a month, generally from April to October, which is considered its growing season.
We recommend this fertilizer, designed specifically for cacti. Make sure to follow the instructions and not use too much fertilizer.
Without fertilizing your plant, its soil will eventually run out of nutrients to give, and your Christmas cactus would subsequently starve to death.
If you can save it in time, you will have to immediately transfer it to new soil and add some houseplant food.
Fertilizing your Christmas cactus during the spring and summer will allow it to grow healthy so it could support its blooms later on. It will also help the plant store enough energy to fuel the production of flowers.
The ideal fertilizer for a Christmas cactus would be half-strength, water-soluble, multi-purpose formula such as a 20-10-20 or a 20-20-20. That means 20% nitrogen, 10% or 20% phosphorus, and 20% potassium. Fertilize your plant monthly during regular watering starting late winter and up to late summer.
Alternately, a plant food that has slightly higher phosphorus or a time-release balanced plant food would be great for once-a-month feeding from mid to late summer to enhance blooms.
Moreover, in alternate weeks, you can fertilize your plant monthly with a mixture of one teaspoon of Epsom salt per one gallon of water. This will give the plant its high magnesium requirements.
You should follow this application rate or formula to prevent the buildup of salt in the soil.
But in case there is accumulated salt in the pot, you only need to wash and release this built-up salt with water.
In late summer, all feeding should stop.
Otherwise, flower production will be compromised. There is also no need for fertilizers in the winter since the plant is not growing actively at this time of the year.
Top Nutrients Your Christmas Cactus Needs
Most fertilizers contain three primary nutrients, known as the NPK balance.
NPK stands for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
It is what most plants need, including Christmas cacti. Each of these nutrients serves different functions, and a Christmas cactus needs equal amounts of these nutrients.
It is in charge of the growth of leaves.
It helps the plant convert any other nutrients that can help it grow into usable building blocks.
Its main function is to facilitate the growth of roots and the development of flowers and fruits.
It helps the plant perform its overall functions well.
How to Promote Flowering of Your Christmas Cactus
Flowers are the defining element of a Christmas cactus. Its name was even derived from its blooming season.
As such, you need to make sure your plant blooms abundantly during the winter.
There are things you can do to encourage your Christmas cactus to bloom.
First, you will need to help the plant prepare for a period of flowering and to enable it to store plenty of energy needed for flower production.
And you can do this by giving it the right fertilizers in the spring and the summer.
You will then need to follow a strict regimen for your Christmas cactus in the fall so it would bloom in time for the holidays.
The plant is set to form buds in the fall when the days are cooler, and there are shorter daylight hours.
As such, you can help your Christmas cactus along and trick it into pushing out flowers by giving it 12 hours of darkness.
Thus, when autumn arrives, you should initiate a punishing routine of cooler temperatures, extended darker periods, reduced water, and no more fertilizer. This should drive the plant to form flowers.
You can follow these steps to promote flowering:
- Move your Christmas cactus to a dark spot. Sometime in late September or early October, look for a nice, dark area in your house or garden and place the plant in a dark room. You can also opt to put the plant inside a box. Do this for at least 12 hours each day.
- Limit the amount of water your Christmas cactus receives. Cut down on watering around October or during the first few days of November. Water your plant just enough for its soil to remain slightly moist. Also, water only when the soil’s topmost layer is dry to the touch. Cutting down on water will allow the plant to enter dormancy, which is crucial for blooming.
- Move your Christmas cactus back into a sunny, draft-free area as soon as you see the tiny buds. It still should not be exposed to direct sunlight, as it will cause the plant to droop. Meanwhile, a drafty area will cause your buds to drop even before they bloom. When the buds have gotten bigger and flowers are ready to bloom, move the plant to where it will be displayed for its whole flowering period. It takes up to 12 weeks for blooms to appear.
- Regulate the temperature system. Your plant will also need cooler temperatures. This should average out to about 10˚-13 ˚C (50-55˚F). So make sure you place your plant in a location that will accommodate both its lighting and temperature requirements.
- Maintain food and water. Continue watering and feeding your plant while it is budding and flowering.
The plant should bloom in six weeks.
And remember that it is natural for a few Christmas cactus buds to drop off, so you should not worry about losing a few.
However, it should be noted that regardless of the regimen you adhere to or how strictly you follow it, the bloom time for Christmas cacti may vary based on its variety.
Whether it blooms exactly in time for the holidays or not, you can look forward to it flowering yearly.
Extending the Blooming Period
Giving your Christmas cactus the proper care, including giving it the right temperature and lighting conditions and placing it in the right place, will ensure that the plant will bloom and might continuously flower several times more within a year.
Yes, you make your Christmas cactus rebloom, even after it has already bloomed for its flowering season.
All you need is to keep your plant in cool temperatures following its blooming period. Water it, so its soil is just barely moist, and withhold feeding it with fertilizer.
When your plant’s new growth starts, you can use the same strategy to encourage reblooming.
You can alternate between giving your plant 10 hours of light and 14 hours of darkness for one month or one and a half months after the new growth appears.
When the buds appear again, move the plant to warmer temperatures, and begin regular culture.
A Christmas cactus loves being pot-bound, and you only need to repot it every two years, at most.
However, you may have to replace the soil more often that you need to change pots.
The only other regular maintenance you need to do is pruning.
The plant can get rather leggy, and its branches will start to drop because it couldn’t support its weight.
As such, you can prune away or cut off a piece to propagate.
Moreover, after blooming, simply pinch off the ends of the plant’s stems to encourage branching.
Dealing With Common Problems
A Christmas cactus is rather low-maintenance, and it is relatively pest-resistant.
However, it can still fall victim to harmful pests like spider mites, mealybugs, fungus gnats, and scales.
To get rid of these common pests, you can try regularly applying insecticidal soap spray.
We recommend this affordable, yet very efficient natural pesticide.
Made with natural ingredients, it works very well to get rid of common pests on your cacti.
Bigger pests can be picked using a toothpick or brushed away using a soft toothbrush.
You can also try dipping a cotton swab into rubbing alcohol. If all else fails, you can spray organic pesticides.
Aside from pests, you may see your plant’s leaves turning yellow.
This could be a sign of root rot, which is caused by overwatering or inadequate drainage.
If this happens, take the plant out of its pot and check the roots from inside.
Diseased roots are usually brown or black, with a mushy appearance.
If there is root rot, you can see how much healthy roots are there.
You may be able to trim the bad roots off and retain the healthy ones.
Replant your Christmas cactus in a new potting mix.
Yellowing leaves may also be a sign of nutritional deficiency. In this case, you will have to fertilize and make sure it contains a complete list of nutrients needed by the plant.
It could also be too much direct sunlight.
You may want to move the plant and keep it somewhere bright without directly getting exposed to the sun.
A Christmas Cactus is low-maintenance, but not as low-maintenance as other cacti and succulents.
For one, it rarely needs repotting because it likes a crowded environment.
For its soil, you can use the excellent repotme cactus mix, or a mixture of potting mix, sand, or perlite.
And while the plant needs moisture, you will have to make sure the soil is well-draining to prevent root rot.
For lighting, the plant loves to be somewhere bright but don’t let it get exposed to direct sunlight as it might get sunburnt.
This plant blooms in time for the holidays or during the winter.
But to ensure that it blooms abundantly, you will need to facilitate dormancy.
You need to make it appear that there’s less sun, less water, and lower temperatures.
When you want to force this plant to bloom, you must understand that their bloom cycle consists of dormancy, little water, less light, and lower temperature.
- Chatter Source: How to Root a Christmas Cactus
- Good Housekeeping: How to Care for Your Christmas Cactus so It Will Bloom All Holiday Season Long
- Lowes: How to Care for a Christmas Cactus: Bloom Cycle and Tips
- Almanac: Growing Christmas Cactus
- Gardening Know How: Potting Mix For Christmas Cactus: Christmas Cactus Soil Requirements
- Country Living: Christmas Cactus Care: Here’s What You Should Know About the Beautiful Holiday Plant
- Arizona University – Cooperative Extension: Christmas Cactus
- Michigan State University: The Secret to Getting a Christmas Cactus to Bloom: Temperature and Light