How to Care for Your Christmas Cactus And Keep It Blooming All Season Long
A Christmas cactus is another holiday plant that’s a great gift idea when you are looking for something other than the traditional poinsettia.
With its brightly colored flowers, a Christmas cactus is a succulent plant that doubles as a beautiful holiday decoration.
These low maintenance succulents can provide beautiful blooms for many years under average home conditions with a minimum amount of care, but the trick is to know how to make plants bloom on cue.
Here’s a short video that shows you how to do just that, along with proper care tips that will help you to maintain your Christmas cactus so you can enjoy it for years to come.
I hope you had fun watching that and learned a little about the different types of Christmas cactus and how to care for each as well.
Thanksgiving, Easter, or Christmas Cactus? What Kind Do I Have?
There are three main types of holiday cacti, the Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata), the Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera buckleyi), and the Easter cactus (Schlumbergera gaertneri).
Each variety typically blooms closest to the holiday that it’s named after.
What many people don’t know is that most of the Christmas cactus sold at this time are actually Thanksgiving cactus.
But for our purposes here, we’ll consider them all to be Christmas cacti, as the basic care is much the same.
And just to sum it all up here are the cactus care steps you should follow.
9 Steps To Help You Care For Your Christmas Cactus
- Display them in a brightly lit area.
Christmas cactus love a well-lit area and indirect sunlight. A north or east-facing window is usually the most suitable location as it will provide the hours of light needed to maintain a healthy plant.
Avoid placing them in a location that receives direct sunlight, as that can bleach out and burn the leaves.
Actually, they can tolerate lower indirect light, but they will bloom a lot better when given more bright light.
- Check them weekly for water.
Holiday cacti need to be watered thoroughly every one to three weeks, depending on location, temperature, and pot size. They cannot tolerate dry soil, as they are not a desert variety of cactus.
But never let them sit in water. Make sure to drain any excess water off after you’re finished watering.
Christmas cactus are different than the desert type of cactus plants that you might be more familiar with. They are actually an epiphytic plant, much like an orchid plant.
While not a parasitic plant, they do grow attached to other plants and rocks, rather than in soil, which allows their roots to breathe.
- When repotting, plant them in a cactus soil mix.
This type of potting mix is very porous and fast-draining, which is essential to maintaining the health of the plant. Don’t use regular houseplant potting soil, use a potting soil like Miracle-Gro Succulent Potting Mix.
Christmas cactus actually perform and bloom better when they’re potbound. Typically, you don’t need to repot Christmas cactus very often (maybe every two to three years).
If you do decide it’s time to repot, make sure to do it a couple of months after their blooming cycle ends, usually in spring or early summer.
- Christmas cactus like a temperature range between about 65°F to 75°F.
This is their preferred range during the day. In order for them to set and maintain their flower buds, they need it slightly cooler at night.
If you have yours outside in the summertime you do need to make sure to bring them indoors before it freezes.
- Maintain a higher level of humidity around your cactus.
You can increase the humidity level by putting your holiday cactus on top of a saucer or tray of pebbles and water.
Make sure that the bottom of the pot is not touching the water. As the water evaporates, it will create a more humid environment around your cactus.
- Don’t skip fertilizing.
Although a Christmas cactus doesn’t need much fertilizer, it does help to stimulate a lot of new growth during its normal growing season.
Once you begin to see new growth appear in the spring, start fertilizing once a month through about midsummer. Don’t use regular houseplant fertilizer, use one designed for succulents like Miracle-Gro Succulent Plant Food.
Stop fertilizing before and during their blooming period, usually from the beginning of September through the winter months.
- Give your cactus a helping hand to set new buds to bloom.
In order for your cactus to bloom it needs longer periods of darkness, cooler temperatures, and less moisture, about six to eight weeks before you want it to start to bloom.
Ideally, you want to place them in an area that gets 12 – 14 hours of dark and cooler conditions, ranging from about 50°-55°F.
If that’s not possible, just try to position your plant that is in a spot that naturally gets more darkness.
And if you can’t give them the cooler conditions that they need, just give them extended periods of darkness. That will help kickstart the blooming cycle.
Once the buds form, you can bring your holiday cactus back out to the place where you want to display it and resume a normal care routine.
Just be aware that any drastic change in their environment can cause buds to simply fall off the plant. It’s a common problem and it usually occurs due to a drastic change in their environment.
- Prune yearly if necessary.
If your plant has a beautiful shape you don’t need to worry about pruning, but if you’ve got unruly or gangly-looking stems on your plant, pruning the leaves back can really help it to branch out.
Pruning’s easy to do. Simply cut between two stem segments. Actually, you can take your whole plant down by about a third every year without causing any damage.
The stems that you’ve cut off can also be easily propagated. Simply let them set out for a few days allowing the cut ends to heal and callus over.
Then plant them back into a pot filled with cactus soil mix, buried in about a half-inch deep. Keep the cuttings slightly moist and in about two weeks they’ll have new roots.
- Keep an eye out for stress, disease, and insects.
Overwatering is the biggest cause of problems with Christmas cactus. It can cause a host of different issues, mainly stem rot, root rot, and occasional insect problems.
The easiest way to avoid these problems is to allow the soil to dry out between waterings and consider putting your cactus in a breathable terra cotta clay pot.
If your cactus is starting to take on a reddish hue, it’s either getting too much sun or it’s not getting enough water. Those are easy things to adjust so just keep a watchful eye on your plants.
That way, if you notice any sign of these types of problems, it’s easy to deal with them before they become a major issue.
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Finally, if you’ve had good luck with your Christmas cactus, it’s okay to brag a little. Please share your successes by leaving a comment below. I know there are others out there who will benefit from your advice.
Hoping to see you here again soon,
Greg and the team at Greenfield Flower Shop