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9 Best Christmas Cactus Care Tips – A Growing Guide

9 Best Christmas Cactus Care Tips – A Growing Guide

In this article, I will cover everything you need to know about Christmas cactus care.

The Christmas cactus goes by the botanical name Schlumberga x buckleyi and is a hybrid between Schlumbergera truncata and Schlumbergera russelliana.

According to Missouri Botanical Garden it is a perennial cactus with flat stems that blooms in winter. It is frost-intolerant.

The plant originates from the coastal mountains of southeastern Brazil. You can find these cacti in places like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. It likes moist and humid conditions and needs plenty of water to bloom. They even grow on rocks and small mossy trees and are often sold during the holiday season.

They are often sold with flower buds that are ready to produce blooms.

Christmas Cactus Takeaways

Species Schlumberga x buckleyi
Synonyms Christmas Cactus,hanksgiving cactus,crab cactus,Holiday cactus
Family Cactaceae
Genus Schlumbergera
Growth arching, weeping, rounded
Height 0.8 feet
Width 2 feet
Soil Well-draining soil using potting soil, compost, perlite, milled peat
Watering Water every 14 to 21 days
Light Bright indirect
Temperature 60 to 70°F
Humidity 50-60%
Fertilizer Fertilize 1 times per month
Propagation Stem cuttings
Toxicity Non toxic to humans and pets such as cats and dogs. The plant material however can cause vomiting and diarrhea if ingested in large quantities.

Christmas cactus Care

Provide well-draining soil using potting soil compost, perlite, and milled peat as well as bright indirect light. Water every 2-3 weeks once the top 1-inch of soil is dry (5cm). The ideal temperature lies between 60°F to 70°F (16°C – 21°C) and the perfect humidity lies between 50-60%. Fertilize between April-October every 2-3 weeks.

Christmas Cactus Care Sheet
Christmas Cactus Care Sheet

Christmas Cactus Care Video

Christmas Cactus Care Video

Christmas Cactus Growing Guide

1. Soil

The Christmas cactus is an epiphyte and needs well-draining soil.

Being an epiphyte, it grows on rocks, on small trees covered in moss, and on the trunks of big trees.

So, it doesn’t get its’ hydration from the soil. Most of the moisture it gets is from the humid air.

But that heavy humid air provides it with lots of moisture. These cacti need plenty of water for a healthy life.

Lots of water means you need soil that has great drainage. Without that drainage, the water will build up in the soil. Too much moisture can lead to our enemy, wet feet.

There are plenty of potting soils on the market with everything you need. They have a mix of peat and leaf mold.

The perfect potting mix is a regular cactus mix containing:

  • potting soil
  • compost
  • perlite
  • milled peat
Schlumberga x buckleyi needs well draining soil as it is an epiphyte
Schlumberga x buckleyi needs well draining soil as it is an epiphyte

2. Light

A Christmas cactus grows best in bright indirect light.

They are sensitive to too much direct light. Avoid bright direct light for more than 6 hours a day.

If it cannot sufficiently hydrate, the leaves can burn as a consequence in conjunction with too much sunlight.

A sign of too much sun exposure is the stem turning red. Insufficient light exposure means the cactus won’t flower.

An east-facing window is ideal.

An east-facing window provides 4-6 hours of direct sunlight in the morning and bright indirect light throughout the rest of the day. Read my guide on light levels for plants.

3. Watering

Water your Christmas cactus every 2-3 weeks once the top 1 inch of soil is dry to the touch (5cm).

A Christmas cactus needs more humidity than other succulents.

When you water, wait until the soil is almost dry so the water doesn’t build up. It is a good rule of thumb to keep the soil slightly on the dry side.

To check how moist the soil is, stick your finger in the soil up to your knuckle. If the top 1 inch is dry (5cm), it’s time to water.

A Christmas Cactus only needs to be watered every 2-3 weeks
A Christmas Cactus only needs to be watered every 2-3 weeks

4. Temperature

During the day, the room temperature should be between 60°F to 70°F (16°C – 21°C) for a Christmas cactus. At night, the temperature should be between 50°F to 55°F (10°C – 13°C).

5. Humidity

The ideal humidity for Schlumberga x buckleyi lies between 50% to 60%.

It originates in Brazil, where the humidity is crazy high. And even as a houseplant, the humidity in the room needs to be high.

If you’re having problems creating the right humidity, you can try the pebble tray method.

Take a tray and fill it with pebbles. Then you fill it with water until it’s sitting right underneath the pebbles. Place your plant pot on the pebbles.

As the water evaporates, it rises and creates humidity for your plant. And when the water is all gone, you only have to refill it.

A humidity between 50-60% is ideal for this cactus
A humidity between 50-60% is ideal

6. Fertilizer

Fertilize a Christmas cactus every 2-3 weeks from Spring to Summer. Do not fertilize between fall and winter.

If fertilized insufficiently the joints will break down and break apart when it lacks the right nutrients.

Use a half-strength water-soluble houseplant fertilizer. Read everything about fertilizers in my complete guide.

It should have equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

Leaf growth happens between April to October. In November the blooming occurs.

But you have to stop fertilizing in late September. You don’t want to fertilize your cactus when the flowers start to bud or they will fall off your plant.

When you fertilize when it’s not growing, salt builds up in the soil. This leads to either the buds not producing at all or the buds falling off.

Your cactus needs more magnesium than most fertilizers have to offer. To get this extra magnesium, you can mix a teaspoon of Epsom salt per gallon of water. Add the Epsom salts every other time you water.

7. Propagation

It’s easy to propagate a Christmas cactus using stem cuttings.

A Christmas Cactus ca be propagated using stem cuttings
A Christmas Cactus can be propagated using stem cuttings

8. Growth

The Christmas Cactus grows up to 10 inches in height (25cm) and 24 inches in width (61cm).

One thing you’ll notice is that the majority of the time this plant won’t grow much in height. It grows in width, as do its hanging branches.

The hanging branches can grow up to three feet long. The width of the rest of the plant usually expands somewhere between six inches and ten inches.

9. Potting

You repot a Christmas cactus less often than you would a lot of other houseplants. Repot every three years.

You don’t want to re-pot it right when the roots expand. Unlike most plants, these cacti feel comfortable with crowded roots.

It makes the cactus feel grounded. It also creates the best situation for the flowers to bloom.

Repotting is done after the plant has finished blooming. Trying to repot a blooming cactus can ruin the entire blooming process.

Most Christmas cacti stop blooming around late winter, sometimes early springtime.

How Not To Kill Your Christmas Cactus
Schlumberga x buckleyi is a hybrid between Schlumbergera truncata and Schlumbergera russelliana and is easy to care for

Bloom

For the flowers to form, a Christmas cactus needs at least 12 hours of darkness when the temperature is between 60°F to 70°F (16°C – 21°C).

It should get about 16 hours of darkness a day when the room temperature is over 70F.

When the plant is going through the dark cycle of the day, it needs complete darkness.

If a dark room isn’t possible, you can cover your cactus up at night.

Christmas Cactus Propagation Steps

  1. Your very first step is to gather the cuttings. You’ll need pruning shears for this task instead of your normal household pair of scissors. You clip the top Y-shaped cutting from the tip of the stem. Cut down to two or three segments.
  2. Once your cuttings are ready, let them sit out to dry for two or three days. You should place them in a cool room. Letting them sit out and dry allows them to form a callus on the cut end.
  3. In the meantime, get your soil and pot ready. If you want to get dirty and more hands-on, try making your own soil. The best soil mix includes normal potting soil, compost, perlite, and milled peat. The pot should have drainage holes at the bottom. Pour the soil out into the pot.
  4. Now that the cuttings are ready to go, you’re going to start the rooting process. Place your cutting in the soil mix you created. It should sit about a quarter inch below the soil.
  5. Place your cuttings in an area where it can get bright but indirect sunlight. At this point, you don’t want to water the cutting or cuttings too much.
  6. After about two weeks, you’ll notice the tip of the leaves starts growing. They’ll start to turn red. This is a sign that the rooting has begun.
  7. Once you’ve finished most of the rooting you’re on your way to a beautiful budded Christmas cactus. You’re going to start caring for it, as you would if you bought it as a full-grown plant.

Varieties of Holiday Cacti

There are two other cool holiday cacti to consider related to Christmas cactus:

Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri (Easter Cactus)

The Easter cactus always blooms in springtime. It’s a gorgeous cactus with gorgeous pink (sometimes orange or red) flowers. The pink flowers hang from the flat segmented leaves.

Schlumbergera truncata (Thanksgiving Cactus)

The Thanksgiving cactus blooms in October or November. And it needs fewer daylight hours than the others. The leaves on this plant are broad and the edges are serrated.

Common Problems with the Christmas Cactus

They are not as prone to bugs as many other houseplants. It’s uncommon for an infestation though it does happen sometimes.

Mealybugs are one of the pests you might come across.

These bugs eat away at your cactus and they eat any new growth. They hide out in the small spaces on your cactus. And they hang out on small white webs they weave.

Mealybugs spread fast so it’s important to get rid of them as soon as you discover them.

First, make sure your plant isn’t near any other houseplants so the mealybugs don’t spread.

Take a cotton swab and drip it in 70% isopropyl alcohol. Wipe your plant down, focusing on the areas where the branches and the stem of it connect.

There are also root mealybugs. These mealybugs attack the roots and live in the soil. Repot your plant in new soil in case you spot root mealybugs.

You should also clean your plant with alcohol to make sure they’re not lingering on it.

Aphids are the second bug you have to worry about. These greenish pests are tiny and hard to see.

You want to get rid of them as fast as you can because they multiply quickly. And these bugs suck all the nutrients out of your plant.

Use isopropyl alcohol to clean all parts of your plant to get rid of aphids.

Christmas Cacti are blooming around Christmas time
Christmas Cacti are blooming around Christmas time

Tips for an Unhappy Christmas Cactus

Here are the common issues you might face:

Why are the Blooms Falling Off of My Christmas Cactus

Common reasons for blooms falling of are sudden changes in temperature, an interruption of the min. 12 hours of darkness at night, changes in lighting level, and repotting during the blooming phase. Other reasons are incorrect watering (under- or overwatering).

If your plant is dropping flowers make sure you identify the correct cause and course-correct without overcorrecting. Eg if your cactus is too dry, don’t water it too much immediately.

Your Christmas Cactus Has Gray Fuzzy Patterns on the Leaves

Botrytis blight is a common fungus for cacti. Too high humidity can cause spores. Since cacti need high humidity, it’s easy for the spores to develop.

The first thing you need to do is lower the humidity in the room. Then you need to separate the infected plant from any other plants or it’ll spread.

Cut all the infected blossoms and infected areas from your plant right away. Mix two tablespoons of fungicide with a gallon of water.

Apply the mix to the entire plant. Make sure you coat it well.

In four weeks, reapply the same mix if you still see mold.

Your Christmas Cactus Has a Yellow-Spotted Stem

A yellow-spotted stem has the virus impatiens necrotic spot virus or INSV.

INSV is passed by the pest flower thrips. They feed on an infected plant and move on to the next plant to feed. The virus is transmitted to the new plant.

This is a devastating virus and can kill your plant. As there is no cure it is best to dispose of the plant immediately.

But you can protect your other houseplants from infestation by thrips. And thus protecting them from catching the virus the thrips transmit.

Separate all of the infected plants that have thrips on them.

Thrips are hard to see because they’re tiny creatures with wings. But you can get rid of them with insecticidal soap.

Gently wash your entire plants down with soap. Since thrips lay eggs, you’ll have to wash your plants again after 2-3 weeks to ensure you’ve gotten all the bugs.

Root rot

A common reason why your plant might not be doing well is root rot. As you only need to water these succulents every 2-3 weeks it is easy to overwater. If the soil stays too soggy for too long the only remedy is to take the plant out of the pot, change the soil and disinfect the pot.

Check the roots and cut off rotten roots. Wash the remaining roots under lukewarm water. Then replant it into the disinfected pot and add new potting soil.

Christmas Cactus Toxicity

The Christmas cactus is not toxic to humans and pets such as cats and dogs. However, if it is ingested in large quantities it can lead to vomiting and diarrhea because of the plant fiber. Therefore make sure to keep it away from children and pets.

Difference between a Christmas cactus and a Thanksgiving cactus?

The difference between a Christmas cactus and a Thanksgiving cactus is that the Thanksgiving cactus has claw-shaped edges on the leaf while the Christmas cactus has teardrop-shaped edges on the leaves according to Iowa State University.

Then there also is the Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaertnerrii) with its more rounded edges.

Frequently Asked Questions About Christmas Cactus Care

How do I prune my Christmas cactus?

Pruning a Christmas cactus can seem daunting because it’s not like other houseplants. It’s actually easier. You can twist between each segment and pull to separate. Or you can cut between each segment.

Why won’t my Christmas cactus root in water?

It’s hard to root a Christmas cactus in water. Almost impossible. You’re better off rooting your cactus in soil.

Why won’t my Christmas cactus bloom?

When your buds form, it’s going to be another 12 weeks until they start to bloom. You might be expecting them too early in the process. If that’s not the issue, cut down on watering the cactus and make sure the room temperature is between 50F and 55F.

Can I revive my limp Christmas cactus?

There is a chance you can revive your Christmas cactus. Either your cactus is getting too much direct sunlight or it’s not getting enough water. Up the amount of water you’re using and track it so you don’t over-water the cactus either. And move your cactus from any direct sunlight.

Conclusion About Christmas Cactus Care

To care for a Christmas cactus:

  • Soil: Well-draining soil using potting soil compost, perlite, and milled peat
  • Light: Bright indirect light
  • Water: Every 2-3 weeks
  • Temperature: 60°F to 70°F (16°C – 21°C)
  • Humidity: 50-60%
  • Fertilizer: April-October every 2-3 weeks.

Author Bio

Daniel Iseli

Taking care of houseplants and gardening are my greatest passions. I am transforming my apartment into an urban jungle and am growing veggies in my indoor and outdoor garden year-round.

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