Flower Wilt On Christmas Cactus: Fixing Wilting Christmas Cactus Blooms
Christmas cactus is a long-lived plant with bright blooms that appear around the winter holidays. Normally, blooms last at least one to two weeks. If conditions are just right, the impressive flowers may hang around for seven to eight weeks. Although the plant is relatively low-maintenance, dropping or wilting Christmas cactus blooms are usually an indication of improper watering or sudden temperature changes.
Flower Wilt on Christmas Cactus
Christmas cactus bloom wilt is often caused by excessively dry soil. Be careful and don’t over-correct, as watering a Christmas cactus can be tricky and too much moisture may cause more serious problems, such as stem or root rot, which are usually deadly.
For most of the year, you shouldn’t water the plant until the soil feels slightly dry, and then water deeply so the entire root ball is saturated. Let the pot drain thoroughly before replacing the plant on a drainage saucer. However, it’s important to note that slightly different tactics are needed when the plant begins to bloom.
During the blooming period, water just enough to keep the potting mix consistently moist, but never soggy or bone dry. Don’t water deeply during this time, as soggy roots may cause blooms to wilt and drop. Don’t fertilize the plant while it is blooming either.
From October on through winter, Christmas cactus prefers cool nighttime temperatures between 55 and 65 F. (12-18 C) during the blooming period. Keep the plant away from cold drafts, as well as fireplaces or heat vents.
Christmas cactus also needs relatively high humidity, which replicates its natural, tropical environment. If the air in your home is dry during the winter months, place the pot on top of a layer of pebbles in a plate or tray, then keep the pebbles moist to increase the humidity around the plant. Be sure the pot is standing on the moist pebbles and not in the water, as water wicking into the soil through the drainage hole can cause the roots to rot.
Christmas cacti bloom just in time for the holidays (hence their name), and they’re pretty stunning too. The hanging branches, which are made up of flat, glossy green segments, can grow to up to 3 feet long. Flowers in red, white, yellow, pink, or purple appear at the tips of these branches and measure up to 3 inches long with several tiers of petals. Each bloom lasts for several days, and the entire flowering period of most cultivars will span several weeks. But in order to keep these plants looking beautiful, you need to follow all the steps involved with proper Christmas cactus care.
There are certain factors that can help — or hinder — your Christmas cactus’s potential. For example, this Brazilian coastal plant (which is also known as Schlumbergera) favors more humid conditions than desert-dwelling species do. Plus, it needs extended periods of darkness before it can begin flowering.
So, with that said, here’s how to ensure this festive plant keeps brightening up your home year after year.
What You’ll Need
Before you get started, stock up on these Christmas cactus care essentials.
Christmas Cactus Plant amazon.com $11.00 Hoffman Cactus Soil Mix amazon.com $9.72 Potash Potassium Fertilizer amazon.com $19.07 Indoor Watering Can amazon.com $14.99
How to Care for Christmas Cacti
A lack of water and dramatic temperature swings can cause flower buds to drop more rapidly. Maximize your specimen’s blooming period by paying attention to these six key factors:
- Soil: Use a quality soil rich in humus and other nutrients.
- Temperature: Maintain an optimal climate of 65 degrees.
- Watering: Keep the soil evenly moist while your plant is blooming, misting it frequently.
- Light: Place the cactus in an east-facing window for moderate light and some direct sun.
- Fertilization: Apply a high-potassium fertilizer every two weeks once buds form.
- Transplantation: Repot your cactus each year after flowering.
Pernilla HedGetty Images
How to Encourage More Blooming
Keep plants cool (around 50 degrees) following their blooming period. Water them to keep the soil just barely moist, and be sure to withhold fertilizer. When new growth begins, use the following strategy to encourage blooming: House the plants in an environment with a temperature between 55 and 65 degrees, and alternate between giving them 10 hours of light and 14 hours of total darkness for four to six weeks after the growth appears. When buds appear, introduce the plant to warmer temperatures and begin regular culture, as described above. Plants should bloom in about six weeks.
For can’t-miss news, expert beauty advice, genius home solutions, delicious recipes, and lots more, sign up for the Good Housekeeping newsletter.
Why is my Christmas Cactus blooming in March?
Sometimes we get questions at the Information Desk that sound more complicated than they really are. This weeks stumper was “Why is my Christmas Cactus blooming in March?” This actually has a very simple answer: Because it’s not a Christmas Cactus – it’s an Easter Cactus.
Most people see this plant and think Christmas Cactus. Late in the year you can find them anywhere – from grocery stores to big box stores – in shades of pink, red or even white.
“Christmas Cactus” has become a generic term for three different cacti in the same family. What most people think of as “Christmas Cactus” will turn out to be either a Thanksgiving Cactus, a Christmas Cactus, or an Easter Cactus. How to can you tell the difference? Is it blooming now? What month is it? Is it early November, late December, or late winter/early spring? That can give you a big hint. But the real way to tell them apart is to look closely at the leaves.
All three plants have fleshy flat leaf sections. Thanksgiving cactus leaves have longer, curved projections along the edge. The Christmas cactus have smaller more right angle-like projections, and the Easter cactus have no projects, just gently scalloped leaf edges. These cacti are members of the the Schlumbergera genius of cacti (although Easter cactus has multiple accepted names: Schlumbergera gaertneri, Phipsalidopsis gaertnerii, Rhipsalidopsis gaetneri or Hatiora gaetneri). All three are native to the forests of Brazil.
These cactus can be incredibly long lived, often being passed down from one generation to the next in families. This picture is from a story in the Bismarck Tribune about one family’s 111-year-old cactus. There was a news story about a 145 year old cactus belonging to a family in Bozeman, Montana, and Writer Ann Parr wrote about her family’s 150+ year old cactus.
The common name “Christmas Cactus” is misleading. These plants are not sun loving, drought tolerant cacti. Being native to the treetops of the coastal mountain ranges of Brazil they like bright but filtered sunlight and regular watering so that their potting material does not dry out completely. They are happiest when they are pot-bound, which makes them even easier to care for – no repotting.
Once the flowers fade, they should be treated like a houseplant. Place them in bright light, but not direct sunlight, and water regularly. They can be grown outside during the summer as long as their pots are placed in dappled shade, they are watered regularly, and are brought back inside before nighttime temperatures hit 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Fertilize once a year in late spring or early Summer and you’ll have a healthy happy plant.
The most common question people have about Christmas Cactus is how to get them to rebloom after the first year. Blooms requires two things: cooler temperatures and long nights. These cacti are short-day plants, which means that blooms are triggered by long dark cool nights. They need between 14-16 hours of uninterrupted darkness and 8 hours of daylight for between 3 – 6 weeks to set flower buds. Streetlights and indoor lights will disrupt their required darkness cycle, so you can either cover them each night with a black garbage bag, or find a room in your house that is seldom used at night and place them near a window. If the temperatures in the room are a bit cooler it will be even better. Their desired night time temperature is between 50 and 68 degrees. Once flower buds appear along the leaf ends you can move the plant back to its regular place in your home to enjoy the flowers.
Be careful about placing them in drafts. Drafts may cause bud drop. A few buds dropping off is normal, but drafts will cause the plant to drop all its buds at once – then you’ll be out of luck for another year.
Reiman Gardens at Iowa State University has a nice downloadable brochure about the care and propagation of Holiday Cactus that you can download for free here.