The Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera) has long been appreciated as a favorite houseplant for year-round beauty. It is easy to grow and requires relatively little care while still managing to add bright, vibrant blooms to the holiday season. As its name suggests, this beauty really shows its true colors during the Christmas season when it blooms in shades of white, pink, red, yellow, orange and purple.
My Granny had a Christmas Cactus that was so big and beautiful it was the first thing that visitors noticed in her kitchen.
Anytime someone would mention it, she would quickly snap off a piece and place it in the kitchen window. When her guest left, they would do so with a brand-new cutting and instructions on how to care for it. My Granny’s charitable nature is in the forefront of my mind during the holidays, and this simple act epitomized how giving was second nature for her.
Beyond the Christmas Cactus’ well-timed blooms, this native of Brazil has no real ties to the season. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start your own holiday tradition by giving the gift of Christmas Cactus to your friends and loved ones. They are among the easiest plants to root from cuttings. Unlike so many other plants in the cactus family they don’t have spikes that present a potential danger, so this is a project that you can safely do with the kids.
Grasp a piece of the stem with two segments in one hand, while gently pinching the segments loose using a fingernail.
Allow the piece to rest for a few hours to give the open wound some time to dry out. This isn’t absolutely necessary, but it does help to avoid the potential for stem rot, so it is worth the extra time.
In the meantime, have your kids decorate a 3″ or 4″ terra cotta pot using paint, ribbons, pipe cleaners, or anything else that strikes their fancy. This will be the home for their Christmas Cactus plant as it begins its new life, so encourage them to put all the love they can muster into their masterpiece!
The Christmas Cactus requires a well-drained soil, so make sure that you use a light, good quality potting soil when you pot the cutting. Water it lightly – about once per week – for the first two to three weeks and then water only when the top half of the soil is dry. With your kids’ help, prominently mark the family calendar with a weekly reminder to water the Christmas Cactus.
This simple project is a good opportunity to teach an appreciation for plants and growing things while teaching responsibility at the same time. Both are important life skills that we all benefit from while growing up. Even more important is the chance to teach your kids how easy it is to give.
I think my Granny would have liked that.
A Christmas cactus is one of my very favorite holiday plants. Pops of unexpected color bloom from alien-like tendrils that creep and drape over the plant. These are attractive plants to have all year, but the real magic comes from when they bloom. Those showy flowers bring joy and color to colder seasons when we need it most. There are a few specific steps you can take to ensure that you get the best show from your plants. This guide also applies to Thanksgiving and Easter Cacti, as long as you tweak the schedule to accommodate for the different flowering times.
I get a lot of comments about generalizing Schlumbergera as Christmas Cacti and folks are truly very passionate about properly identifying the different species. Latin names are wonderful for ensuring that there is clarity so that the plants can be properly cared for. In for this care guide the instructions are the same for Schlumbergera truncata and S. x Buckley but I use the common term Christmas Cactus so these tips can easily be found and used.
- What’s the Difference between a Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, and Easter Cactus?
- When to Buy a Christmas Cactus
- The Best Soil for Christmas Cactus
- How and When to Fertilize
- How to Water Holiday Cacti
- Light Needs for Christmas Cactus
- How to Propagate Christmas Cactus
- How to Promote Blooming
- Christmas Cactus
- Best time for repotting Christmas Cactus
- Soil mix for repotting Christmas Cactus
- Steps to Christmas Cactus repotting
- After care
What’s the Difference between a Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, and Easter Cactus?
Many of the plants that are commonly called and sold as Christmas cacti, are in fact not true “Christmas”cacti. There are similar looking plants that bloom at Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter. Whether you have a Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata), a true Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x Buckleyi), or an Easter cactus (Hatiora gaertneri), the care instructions are the same but with an adjusted schedule. The best way to tell them apart is when they bloom (near the date of the holiday they are named for), but you can also tell by the leaves: Christmas and Easter cacti have more rounded leaves and Thanksgiving cacti have pointy leaves. The Easter cactus also has more star-shaped flowers that look quite different from the Schlumbergeras.
Proper year-round care will ensure that your Christmas cactus is healthy enough to thrive and bloom, so let’s start with care basics:
When to Buy a Christmas Cactus
As always when buying a new plant, select one that looks healthy and shows no signs of disease. When choosing a plants, it is also important to pick one that is in the appropriate stage of dormancy so that it will be ready to flower for the holidays.
If you are buying one after October, choose one with visible buds on it. If you are buying one before October, pick one that does not have any buds or blooms.
The Best Soil for Christmas Cactus
Plant them into a well-draining pot in a soil mix made especially for succulents and cacti (see how to make your own here).
Homemade Succulent and Cactus Potting Mix Recipe
Succulents and cacti thrive in dry environments and require their soil to dry out completely in between watering. The best soil for them is made up of light, airy materials with excellent drainage.
- 1 part compost
- 1 part ground bark
- 1 part sand
- 1 part pumice
How and When to Fertilize
Fertilize with a balanced fertilizer in the spring and summer. Do not fertilize in the fall, as this will hinder its ability to bloom.
How to Water Holiday Cacti
Christmas cacti need humidity, which can be hard to come by indoors as the air is often very dry, particularly during the winter. To make sure that your Christmas cactus is getting the humidity that it loves, water it often enough that the soil never dries out (about two or three times per week) and spritz regularly with water from a spray bottle.
You can also make an easy DIY humidity tray to keep Christmas cacti happy when they are in a dry environment.
You can tell if you are overwatering a Christmas cactus if the buds fall off before they bloom. If this happens, reduce watering and misting. Christmas cacti will need significantly less water during their dormant phase (more on that at the end of this post!).
Light Needs for Christmas Cactus
Generally speaking, Christmas cacti do best located in a bright room with lots of indirect sunlight. In the summertime they can be moved outdoors and placed in a shady spot, and in the fall Christmas cacti need twelve hours of darkness per day, so set them somewhere that does not get much artificial light after the sun goes down.
How to Propagate Christmas Cactus
Christmas cacti take well to propagating, so it is easy to get lots of plants from just one starter plant.
Simply cut off a piece of the stem and stick it into a small pot filled with soil. After a week or two, it will develop roots and begin to grow on its own. For more detailed instructions on propagating, see this article.
How to Promote Blooming
In addition to proper year-round care, there are a few tips and tricks to getting a stubborn Christmas cactus to bloom. Follow these steps starting in the fall and continuing in winter, and watch as your Christmas cactus gives you a beautiful display of vibrant flowers.
1. Reduce Watering
Beginning in October, water your Christmas cactus much less frequently. Once every four to six weeks is all it needs during this time of dormancy. When you see buds begin to form, go back to your regular watering schedule.
2. Provide Enough Light and Darkness
During the fall and early winter, Christmas cacti need twelve hours of dark and twelve hours of indirect sunlight each day.
3. Keep Cool
Keep Christmas cacti somewhere cool—around 50-60 degrees F—and away from heat vents, radiators, and fireplaces.
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Christmas cactus is one of the most colorful flowering houseplants. This easy-care grower bursts into bloom when the days get short, putting on a fabulous show during the holiday season. You can find Christmas cactus in a wide variety of colors, including pink, red, scarlet, orange, gold, cream, and white — as well as bicolors where an individual flower shows multiple shades at the same time.
This flowering houseplant is a cinch to grow, which has made it a popular holiday plant for generations. In fact, a beautiful Christmas cactus has become something of an heirloom for many families, with the plant being passed down through the ages.
In bloom, Christmas cactus are spectacular holiday plants, showing off their colorful blossoms like jewels at the end of their stems. When not in bloom the rest of the year, Christmas cactus show off jagged foliage that gives insight to one of its other common names: crab cactus.
Note: Christmas cactus is sometimes also called Thanksgiving cactus or zygo cactus.
Christmas Cactus Questions?
If you have questions about your Christmas cactus, just drop us an email. One of our experts will be happy to try to help!
Christmas Cactus, although lovely when blooming, are not only for the holidays. They’re attractive, long-lasting succulent houseplants. I love the foliage and the weeping form they grow into over time. The soil mine was planted in was pulling away from the sides of the grow pot and just looked old. This is all about repotting Christmas Cactus including how and when to do it, and the best soil mix to use.
First off, let’s get a bit technical for those of you who geek out on all things plant, like me. The Christmas Cacti that you see here and in the video are actually Thanksgiving (or Crab) Cactus. They were labeled as CC when I bought it and that’s how they’re commonly sold in the trade. Nowadays you may see them labeled as Holiday Cactus. Regardless of which one you have, you repot these epiphytic cacti in the same manner.
What’s the difference between Christmas Cactus and Thanksgiving Cactus?
Both the Thanksgiving and the Christmas Cactus fall under the genus Schlumbergera which I learned as Schlumbergia years ago. The Thanksgiving Cactus has little spine-like notches coming off it’s leaves (just like a crab claw hence that common name) whereas the leaves of the Christmas Cactus are smoother. The Thanksgiving Cactus is timed to flower in November/December whereas it’s December/January for the Christmas Cactus.
I planted these into 1 pot. Mine on the left got “pruned” by the pack rats so only 1/3 of it remained. I decided to add the 1 on the right in to fill out the pot. Besides, Bach’s Cactus Nursery was having a sale on them so how could I say no!
Here’s a closer look so you can see the nubs. My Christmas (Thanksgiving) Cactus grows outdoors year-round on my side patio & the pack rats devoured it in Jan.
Best time for repotting Christmas Cactus
Soon after your Christmas Cactus blooms is the best time. Mine stopped blooming at the end of December. I did the repotting at the end of March when the weather warmed.
They start to set their buds in September or early October so you want to transplant yours by early August. This way the plant is settled in before that process starts.
Repotting done. I ended up snipping off some of the nubs to make it look a little better.
Soil mix for repotting Christmas Cactus
These succulents are epiphytic cacti and differ from the desert cacti that I’m surrounded by here in Tucson. In their natural rainforest habits, Christmas Cacti grow on other plants and rocks; not in the soil.
They are sheltered by the canopies of trees and shrubs and thrive when protected from full, direct sun. They get their nourishment from organic matter leaf matter & debris falling from the plants growing above them. This means they like a very porous mix that also has a lot of richness to it, just like their fellow epiphytes bromeliads & orchids.
I like to do this blend because it’s rich yet drains well. These are organic ingredients I always have on hand because my collection of plants is always growing. You’ll find some alternative mixes listed a few paragraphs below.
1/3 succulent & cactus mix
I’ve been buying a mix from a local source but have just started making my own. Here’s the recipe for DIY succulent & cactus mix in case you want to make your own too: Succulent & Cactus Soil Mix For Pots
Here are online options for succulent & cactus mix: Bonsai Jack (this 1 is very gritty; great for those prone to overwatering!), Hoffman’s (this is more cost effective if you have a lot of succulents but you might have to add pumice or perlite) or Superfly Bonsai (another fast draining 1 like Bonsai Jack which is great for indoor succulents).
1/3 potting soil
I’m partial to Ocean Forest because of its high-quality ingredients. It’s a soilless mix & is enriched with lots of good stuff but also drains well.
1/3 coco coir chips & fiber
I buy mine locally here in Tucson. Here’s a similar product.
A few handfuls of compost
A few handfuls of worm compost
This is my favorite amendment, which I use sparingly because it’s rich. I’m currently using Worm Gold Plus. Here’s why I like it so much.
A few handfuls of charcoal
Charcoal improves the drainage & absorbs impurities & odors. Pumice or perlite up the ante on the drainage factor too. This is optional, like the composts, but I always have them on hand.
You can read how I feed my houseplants with worm compost & compost here: How I Feed My Houseplants Naturally With Worm Compost & Compost
1/2 potting soil & 1/2 orchid bark.
all cymbidium orchid mix.
1/2 succulent & cactus mix & 1/2 cymbidium orchid mix.
1/2 potting soil & 1/2 orchid bark.
1/2 potting soil & 1/2 coco coir chips.
This is what mine in bloom early last Dec. The new one I got is “Exotic Dancer” which is red also.
Christmas Cactus bloom best when slightly potbound. Mine was in a 6″ grow pot & I planted it into an 8″ pot. I’ve seen older Christmas Cacti planted in relatively small pots & they’re doing just fine. Make sure the pot has at least 1 drain hole.
Steps to Christmas Cactus repotting
My Christmas Cactus got severely pruned by the pack rats so I combined it with a new 4″ plant as well as a cutting. So, my repotting process was a bit more detailed than yours will most likely be.
You can watch the video to see how I did it.
I’ll simplify the process here:
Remove the plant by squeezing the pot &/or cutting around the sides with a dull knife. I loosen the root ball a bit if it’s tight with a gentle massaging.
Place desired mix in the bottom of the pot so that the root ball is even with the top.
Fill in around the sides with the mix adding in compost if you have it.
I topped mine with succulent & cactus mix, compost & worm compost.
How often should you repot Christmas Cactus?
I’ll repot mine in 3-5 years depending on how it’s doing. Remember, they like to grow slightly tight in their pots so only go up 1 pot size.
After a few weeks, mine is settling in just fine. The older plant is starting to plump back up & both plants feel firmly rooted in.
I moved mine to the covered side patio where it gets indirect yet bright light. I let it settle in for a few days & then gave it a couple of thorough waterings to make sure the mix was moist. It’s warm here in Tucson now (80’s into 90’s) so I’m watering mine every 5-7 days now.
These are epiphytic cacti & differ from the desert cacti that I’m surrounded by here. In their natural rainforest habits, they grow on other plants & rocks; not in soil. Their roots need to breathe.
Give yours a good drink of water, let it all thoroughly drain out of the pot, & let it go dry before you water it again. You don’t want to keep the roots constantly moist or they’ll eventually rot out.
How often should you water your Christmas Cactus?
How often you water depends on your temps, the exposure it’s in & the pot size. Houseplant watering 101 gives you a general idea. I watered my Christmas Cactus growing outdoors in Santa Barbara every week (yes, they do grow outdoors year round in temperate climates) in the warmer weather & sometimes not at all in the winter, depending on if we had rain or not. Indoors I watered every 2-4 weeks in the cooler months.
There’s lots of new growth appearing on the older plant as well as the new plant (below).
There’s even new growth appearing on the nubs.
Repotting your Christmas Cactus (Thanksgiving, Holiday) is easy to do and I’m sure yours will appreciate some fresh mix. Mine is putting out so much new growth just a few weeks after its repotting. Can’t wait to see the blooms it puts out in fall!
You can find more houseplant info in my simple and easy to digest houseplant care guide: Keep Your Houseplants Alive.
More on Christmas Cactus:
How to Grow Christmas Cactus
How To Propagate Christmas Cactus
How To Get Your Christmas Cactus To Flower Again
What Causes Christmas Cactus Leaves To Turn Orange?
Much more on houseplants here, as well as repotting here!
Christmas Cactus blooms in winter, producing flowers on the tips of its succulent leaves. Although hardy in USDA hardiness zones 10 through 12, it is grown most often as an indoor holiday plant.
A Christmas Cactus requires repotting every 3 years. Repot it in spring, after it finishes flowering for the season but when its foliage and roots still grow actively. Planting your Christmas Cactus in the correct type of potting soil will help the plant remain healthy and will ensure a good bloom in the next season.
In its native Brazil, the Christmas Cactus has very specific growing conditions. It’s an epiphyte, meaning it grows on the trunks of larger trees and gains most of its moisture from the air. It sinks its roots into decomposing leaves and debris resting on the sides of trees. It also draws some moisture from this makeshift soil, but because of its small volume and position high in the air, this soil dries out easily even with daily rainfall. This means that the best soil for Christmas Cactus is extremely well draining. Heavy garden soil or potting soil designed to retain a lot of moisture will suffocate the roots, making the Christmas Cactus grow and flower poorly. It also may result in root rot.
Photo via wikipedia.org
Homemade Potting Soil
Mixing your own potting soil allows you to ensure the cactus is in the best growing medium. Begin with sterile compost or garden loam, and mix it with equal portions of perlite and milled peat. The perlite and peat aerate the soil mixture and provide drainage while the compost or loam retains nutrients and enough moisture to support the plant’s roots. Using sterilized ingredients prevents the introduction of diseases and pest organisms into the mixture.
A standard commercial potting mixture works well with only slight amendments. Choose a pH-balanced mixture with no added fertilizers. A pH-balanced potting soil has a fairly neutral pH level, between 6.0 and 7.0. It is neither too acidic nor too alkaline for the cactus. A mixture containing 60 to 80 % soil and 20 to 40 % perlite needs no further amending. If the mixture doesn’t contain perlite, then mix 3 parts potting soil with 2 parts perlite before using it. Alternatively, use a potting soil specifically designed for cactus plants because that kind of potting mix already contains extra drainage materials.
- Back to genus Schlumbergera
- Succulentopedia: Browse succulents by Scientific Name, Common Name, Genus, Family, USDA Hardiness Zone, Origin, or cacti by Genus
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