Christmas cactus plants are a fun and easy way to add a burst of color and freshness to any room during the dreary winter season. These winter-flowering plants are easy to take care of year-round, with numerous stems of thin green leaf-shaped pads eventually blooming at the ends into bright pink and white flowers. These beautiful green and pink colors combined with the fact that you can repeatedly rebloom your Christmas cactus under the right conditions makes it a perfect alternative to other Christmas flowers that will eventually wilt.
What is a Christmas Cactus Plant?
A Christmas cactus (scientific name: schlumbergera bridgessii) is a small type of flowering cactus. It gets its name from the fact that it can be made to easily bloom and rebloom during the winter months. When not in bloom, Christmas cactus plants have vibrant, shiny green stems with thin, wide pads that look like small leaves. Because they can be rebloomed each year with some additional planning and care, they are a popular holiday gift as well as a fun way to add colorful accents to your display of other wintertime plants.
How to Care for a Christmas Cactus
As with many indoor houseplants, Christmas cactus care comes down to providing the right watering, temperature, and lighting conditions. Because these cacti are actually native to tropical climates, they require more humidity than many cactus plants. They are also more sensitive to light and can dry out if kept under high-intensity lighting for extended periods.
Below are the optimal conditions for caring for a Christmas cactus:
- How often do you water a Christmas cactus? Christmas cactus plants need regular watering, so plan to check the soil daily and water whenever the top layer feels dry. Make sure to have drainage holes in the bottom of the pot so the plant isn’t sitting in water. If your house is especially dry, you can use a slightly raised planter with a tray of pebbles under it—this will hold some additional moisture runoff which can evaporate to increase the humidity around your plant. (If you eventually want to learn how to propagate a Christmas cactus, you will slightly alter the watering schedule in the winter.)
- How much sunlight does a Christmas cactus need? Keep your Christmas cactus in a well-lit area with access to indirect sunlight throughout most of the day. During the summer months when sunlight is more intense, make sure to move your cactus away from windows so it doesn’t burn or dry out from too much direct light.
- What are the ideal temperatures for a Christmas cactus? A Christmas cactus does best with temperatures between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit, favoring higher temperatures during the day. Make sure to keep your plant in a shaded spot if you take it outside during the hotter summer months.
As with all of the above Christmas cactus care tips, the amount of water, light, and heat your plant needs will change once you start the blooming process.
(Need help keeping your other holiday plants fresh until past New Years? Read our guide on how to care for mini Christmas trees.)
How to Get a Christmas Cactus to Bloom
So you got one of these beautiful flowering cactus plants for Christmas—how do you get it to bloom in time for the holidays? Because they’re such popular gifts around the holiday season, it’s common to find Christmas cactus for sale before they’ve started to bloom. Ideally, you will start preparing to bloom (or rebloom) your plant 6 to 8 weeks before you want it to start flowering. If you just got your plant and want it to bloom as soon as possible, you can move into the following Christmas cactus care schedule right away instead.
To bloom a Christmas cactus:
- Cut back on the amount of water you’re giving your plant—once every few weeks should be enough to cause it to enter its pre-bloom dormancy period.
- Reduce the temperature to around 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit. (If you have trouble keeping things this cool, just take care to move your cactus out of direct sunlight and away from heating vents and fireplaces.)
- In order to flower, your cactus will need 12-14 hours of complete darkness every night. You can cover your plant gently with a towel or plastic bag, or put it into a cabinet or closet to filter out all light (including artificial light from lamps).
Once your cactus is flowering, resume more frequent watering but take care not to increase the overall amount of water your plant is getting (overwatering can kill the fragile new buds). A Christmas cactus should flower for 4 to 6 weeks, and it is a good idea to prune the plant after each flowering.
How to Propagate a Christmas Cactus
Proper Christmas cactus care may result in an abundance of healthy, flowering stems which you can easily propagate to get more plants. (Which make great gifts!) Christmas cactus propagation is fairly easy and follows three basic steps: gently prune the ends off 2-4 healthy stems, store them in a cool, dry place for 2-4 days, and then plant each an inch deep in fresh soil.
Much like how to care for a Christmas cactus, propagating trimmings into new growth requires a careful balance of watering and lighting. Water sparingly at first until you notice new growth and/or roots starting to form. At that point, you can water as usual and move the cactus into more regular indirect lighting.
How to Repot a Christmas Cactus
Eventually, your cactus may outgrow its container, at which time it should be repotted. You’ll know it’s time if roots start to grow through the drainage holes in your current pot, or if it starts to look less healthy than in years past. (One important note on timing: never repot a Christmas cactus while it is flowering, as the plant is more fragile and susceptible to damage during this time.)
To repot a Christmas cactus:
- Proper Soil and Container: Before you begin to repot your Christmas cactus, make sure you have a new planter with proper drainage that is only slightly larger than your current pot. You should also find soil meant for succulents, or find a mix of regular potting soil and sand.
- Remove With Roots Intact: Take care when removing your cactus from its current pot not to damage or sever any of the roots. Gently remove any excess dirt clinging to the root system before repotting, but make sure the root ball remains fully intact.
- Repot in New Container: Gradually add fresh soil mix as you place your cactus in its new pot. Try to keep the top of the root structure about an inch below the surface of the new container and gently pack the soil down at the surface.
- Several Days of Shade: Put the newly repotted Christmas cactus in a shady location for a few days before returning to its normal light and water schedule.
If you’re looking for a green holiday gift for the budding gardener in your life, FTD has Christmas cactus for sale as well as mini Christmas trees and other winter plants. We even offer same-day shipping for many items!