The Christmas cactus has become a cheerful addition to many homes during the holiday season due to its colorful flowers that bloom in winter. Although cacti are frequently associated with arid, desert-like environments, the Christmas cactus originated in the tropical rainforests of Southeastern Brazil and prefers more humid environments than other cacti.
Keep reading to know everything about this plant and why you need it to be a part of your indoor and outdoor spaces.
The Beauty of the Christmas Cactus for the Holidays
First things first—what is a Christmas cactus, also going by its official botanical name Schlumbergera? For every season, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter there are three types of cacti for the occasion. Each cactus blooms around the time of the holiday it is named after. Hanging branches of flat green leaves and rounded teeth characterize the Christmas cactus.
They produce red, pink, white, or purple flowers at the tips of these branches which can grow up to 1 meter (3 feet long). Each flower lasts several days, though the entire flowering period lasts about two weeks. If you're considering filling up your house with Xmas plant goodies, treat yourself to 15 of the most popular Christmas plants and flowers.
So, what's the 411 on this beautiful houseplant and how should you care for it to keep this holiday houseplant blooming for years to come? Pay close attention to these care tips.
How to Care for a Schlumbergera
Christmas cacti are relatively simple to grow once you understand their basic requirements regarding the amount of light they need, at what temperature they thrive best, what type of soil they require, how many times they need to be watered, among more. Let's start with the basics: light, soil, and water.
When it comes to blooming, the Christmas cactus has very specific lighting requirements. Place the plant near a window where it will receive bright, indirect light for the best results. So that discoloration does not occur, the light should be filtered.
These blooming beauties, like many other plants in the cactus family, dislike having 'wet feet', which is why you should use well-draining soil. Plant professionals recommend using a soil mix that is specifically designed for succulents and cacti.
When it comes to the water requirements to best take care of your Christmas cactus, you must remember that this species dislikes being as dry as some of its more arid relatives. Water when the top third of the soil feels dry, but cut back in the fall to encourage flowering.
4. Fertilizer for Your Christmas Cactus
You can fertilize your Christmas cactus with any general liquid or granular fertilizer that has a balanced NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) ratio. The fertilizer should be applied during the growing season, generally spring and summer, according to experts. Keep in mind that during the active growth period, you should fertilize your Christmas cactus every two weeks.
5. The Ideal Temperature for Christmas Cacti
While these plants look their best in the winter, they don't like it when it gets too cold. Temperatures between 15-21 degrees Celsius (60-70 degrees Fahrenheit) are ideal for Christmas cactus, but it can tolerate temperatures as low as 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit). If your home is particularly dry, keep a shallow bowl of water nearby to help humidify the air—Christmas cacti prefer warm temperatures.
How to Prune Christmas Cactus
Pruning Christmas cactus is usually unnecessary unless you want to keep your plant small. To prune, simply twist or clip off where two stem segments connect. Plant professionals share that the best time to do this is right after the plant finishes blooming, usually in January or February. But many doubt how the Christmas cactus can rebloom and the following information will help you understand in depth.
How to Get Christmas Cactus to Rebloom
Your cactus requires the proper conditions for those stunning flowers to appear. This includes long, dark nights and short days. To get your Christmas cactus reblooming, make sure to place your cactus in a completely dark area (like the garage or basement, where no house lights will be on) for 12 hours each night for six to eight weeks before Christmas, then move it to a sunny spot to expose it to 10 hours of daylight. If you notice that buds do not form for some reason, move your plant closer to a window, as this is your plant's way of telling you that its daytime light is insufficient.
How to Propagate a Christmas Cactus
Christmas cacti are very easy to propagate, but it is best done during the spring. If you wish to take cuttings to share, ensure the pieces you break off have at least two or three segments. Follow these steps to propagate your flowering houseplant:
- Clip a piece of cactus with two to three segments.
- Let the segments sit for a day or two.
- Fill a pot with cacti and succulent mix.
- Make a hole in your soil and place the clipping in the hole.
- Keep the pot in a warm, bright place, keeping the soil moist. In a few weeks, they should root and start to put out new growth.
Common Diseases or Problems You May Face With Christmas Cacti
While Christmas cactus is known for being low maintenance, there are a few problems you may encounter when caring for the houseplant, starting with fungal diseases. They may occur and often appear as yellow, brown, or black spots on the stems. These diseases are most commonly associated with the plant being kept too moist, in insufficient light, or in a room with poor airflow. If your plant is showing spotting of the stems, try providing more light if possible such as placing an LED lamp over the plant to augment natural light and ensure it’s not being overwatered.
On the other hand, mealybugs can be a major issue for this houseplant. Mealybugs can suck the nutrients from Christmas cactus and produce a sugary substance called honeydew, which can lead to an increase of ants inside the home that target the plant. This honeydew production can lead to sooty mold on your Christmas cactus, which leaves a black, unsightly residue on the plant over time. To avoid mealybugs, routinely check your Christmas cactus for signs of infestation and treat them with an insecticidal soap spray, which will help to control and eliminate the insects on contact.
Lastly, root rot can also occur when having Christmas cactus around. Root rot refers to when the roots suffocate, die, and rot, and can occur if the plant is overwatered. The easiest way to prevent root rot is to feel the potting mix before watering to ensure it needs moisture and you’re not adding too much water. If your plant is suffering from root rot, helping the soil get back to optimal moisture levels is key.
Now that you know the basic care tips to make your Christmas cactus bloom and show itself off during the holidays, it's time to get your hands on one (or several) to decorate your interior spaces for the festivities. This colorful plant will show off its petals in a variety of colors such as red, purple, orange, pink, and white, and is sure to brighten up any space during the holiday season and beyond!
If you want to know more about cacti varieties to implement in your spaces, read the article 'The 10 Best Indoor Cactus Varieties and How to Care for Them'.