How to Care for a Christmas Cactus

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The Christmas cactus is a popular holiday plant due to its easy care, beautiful flowers, and long lifespan of up to 100 years. Not only is it a great addition to any holiday home, but it also makes a thoughtful and cost-effective gift. With proper care, this blooming succulent can bring color to your holidays for many years to come.

Contrary to their desert-dwelling cactus counterparts, Christmas cacti (several species within the Schlumbergera genus) are native to the humid forests of Brazil and grow as epiphytes on tree branches. They are known for their stem segments and colorful flowers, which can come in shades of salmon, hot pink, deep red, pale pink, and white. While there are various types of Christmas cactus, including some that bloom at other times of the year like Easter, the care is generally the same for all of them.

Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) and Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) are both members of the Schlumbergera genus. They are popular holiday plants that are known for their attractive, colorful flowers and ability to bloom indoors during the winter months. Thanksgiving cactus typically blooms around late October or early November. Christmas cactus usually blooms a little later, around December.

Should I repot my Christmas cactus?

When you first bring home your Christmas cactus, it's best to leave it in its current pot for a few years. This is because Christmas cacti tend to bloom better when they are "pot bound," or when their roots are slightly restricted. When you do decide to repot your plant, choose a pot that is only slightly larger than the current one, with a diameter that is only an inch or two bigger. Make sure to use well-draining potting soil and a pot with drainage holes to prevent excess moisture from accumulating and potentially causing root rot.

Do I need to prune my Christmas cactus?

If your Christmas cactus starts to get leggy or the branches start drooping due to the weight of the plant, you can prune it by cutting off a piece where two stem segments join. This can help encourage new growth and keep the plant looking healthy and compact.

What sort of light does my Christmas cactus need?

Christmas cactus plants thrive in bright, indirect sunlight and are sensitive to direct sunlight, which can burn their leaves. If you're placing your plant near a west or south-facing window, make sure to use a sheer curtain to filter the light. These plants also appreciate higher humidity levels, so if your home is dry in the winter, you can place the plant on a tray of pebbles or near other plants to increase the humidity.

What temperature does my Christmas cactus need?

Christmas cacti prefer daytime temperatures of 65 to 70 degrees and evening temperatures of 55 to 65 degrees. 

Do I need to fertilize my Christmas cactus?

To encourage healthy blooms on your Christmas cactus, be sure to fertilize it monthly between June and August using a balanced houseplant fertilizer at half-strength. You can also take the plant outdoors during the summer, but be sure to bring it back inside before the weather becomes too cold.

What kind of light does my Christmas Cactus need?

The Christmas cactus is a thermo-photoperiodic plant. The formation of the bud is dependent on a particular combination of day length and temperature.

Christmas cacti do enjoy plenty of bright sun, but it's important to make sure it is indirect, as direct sunlight can burn the leaves.

In the six weeks leading up to blooming, your holiday cactus will need 12-14 hours of darkness each day in order to set buds. This means keeping the plant in a cool location with temperatures around 50-65 degrees and no light exposure, not even artificial light. To ensure that your plant gets enough darkness, you may want to consider covering it during the day or moving it to a room or closet where it won't be exposed to nighttime light. 

How much water does my Christmas cactus need?

To water your Christmas cactus, wait until the top layer of soil feels dry and then water the plant thoroughly. Be sure to never let the plant sit in standing water, as this can lead to root rot.

When watering your Christmas cactus, it's important to soak the soil all the way through to the roots. After the plant has had a chance to drain, be sure to empty any excess water from the saucer to prevent root rot. It's important to avoid letting the plant sit in standing water as this can lead to root rot and other problems. By following these watering tips, your Christmas cactus should thrive and produce beautiful flowers.

If you notice that the leaves on your Christmas cactus are looking limp, it could be a sign of under-watering. To fix the issue, try watering your plant more frequently, but be careful not to overwater, as this can cause the leaves to fall off and lead to root rot.

Additionally, make sure that your Christmas cactus is located in an ideal spot with humidity, temperatures between 70 and 80°F, and no drafts or fireplaces nearby. To increase the humidity around your plant, you can try spritzing it with a spray bottle or placing the pot over a tray of water and gravel.

Is my Christmas cactus poisonous to cats and dogs?

In terms of toxicity, Christmas cacti are generally considered to be non-toxic to pets like dogs and cats. However, the plant can be hard to digest, so if your furry friend chews on a lot of it, they may experience gastrointestinal issues or vomiting. It's always a good idea to keep an eye on your pets around plants, and to consult with a veterinarian if you have any concerns.