How To Properly Care For Your Christmas Cactus

While Poinsettias are probably the most popular Christmas plant, there are many people that wouldn’t consider celebrating the holiday season without a Christmas cactus. The Schlumbergera, or Christmas cactus has been a favorite holiday plant since the 1800’s.

Even though the Christmas cactus is a true cacti, unlike other cacti that normally grow in the heat of the desert, they grow in trees in tropical rain forests. And, therefore don’t like as much sun as most cacti, they should be kept in an area that gets bright indirect sunlight.

Christmas cactus will adapt to low lighting conditions, but they bloom much better when exposed to bright indirect light. They can even be set outdoors and will do quite well as long as they’re not setting in bright sun. And, are brought inside before the weather gets too cold.

Christmas Cactus Blooms

Christmas Cactus Blooms

This tropical cactus isn’t as drought tolerant as other cacti, although being a succulent, it does store some water in the leaves. The Christmas cactus should be watered when the top inch or so of the soil becomes dry. Don’t follow a regular watering schedule, the temperature in the room, humidity and even the growth rate will vary. Only water when the top of the soil is dry.

Christmas cacti are very adaptable to temperatures, they can survive temperatures as low as 35* and as high as 100*. But, the excessive high and low temperatures can cause a lot of damage to the plant. The best temperature to keep them at is between 65* and 80*.

They don’t require a lot of fertilizing, between 2 and 4 times each year is more than sufficient to keep them healthy. A high quality fertilizer that is labeled 20-20-20 is excellent. And, if you have had your plant for awhile and know the approximate time when it will bloom, don’t use any fertilizer about a month before the new buds should appear.

The soil has to be a well draining mixture, this is very important to prevent root rot. You can purchase a good quality commercial potting soil that is mixed especially for succulents. If you like mixing your own soil mediums, use one part clean sand and two parts of regular potting soil.

Christmas Cactus

Christmas Cactus

After your plant has lost it’s blooms, you can encourage the stems to branch out by pruning them. Just remove a few of the sections of the stems with a sharp knife. These sections can then be placed into some moist vermiculite and they will root to propagate new plants.

To get your Christmas cactus to bloom again the following season, they need a little extra attention. In order to bloom, they need long periods of darkness and temperatures around 50* at night. The shorter days and cooler temperatures let the plant know when it’s time to bloom!

Around the middle of October you can begin the dark treatments to have them blooming by the holidays. The ideal conditions to force blooming is to keep the plant at the cooler temperature, cut back on watering and provide them with 12 to 14 hours of complete darkness each night.

Written by Connie Corder for HouseplantsForYou.com, Copyright 2008 All Rights Reserved.

23 Comments

  1. GRACE WHITE
    Jun 18, 2009

    I HAVE AN OLD CHRISTMAS CATUS , SOME OF THE LEAVES ARE PINKISH
    AND SOME ARE GREEN . IT HAS BEEN THIS WAY FOR A FEW YEARS .CAN YOU TELL ME IF THIS IS NORMAL , OR WHAT COULD BE THE CAUSE ?

  2. Barb Lutters
    Jul 26, 2009

    ? TOO much sun for too long a time.

  3. Bobbi Pugh
    Oct 18, 2009

    My Christmas Cactus is blooming now! What should I do so it will bloom @ Christmas too?
    Thanks!

  4. TERRY S.
    Dec 11, 2009

    This is a very informitive web page. I had some questions about Poinsettias, and found what I needed.

  5. Laurie K
    Dec 9, 2010

    My Christmas Cactus is looking pale, but it’s loaded with buds that haven’t opened for about a month. What should I do?

  6. pittsginnyp
    Jun 17, 2011

    My Christmas Cactus has green and pinkish leaves.What causes this? I’ve had it for many years and have not seen this before? Also, part of the plant rotted off? I feed it cactus food once a week. What does it need?

  7. PlantLady
    Jun 21, 2011

    Grace and pittsginnyp….Mine has never had any pink on the leaves, so I did a little research for you. From what I can find out, it can happen when the plant starts to receive more or brighter sun and it doesn’t do any harm to the plant. It seems it’s not uncommon for this plant to have either a pinkish or purplish color in the leaves during the summer months when there’s more sun.

    pittsginnyp.. as far as part of the plant rotting, it could be basal stem rot which is caused from the soil being too damp. The best thing to do is to remove any effected parts of the plant and cut back on watering. If you’ve had it for many years and have always feed the plant once a week that might not be the problem, but it’s recommended to feed them no more than once a month through the growing season.

    Laurie..If your plant is looking “bleached” out it’s probably getting too much direct sunlight. In the wild, this plant actually lives in the crooks of tree branches where it doesn’t get a lot of bright sunlight. As far as the buds, from what I have read they won’t open if the plant isn’t getting enough light or humidity.

  8. Mojo
    Dec 18, 2011

    I love Christmas cactuses I gust got one it was $3.00 insed of $10 and it has one or to budes and a cuppel segments of the stim/leaf thinges fel of and the tipes of some of the other ones have like browen on them is that normil if not wut cases it and how can I fix it

  9. kerry
    Oct 2, 2012

    I have an old christmas cactus someone gave me that never bloomed in a coupple years, what should i do. i have already removed the hard old soil and re-planted it in a large pot with lots of new soil.

    • Rebecca Garner
      Dec 14, 2012

      Christmas cactus blooms best when near root bound. My plant was looking a little rough and I repotted into larger pot. The plant did not bloom for 4 years or until the plant caught up with the size of the pot I had used.

  10. Joan MacDonald
    Nov 16, 2012

    I was just given a beautiful two coloured blossom Christmas Cactus, I’ve read directions for exp0sure indoors, was wondering if it could be placed in a south window that has vertical blinds.

  11. Rosalyn
    Nov 21, 2012

    Just received a christmas cactus and since I have a “brown thumb” I would like to keept this one alive.

  12. Jim Gallagher
    Nov 21, 2012

    The leaves on my christmas cactus are soft and sickly looking The plant looks like it is about to die – in two years it has never bloomed. Any advice welcomed.

  13. Christine
    Nov 22, 2012

    My C. Cacti sits outside all summer then into the garage when cold temps start. When it starts being a hard frost on a regular basis I bring it in. By the middle of Oct I have buds. My question is, mine has beautiful buds all over and the buds appear to be getting somewhat larger but they are not opening. This has been going on since before Halloween and now it’s Thanksgiving and it still hasn’t opened. Thankfully the buds haven’t fallen off. What’s up?? Do I just have a really slow bloomer?

  14. Cheryl Davis
    Nov 26, 2012

    Bought a beautiful christmas cactus full of blooms and buds. Got it home and all the buds began dropping off. Tempature was not an issue. What could have happened.

  15. Rodney
    Nov 30, 2012

    Put it in a place or cover it with a box for 12 to 14 hours each night. When buds start showing you can stop. Good luck:)

    • Rodney
      Nov 30, 2012

      I meant to say put it in a place where it gets 12 to 14 hours of darkness a night.

  16. Debbie
    Dec 6, 2012

    Mom left me red Christmas cactus that we had for over 5 yrs. . Have not repotted ant keep moist. On porch or indoors indirect sun. Still blooming at least a couple
    Times annually . Should I repot, leave out, fertilize ?Has great sentiment value .
    Thanks for your help. Happy Holidays

  17. Sharen
    Dec 27, 2012

    I just bought a young Christmas cactus it was very cold when I took it from the store. Time I got in the house some of the leaves were black the tops were still green.
    i took the black leaves off and put the others in water. I’ d like to know if this plant still has a chancee to grom and look like it should.

  18. andrea lehmann
    Dec 27, 2012

    Hi I just received my first ever Christmas Cactus. It has no blooms at all. Is this normal and how do I ensure keeping it healthy? By bright indirect sunlight where is the best place to keep it? I have a large double window with two separate blinds. Would opening one and leaving one closed be too much light?

  19. Alana
    Jun 4, 2013

    My cactus love the eastern exposure in my kitchen in the bay window. If they are in a room that is not lit up at night they should bloom. Too much water will rot it and the stems will fall off or get soft. If I move them from where they like it they won’t bloom as well or not at all.

  20. Paula
    Dec 3, 2013

    My Christmas cactus is getting hard stems like wood. Is it sick or is this normal.

  21. Rose
    Dec 22, 2013

    This is my first Christmas and it is blooming and healthy. I keep reading on how to care for it and it says not to over water it. I keep mine in a glass jar with the soil that was in the pot and I filled the jar with water, the christmas cactus seem to love it and is blooming and no rotting leaves or stem. I keep it by a window away from direct sunlight. My question is why did my camas cactus not die from sitting in too much water???

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