Your Year Around Flower and Garden Guide
christmas cactus

Christmas Cactus: A Holiday Standard

A long Life-Span

A long life span and easy care makes the Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) a favorite plant for indoor gardeners and a popular plant for gift giving. Over the past century, hybridization of the plant has resulted in varieties that bloom in late autumn (the Thanksgiving Cactus, Schlumbergera truncata) and in the early spring (the Easter Cactus, Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri).

A  Christmas Cactus sucks the moisture and nutrients out of the air

Christmas cacti are epiphytic, which means they absorb most of the moisture and nutrients needed for growth from the air around them. A Brazilian native, in nature the Christmas cactus most often grows in decayed plant matter and other debris caught between tree limbs.

The Dessert is what this plant calls home

The Christmas cactus is a tropical plant and not as tolerant of desert conditions as desert cacti. The key to stimulating bloom during the holiday season is to provide your Christmas Cactus with appropriate light, temperature, and moisture.

Closet Your Christmas Cactus! - He needs 12 hours sleep!

Although the Christmas Cactus doesn't go dormant like some plants do, it does appreciate a good night's rest. Six to eight weeks before you expect bloom, be sure to provide your the cactus with a full 12 hours of darkness each night. Put it in a closet or other sheltered location where it won't be disturbed. During the day, provide your plant with bright, filtered light. When exposed to intense light, the leaves of your plant may develop a red tinge and/or become limp or 'spongy' to your touch. When you see buds forming, it's time to put your Christmas Cactus in its holiday spot!

Cacti need a moist, but not wet, environment. Water your plant thoroughly when the top inch of soil is dry to your touch. Additionally, keeping a container of water nearby or setting your plant on a humidity tray allows your Christmas Cactus to 'drink' from the air around it. Create a humidity tray by filling a plant saucer with gravel and adding water to half-full.

To keep flower buds from dropping before they bloom. keep your Christmas Cactus away from both drafts and heat sources, such as furnace vents and fireplaces.

Give Your Christmas Cactus a Vacation

Prune you Christmas Cactus after bloom or at the end of the Holiday Season. Pinch of a few sections of each stem or cut them with a sharp knife. Easily propagate your Christmas Cactus by rooting your cuttings in moist vermiculite. Then set your plant in a cool room (55F to 60F is best) for a month. Provide limited water. Don't worry if it appears to weaken, it's only resting!

Christmas Cacti are merriest when they are somewhat pot bound. You'll probably need to repot only once about every three years. When your plant tends to wilt or dry out more frequently than normal, repot it in a commercial potting soil for succulents. If you prefer to mix your own soil, a mix of one part potting soil, two parts peat moss or compost, and one part perlite helps to ensure the well-drained, but moist, environment it needs to thrive.

With proper care, your plant may bloom several times throughout the year. Long arms of succulent, emerald-green foliage drape invitingly over the edges of its pot or hanging planter and fill with a profusion of flowers in shades of red, purple, orange, pink, or cream- a surprise gift for you from your Christmas Cactus!

Find more information on the Christmas Cactus at these sites:

Find more novel growing and giving ideas in this month's features in our left navigation bar.

Consider giving a plant as a gift! Check Plants A to Z for your favorites and include a care sheet from our PDF Library!