Christmas Cactus Plant Care
How to care for Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera buckleyi) indoors
The Christmas cactus is a long-lived tropical plant native to South America. Despite its name and its segmented leaves that resemble those of succulents, the Christmas cactus is not a desert plant, but is native to tropical rainforests. This attractive, winter-flowering plant is undemanding and very easy to propagate, which is why it has become one of the most popular houseplants. The Christmas cactus we know in our homes today is a hybrid of the native species Schlumbergera truncata and Schlumbergera russelliana, which grow wild in the rainforests of southeastern Brazil.
For most of the year, the Christmas cactus is an elegant green plant with unique articulated stems that fits in almost any space, but at Christmas it becomes a blooming beauty that lights up the whole room. Thanks to its winter flowering, the Christmas cactus plant has become a Christmas tradition in homes almost all over the world. It usually blooms in red, but some varieties have white, pink, purple or orange flowers.
Basic rules for growing a Christmas cactus:
1. Place in a spot with bright indirect sunlight
2. Maintain a normal room temperature without drafts
3. Plant in well-drained soil and a pot with drainage holes
4. Water only after the top layer of soil has dried
Christmas cactus growing conditions
The Christmas cactus prefers bright light, but no direct sun and no drafts. It will tolerate a darker environment, but its flowering will be more infrequent. This plant prefers the outdoors during the summer, so it will do best in a garden or balcony during the warmer part of the year. Although it likes warmth and light, never put it in direct sun. The ideal habitat for the Christmas cactus is under a tree canopy.
The Christmas cactus requires frequent watering, especially in spring and summer, about once a week. However, be careful not to let the pot be submerged in water for a long time as this can cause the root system to rot. Choose a well-drained soil to minimize the risk of root rot. Always allow the top layer of potting medium to dry out between waterings, as overwatering causes leaf drop, among other issues. This plant also benefits from moist air, which can be artificially created by placing a shallow saucer of water near the plant.
The Christmas cactus does not require extra nutritious soil, but the substrate must be as well-drained as possible. A mix of typical gardening soil with 1/3 drainage material (sand, perlite, ceramsite, zeolite or bark) is suitable for growing this houseplant. As with most plants, a slightly acidic soil (pH 5.5 – 6.5) suits the Christmas cactus best.
Fertilizing Christmas cactus
The Christmas cactus doesn't need much fertilizer. A small amount of slow-release or liquid fertilizer added twice a year (in early spring and autumn) is quite sufficient to help this houseplant flower during the holidays.
The Christmas cactus thrives in normal room temperatures (18-26°C/65-80°F) with slightly humid air. It should be kept in a location without drafts. During the summer, this houseplant can be moved outdoors as long as it is protected from direct sun, but before cooler nights arrive, the Christmas cactus should be moved back inside as it cannot tolerate the cold.
Christmas cactus care
Christmas cactus bloom
The triggers for Christmas cactus flowering are the lower night temperatures and long periods of darkness during autumn. If you want your Christmas cactus to bloom during the holidays, you should allow the plant to go dormant 6 to 8 weeks before you want it to bloom. To do this, place the Christmas cactus in a darker, cooler room with an average temperature of 10 to 12 °C/50 to 54°F. It's also important that the plant is in complete darkness for at least 12 hours a day.
Reduce watering during dormancy and water only when the top two inches of the soil is dry. During this period, the Christmas cactus will form flower buds and prepare for flowering. Once the buds are swollen, you can move the Christmas cactus to a brighter location where it will flower beautifully for one to two months. To prolong flowering, keep the Christmas cactus away from heat sources.
Cut back the ends of the stems a few weeks after flowering to encourage the plant to grow and branch out. These cuttings can be used to propagate the Christmas cactus.
Transplanting Christmas cactus
The Christmas cactus doesn't like to be transplanted, so only repot it when it's clearly started to outgrow its pot. Always transplant the Christmas cactus plant into a pot that's slightly larger by 2.5-5 cm/1-2 inches. When repotting, use fresh potting soil to replenish the plant's source of nutrients.
Christmas cactus propagation
A Christmas cactus can be a great gift, and you can easily propagate it from cuttings. Cut off the end 2-4 segments of a healthy stem, leave the cuttings for 3 days to dry out the cut surfaces and then plant them in moist soil. Place the cuttings in a bright location out of direct sunlight and they should take root within 4 to 6 weeks. Spring is the ideal time to propagate Christmas cactus.
Pruning can keep the Christmas cactus compact and dense, as it tends to branch out after trimming. The ideal time to cut down a Christmas cactus is late spring.
Holiday cactus species and varieties
Several species and cultivars are known as holiday cacti. They are mostly named according to their flowering period:
Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera buckleyi)
The Christmas cactus is a hybrid of Schlumbergera truncata x Schlumbergera russelliana and as its name indicates, it usually blooms during the Christmas season. In comparison to the Thanksgiving cactus, it does not have serrated leaves, or only has rounded teeth on its leaves.
Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata)
The best-selling species of the holiday cacti family is the Thanksgiving cactus, although it is often incorrectly referred to as the Christmas cactus. The Thanksgiving cactus has serrated leaves and blooms from late autumn to early winter. However, by manipulating their environment, their flowering can also be timed to coincide with the Christmas season (see Christmas cactus bloom mentioned above)
Easter cactus (Schlumbergera gaertneri)
The Easter cactus is a species that flowers from late winter to early spring. It is characterized by segmented stems with blunt teeth and star-shaped flowers.
All species of holiday cacti (Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter cacti) are available in several varieties with different flower colors in shades of red, pink, white, orange or purple.