Care of Christmas Cactus
Christmas Cactus Identification, Care, and Growing Tips
Do you have a Christmas Cactus? Perhaps received one as a gift and are unsure how to care for it? I can give you a helping hand with these lovely holiday flowering cacti.
I've always been fond of the Christmas Cactus since I was a little girl. My mother had a bevy of houseplants and my favorites were the ones that bloomed. The Christmas Cactus really caught my eye...covered with gorgeous, exotic-looking red flowers every December. It looked like it belonged in the tropics and not in our home in suburban Chicago.
Christmas Cactus, or 'Schlumbergera bridgesii' (or 'Schlumbergera buckleyi'), are native to Central and South America. This jungle-type cactus is considered an epiphyte in its native environment...which means that it grows on other plants and trees. It's a very popular houseplant and a favorite for gift-giving around the holidays.
In this lens I'll share what I've learned about this beautiful plant and how you can keep it looking good and flowering for many years to come. I've read they can live for over 100 years with proper care. Wow...that's one hardy cactus!
Christmas Cactus Traits and Identification
I didn't realize until a few years ago that there are several varieties of "holiday cacti". Besides the Christmas Cactus, there is also a Thanksgiving Cactus, and an Easter Cactus. One fairly easy way to tell the difference is when the plant blooms. Christmas cactus generally blooms in mid to late December, Thanksgiving cactus in mid to late November, and Easter cactus in the spring.
Christmas cactus flowers come in a variety of colors. One of the most common hues is magenta or rosy red. They also are available in yellow, white, purple, and bi-color combinations.
Interestingly, some hybrid Schlumbergeras can have different bloom colors from one season to the next. A bright yellow hybrid can be darker yellow the next season, or a dark red can be pale red. This can occur due to the temperature when the buds are forming.
Christmas cactus are frequently mistaken for Thanksgiving cactus and vice versa. Besides the different bloom times, the leaf pads are different. On Christmas cactus the leaf pads are flat, jointed, and flexible. The beautiful flowers are exotic looking with two tiers of reflexed petals (up to 3 inches long), not fully symmetrical, and a showy stamen protruding out of the bloom. Thanksgiving cactus is characterized by stem sections with pointed "claws" at the ends - hence the alternate name of "crab cactus".
Thanksgiving cactus segments on top of picture...notice the spiky "claws"
Christmas cactus segments on bottom...smoother, scalloped margins.
Pick Up Some Good Cactus Food...
This is the fertilizer I use on our Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving cacti. Easy to use and works great. Make sure to follow the directions for best results.
Where to Buy Christmas Cactus
And Other Holiday Cactus Too ...
Usually around the start of the traditional holiday season, you'll see a few holiday cactus plants for sale at large general merchandise retailers like Walmart or Home Depot. Sometimes you'll have good luck buying plants there, but sometimes you won't.
Most plants have special care needs, and let's face it, plants for sale at large retail stores probably aren't getting the best care they deserve ...
We like dealing with a trusted mail order gardening outlet. First of all, they know how to care for plants (their reputation depends on it!). Also, they're experienced in shipping plants and they offer a guarantee if anything goes wrong or you're not satisfied ...
Take a peek at the beautiful Holiday Cactus Collections via the link above. It'll get you into the holiday spirit ... no matter what the time of year!
Christmas Cactus Soil
I use a potting mix designed especially for cactus. Peat moss based with added coarse sand and perlite. You want to ensure your cactus drains well..they don't like wet feet. Good drainage holes for the pot you use are a must!
New cacti cuttings that you are trying to root like even better drainage. I recommend adding more perlite or sand to the potting mix under those circumstances.
You should repot your Christmas cactus when the roots are showing through the drainage holes in the base of the pot. I generally repot my mature cacti every other spring. Make sure you don't use too large a new pot...your cactus may protest! A good rule of thumb is to not go larger than twice the rootball.
Christmas Cactus Tip
Since Christmas Cactus comes from humid forests, not deserts, the plant enjoys being misted regularly. Preferably with lime-free water.
Christmas Cactus Watering and Light Requirements
My Christmas cactus are indoors (houseplants) all year round. I water them more leading up to their flowering time from late fall until late winter (about once a week...making sure the top 1/3 of soil dries out between waterings). Use soft water if possible. Slightly increase the amount of water given when the buds start to form in the autumn. Lift the pots occasionally from their trays to be sure they drain well at all times. Mist the leaves regularly as they love the humidity and it helps keep them free of dust.
As for lighting, they enjoy good light but not direct sun. Locating your Christmas cactus near a window would be the best choice. Ours are doing great by a west facing window. On nice days we open the window for some good airflow and fresh air for the plants. We can regulate the light with our blinds. Christmas cactus also can be grown with artificial lights if you don't have adequate natural light in your home.
Feed with a weak fertilizer monthly (except for the dormant period of January & February...I resume fertilizing again in March). I use one especially developed for cactus care. Miracle Gro and Schultz are two of the types on my gardening shelf. These cacti especially like a lower nitrogen formula fertilizer of 10-6-8 or equivalent.
Christmas Cactus Tip
Apply a diluted liquid fertilizer once a month during the spring and summer growing season for more prolific blooms.
Christmas Cactus Blooms
Blooms develop on a Christmas Cactus when days are short and temperatures are low. Starting in early fall, give your plant approx. 12 hours of darkness each day. Keeping a Christmas Cactus in a cool area, 50-55 degrees, helps the flowers form by Christmas.
The flowers are definitely exotic looking: tubular in shape and up to 3 inches long, with layers of swept-back petals, and prominent stamens. Gorgeous and so unique!
Cool temperatures between 65-70 degrees can help the blooms last longer. Like a lot of plants, they don't like to be moved very often...especially after buds have formed. Moving your cactus can result in the plant rebelling and dropping the buds. If you're growing indoors in a cold region, place them by a window that can be cracked open to allow a little cool air in to help facilitate the bloom production beginning in late October. Once the flowers begin opening then you can move to another location to show it off if you'd like.
One of the best features of Christmas cactus is the big reward...many blooms arriving when most plants are dormant for the season. They put on a colorful and cheerful display that brings a smile to your face!
Christmas Cactus Care on You Tube
Christmas Cactus Poll - Please take a second to vote...thanks!
Do You Have a Christmas Cactus?
Recommended Cactus Care and Houseplant Guide Gardening Books
Christmas Cactus Tip
After flowering, water sparingly for 8 weeks until new growth begins in spring, then increase watering.
Christmas Cactus Propagation
I was amazed at how easy it is to propagate a Christmas cactus! Just follow these 7 simple steps:
1. Start by taking at least a 2 or 3 stem segment and twist or cut it off at the joint.
2. *Important* Allow cuttings to dry a minimum of 24 hours so they seal over before you plant them.
3. Using cactus potting soil mix as a base and add about 20% perlite or sand to your chosen container. Wet mixture very lightly, until just moistened - not wet. Plant the cutting half the depth of the first segment in the soil mix.
4. Set pot in a bright window. Mist it to keep soil from drying out completely. Don't water. (Don't overwater the new cuttings as this will cause rot to set in. It helps to remember they have no roots yet...so the cacti stem segments have no way to absorb excess water at their base yet)
5. The cutting will most likely wilt. Don't be alarmed by this! This is normal part of the process. When it starts to show life again - roots should be growing at this time. Any new growth on the cutting is also a sign that your cuttings is taking root. Segments root readily.
6. When you see the above signs - you can begin to water normally. Allow the soil to dry 1" down, then water until water runs out bottom of container. Pour off any excess water.
7. Start fertilizing once your cutting has grown one new segment.
Christmas Cactus Propagation - How To Video
Christmas Cactus Tip
ASPCA animal poison control center shows Christmas cacti as non-toxic to dogs and cats.
More Holiday Cacti Information!!
Easter Cactus and Thanksgiving Cactus
We've got all the Holiday Cactus bases covered here at Squidoo!
Be sure to visit our lenses about Easter Cactus and Thanksgiving Cactus ... their care is similar to Christmas Cactus but there are a few differences ...
Get all the details at these Squidoo lens links: