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Care of Christmas Cactus

Updated on December 11, 2016

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...

Schultz 2-7-7 Cactus Plus Liquid Plant Food 4 fl.oz
Schultz 2-7-7 Cactus Plus Liquid Plant Food 4 fl.oz

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 ...

Buy Holiday Cactus Plants ... Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving - Click Here!

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?

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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:

Easter Cactus

Thanksgiving Cactus

Lovely Close Up!

Thanks so much for stopping by! - Do you have any Christmas cactus advice to share?

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    • LauraHofman profile image
      Author

      Laura Hofman 3 years ago from Naperville, IL

      @John Dyhouse: Thanks for stopping by artyfax! Now is a good time to repot your large plant since it is done blooming for the season, especially if the roots are coming out the drainage holes. Use a pot one inch larger than the one the plant is currently growing in. It's best to use a potting soil mix recommended for cacti. Place some gravel in the bottom of the new pot to ensure good drainage. This should perk your plant up so it grows new leaf segments!

    • John Dyhouse profile image

      John Dyhouse 3 years ago from UK

      Ours was bequeathed by my MIL, we have kept it going in memory of her. But though it flowers quite profusely it does not seem to grow new leaf segments. Maybe repotting would work wonders. Any thoughts on when this should be done?

    • MariaMontgomery profile image

      MariaMontgomery 3 years ago from Central Florida, USA

      This is a great lens. It is also one I needed to read. I'm known around here as The Southern Gardening Lady, and have started a blog (not yet published) by that name, but my Thanksgiving cactus that bloomed at Christmas this year is struggling. The leaf pads are soft and too flexible. They have also lost their shine. It is still blooming, but looks kind of sad anyway. I think I will repot it and use your tips, especially those about the soil. Thanks again for a very helpful lens. See you around Squidoo, Flower Chick!

    • Lynn Klobuchar profile image

      Lynn Klobuchar 3 years ago from Minneapolis, Minnesota

      Thanks for the tips!

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 3 years ago from USA

      I had my Christmas cactus about 20 years before it ever bloomed. It grew and grew, but nothing happened. When we moved I relocated it in the upstairs NW bathroom window. It thrived and bloomed abundantly. It was worth the wait! Giving this a tweet!

    • CrazyHomemaker profile image

      CrazyHomemaker 3 years ago

      Thanks for the tips here. I'm trying to make my boss' happy before she gets back from vacation. This will help greatly.

    • profile image

      suzzycue 4 years ago

      I love my Christmas cactus and now I learned from you it is a Christmas cactus. A double bloomer in fact just like the last picture you have posted here. I did not know to mist mine but now I will do that. Thanks for the info.

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile image

      JoyfulPamela2 4 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      One Christmas my hubby gave my mother and I each a Christmas cactus. My mom's is still alive, much larger, and blooming frequently. Mine - well, I still have it, but it doesn't seem to bloom. I'll try some of your tips! Thanks!

    • shewins profile image

      shewins 4 years ago

      I have one of these. Actually, from your description, mine's a Thanksgiving cactus. I have it in a shady spot outdoors for the summer and it seems to be loving it.

    • JimHofman profile image

      JimHofman 4 years ago

      Lots of great information here on Christmas Cactus, I didn't know they originated in South America. I never knew how to tell the difference between a Christmas Cactus and a Thanksgiving Cactus either. Great new lens!