How to Grow a Christmas Cactus for Blooming Results

Like many popular houseplants, the Christmas cactus goes by several different names. Commonly called a Zygocactus, this succulent is also known as a Thanksgiving cactus and a holiday cactus due to its habit of blooming in late fall and early winter. Call it a late bloomer if you will, but nothing compares to its brightly hued flowers when everything outdoors is bare and brown. Learn how to take care of a Christmas cactus, where to keep it, and how to encourage it to bloom. You’ll even find hints about propagating your own. 

What Is a Christmas Cactus?

The name and the appearance of this plant may give rise to the question, “Is the Christmas cactus a succulent?” The answer is yes. This type of plant retains water within its thick flesh to access during dry seasons. 

It belongs to the Schlumbergera genus and is native to the coast of Brazil. It thrives on rocks or trees in a shady, subtropical habitat.

Not all Christmas cactus blossoms are red or pink. Some have white flowers, while some have orange ones. You can even find these plants with purple blooms. White filaments extend from the center of the blossom.

The leaves of this succulent are segmented in flattened oval sections. When the plant blooms, the flowers occur at the ends of the leaves. Each one has multiple tepals that curve outward. Together, they form a tube-like flower with nectar at its base.

How to Care for a Christmas Cactus Indoors

How do you care for a Christmas cactus? Keep in mind the conditions in its natural habitat.

Does a Christmas cactus like sun or shade? In the wild, it grows in shady places, so it is best to avoid putting it in direct sunlight. Instead, partial shade will help your plant to thrive. During its cycle of active growth, which runs from April through September, bright, indirect light and frequent watering will keep your plant healthy.

One reason it makes such a great houseplant is that it prefers a comfortable room temperature, anywhere between 60 and 70 degrees F. A good rule of thumb is that if you are comfortable, your plant will probably be comfortable, too.

How Often Do You Water a Christmas Cactus?

Watering is a critical aspect of Christmas cactus care. During its period of growth, you should keep the soil in the cactus pot moist but not drenched. Depending upon the humidity level of your living space, provide water every seven to 10 days to keep your succulent hydrated.

After it has finished blooming, your succulent will enter a period of dormancy. It is important to keep it watered, but it doesn’t need as much moisture as it does during growth. Watering every 10 to 14 days should be sufficient. If the leaves begin to look dry and wrinkly, that is a sign it needs more water than you are providing.

Brown leaves with dark spots are a likely indication of overwatering. If this happens to your holiday cactus, cut back on the amount and/or frequency of watering.

When Should You Put a Christmas Cactus in the Dark?

If your Christmas cactus is a recent acquisition, or if it has failed to bloom in the past, you can encourage blooming. Place the plant in the dark for 14 hours each day, beginning about seven weeks before you want it to flower. Place it in a bright spot for the remainder of the day, but not in direct sunlight.

This method taps into the succulent’s natural cycle. As days grow shorter, it prepares to bloom. You’re simply helping it transfer to blooming mode. Once it begins budding, you can leave it out in its customary spot all day long.

How Do I Keep My Christmas Cactus Blooming?

Once you have figured out how to get a Christmas cactus to bloom, you want to get the most out of those bright, cheery flowers. Once the buds have opened, begin watering your cactus more frequently. Take care not to increase the normal volume of water you provide, though. The goal is to just keep the soil moist. Too much water will cause buds and flowers to wither and drop.

How to Repot a Christmas Cactus

If your plant is thriving and seems to be getting too big for its container, you’re probably wondering how to repot a Christmas cactus. Although these plants can thrive when rootbound, there comes a point where they simply need more space.

The best time to repot a Christmas cactus is just after it has finished blooming. Wait until the flowers have dropped off. Fill a larger container with a mixture of two parts loosely packed compost, one part of fine bark bits, and one part pumice. This promotes good drainage and prevents root rot.

Gently loosen the soil around the plant you want to repot. Take care when transferring it to its new container to avoid leaf breakage and root damage. Loosely pack it into the prepared soil and give it a drink of water to get it settled.

Are Christmas Cacti Poisonous to Dogs and Other Pets?

This plant is non-toxic. It won’t harm your cats, dogs, or horses. Because it is a succulent rather than a cactus with spines, it won’t cause any injury. However, keep it out of pets’ and children’s reach for the health of the plant itself.

How to Propagate a Christmas Cactus

With its conveniently segmented leaf structure, this succulent is easy to propagate. All you need is two or three sections cut from a healthy plant. A good time to take a cutting is in early spring after the plant has finished flowering.

Set the section out to dry slightly prior to planting it. This allows the cut end to skin over. After a day or two, place the cut end in sandy soil. This is how to root a Christmas cactus. Be sure to mist the cutting lightly every day. After about 12 weeks, it should be rooted and ready to transfer to a permanent home.

How to Revive a Christmas Cactus

If your plant begins to droop, and the leaves are wrinkled, revive it with fresh water. Gradually increase the amount and/or frequency of water until it plumps back up.

If the leaves are not wrinkled but are beginning to turn brown, decrease the quantity of water gradually. Once new leaves are green and healthy-looking, continue to water less frequently. Feed your succulent with an appropriate fertilizer twice a year to help it thrive.

Can a Christmas Cactus Survive Outside?

Given optimum conditions, a Christmas cactus can survive and grow outdoors for at least part of each year. However, it will not do well during extended periods of extreme heat or cold. 

Spring and autumn are typically best for some outdoor time. Your plant will enjoy the more temperate weather, gearing up for new growth and blossoms. Just be sure you keep it adequately hydrated.

Find Supplies for Growing Healthy Plants at True Value

Whether you are growing indoor plants like Christmas cacti or landscaping your outdoor living space, visit your local True Value for all the supplies you need. Find the store nearest you now.