Christmas cactus are everywhere during the holiday season, with good reason. They're gorgeous blooming succulents that can live up to 100 years! That's right! This plant, when properly cared for, will survive for decades. That's a pretty great investment for a plant that's so inexpensive and un-fussy! The plants originated in the shady, humid forests of Brazil and actually grow as "epiphytes" above ground in trees where the branches meet. They have interesting leaf segments and profuse flowers that come in salmon, hot pink, deep red, pale pink, and white—and they're an easy plant to propagate to make new plants or to pass along to a friend. There are several different types that all are typically called "Christmas cactus," though some varieties look a little different and actually bloom at other times of year (most notably Thanksgiving and Christmas). But the care is the same for all of them! Here's what you need to know about this popular, easy-care plant. Need more Christmas cactus tips? Check out our complete guide of how to care for a Christmas cactus, or read up on other types of cactus.
- Exposure: Bright indirect light, never direct sunlight
- USDA Hardiness Zones: 9-11 for outdoor plants; otherwise, it's a houseplant
- Pests and diseases to watch out for: Fungus gnats, root rot
How to Plant and Propagate a Christmas Cactus
Once you bring your new baby home, leave it in the current pot. Your Christmas cactus won't need re-potted for a few years because they actually bloom better when "pot bound." When you do replant, choose a pot that's only a tiny bit larger than the last one (maybe an inch or two more in diameter). Use well-draining soil, and make sure the pot has drainage holes.
If your plant gets too leggy or branches start dropping off because it can't support its own weight, you can prune it by cutting off a piece where two branch sections join. Dip the base of the cutting in rooting hormone (though often the cutting will do just fine without this step if you don't feel like messing with it). Either way, stick it into the soil, place the pot in bright light, and keep the soil moist. It should develop roots in a few weeks.
How to Care for a Christmas Cactus
Christmas cacti need bright, indirect sun. They'll burn in direct sunlight, so if it's indoors near a west or south-facing window, make sure it's filtered with a sheer curtain. They like humidity, so if your house is dry indoors in winter, put them on a tray of pebbles or near other plants. Water when the top surface feels dry, and never lit them sit in water. They prefer daytime temperatures of 65 to 70 degrees, and evening temperatures of 55 to 65 degrees.
What's the difference between a Christmas cactus and a Thanksgiving cactus?
The different species get their names for the time of year when they bloom. While Thanksgiving cacti, or Schlumbergera truncata, bloom in late fall, Christmas cacti, or Schlumbergera bridgesii, bloom about a month later. There's also an Easter cactus, or Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri, which flowers in—you guessed it—late winter to early spring. The shape of the leaves (which are actually stems) also vary slightly, with Thanksgiving cacti having serrated edges and Christmas cacti featuring more rounded edges.
How do you get a Christmas cactus to bloom?
Fertilize monthly from June through August with a balanced houseplant fertilizer at half-strength. You can take it outdoors during the summer, too, then back in before it gets too cold. For about six weeks prior to blooming, the holiday cactus requires between 12-14 hours of dark to set buds. That means cool temperatures around 50-65 degrees, and no light (not even artificial). You may consider covering it during the day to ensure it will flower or moving it to the guest room where it won't be exposed to nighttime lights.
How often do you water a Christmas cactus?
When the top inch is dry to the touch. Generally, Christmas cacti require less water during fall and winter and more in spring and summer. Soak the plant through to the roots, but dump out the saucer after the plant drains, as you don't want your cactus sitting in water.
Do Christmas cacti need a lot of sun?
Although they enjoy plenty of bright sun, make sure it's indirect, as direct sunlight can burn the leaves.
GROWER TIP: Don't overwater your Christmas cactus! "They're a succulent and the pads get soft and mushy if you overwater," Tim Pollak, outdoor floriculturist with the Chicago Botanic Garden, tells us.
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