Care of christmas cactus

How to grow Christmas cactus

Next year, you may notice that the flower colors are not quite the same as when you purchased the plant. Some cultivars exhibit different flower colors depending on the temperature during bud formation and growth. Lower temperatures can produce pink tones in white or yellow selections or deepen the color of already pink or red flowers. Nutrients available to the plant may also a ffect flower colors.

MSU Extension Gardening in Michigan

Care of christmas cactus

How to care for and get your holiday cactus to rebloom

Updated from an original article written by Gretchen Voyle.

Easy tips and tricks for successful holiday cactus reblooming every year.

Holiday cactus blooming.

It’s that time of year again! Grocery stores and plant nurseries are overflowing with brightly flowering holiday cact i. It’s difficult to resist the displays of pink, white or red blooms just in time for the holidays. Many of us have succumbed to holiday cacti in the past or been gifted one during a previous winter holiday season. Every year, Michigan State University Extension horticulture educators and Ask Extension receive calls and emails about how to care for these cacti after the holidays.

As home gardeners, n ow it is the time of year we need to start preparing these plants if we want them to bloom again. H oliday cacti require a little more involvement on the part of the gardener to have them flush with flowers this winter season.

Holiday cact i belong to the genus Schlumbergera . Common names include Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus, crab cactus , Easter cactus and holiday cactus . The Schlumbergera commercially available are hybrids, crosses between different species to achieve desirable flower colors and habits. Flower colors range from white to pink to red to salmon to soft purple s or lavender.

Their needs are very different from what most gardeners think of when it comes to cactus . Native to southeast Brazil, plants in this genus grow on trees or rocks in habitats that are shaded with high humidity. As you can imagine, a plant that grow s naturally in the branches of tropical trees, t hey suffer when exposed to dry conditions and direct sunlight. They prefer to be potted in humus-rich soil and to be a little “pot boun d, ” similar growing conditions to that of i nside the crook of a tree branch in a tropical or sub-tropical climate.

As with most plants, mimicking their natural habitat is key to getting a holiday cactus to thrive. They prefer bright, indirect light or filtered light . In the house, they can be grown in west-, north-, and east-facing windows (south-facing windows are too bright). They should receive enough moisture that the potting material does not dry out but does not remain wet.


H oliday cactus bloom in their native environment near the end of the rainy season. Because their native region is tropical and located close to the equator, the amount of light the cacti receive from season to season does not change as dramatically as it does on North America. In addition, the temperature s in southeast Brazil do not typically vary more than 20 or 30 degrees Fahrenheit over the course of the year.

Consequently, altering the amount of light and the temperature of a holiday cactus ’ environment stresses the plant and can encourage it to bloom. The secret to good flower bud production involves controlling temperature and how much light the plant rec eives or, more accurately, how much light the plant does not receive.

To encourage bud set, provide b right light, temperatures between 55 F and 65 F, and 13 hours or more of continuous darkness each day . For flowers during the winter holiday season, l ong nights should be started in late September or October an d continued for eight weeks. If the continues period of darkness is interrupted by light, even for a short amount of time, the plant may drop its flower buds. Flower buds may also drop if the plant is exposed to drastic changes in temperature, like during the trip from a nursery to a customer’s car on a cold December day or if a radiator heats up near the plant’s location in a living room.

How does one provide 13 hours of continuous darkness a day? Some cactus owners throw a blackout curtain or blanket over their plant, move it into a closet or cover it with a box. Smartphone calendar notifications can serve as reminders to remove the plant from darkness and when to replace it.

A red flowering holiday cactus

After the plant has finished flowering for the seaso n, care for it as you would other houseplants. Do not allow the soil to become wet or waterlogged, but do not let it dry out either. Wait until new growth begins in late winter or spring to apply a half-strength balanced fertilizer , such as 10-10-10 , on a monthly basis . Holiday cacti can be placed outside during the summer but should be kept away from intense heat and direct sunlight . Too much direct light can burn leaves or turn a reddish color. Plants should be brought inside as soon as nighttime temperatures dip below 60 F . R educe fertilizer applications and water in the fall as you prepare to force the plant to bloom in winter.

Next year, you may notice that the flower colors are not quite the same as when you purchased the plant. Some cultivars exhibit different flower colors depending on the temperature during bud formation and growth. Lower temperatures can produce pink tones in white or yellow selections or deepen the color of already pink or red flowers. Nutrients available to the plant may also a ffect flower colors.

How to grow Christmas cactus

How to grow Christmas cactus

All you need to know about growing and caring for Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera) in our detailed Grow Guide.

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Flowers yes yes yes
Take cuttings yes
Prune yes
Cut back yes
At its best yes yes yes

Christmas cacti (Schlumbergera) flower over the Christmas period, from late November to January – hence their name. They make good Christmas gifts – their bright, trumpet-shaped flowers in shades of red, white, pink, purple and even yellow bring a welcome splash of colour to any room. Their flat, segmented and trailing stems look attractive all year round.

You’ll find Christmas cactus plants in garden centres or supermarkets during the holiday period, but for the widest range of varieties, its best to buy from specialist retailers online.

Schlumbergera are forest cacti – in the wild, they grow in tropical rainforests, where they grow attached to trees. This means that need different growing conditions to desert cacti. They need to be kept away from bright sunlight and do best in a humid environment.

Christmas cacti will flower every year given the right treatment – the main thing to remember is that they need two periods of rest (in a cool room, with less watering): one after flowering and another in autumn. The plants can last for years and are often handed down through generations.

How to grow Christmas cactus

Grow your Christmas cactus in a warm, bright spot out of direct sunshine, and mist a few times a week. In order to flower every year, Schlumbergera need two periods of ‘rest’ – lower temperatures and less watering – after flowering in late winter and again in September.

More on growing Christmas cacti:

Christmas cactus: jump links

  • Where to grow Christmas cactus
  • How to care for Christmas cactus
  • How to get a Christmas cactus to reflower
  • How to propagate Christmas cactus
  • Christmas cactus problem-solving
  • Types of Christmas cactus to grow

Where to grow a Christmas cactus

Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera) in pot. Getty Images

Give your plant a bright spot away from direct sunshine, which can scorch the leaves, and a steady temperature of 18-24°C. Try not to move the plant when it’s in bud – it can cause the buds to drop. Schlumbergera need two periods of ‘rest’ in order to flower: after flowering and again in September. Pop them in a cooler room (around 12°C) and reduce watering. This encourages flower buds to form.

How to plant a Christmas cactus

Repot your Christmas cactus every 1-2 years, when the rootball has filled the pot. The best time to do this is in March, when it has come out of its period of rest. Repot into a slightly larger pot – the roots like to be snug. Use a cactus compost or John Innes No. 2 compost with a little grit mixed in for drainage. Christmas cacti grow quite wide, so a wider pot is better than a deep one, for stability.

How to care for a Christmas cactus

In spring and summer, water only when the top 2-3cm of compost is dry, and let any excess water drain away – Christmas cacti suffer if they sit in cold, wet compost. Water more sparingly during winter and during the two rest periods.

As Schlumbergera are native to from rainforests, they do best in a humid atmosphere. Mist your plant a few times a week, or place on a pebble-filled tray of water. Feed monthly in spring or summer with a general fertiliser.

Schlumbergera don’t need pruning, but the stems can get leggy or too long. Make the plant more bushy by removing the tips after the plant has flowered. You can also remove some of the older stems at the base at the same time.

How to get a Christmas cactus to flower again

Care of christmas cactus

Christmas cacti will reflower every year with the right care. After flowering, move to a cool room (around 12°C) for two months, and reduce watering. Then bring it back into its usual spot (you can put it outside, on a patio or balcony, in summer). From mid-September, give your plant another period of rest in a cool room and reduce watering again, until you see buds appear. Move back into its flowering position and take care not to move it around – this can cause the plant to drop its buds.

How to propagate a Christmas cactus

It’s easy to take Christmas cactus cuttings to propagate new plants to give as Christmas gifts. Just follow our step-by-step guide:

Step 1
In May, remove parts of the stem that has two or three leaf sections. Allow the cutting to dry out indoors for a day or two.

Step 2
Insert the cuttings into a 50:50 mix of seed or cutting compost and sharp sand. Push the bottom of the cuttings into the compost about 1cm deep, so that they stand upright. Water in well and let any excess water drain away.

Step 3
Keep the cuttings in a bright spot, out of direct sunshine – a north facing windowsill is ideal. Water very sparingly and mist occasionally.

Step 4
After a month or two, the cuttings should have rooted – give the cutting a gentle pull to check. If it doesn’t budge, it has rooted. Pot the cuttings on into small individual pots and grow on in a warm room or greenhouse.

Pests and diseases

The most common problem is lack of Christmas cactus flowers. This is due to lack of the two rest periods and can be resolved by following the care suggestions above.

Bud drop can be caused by moving your plant around when it’s in bud, over watering, or fluctuating temperatures between night and day. Once you’ve found the right spot for your Christmas cactus, don’t move it and water only when the top few centimetres of compost have dried out.

More like this

Red leaves are a sign that your plant is getting too much sunlight. Move it to a spot that has bright light but no direct sun.

Mealybugs can be found on the stems, especially the undersides – look out for insects that look like white, fluffy blobs. Wipe them off with a damp cloth or cotton bud that has been soaked in an insecticide that contains fatty acids or plant oils. Keep checking the leaves, as mealybugs can be hard to eradicate.

Advice on buying Christmas cactus

  • Most Christmas cacti are simply sold by colour – eg. Schlumbergera ‘Red’. Some, such as the ‘Tricolour Cactus’ above, have three flower colours on one plant.
  • It’s always better to choose a plant with unopened flower buds than lots of already open flowers, as this means your display will last longer when you get it home
  • Always check plants for signs of pests or disease before buying

Where to buy Christmas cactus

Varieties of Christmas cactus

Christmas cactus ‘Tricolour’ – bearing three flower colours on one plant, red white and pink

Christmas cactus ‘White’ – beautiful fresh white flowers with pink anthers make for a striking Christmas display