Sumo Gardener

Christmas Cacti Growing and Caring Guide

In order for the Christmas cacti to bloom abundantly in winter, it needs some care. This wild species are native to tropical mountain regions in Brazil. 

There they grow as epiphytes on trees and bushes or as lithophytes on rocks. Even if they don't look like it, the types of Christmas cacti (Schlumbergera) are real cactus plants (Cactaceae).

You can find out how to properly care for the Christmas cacti here.


Christmas Cacti Growing and Caring Guide

Getting to Know Christmas Cacti

Schlumbergera bridgesii commonly known as Christmas Cacti

With us, the Christmas cactus is an addition to the best indoor plants you can find. It can be found mainly in the form of hybrids. The crossings are mostly based on the species Schlumbergera russelliana and Schlumbergera truncata.

This also applies to the varieties of the best-known hybrids Schlumbergera x buckleyi. The Christmas cacti grows very branched and dense. 

The thickened, leaf-like structures are not leaves, but so-called phylloclades. These are leaf-like shoot sections. With increasing shoot length (or number of phylloclades) the Christmas cacti assumes its overhanging growth form. 

As is typical for cacti, the Christmas cacti also has so-called areoles. These are side shoots with reduced growth, but from which side shoots or flowers can develop.

In the cultivated forms of the Christmas cacti that are widespread here, the thorns are usually completely absent or at least significantly reduced and are hardly noticeable.

How to Grow Christmas Cacti

In order for the Christmas cacti to grow splendidly and bloom profusely, some care is required. So you have to know that the Christmas cacti is a short-day plant.

Caring for Christmas Cacti

In addition, it must be protected from too cold temperatures and the location should also be carefully selected. What your Christmas cactus care needs: 

Christmas Cacti Plant Location and Lighting Conditions 

When grown in our latitudes, the Christmas cacti is a hundred percent potted plant. Since temperatures below 10°C can already lead to significant damage, it is by no means suitable for outdoor cultivation.

However, it can spend the summer months outdoors on the terrace or balcony. The leaf-shaped growing cactus must be protected from extreme sunlight and is therefore happy about a partially shaded location.

As temperatures drop, the Christmas cacti should take a place on the windowsill. This should be selected as brightly as possible!

Room temperature is most favorable for the flower development of the winter cactus. The Christmas cacti feels comfortable under the following location and light conditions:

  • Avoid temperatures below 10 ° C
  • In summer outside in a partially shaded position
  • With falling temperatures into the house at room temperature
  • During the time in the house as bright as possible
How to Grow Christmas Cacti

Best Soil for Schlumbergera Bridgesii

The Christmas cactus is a typical potted plant. However, it does not place any extraordinary demands on the substrate. It should be permeable to water and not prone to waterlogging. 

A commercially available substrate with a pH value of 5.5 to 6.0 is well suited - both with a certain proportion of peat and in a peat-free version.

In order that the roots find an optimal environment, it is advisable to mix in the substrate in a ratio of 1: 4 sand (1 part sand to 4 parts substrate). However, in order to stimulate the growth of the Christmas cactus, occasional repotting is recommended.

Repotting Christmas Cactus

It doesn't even hurt if you make the effort every year - the Christmas cactus will thank you. It is best repotted after flowering - i.e. in spring.

The new pot chosen is to be slightly larger than the previous one. The old substrate should be stripped off as much as possible. The new substrate is then poured on so that it sits well and is in contact with the roots of the Christmas cactus.

After repotting, there is no need to fertilize at first, because the nutrients contained in the substrate initially sufficiently cover the needs of the winter bloomer.

The following should be considered when choosing a substrate and repotting the Christmas cactus:

  • Commercially available peat-free or peat-containing substrate with a pH of around 5.5 to 6.0
  • It is best to mix with sand: mix 1 part sand into 4 parts substrate
  • Repotting is recommended for good growth - after flowering
  • Remove the old substrate as much as possible, select a new pot that is slightly larger
  • Pour new substrate after potting
  • Fertilization after repotting the Christmas cactus in a suitable substrate is initially not necessary

Christmas Cactus Watering Guide

A Christmas cactus should not be kept too dry, but water logging is much more difficult for it. Therefore the substrate should also be permeable to water.

A short rest phase should be taken during flowering and the watering should be reduced. When the Christmas cactus begins to sprout, water again at shorter intervals.

Watering should also be reduced somewhat in autumn (October) in order to optimize flower formation. In order not to let the pH-value skyrocket and thus hinder the growth of the Christmas cactus, rainwater should be poured if possible.

Fertilizing Christmas Cactus

The nutritional requirements of the cactus plant are not excessive. It is sufficient to help with a complete nutrient fertilizer every four weeks.

From October the Christmas cactus must be prepared for flower formation. The fertilization is stopped and only started again with the new shoot (around April).

In general, the following applies to the correct watering and fertilization of the Christmas cactus:

  • Never let the Christmas cactus dry out
  • Avoid waterlogging as a matter of urgency
  • Reduce watering between flowering and new growth (spring) and in October before flowering
  • Use rainwater whenever possible to avoid raising the pH
  • Re-fertilize every four weeks
  • With the resting phase before flowering (from October), stop fertilizing until new shoots (April)

Caring for Christmas Cacti

Pruning Christmas Cactus

As such, a Christmas cactus doesn't need to be pruned to be kept in shape. By its very nature, it already tends to branch out very excitedly. However, the growth can become a little too drooping over the years. 

Then you can use the knife. The shortening pruning follows the flowering and is best done in early spring (around March). With the right tips, you will be rewarded with a lush bloom.

Under no circumstances should you prune in autumn, because then you run the risk of not being able to admire any blooms in winter. The incision is always to be made at the clearly separated point between two phylloclades.

This keeps the interface to a minimum and treats the Christmas cactus as gently as possible. In early summer, pruning could be combined with propagation of the Christmas cactus cuttings.

In general, the following applies to the correct cutting of the Christmas cactus:

  • Cutting the Christmas cactus is not absolutely necessary
  • Time: after flowering in March
  • Make a cut with a sharp knife at the clearly recognizable transition point between two phylloclades
  • If necessary, pruning can be combined with propagation of cuttings in early summer

Do you want more cactus growing guides? Check out our complete bunny ear cactus growing guide

Making Christmas Cactus Bloom Successfully

Several factors decide whether the Christmas cactus will bloom or not. However, it is up to the gardener whether the Christmas cactus shows its blossoms in abundance or just survives the winter in its green dress.

The formation of flowers depends on the interplay between temperature and duration of the day. At rather low temperatures below 15°C, flowers will form regardless of the length of the day.

However, the development of flowers is hindered by temperatures that are too low by 10°C. Temperatures above 22°C, on the other hand, prevent flower formation regardless of the length of the day.

At normal room temperature around 20°C, but better a few degrees Celsius cooler, the flowers of the Christmas cactus are only formed in a short day. In the case of the Christmas cactus, a short day means at least four weeks and a maximum day length of 9 hours.

Stray light can hinder flower development or cause total flower failure. The light shining in from a street lamp can be enough. Therefore, the Christmas cactus should be cultivated in a room with only natural daylight.

Or after the appropriate duration of 9 hours of daylight it is darkened, for example with a box, and protected from the influence of light. Here's how to get the Christmas cactus to bloom again:

  • The combination of temperature and light cause the flowers to develop
  • Optimal flower formation and conditions for the Christmas cactus in short days (9 hours of light per day) and 15 - 20°C
  • Place the Christmas cactus in a room with only daylight or darken after 9 hours (e.g. with cardboard)

Christmas Cacti Frequently Asked Questions

Where do Christmas cacti grow best?

They thrive and grow best in partially shaded locations like east or west-facing windows with temperatures between 70° and 80°F.

Can Christmas cactus live all year?

Yes, this remarkable houseplant can thrive all year and live for up to 100 years in the right conditions and with the right care. 

Is Christmas cactus cold tolerant?

Being tropical plants, they don’t respond well to frost but they are more cold tolerant than some other cacti. They do need cold temperatures to force blooms but not for extended periods. 

How often should I water Christmas cactus?

Every 2 to 3 weeks is the general recommendation.

Wrapping Up Our Christmas Cacti Growing and Care Guide

Now you have everything you need to know about this awesome plant. What did you think of the Christmas cacti? Do you have or have you had any? Are you going to get one? Tell us in the comments below!

About the Author Ann Katelyn

I'm Ann Katelyn, Creator and Chief Author of Sumo Gardener. Since I was a child I've always been fascinated with plants and gardens, and as an adult this has developed into my most loved hobby. I have dedicated most of my life to gardening and started Sumo Gardener as a way to express my knowledge about gardening with the hope of helping other people's gardens thrive.

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