Christmas Cactus

Red flower of the Christmas cactus

Christmas cactus is a popular gift plant during the holiday season because of its colorful blooms and easy-care reputation. Plus these plants are widely available at garden centers and supermarkets.

Like poinsettias, Christmas cactus start the flowering process when the days become shorter and the nights become cooler. In order to flower, Christmas cactus typically need at least twelve hours of darkness.

Christmas cactus are most often treated as houseplants, though they can be grown outdoors in the warmer areas of the state if they’re protected from freezing temperatures.

Planting and Care

Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) grow best in bright, indirect light. Try placing them within six feet of a south-, east-, or west-facing window. Fertilize every one to two months during the growing season (April to September).

Use a well-drained potting medium and only water the plants when the upper inch of soil feels dry. Christmas cactus prefers to be a bit root-bound, so be sure not to choose a pot too large for your plant.

Pruning the plants will encourage branching and flowering, but don’t prune beyond mid-summer. You can use the trimmings to propagate new plants. Just place cuttings that have two or three jointed sections in a well-drained sterile media. Keep them moist and in bright indirect light until roots form and new growth appears.

Preventing Problems

Christmas cactus can be prone to bud drop, so avoid extreme environmental changes. Keep them away from drafts or heat sources (vents, fireplaces, or televisions). Avoid letting the plants get too dry between waterings.

The stems and roots can rot if the soil holds too much water, so be sure to use a well-drained potting medium and water only when the potting medium begins to dry out.

Be sure to keep your Christmas cactus away from artificial light during the night from October through December if you want it to bloom during the holiday season.

For more information on growing Christmas cactus and other plants, contact your local Extension office.

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