Christmas Cactus are long-lived tropical plants that are exceptionally easy to grow. When planted and cared for properly, they bloom around Christmas, hence their name. You'll usually see buds beginning to form sometime in November or December and then the blooms are usually open before Christmas.
If you live in Zones 9b through 11 you can Christmas cactus them outdoors year round. Otherwise, in zones 8 and further north, they can be grown indoors permanently, or placed outdoors through the summer. If you follow a few basic guidelines for care, they will provide a spectacular holiday display, year after year.
Most likely you will purchase a Christmas Cactus plant in early to mid winter from a nursery and garden center. At this time the plants will be budded and/or blooming and there won't be much you have to do other than provide water as necessary.
If planted and cared for properly, these beauties will bloom reliably every year around Christmas.
Best Growing Conditions
Light - While they will adapt to but not bloom as heavy in low light, Christmas Cactus prefer bright but indirect light. Keep the plant in a well-lit location such as near a window, but away from direct sunlight, which can stunt growth and burn the leaves. Also try to keep the plants away from drafts, heat vents, fireplaces or other sources of hot air. I keep mine indoors during the winter and outdoors during the summer. They thrive in temperatures ranging from 65 to 80 degrees F.
Humidity - Christmas Cactus like life on the humid side (50%). If you live in a dry environment, put a tray of water next to the plant so that the water evaporates and provides humidity. Alternatively, you can make a humidity tray by placing the pot on a waterproof saucer that is filled with gravel and halfway filled with water.
Soil Type Preferred - Christmas Cactus grow best in well-drained soil that holds moisture evenly. For this, I grow them in a premium potting mix. Sand can be added to the soil to provide better drainage.
Soil pH Preferred - Christmas Cactus prefer an acid soil ranging from 5.5 to 6.r on the pH scale.
You'll probably purchase your Christmas Cactus in a small, plastic growing pot from your local nursery. Whether immediately, or at some point in the future, you'll want to transplant it into a larger pot.
Container - Plant Christmas Cactus in a container that has one or more holes in the bottom that will provide good drainage. Cheap nursery planters work well but they aren't that attractive for indoor use. I have mine growing in glazed clay pots and they do great. The pots are set in trays to hold water instead of allowing it to drain all over the tables I have them setting on.
Soil - I use a light, premium potting MIX that holds moisture evenly. Avoid cheap, $1-a-bag potting soils or Miracle Gro Potting Mix, which I have found to be of very poor quality.
Planting - Before filling your pot with potting mix, place a few small to medium sized rocks into the bottom to allow for better drainage. Then fill your container about halfway with the potting mix. Set your plant in the container so that the top of the rootball is about 1-inch below the top rim of the pot. Add more potting mix if necessary to achieve proper planting height. Then fill the pot with more soil to the top edge of the rootball of the plant. Avoid putting potting mix on top of the rootball.
Re-potting - I usually repot my Christmas Cactus about every three years. The best time for repotting is between February and April. Christmas Cactus flower best when they are pot-bound so don't move up to too large of a container.
Pruning - The best time to pinch or prune a Christmas Cactus for shaping is when new growth begins to emerge in March or early April. Just snip here and there to shape the plant.
Feeding - Fertilizing is important to keep the plant in good condition; the joints are fragile and can break apart if the plant descends into poor health. I fertilize my Christmas Cactus using a water-soluble liquid plant food. Follow the label directions for how much and how often to feed. Generally, plants should be fertilized 2-4 times a year with a 20-20-20 feed, but stop feeding the first of October, which is usually about a month before the buds appear .
Watering - Christmas cactus can be a little finicky when it comes to water. They prefer a moist but well-drained soil. The general rule of thumb is that less water around the roots is better than too much water. That being said, if the soil gets too dry when plants are budded, the buds will start dropping. If the soil gets stays to dry when in bloom the flowers will wither. On the other hand, too much water around the roots will cause spots from white rot to appear on leaves. I usually water mine thoroughly when the top inch of the soil becomes dry. During the fall and winter months, the plants should be watered less frequently in order to promote blooming. Never water the top of the plant.
Other Helpful Tips
- The key to getting Christmas cactus to flower during the holiday season, is the proper light exposure, correct temperatures and limited watering. So during the fall months (Spetember and October) the Christmas Cactus should be placed in a spot where it receives indoor indirect bright light during the daylight hours but total darkness at night. The temperature of the room should be cooler, remaining between 40 to 60 degrees, but make sure not to expose the plant to freezing temperatures!
- Bud drop can be caused by anyone of several different conditions. Usually it's because of over- or under-watering, lack of humidity or insufficient light.
- After The Christmas holiday season, the Christmas cactus should be given about a 30 day rest. Again place it in a cool room and provide limited water. Don't worry if it loses a few leaves or joints and appears weak during this rest period.
Here's a great tip that came to me from Gardenality Member Steve Szynkowski:
"This is a little trick that I accidentally discovered: Our Christmas Cactus got these little bugs in it in the spring so we stuck it outside by the dryer vent. And oh my gosh, it took off . It grew big and it was full of blossoms this year. We brought it back in before the cold nights came but for sure it will be going back outside by the dryer vent next year."