Jeanne Grunert
Jeanne Grunert
  • Hometalker
  • Prospect, VA

Caring for Christmas Cactus

Starting in the late fall, the stores begin to blossom with colorful holiday cacti. Although not truly cacti like the plants you'll find growing in the desert, both Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) and the true Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) are popular house plants that begin blooming in November. With the right care, they can live for decades. It's not uncommon to find someone with "grandma's Christmas cactus", a venerable plant passed down through the generations and cherished! Caring for Christmas cactus ensures your plants will have a long, happy life.
caring for christmas cactus, container gardening, gardening
Both Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti aren't really cacti at all. They originate in the tropical rain forest of Brazil. This gives you an idea of the type of light, humidity and moisture they love.
caring for christmas cactus, container gardening, gardening
All types of holiday cacti comes in many colors. You can find them in white, pink, peach, red, lavender and other colors. The leaves should be a bright, even green with perhaps some burgundy shading. If the leaves on your plant are white, the plant is receiving too much light.
caring for christmas cactus, container gardening, gardening, Leaves burned by too much sun
Leaves burned by too much sun.
caring for christmas cactus, container gardening, gardening, Same plant 1 year later with healthy leaves
Same plant 1 year later with healthy leaves.
caring for christmas cactus, container gardening, gardening
During spring and summer, keep your holiday cactus in bright but indirect light. A West or East-facing window is fine, or place it outside under a tree so that the shade can keep it from getting scorched.
caring for christmas cactus, container gardening, gardening
To encourage your plant to produce buds and flowers, it needs long nights of 14 hours or more of uninterrupted darkness starting around September. This encourages is to bloom anywhere from Thanksgiving to Christmas. You can move the plant into a dark closet for 14 hours, then move it back to its window during the day. Keep doing this until the plant develops buds.
caring for christmas cactus, container gardening, gardening
During spring and summer, you can let the soil dry out between watering. However, once the buds are set, you have to keep the soil evenly moist. If the plant dries out, it will drop its buds.
To fertilize your Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti, mix 20-20-20 water soluble fertilizer into water and feed your plant every two weeks from spring through late summer. On the alternate weeks, mix 1 teaspoon of Epsom salts with 1 gallon of water and water your plant with just this mixture. Do not fertilize with Epsom salts and commercial fertilizer on the same week. Use the Epsom salt and water mixture just once per month. Holiday cacti need more magnesium than other plants, and Epsom salts -- magnesium sulfate -- is perfect for the job. Stop fertilizing your cacti in late summer to encourage bud set. (Fertilizing information from Clemson University Cooperative Extension)
caring for christmas cactus, container gardening, gardening
Most holiday cactus experience few problems. Bud drop, where the plant sets buds but they fall off before it blooms, is usually caused by drafts, extreme temperature fluctuations (such as a plant too near a heat vent), or plants left to dry out between watering. If plants don't set buds, it's just not getting enough darkness. Even something as simple as a street light reflecting into the window where your plant lives can give it enough light to prevent it from setting bud.
With their amazing flower show each year and longevity, holiday cactus are a favorite house plant. Whether you own a Thanksgiving cactus, Christmas cactus or an Easter cactus, you own a beautiful house plant that will flourish with the right care.
Jeanne Grunert

Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!


Have a question about this project?

3 of 9 questions
  • Lisa House
    on Dec 17, 2015

    How do you divide a Christmas cactus and how do you start a new plant from a leaf section as the one lady mentioned?

    • Barb
      on Jun 3, 2016

      They are crazy easy to start. I just take ones that break off & put the bottom of the piece into a nearby pot with a little bit of dirt loosened up. Poke it in the dirt, squeeze it together at the bottom & give it a bit of water now & then. Presto, lots of new plants to put in a bigger pot together, or separately. I often forget them & they make a new mixed pot with my spider starts or whatever I have nearby.

  • Loretta
    on Mar 25, 2016

    I live in FL and rarely have to bring the cactus in. I have several that have over grown their pots and was considering planting them in the ground. Is this a good or bad idea?

  • Susan Alford
    on Jun 19, 2018

    What makes the leaves limp and lifeless? To much watering or not enough watering? Also, do you water once a week or just when the soil is completely dry? Do you water from the top or the bottom?

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