Christmas Cactus Blooming – How to Get a Holiday Cactus to Flower Each Year

The sight of a Christmas cactus blooming is one of the joys of the season, for me. This holiday cactus plant is sold with buds on them each year, but how do you get this plant to bloom every year?

A Christmas cactus is the perfect seasonal plant to have in bloom this time of the year. It loves cool temperatures and, in nature, late fall and winter months are its normal bloom time. 

Pink schlumbergera in flower with text reading "how to get a Christmas cactus to reflower."

With the right care, a Christmas cactus will be the star of your indoor plants collection. They can be a little tricky to get to flower if the conditions aren’t just right, though.

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What is a Christmas Cactus?

Christmas cactus (schlumbergera bridgesii) is a genus of cactus plants that have about 6-9 species. They are native to the coastal mountains of South East Brazil. 

The plant, like its cousin, the Thanksgiving cactus, is an epiphyte that takes nourishment from the air and rain.

In the wild, the plants grow on trees or around rocks in shady spots with high humidity. This makes their needs quite different compared to a normal cactus plant.Mature Christmas cactus in a pot with pink flowers.

Other names for Schlumbergera bridgii are holiday cactus, Christmas cactus and true Christmas cactus.

Many of the plants sold around Christmas time in flower are actually the Thanksgiving cactus, also known as the false Christmas cactus – (schlumbergera truncata.)

Another variety – the Easter cactus (Schlumbergera gaetneri), flowers in the spring and is native to the natural forests of Brazil, rather than the tropical forests.

Leaf types of holiday cactus plants

One of the most common questions that I get about holiday cactus is “What does a Christmas cactus look like?” 

The reason for this question is that all three holiday cactus plants resemble each other in both leaf and flowers.

Telling the three types of schlumbergera apart starts with examining their leaf shape. Although they look alike, at first glance, their shape is actually different in each type.Chart showing the leaf shapes of three holiday cacti

Holiday cacti are known as a leaf cactus. The bodies of the leaves are flattened and form stems. The leaves have a scalloped, rounded or crab shape. 

Leaves of the Christmas cactus have scalloped edges in tear drop shaped segments.

Flowers grow from the notched areas of the leaves, as well as from the tips of their stems.Leaves of a Christmas cactus are scalloped shaped.

Christmas cactus flower type and color

The sight of a Christmas cactus in flower in the middle of the winter is something to behold. The flowers are long and are held more or less horizontally on the end of the stems.

Older plants often take on a drooping look that is perfect for a hanging basket.closeup of pink Christmas flowering cactusThe Christmas cactus flower colors are pink, white, red, yellow, and purple varieties. The most often seen color is pink. Blooms are quite long lasting.

Many plants in flower have hundreds of buds ready to open at any given time, making their show of flowers last over several months.

Just as each of the holiday cactus plants have slightly different leaf shapes, the flower shape also varies.

Thanksgiving cactus has asymmetrical flowers, Easter cactus has starburst shaped flowers. The flowers of the Christmas cactus are symmetrical.Flowers of the holiday cacti in a collage with text.

Another way to tell the difference between the Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus blossom is to examine the pollen bearing anthers. 

Those of Thanksgiving cactus are yellow, while the anthers of the Christmas cactus are pink to purplish brown.

Cool temperatures and short days are what you need to get your Christmas cactus to rebloom. Head to the Gardening Cook to get all the tips you need for holiday cactus flowers! Click To Tweet

Getting Christmas cactus to bloom

It’s fine to purchase a holiday cactus plant in bloom from the store, and have it flower for you, but how do you get a Thanksgiving or Christmas cactus to re-flower each year?

I have neglected my Christmas cactus, replanted it, dried it out and more, but I still seem to be able to get mine to come back year after year by making sure that I follow these tips at just the right time.

If you love to grow flowering houseplants, especially those that will bloom in the cold winter months, Christmas cactus is a fabulous choice.

Kalanchoe blossfeldiana, and florist cyclamen are two other plants that flower during the holiday season.

What does a holiday cactus plant need to flower each year?

Both of the holiday cactus plants that flower in late fall need the same kind of treatment to get them to rebloom again.

Here are some tips to remember to get your Thanksgiving or Christmas cactus blooming each year.

  • The Christmas cactus needs short days and cool night temperatures to bloom well.
  • High humidity, bright light and slightly moist soil are also essential.

I keep my Christmas cactus outside in my garden during the summer in a semi shady flower bed, right in its pot.  I don’t bring it in until the danger of frost is imminent. Matyure Christmas cactus on a window sill in flower.

This practice gives my plant the shorter days and cool nights it needs.  I’ve never had it fail to flower following this pattern.

If you have your Thanksgiving or Christmas cactus outdoors, they will do fine until the temperatures dip into the 40s.  Then it’s time to bring them indoors.

Forcing Thanksgiving or Christmas cactus blooming

In order to force Christmas cactus to bloom each year, it’s necessary to have a period of darkness.  This mimics what happens in the wild in nature when the days get shorter.

A Christmas cactus plant produces flowers in a cool, environment with a short day cycle. This means late in the fall when the days are shorter and the temps are cooler.

Keep Christmas cactus in the dark to force blooms. 

These plants really do love darkness.  Don’t keep it in a room where lights are on well into the evening. It flowers best if it is dark for 12 or 13 hours each day.Christmas cactus plant in a dark room.

One of the ways to accomplish this is to take the Christmas cactus from its normal spot and put it into a cool closet each night about 6 pm and then take it out the next day mid-morning.

Keep the plant cool and avoid temperature fluctuations

To ensure Christmas cactus blooming, the temperature of the room that you choose for forcing the flowers should be around 61 °F.

Try to mimic nature by putting your cactus in a dark and COOL room. Nothing forces the buds better than both darkness and the cold 

Take care that you don’t subject the plant to high temperatures or heat fluctuations, particularly when the plant is in bloom.Christmas cactus in flower with snow outside a window.

Why do the buds fall off?

If you get the plant to set flower buds and then they fall off, this normally means that the plant has been getting too much or not enough water.

Lack of humidity can also cause bud drop. Place the plant on a tray with pebbles over water or mist more often with a plant mister.Christmas cactus with no buds

Recap: The easiest way to ensure next year’s blooms, is to do as I described above and you won’t need to force the buds with cold and darkness.  

Place it outdoors in a spot where it is protected from strong mid-day sun. Leave it there as late into fall as possible, bringing inside only when frost threatens.

Whichever way you do it, the good news for gardeners is that getting a Christmas cactus to bloom again is fairly easy as long as you meet their temperature and light requirements. 

Christmas cactus care

When you bring the cactus indoors, place it in a bright window where temperatures drop to 55°F to 60°F at night.  If nights are a bit warmer (65°F or so), it will take longer for buds to develop.

Keep them in this type of cool area, being sure to keeping them away from all light between the hours of 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. Water the plant well while the plant is blooming and less often at other times.

The plants should come into bloom between early December and through to January. If you would like the plant to bloom sooner, just start the cool temperatures and short day treatment earlier in the year.Christmas cactus blooming with Pink flowers.

If you follow these steps, you will have your Christmas cactus blooming each year during the holiday season without fail. I divided my huge plant this past summer, and this year I have two large plants just full of blooms.

Pruning is done after flowering to encourage bushiness which will produce more flowers next year.

Don’t fertilize heavily, or you encourage only vegetative growth and not flower buds.

Pin these tips Christmas cactus blooming

Would you like a reminder of these tips for getting Christmas cactus blooms each year?  Just pin this image to one of your Gardening Boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.Flower on schlumbergera with words reading "Christmas cactus rebloom tips."

Admin note: This post for getting a Christmas cactus to flower each year first appeared on the blog in December of 2012.  I have updated the post to include all new photos, a printable care card, extra tips and a video for you to enjoy.

What is your favorite seasonal holiday gardening tip?  Let us know in the comments below.


Yield: Get your plant to flower at Christmas

Christmas Cactus - How to Get it to flower Each Year

Christmas Cactus - How to Get it to flower Each Year

Christmas cactus is one of the seasonal flowering plants that makes a great show of color during the holidays. Find out how to get it to flower each year.

Prep Time 1 month
Total Time 1 month
Difficulty moderate
Estimated Cost $10

Materials

  • 1 Christmas Cactus (or Thanksgiving cactus)
  • Dark Room
  • Cool Temperatures

Tools

  • Watering can
  • Plant mister

Instructions

  1. Keep your Christmas cactus outside during the summer months in a shady spot. Water normally.
  2. When the temperatures dip into the 40s bring the plant indoors, taking care to inspect for bugs.
  3. Place the plant in a cool spot where it will get 12-15 hours of darkness each day. (even a closet shelf will work but bring it out for some light for part of the day)
  4. Water sparingly and do not fertilize or prune.
  5. The plant should come into bloom in December and last into January. (Northern Hemisphere)
  6. To bring the plant into bloom earlier, start the cold/darkness earlier,
  7. Once it sets blooms bring to a semi sunny spot and water lightly each week.

Notes

Thanksgiving Cactus is similar but comes into bloom around Thanksgiving time.

Easter Cactus flowers in the spring but needs a period of dryness to force blooms.

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  53 comments for “Christmas Cactus Blooming – How to Get a Holiday Cactus to Flower Each Year

  1. Shirley
    08/30/2013 at 8:42 am

    My mother-in-law had a cactus (now her son has it) that is 75 yrs old. She fed it bloody water every one in a while and it always bloomed.

    • Hillary
      11/19/2013 at 8:32 pm

      Hi ~ Can you please discuss how often to water? Mine was doing great for the first year, but seems to be dying now. Thank you!

      • Hillary
        11/19/2013 at 8:32 pm

        Never mind, just saw the post below! 🙂

        • admin
          11/19/2013 at 9:15 pm

          Hi Hillary. I’ll just add a little to my other comment. Right now mine is flowering and I water it when the soil is dry down about the the first knuckle when I put my finger in the soil. It needs more water when it is flowering. Once it is done, I water far less.

          Carol

      • Carolyn Godwin
        11/22/2018 at 7:51 pm

        In the summer I water mine every day. They are in full sun on my porch in a western exposure. I live in S. Florida and mine bloom twice a year.

    • Denise
      12/18/2013 at 10:22 pm

      What is bloody water?

    • Patricia
      04/12/2018 at 12:31 pm

      Thanks for the share. I’ve never hea d of bloody water.

    • Betty M Lancaster
      11/24/2018 at 8:32 pm

      What is “bloody water?”

    • Mary
      12/21/2018 at 6:47 am

      Love the cactus mine has one bloom on it I would like to know what bloody water is?

      • LaRhonda
        11/24/2019 at 8:42 am

        I think that was her speech habit for “that’s all she gave the plant was water once in a while!!”

  2. 11/02/2013 at 11:44 pm

    Just how often should these plants be watered? I think I was overwatering mine this past spring, so I repotted it and barely watered it. We had someone house sitting for us and they only watered it a couple times in the 6 weeks we were gone. But it looked great when we came back. I brought it in just before frost and it has buds on it now but I’m afraid to start the watering routine again. I thought I’d lost it.

    • admin
      11/03/2013 at 12:06 am

      It depends a lot on the time of the year. When it is getting to the flowering time, cutting back on water does seem to help as well as giving it lower light for a while.

      In the summer I put mine outdoors and water only when it gets fairly dry.

      The leaves are somewhat succulent and store water so too much can bloat it.

      Carol

      • 11/03/2013 at 8:18 am

        Thanks so much Carol. I haven’t watered it yet and so far, the buds are staying on the plant. But I need to arrange for it to have more darkness. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll see some blooms this year as in years past, once the buds appear, they just fall off the plant.

        • Linda
          11/14/2018 at 11:32 pm

          Once you see buds you need to start watering it.

  3. Amy G
    12/12/2014 at 2:52 pm

    when the blooms are fading is it ok to pinch them off? Will that promote or detour more blooms?

    • admin
      12/12/2014 at 11:05 pm

      Hi Amy. Yes that is fine. If you leave them, they will drop off on their own, but pinching them off is fine. It will not encourage more blooms, since they take some time to set but will make the plant more attractive.

      Carol

  4. alice
    01/04/2015 at 10:25 am

    I have had one of mine for years, I hang it out off one of my large shrubs funny though it gets quite a bit of sun all year and That old sucker blooms no matter what, I do nothing special to it just water, that’s all I do for all my house plants! I have bought 2 more Christmas cactus and both bloomed nicely, the larger one just bloomed out a few weeks ago and now is developing new buds! Hoping for another round of flowers.

    • admin
      01/04/2015 at 12:54 pm

      Hi Alice. I had one in Maine and it would not rebloom no matter what. Here is NC, I can’t kill the thing if I tried. I think the key is summer outside then the cold snap and shorter days and it makes it bloom like clockwork. It needs that temp and daylight change. Carol

  5. cindy
    12/09/2015 at 6:04 pm

    I’m in Texas. Hot summer days. Should I just leave it indoors. Grandmother used to put her in the closet for darkeness

    • Carol
      12/09/2015 at 11:41 pm

      I’m in NC. I keep mine outdoors in the summer time and bring it in when the temps start to drop and the days get shorter. I have used the closet trick when I lived in Australia with success.
      Carol

  6. Lois
    01/22/2016 at 7:56 am

    Again what is bloody water?
    I now have my mother’s two cactus plants. She learned from a lady who had a very large cactus plant that if she feeds it
    castor oil is why her cactus plant was so large in size both plant and the blooms. This lady told my mother her cactus plant
    blooms for weeks on end.
    Also my mother’s plants are different color. One is pink in color and had 14 blooms this year. The red on only had 2 blooms this
    year.
    Mom has passed but I do not know how much castor oil to use and how often? Does any one have an answer to this.
    Also the red one is in a larger container and is not pot bound like the pink one. Is the pot to large for the red one that
    only had two blooms? Will also try all of the above suggestions in the future now.
    Lois

    • Carol
      01/22/2016 at 9:51 am

      Hi Lois. This was a comment from a reader, I just assumed it was water with blood in it, but really have no idea what she meant. Carol

      • Joyce
        09/21/2018 at 5:24 pm

        I think that was just a figure of speech!!

  7. 11/05/2016 at 5:15 pm

    I’m in hot all year round florida.I’m trying to keep the small plant in my bedroom all dark started in November hoping 4 Dec.blooms

    • Carol
      11/05/2016 at 5:49 pm

      Don’t give up. I lived in Australia for 15 years and mine always flowered if I did this. Here in NC, I get them to flower easily by putting them outside in the shade all summer long and bringing them in just before the frost. The cold does them a lot of good. Carol

  8. Anita
    11/06/2016 at 11:22 am

    Thanks 4 the reply, re: my cactus. it’s been in the Kitchen by windows w/western light,but 5:00 hits & it gets unbearable.I’m asking should I leave it in my dark bedroom for a month, now?ALL Day & night? Thanks again

    • Carol
      11/06/2016 at 4:12 pm

      They like 12 hours of darkness this time of the year to flower. It is supposed to mimic what happens when the days get shorter and colder. Carol

  9. Helen
    12/24/2016 at 9:58 pm

    My mothers Christmas cactus was huge and amazing blooms. She also swore by a dose of castor oil.

    • Carol
      12/24/2016 at 10:33 pm

      Hi Helen. That is interesting. I had not heard of doing that! Carol

  10. Viv vd Watt
    05/27/2018 at 10:23 am

    Interesting to hear someone has a plant of 75…. My Grandmother had one. In 1976 it was inherited by my Mom and in 1997 by me for my 50th birthday as my Mom passed at age 72. I am now 72!!! Christmas cactus flowered abundantly last year in June 2017….She loves morning sun and afternoon dappled sun!!! Perhaps some response for our Pensioner Plants. I am in South Africa…. Kind regards xx Viv vd Watt

  11. Emily
    10/06/2018 at 8:16 pm

    I keep mine outside on the porch in shade, watering once a week & misting on occasion bringing them indoors in October to a cool bathroom, dark with a nightlight. Beautiful blooms, no problems.

    • Carol
      10/06/2018 at 10:32 pm

      Hi Emily. I keep mine outdoors till fall as well. They love the cold before coming back indoors. Carol

  12. Jean
    11/08/2018 at 1:13 am

    The bloody water was not a figure of speech. I learned this from a nurse many years ago. When I thaw frozen beef, pork, or chicken, I will save the bloody that is in the zip lock bag & add it to a gallon of water. I then water my plants with it. I only do this once every 6-8 weeks. I only use about 1/4 cup to a gallon of water, so it is very diluted.

  13. Cheri
    11/14/2018 at 10:51 am

    Did anyone ever figure out how much castor oil to give a Christmas cactus? Someone wrote that their mother gave the cactus castor oil but didn’t know how much

    • Carol
      11/14/2018 at 11:24 am

      I have never heard of doing this Cheri. Perhaps a reader will let us know. Carol

  14. Marie
    12/27/2018 at 9:28 am

    i think the comment about blood water was probably a mixture of blood meal with water. Blood Meal is an all natural organic source of nitrogen. Blood Meal promotes rapid growth and deep, dark green color, and is an ideal supplement for all annuals and perennials. You can buy it at Walmart or any garden center.
    I buy it for my roses.

  15. Wendy J. Beasley
    12/28/2018 at 6:24 am

    Hi – I have grown these for 40 years with success, but for the past 10 years my Christmas cactus just continually drop their leaves and never bloom. I am not doing anything differently from before. I’ve repotted and restarted them. What is causing them to drop their leaves???

    • Carol
      12/28/2018 at 10:50 am

      Hi Wendy. From my experience, the older a Christmas cactus gets, the woodier the stems get. I have no problem getting a plant to flower for the first few years but older plants always give me extra problems.

      New soil as well as repotting sometimes helps. Following the rules for darkness and coldness becomes more important. Often I just take cuttings and start over again. Carol

  16. Judy
    01/29/2019 at 10:01 am

    How do you get the cuttings to start a new plant. Do you put them in water or just stick them back in moist soil?

    • Carol
      01/29/2019 at 1:02 pm

      I let them dry out a bit on the end, and use rooting powder and soil starting soil. You can root them in water, but soil started cuttings are generally stronger plants.

  17. Brenda.
    09/04/2019 at 4:18 pm

    By reading all of the above comments etc. that I have been doing it all wrong. So glad I found this site. I have a cactus that is probably 9 or 10 years old It has never bloomed once kept thinking a cactus needs sun. Duh! But a few days ago I noticed on one limb down close to the bottom it had grown a little spiny cactus. I kept checking it and now it has three. Perfectly formed little kind of oval shaped little spiney babies. too small to get to to check if they prickle.

  18. jean ankney
    11/30/2019 at 8:58 am

    what fertilizer do u use for Christmas cactus

    • Carol Speake
      11/30/2019 at 12:44 pm

      Any balanced 20-20-20 fertilizer will work well for Christmas cactus plants.

  19. Lois
    12/03/2019 at 12:14 pm

    When transplanting them into a bigger pot what is the best potting soil to use ?

    • Carol Speake
      12/03/2019 at 12:46 pm

      Christmas cactus likes a light, well draining soil. Any cacti or succulent soil will do, as well as those intended for bromeliads or orchids.

  20. Diane
    12/27/2019 at 7:52 pm

    I have a Christmas cactus that is nearly done flowering and would like to know what conditions and care it needs after it’s done flowering and before it goes outdoors for the summer.

    • Carol Speake
      12/30/2019 at 1:23 pm

      Just remove the dead flower bulbs and continue watering it as a normal houseplant. Don’t over water. The plant is a tropical cactus, not a desert cactus, so also be careful not to underwater. Fertilize it in early spring. Placing the plant on a tray of pebbles in water will allow for the humidity that it likes.

  21. Diane
    12/31/2019 at 6:50 pm

    Thanks, Carol! Happy New Year!

    • Carol Speake
      01/02/2020 at 4:57 pm

      And to you as well Diane.

  22. Suzanne Blackwell
    01/25/2020 at 8:05 am

    I have a Christmas cactus that had not bloomed in years! I put 1/4 teaspoon of caster oil down in the center of the plant and now it blooms like crazy!!!

  23. Carol
    07/03/2020 at 7:31 pm

    I bought a small plant from a grocery store full of blooms…after a few days the buds fell off…there are still undeveloped buds on the plant..should I remove them?

    • Carol Speake
      07/03/2020 at 8:31 pm

      The finished buds will drop off, but with a bit of luck the small new buds will grow larger and then flower. Don’t remove them.

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