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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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Carol

Friday 3rd of July 2020

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

Friday 3rd of July 2020

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.

Suzanne Blackwell

Saturday 25th of January 2020

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!!!

Susan

Thursday 14th of January 2021

How often do you use the caster oil?

Diane

Tuesday 31st of December 2019

Thanks, Carol! Happy New Year!

Carol Speake

Thursday 2nd of January 2020

And to you as well Diane.

Diane

Friday 27th of December 2019

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

Monday 30th of December 2019

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.

Lois

Tuesday 3rd of December 2019

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

Carol Speake

Tuesday 3rd of December 2019

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

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