A Christmas cactus is the perfect festive plant to have in bloom this time of the year. If taken care of correctly, it 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.
What is a Christmas Cactus?
Christmas cactus (schlumbergera) is a genus of cactus plants that have about 6-9 species. They are native to the coastal mountains of South East Brazil.
In the wild, the plants grow on trees or around rocks in shady spots with high humidity. This makes them need quite different care in the home than a normal cactus plant.
Other names for this plant are crab cactus (because of the way the leaves form), Thanksgiving Cactus – Schlumbergera truncata (also known as zygocactus) and commonly – Holiday Cactus.
Another variety – the Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaetneri), flowers in the spring and is native to the natural forests of Brazil, rather than the tropical forests.
This plant is known as a leaf cactus. The bodies of the leaves are flattened and form stems. Flowers grown from the notched areas as well as from the tips of the stems.
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.
Christmas cactus flowers are normally pink but there are also white, red, yellow, and purple varieties. Blooms are quite long lasting.
Does your Christmas Cactus Flower each Year?
It’s fine to purchase a plant in bloom and have it flower for you, but how do you get it 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 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.
What does a Christmas cactus need to flower each year?
Here are some tips to remember to get your 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.
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.
A period of Darkness helps
In order to force the plant 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.
Keep it in the dark.
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.
Prune only lightly.
Don’t prune the flat, arching stems (buds form on the tips), and don’t fertilize heavily, or you encourage only vegetative growth and not flower buds.
Avoid Temperature fluctuations
Take care that you don’t subject the plant to high temperatures or heat fluctuations, particularly when the plant is in bloom
For next year’s blooms, do as I described above. 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.
Caring for a Christmas Cactus indoors
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., and water the plant weekly.
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.
If you follow these steps, you will have a Christmas cactus that is a delight each holiday season. I divided my huge plant this past summer, and this year I have two large plants just full of blooms.
What is your favorite seasonal holiday gardening tip? Let us know in the comments below.
Would you like a reminder of these tips for getting your Christmas cactus to flower each year? Just pin this image to one of your Gardening Boards on Pinterest.
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 a care card, extra tips and a video for you to enjoy.
- 1 Christmas Cactus
- Dark Room
- Cool Temperatures
- Keep your Christmas cactus outside during the summer months in a shady spot. Water normally.
- When the temperatures dip into the 40s bring the plant indoors, taking care to inspect for bugs.
- 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)
- Water sparingly and do not fertilize or prune.
- The plant should come into bloom in December and last into January. (Northern Hemisphere)
- To bring the plant into bloom earlier, start the cold/darkness earlier,
- Once it sets blooms bring to a semi sunny spot and water lightly each week.
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.
Costa Farms Live Christmas Cactus in 4in Gold Decor Pot Cover, Grower's Choice - Red, Pink, White, Fresh From Our Farm, Great as Holiday Gift or Christmas Decoration
AMERICAN PLANT EXCHANGE Christmas Cactus Assorted Colors Zygocactus Live Plant, 1 Gallon, Red, Pink, White/Indoor Air Purifier
Costa Farms Live Christmas Cactus in 6in Gold Decor Pot Cover, Grower's Choice - Red, Pink, White , Great as Holiday Gift or Christmas Decoration
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