Christmas Cactus – How to Get it to flower Each Year

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.

How to get a Christmas Cactus to flower each year

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.Christmas cactus in a blue pot

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.

Leaf type

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. stems of 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.Christmas cactus flower

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. Keep a Christmas cactus outdoors in the summer months

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.Christmas cactus in flower

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.Follow these steps to get your Christmas cactus to flower each year.

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.

Yield: Get your plant to flower at Christmas

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 30 days 10 hours
Total Time 30 days 10 hours
Difficulty moderate
Estimated Cost $10

Materials

  • 1 Christmas Cactus
  • Dark Room
  • Cool Temperatures

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.

  33 comments for “Christmas Cactus – How to Get it 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?”

  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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *