Getting The Best From Your Christmas Cactus

Looking for something a little different this year to brighten up the home over the holidays? Why not try a Christmas Cactus, it begins blooming right before the big day (hence it’s name) and the flowers are really quite vibrant and lovely. The blooms come in a variety of colors: red, orange, fuchsia, yellow, pink, white and coral (with some bi-colored or mixed).

If you need a low-maintenance houseplant that won’t care if you forget about it, this one’s for you. It will do well outdoors during the summer (keep it in a pot), bring it in over the cold weather season and you can keep it going year round.

Neat to Know: This little beauty is native to Brazil, it’s tropical and is actually a forest cacti that thrives in the rainforests. It can live for up to 30 years! It’s an Epiphyte (air plant) which means it grows on top of trees, bushes and large rocks in the forest. So cool!

Here are some helpful tips to get you started:

Soil: Does well in almost any good garden mix. Needs no feeding during the blooming period, after blooms are done use a houseplant 20-20-20 soluble fertilizer once/month (half strength solution only–dilute this twice the package recommendation). Stop feeding in late summer.

Water: Avoid too much. It needs to be gently pushed into dormancy at the beginning of November to ensure holiday blooms, allow the plant to dry out between light waterings during this time. Keep soil slightly moist during blooming.

If You Keep It Too Dry: The leaves will start showing signs of shriveling.

Pests: Almost immune. Yellow leaves and flower buds dropping off may be caused by over-watering.

Heat: Moderate to cool. Keep away from heat sources when trying to trigger its dormant period.

Light: In the Fall encourage bud development by placing it in a room where it will be in complete darkness at least 12 hours a night (up to 14 hours). When buds begin to show, place in a location where it gets sun part of the day.

Propagation: Take cuttings in Spring, at place where aerial roots have come out. Let cuttings lie for a few days to callous over, then pot in ordinary soil or a sand/peat mix works well too. Just an inch deep will do the trick. If a stem breaks off (it happens, especially if you have pets), just set it aside for a few days then plant about 1″ deep after it has callused over and it will begin to root. Voila! You have a new houseplant.

Starts to Droop or Limp: You’re either overwatering or giving it too much direct sunlight.

Pot Size: They like to be snug and crowded so no need to fuss with frequent re-potting. Just ensure there’s good drainage and it will be happy. If it’s clear the time has come to repot (about every 2 or 3 years), wait until it’s done blooming (late winter).

Misty Treat: Keeping in mind this fella thrives in rainforests, give your cactus a treat by misting it with water now and again. It also enjoys a tray of pebbles sitting in water placed underneath it or a bowlful beside it. As it evaporates it will increase the humidity around the plant.

Magnesium Boost: Treat the plant to a feeding of 1 tsp Epsom salts/gallon water. Do this each month during Spring and Summer (not during the same week as giving fertilizer).

Notes: Set pot outdoors in summer and forget about it (avoid harsh sun locations). Bring it in before frost, withhold water for about six weeks, then begin to water when it’s around the time to produce buds for holiday bloom.

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    • Helen

    Christmas cactus CAN be grown in water! I grew one that way for over 10 years on my west facing kitchen window sill. When I moved 3500 km interstate 7 years ago I couldn’t bring it with me and gave it to a neighbour. When I visited her earlier this year it was still growing AND flowering.

      • Sharon

      I removed the petal where the flower had died,and now,the new leaf is coming in in a red color. Have you experienced that?

        • Roselyn McDonagh

        Yes my ziger all went red. I put lots of liquid fertilizer on the pot and after a little while green shoots appeared and now it is almost back to normal. So keep trying. These plants are very hardy.

      • Carol Monroe

      My friend gave me a Christmas cactus and it’s now in a mason jar, will it die like that or will it survive long enough to grow roots or can it survive in the jar of water?? Will it grow roots in the water this is my first Christmas cactus :O

        • Nana

        As long as it is wet it will grow roots. Mine gets broken by kids and pets sometimes and I just put the broken off piece in a jar in my kitchen window. When I have enough rooted to start a new plant, I just plant them in a good potting soil. They grow best in an East facing window – 2nd best in a South facing window, but will do fine as long as they get some light! Rotate your new plant so it grows full.

    • Joalice Maloney

    I left my plant outside in the summer and the rains almost drown it.

    • Nancy Engel

    I put my house plants outside for the summer. When I went away for a week all of the plants survived fine except the Christmas cactus, the squirrels dumped it over and ate most of it, so beware if you have these rodents.

    • Claire

    I have two of these cacti, one had pink flowers last year, one had white.

    This year though, I had no flowers at all on either one 🙁

    • Kate

    I’ve had two real problems with mine:

    1) Spider Mites, I seriously thought succulents could not get those. I only noticed when it started dropping leaves and whole segments.

    2) Too much sun caused the leaves to turn red and suffer. With proper lighting for the variety the leaves will be a gorgeous green.

    • sharon shaffer

    how do you grow a christmas cactus in water? I thought they were not to be over watered. I have one a neighbor that started one for me from pieces from her plant, but pieces keep falling off & are mushy thank you for any input

    • Marla

    How do I repot one that is 15 yrs old and is cascading 3 ft? Thanks

      • Carmella

      My mom has one that is 50 years old!! It is huge!!! I took it to a local nursery and let the profecionals repot it. It is beautiful!! I didnt want to chance killing it.

    • Sandy

    I bought a cactus at Wal-mart. It didn’t do well at all for 2 years. Then I put it in a south window with my violets. When I water the violets I always use Violet Food. When I have left over violet water I put it on my cactus. It had one flower on it and that fell off. Since I started putting the violet water on it, it has tripled in size, all sections sprouted new leaves. Now in the last couple of week there are buds on every section, some of them have two. I can’t wait until they open, it’s going to be gorgeous. I didn’t know that there are Thanksgiving Cactus and Christmas. I think mine is a Thanksgiving one. It will be in full bloom before Thanksgiving.

    • Anne

    Does a Christmas cactus need to be root bound to bloom?

    • Lou

    I have a small cactus. It is potted in a large soup cup. Because I live in an apt. and have a North exposure, it wasn’t doing too well. It’s kind of wilty.( I took a cutting off a huge old cactus at least a year ago). The parent cactus is huge. It gets diffused south light. For a while I had the potted cutting under a grow light in the kitchen, but still, nothing. Does anyone know what I can do to revive this cactus?

    • Neela

    I was given a xmas cactus in May 2012…it came looking great with alot of bright red flowers…but now it’s a mess..a total mess. It’s droopy and no flowers for a long time. The green segments are falling off also.
    This plant means alot to me cause of who sent it and why so I want it to live….but I don’t have a green thumb and seem to kill every plant tho I do really enjoy having them. I’m in an apt with no sunlight…I’m scrunged in a courtyard bldg with no light… please.
    Oh, once and a while I use the blue sticks for feeding but even that doesn’t help and I bought cactus soil but even THAT doesn’t do anything positive for my plant….that’s dying fast.

    • Nana

    I have a Christmas cactus that is connected to my family thru 7 generations. It always blooms for Christmas and loses it’s last blossom on or very near Easter. I have one ready now to give my Granddaughter who just moved into her first house. She has perfect windows so I know it will be happy. Then I will start another from my ‘mother’ plant for my Grandson who is now 12. It will be a perfect, mature size for him when he is ready for it. My Christmas Cactus is a very sacred part of my life.

      • Nana

      P.S. When I inherited the Grandmother plant, it was over 100 years old. Stems all crusty and it was so “old”. I had it repotted and it died. Thank God My Grandmother had already given us all our own cactus and my mother had the new “mother” plant – it was about 75 years old and I have it now… will probably never repot it!

    • Ron

    While visiting a local hospital, i saw ice in the pot of a Christmas Cactus. Is this a good way to water? How often?

    • pendesk8

    I have a Christmas cactus that was my Grandmothers who has been deceased for almost 30 years.The cactus is about 60 years old.They are very hardy ,just remember the word cactus,not too much water.

    • sacruiser

    Want to have some fun with a Christmas Cactus? Start 3 or 4 “leaves” of a spineless prickly pear in a pot. After it is established in a few weeks cut off two or three leaves in a row of the C.Cactus. On the leaf at the bottom shave off the skin of the vein on both sides of the leaf leaving the inner part of the vein exposed. You can do this with a single edge razor blade. Now cut a slit in at an angle down into the edge of the Prickly Pear about the depth of the C.Cactus leaf. Slip the C.Cactus into the slit matching up the raw area of the P.Pear with the raw edges of the C.Cactus. Tape the C.Cactus in place with regular household tape until it grows in place. Get ready for a show. The C.Cactus takes on the growth pattern of the P.Pear so you will see several leaves growing on each new C. Cactus leaf and it just keeps growing more and more leaves, each one will have a flower. The best one I saw was one P.Pear Plant with three different colors of C. Cactus. It was about three feet wide and high and had hundreds of flowers.

    • Jan McAuslan

    My cutting was doing very well in a very shallow dish of water, and even got one blossom on it. Then it started to die. I put it in the sun in a larger pot thinking it would help. So glad I came to this site. I just took it out of the sun and put it near the window. Thank you so much for the advice. I hope it works.

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