This Christmas care article provides important background information, tips on how to care for a Christmas cactus, plus trouble shooting advice.
Christmas cactus is the common name for schlumbergera, a small genus of cacti with 6 to 9 species native to the coastal mountains of south-east Brazil. In Brazil, it’s known as the May flower.
Christmas cactus is a common name used in the Northern hemisphere whereas elsewhere you can also find it under names like holiday or crab cactus. It’s a popular common holiday gift plant.
Their hanging branches are made up of flat and glossy green segments and can reach up to 3 feet in height indoors.
The flowers are stunning-they grow in various colors, including yellow, pink, white, purple or red. They will appear at the tips of the branches and usually grow 3 inches in length and with several petals.
The blooms last only several days while the flowering period lasts a couple of weeks. Average home conditions and moderate proper care are usually enough for this plant to prosper, so it’s not a bad idea for the less experienced gardeners.
The cactus is full of blooms which is an amazing sight in the period around Christmas. A little Christmas cactus care goes a long way, so you don’t need to care too much for it to see it bloom, although this may not always happen precisely in time for the holidays.
To encourage it, you may need to push it into dormancy around 8 weeks (prolonged darkness) before you want it to happen. This is still low-effort for this beauty!
It can be a great office or home plant and it’s non-toxic to both humans, dogs and cats. However, if large amounts are ingested, it can lead to vomiting and diarrhea, so be careful where you place it!
Good to know:
This impressive cactus is able to remove CO2 and releases oxygen at night time, making it an excellent plant for your bedrooms.
How to Care for a Christmas Cactus
This plant loves its fair share of brightness, but it will thrive only when you place it in an area with indirect sun exposure.
Keep them away from direct western or southern sunlight. This can easily scorch its leaves. Opt for the east or north windows in your home or office.
The plant will do fine in a daytime temperature of 70 degrees F and 60 to 65 degrees F in the evenings.
In summertime, you can take it outside in the shady area in the garden or porch until the temperatures drop below 50 degrees F.
Water & Humidity
Unlike many cactuses, this one isn’t from hot and dry climates, but from tropical ones.
With this in mind, water it when its top inch of soil is dry. Take into account the climate and time of year.
If you keep it inside in a cool and humid area, once per week may suffice. In hotter and drier climates, watering it every two to three days may be necessary.
In fall and winter, reduce the watering to encourage blooming.
Mist daily with distilled or rainwater, or place on a saucer of damp pebbles.
To ensure it grows happy and healthy, choose a lightweight and draining potting soil for your Christmas cactus, one for succulents or bromeliads will do great.
You can also grow it in a mixture of 2/3 regular potting soil and 1/3 sand.
Fertilize your Christmas cactus every month in the growing season or from mid spring to early autumn.
This will ensure the plant forms buds easier and eventually it blooms around Christmas.
Choose a balanced liquid houseplant fertilizer or half strength water soluble formula, for example 20-20-20 or 20-10-20.
Repotting Christmas Cactus
Although it’s best to repot most other plants when they show new growth in springtime, with Christmas cactus, this process is different.
Do it after the blooming ends and the flowers are wilting-around late winter or early spring. Avoid doing it when the plant is in active blooming phase.
Christmas Cactus Propagation
If you have this plant and you want to share it with others, it’s relatively easy to do it.
To propagate it, you need to take cuttings of 1 to 4 segments and leave them to sit in a cool and dry area for 2 to 3 days.
Then, plant them in an inch deep fresh soil and water them sparingly until you see new growth and the roots establish. After this happens, water them regularly.
Best Christmas Cactus Species
This species has flat leaves and pointy teeth and it blooms in late fall.
This variety also has flat leaves, but rounded teeth on the leaves’ margins. It blooms in early winter.
Easter Cacti will bloom in mid-spring and has flat leaves and rounded teeth with broader flowers that remind you of daisies.
They differ from the flowers of other cacti which tend to be more tube-like.
How To Get a Christmas Cactus to Bloom
If you want to encourage your Christmas cactus to bloom, keep it cool following its blooming period and keep the soil a bit moist and feed it.
When you see new growth, put the plants in an area of your home with a 55 to 65 degrees F temperature and give them 10 hours of light and 14 hours of darkness for a period of 4 to 6 weeks.
Keep the plant away from draft-especially sudden ones. This may cause the buds or flowers to become droopy.
After flowering, you can do light pruning to re-energize the plant.
Make sure you don’t fuss too much over this plant- they seem to thrive when a bit neglected.
Trouble Shooting- Common Issues
Problem: wilting leaves & white spots on the leaves
Cause: Over-watering, a common issue for numerous cactuses.
Solution: Although it’s a tropical cactus and likes more water than other cactuses, it can also be overwatered.
With this in mind, make sure you’re watering it enough-not too much or too little.
Problem: blooms or stems are covered with silvery fungus
Cause: Grey mold or botrytis blight.
Solution: If you’ve caught it early, you may save the plant. Remove the infected parts and boost the ventilation and lower the humidity.
Problem: yellow spots on the leaves & leaves wilting
Cause: Necrotic spot virus transmitted by insects known as thrips.
Solution: Move the plant into a clean container with new fresh potting soil.
To discourage thrips, use sticky traps to catch these tiny pests. There are also pesticides available to control thrip.
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