The Christmas cactus plant (Schlumbergera), is a wonderful holiday plant and is not to be mistaken for the Thanksgiving cactus or Easter cactus. They bloom just in time for the festive season and the flowers come in beautiful, bright shades of pink and reds. They are a popular houseplant in the USA and can grow up to 3 feet long.
The flowering period of a Christmas cactus can last several weeks, but if you’re a newbie to the plant care world then you’ll need some guidance on Christmas cactus care to avoid things like Christmas cactus bugs and a wilting Christmas cactus.
Luckily for you, we have put together this easy-to-follow article on Christmas cactus care. We aim to answer all the common questions we hear in regards to caring for a Christmas cactus indoors (the tropical plant is more often than not an indoor houseplant over an outdoor plant).
How to care for Christmas cactus indoors
There are some general tips you’ll need to know when taking care of a Christmas cactus. To help you along the way we have split this post into six different sections, each aiming to help answer common questions regarding Christmas cactus care indoors and will hopefully help you grow your plant into something beautiful!
The six topics of discussion you’ll find below are:
Once you have read through these sections, you will hopefully have a better understanding of how to properly care for a Christmas cactus. These tips for beginners are a great way of introducing yourself to the wonderful world of cactus care and succulent care!
Advice for Christmas cactus care
So, shall we begin? Learn these Christmas cactus care tips to ensure your festive plant blooms year after year and you never have to ask yourself ‘why is my Christmas cactus not blooming?’.
What is the best Christmas cactus soil?
One of the most important things you’ll want to know when caring for a Christmas cactus indoors is the best type of soil. Native to Brazil, the wonderful seasonal houseplant has very specific growing conditions.
The Christmas cactus is an epiphyte (air plants) and this means that it attaches to other trees and plants to capture their water and nutrients from sources other than soil.
So that being said, what is the best soil for a Christmas cactus? Well, to begin with, you need very well-draining and airy soil. You can go to your local garden centre to find potting mixes for cacti that will have good drainage. Look for a soil with a pH-balanced of between 6.0 and 7.0 and make sure it has no added fertilizers.
If DIY is more your thing, you can easily create your own potting soil mix with just a few ingredients. Simply mix together one part potting soil, two parts peat moss and one part sharp sand or perlite. The perlite and peat mix will provide easy drainage, whilst the potting soil will provide the nutrients.
A well-draining soil is necessary. If you get a compacted soil it will cause the leaves of your plant to take more water than it can handle. This can cause a number of problems including Oedema, which will eventually cause your Christmas cactus leaves falling off.
The great thing about a Christmas cactus is that it is very low maintenance and the soil won’t need to be replenished for 2-3 years!
What is the temperature range for Christmas cactus?
Being a tropical plant, Christmas cactus enjoy warm temperatures – much like the desert cacti! They also like average moisture levels and bright sun. The best temperature for a Christmas cactus is between 70 to 80°F (21 to 27°C) in the spring and summer and 60 to 68°F (15 to 20°C) during fall and winter.
When trying to force a Christmas cactus to bloom in the flowering season, you should move the plant to a cooler area in October time (around 50°F). This will encourage bloom and you will have a healthy, happy plant ready for the festive holidays. You can then move it back into a warmer room, but try to avoid drastic temperature changes as this will cause the leaves to fall off and droop.
So, we’ve outlined the average temperature range for a Christmas cactus but how cold can a Christmas cactus get? To answer this we need to look at the hardiness zones from The United States Department of Agriculture. Christmas cactus is placed into hardy zones 9 – 11. Zone 9 is 20-25 degrees Fahrenheit (-6 to -3 C) and zone 11 is 45 to 50 (7-10 C). This is the minimum annual winter temperature the plant can take.
As we can see it’s quite broad but the Christmas cactus can take fairly cold temperatures. But this doesn’t mean that your plant will thrive in these conditions and they certainly shouldn’t be surrounded by frost or snow.
How often do you water a Christmas cactus?
As with any plant, a major part of Christmas cactus care is watering. You should always consider the climate and environment your cacti is in as well as the time of year. It is hard to really say how often you should water a Christmas cactus but as a rule of thumb, you should wait until the top few inches of soil are dry before watering. This can be anywhere between 2-3 days and 1 week, depending on the time of year and weather.
In the summer, when your plant is getting more sun you will more than likely have to water every 2 – 3 days and in the fall, once a week. You should also water less in the winter as this will encourage blooming!
Overwatering a Christmas cactus can cause a lot of problems for your plant including attracting mealy bugs, root rot and the eventual death of your plant! Unlike the desert cactus, a Christmas cactus can’t take under-watering and the soil should never be left bone dry. This will cause wilting and the flower buds to drop. Although problematic, if you’ve been a bit negligent with watering you can always read our post on how to revive a Christmas cactus.
When you water a Christmas cactus, you should be giving it a thorough soak, until the water drains out of the drainage holes. Choosing a pot with drainage holes is important because if you let the soil stay soggy it will cause root rot.
How much light for a Christmas cactus?
This is where caring for a Christmas cactus can get tricky! Of course, as with any cactus species, the festive cacti LOVES a bit of sunlight. The difference between the tropical plant and a desert cactus, however, is that you should never give the Christmas cactus too much direct sunlight and the plant should be placed in a north-facing window.
In the summer months, too much bright and direct sunlight can cause your Christmas cactus leaves to turn purple. As with any succulent, too much direct sun will actually cause sunburn! In the fall and winter, your houseplant will need bright light to thrive and you should try to avoid artificial lighting.
Now, this is where things get complicated. When you are trying to force your Christmas cactus to bloom you will need to place it in a dark room for 12 hours a day. Averagely, this will be from September. To make it easy, we recommend placing it in a room every evening that doesn’t get used. You should be doing this for 12 hours a day, every day, until you begin to see buds appear.
Once the buds appear, you can then move it to your display area – be that a window (out of direct sunlight) or your dining room table.
What is the best fertilizer for Christmas cactus?
Using a great fertilizer is going to do wonders for your Christmas cactus and will make it thrive. Taking care of a Christmas cactus indoors can be tough, mainly because it is out of its natural environment and living conditions. However, using the best fertilizer will encourage growth and keep your houseplant healthy.
You should be fertilizing every 2 – 4 weeks throughout months April – October (stop at the beginning of October). When your Christmas cactus is in bloom, however, you should not be fertilizing as this can be damaging.
Christmas cactus need more magnesium than other indoor plants, so you should be mixing your fertilizer with 1 teaspoon of Epsom salts and of course, water. The best fertilizer for a Christmas cactus is half-strength, water-soluble formulas. These can be purchased from your local garden centre.
Again, DIY fertilizers are also a great option, and a great home remedy is using coffee grounds on a Christmas cactus. As I mentioned above, the tropical houseplant needs extra magnesium. But it also needs a measurable amount of potassium – both of which coffee contains.
Christmas cactus also enjoys a slightly more acidic soil to other indoor plants (between 5.8 pH – 7.0 pH). Water has a generic alkaline pH or around 8 and using coffee grounds on a Christmas cactus can help balance the levels out. However, you should be checking what soil you are using first as if you are already using an acidic soil, you’ll want to leave the coffee grounds for human consumption!
When do you repot Christmas cactus?
On to our final Christmas cactus care tip! When do you repot a Christmas cactus? Luckily, the beautiful Schlumbergera only needs repotting every 3-4 years! Unnecessary repotting can actually cause major issues when it comes to blooming and in general Christmas cactus can go many years without repotting.
Christmas cactus enjoy cozy roots and if you have repotted in the last year or so, then avoid doing again! A good tip is to wait until the roots are growing out of the drainage holes as this is usually a good indication that you need to be repotting Christmas cactus.
The time of year is a major factor when it comes to repotting. It is dangerous to repot during bloom as this will cause the buds to fall off. Instead, wait until blooming ends and the flowers have wilted – usually springtime.
If you’ve had your plant for a good few years and think it’s time to repot then you should follow this awesome Youtube tutorial on how and when to repot your Christmas cactus.
Christmas cactus care summarised
I hope that this article has been helpful and you are now better educated on how to care for Christmas cactus! The topics discussed are the basics in Christmas cactus care and if you follow the information, then you should have a very healthy plant that blooms year in, year out!
To summarise, we have discussed the following common Christmas cactus care questions:
- What is the best Christmas cactus soil?
- What is the temperature range for Christmas cactus?
- How often do you water a Christmas cactus?
- How much light for a Christmas cactus?
- What is the best fertilizer for Christmas cactus?
- When do you repot Christmas cactus?
If you would like to know anything else, then leave a comment with your question and I’ll do my best to help. Succulent Care Guide is a blogging website about all things plant care! All the tips are things I have learned over the years of caring for houseplants and I do my best to give the best advice possible.
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