In this post we are highlighting a plant that exudes joy during the holidays with it's beautiful blooms and beautiful foliage - the Christmas cactus. We would love for you to experience their spendor. However, it's important to know the ins and outs of proper Christmas cactus care to get the most out of the plant - and here's where we got you covered. Follow our advice here to get the most out of this plant.
Why Christmas Cactus?
When you hear the word cactus, what comes to mind? Usually hot desert climates and the cacti that live within them. However, the Chirstmas cactus is not one of those. In fact, it IS a succulant like the others (a plant that stores water in it's leaves or stems). However, it's native to Brazil and likes cooler temperatures - the opposite of what you think of when it comes to cactus.
Mostly they bloom in the fall, close to the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving and the worldwide holiday of Christmas, but that's not always the case. We actually care for several Christmas cacti and many of our plants actually reach full bloom during Thanksgiving, when family and friends gather to enjoy the holidays. They certainly add to the festivities.
It's blooms come in pinks, reds, whites and fusias, and they bloom on drooping stems with cactus-like foliage that is similar looking to other varieties of cactus.
Here's a wonderful close up of a peach/orange-ish flower mixed with some whites. A beautiful variety.
Another striking color is white - especially when sitting next to another plant with red or bright pink.
In this last image example, you can see how magnificent the pink flower really it.
Growing and caring for them is relatively easy because they are very forgiving. However, there are a few specific things you need to know that will cause them to do even better with bigger and more numerous blooms.
How To Grow Christmas Cactus
The first thing to know is Christmas cactus, with the exceptions of the warm planting zones of 10-11, are indoor plants that are usually grown in containers. They are usually planted one per container, with nothing else in the pot competing for attention - but that doesn't have to be the case. However, if you include other plants in the same pot as your Christmas cactus, you'll want to ensure the other plants have the same water and light needs.
Choose a small to medium sized pot with drain holes (more on this in a minute) and fill the pot with a good potting mix almost to the rim. Stick the plant in the pot and voila, the first step is complete.
Their growth rate is extremely slow. You can use a pot that fits the size of the plant initially and may not need to repot it - possibly for years.
Many times you'll purchase Christmas cactus in a garden center or nursery - already planted in pots. What could be easier? No planting necessary. Just follow this guide for Christmas cactus care to make sure they survive and thrive.
Light Requirements And Location
The first and most important factor to consider in Christmas cactus care is it's light requirements. They do not like direct sun, which can burn the leaves. Indirect, but bright light is what they require most.
This means that, if you're keeping the plant indoors, the pot should be near a south/southwestern window that gets bright light but NOT direct sunlight. Indeed, having direct sunlight shining through a window just might spell the death of the plant. Have you ever felt a glass window in bright sun? If so, you know what we mean.
On the other hand, putting the pots outdoors is also possible, but treating them like any other indoor plant and only putting them out during warmer weather is the key to their survival. If you want to enjoy your plants outdoors during the warm summer months, they must be kept under cover, either on a covered patio or front porch, or some other location that sheilds them from direct sun.
Although their ideal temperature range is between 65-75 degrees, we keep ours outside under a porch roof at all times - even during 90 degree days - and they do well. We've never had an issue. They always do well with absolutely no fuss at all.
Here's an image of a group of 2 Christmas cactus on our porch. They need very, very little care when kept on outdoors on a porch. Just water every week or two and you'll be good to go.
Here's another shot of those plants. You can see their location in relation to other plants on the porch.
How Often Do You Water A Christmas Cactus
It goes without saying that part of your Christmas cactus care routine will involve watering.
Unlike many plants in pots, especially annuals that need watering daily or at least every 2-3 days, depending on weather, Christmas cactus like to be moist, but not soaked. In addition, they cannot sit in water, so using a pot with drain holes is essential.
We water ours about once per week, or even a little less frequent, and they do great!
Simply feel the soil at the top and about an inch down and if it feels dry, water the plant until water drips out of the pot at the bottom. This will ensure the roots have gotten wet. However, don't let the pot sit in a tray of water. Be sure to empty the saucer after watering.
Christmas cactus can also dry out for a time between waterings. In fact, they prefer that, so if you forget to water them for a few days, it probably won't have an adverse effect.
The Humidity Factor
Because the plant is native to Brazil, it also prefers a humid environement. Therefore, misting it using a spray bottle every now and then is not a bad idea.
In addition, if you live in a climate that often receives high humidity, then moving the pots outdoors is a good idea. This is especially true if you use air conditioning within your home, which of course dries out the air.
We have many Christmas cactus - 6 actually. Some we keep inside year round, even with air conditioning. Others we take outside during the spring, summer and fall. All do great - even the ones that remain in the house - and we rarely mist them. Go figure! This is how forgiving they are to many environments (except direct sun).
Christmas Cactus Fertilizer - Which Ones Are Best?
Fertilizing Christmas cactus is not necessary while they are blooming. However, at other times it's a good idea.
Fertilize once per month with a general purpose house plant fertilizer such as 10-10-10 or 20-20-20. Using a water soluable fertilizer is best, but diluting it with twice a much water as the instructions say is ideal. This means that the fertilizer will be at 1/2 strength.
If this description of fertilizer is Greek to you, see our article here about different types of fertilizers and what the numbers mean.
How To Encourage Blooms
If you want to encourage blooms, here's what you should do.
In September or October, place the plant in a completely dark environment with a temperature of around 55 degrees for 12-14 hours per day. Nighttime would be the ideal time to do this for obvious reasons.
Do this for 4-6 weeks or until you see buds forming. Once the flower buds appear, you can place it back in its normal location.
We've never needed to use this method for blooming and all of our cacti bloom like clockwork in November and/or December. Simply bringing the plants inside after being outside during the growing season seems to stimulate blooming for us.
In this close-up, you can see the buds. This cactus was on our front porch 2 weeks ago when we brought it in and sat it on a plant stand in front of a soutwest facing window. This is what happened. We've done nothing else.
This plant will probably be in full bloom in another 2-3 weeks.
Christmas Cactus Propogation
Propogating Christmas catus is very easy. In fact, you may want to do this if it starts tipping over the pot it's planted in. As the plant grows, the stems become heavier and the plant can't support it's own weight in the pot.
The simple solution is to cut off the branch where it meets the other branches and propogate it.
Simply dip the branch in rooting hormone and stick it in a small pot of soil and water frequently. It should develop roots within a few weeks.
Problems With Christmas Cactus
Christmas cactus have very few problems. It is one of the truly low maintenance plants you can own.
However, one annoyance is that when the blooms drop off, they will create debris that needs cleaning. A minor thing really.
The other disappointment is that they don't bloom for long enough. Those flowers are so numerous and showy, we'd certainly like to see them more often. Alas, mother nature has other plans.
The Final Conclusions
With the proper Christmas cactus care you'll have a plant that you can enjoy for many, many years. In fact, they have been known to live for over 100 years! Wow!
Their foliage is attractive and their blooms are just spectacular! They would make great additions to any home, including yours. They will fill it with cheerful, bright flowers during an otherwise dismall off season.
Here are the main take-a-ways:
- An indoor tropical plant that does not like cooler temperatures and will not survive the cold.
- Light Needs - Indirect, bright light.
- Water Needs - Don't overwater. Keep moist but allow to dry out somewhat between waterings.
- Fertilize once per month with a water soluable fertilizer at 1/2 strength.
We highly recommend you try out one or more Christmas cactus in your own home. You'll love them!
For even more details, you can also read THIS ARTICLE.
For more information on other plants you'll love, visit our PLANT GUIDE HERE!