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Christmas Cactus Care and Growing Guide

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Learn the best Christmas Cactus care tips and advice. It is such a bright spot during long winters. With it’s beautiful little flowers in bloom.

Closeup of a pink Christmas cactus flower.

An interesting fact about the Christmas cactus is that is isn’t a desert cactus. While this cute cactus is part of the cactus family, it actually grows in mountain forests.

Although, they might seem the same and have the same care requirements, the Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus and Easter cactus are all different plants. The main difference between these varieties are their leaf type and when they bloom.

Given minimal care, these holiday cacti can bloom on their own. But it is more than just watering and applying fertilizer — taking care and growing a Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, or Easter Cactus involves other requirements, too.

It may sound complicated, but it doesn’t really require all that much effort. However, if it’s your first time to have and care for a Christmas Cactus, it is important that you learn about it so that you can ensure your houseplant will be in full bloom and provide that pop of color to your home in the winter months.

We’re going to discuss everything you need to know about how to grow and care for the Christmas Cacti, but this all applies to Thanksgiving and Easter Cacti as well.

How Much Light do Christmas Cactus Need

Thanksgiving Cactus

To ensure that your cactus will grow well and flourish, place it in a bright spot that has an indirect light source. Too much heat or light can burn its leaves and stunt its growth.

Keep the plant in a well-lit place, like near a window, but still be sure to keep it away from direct sunlight.

If you live in an area where you have less than 8 hours of daylight during the fall and winter months, you may want to use a grow light to supplement the missing daylight. 

Christmas Cactus Humidity

If you live in a dry environment, provide your cactus with a source of humidity. The goal is to provide your cactus with 50 to 60 percent humidity in order for it to grow.

One way of doing this is to place a tray of water next to the plant, so once the water evaporates, it can provide moisture.

You can also prepare a humidity tray by filling a waterproof saucer with gravel, and filling it halfway with water, then add your potted plant on top of the gravel. This way as the water naturally begins its evaporation process, your plant will benefit from the humidity your tray provides.

Christmas Cactus Soil

Thanksgiving Cactus

The best Christmas cactus soil is one that is well-draining.

You can either buy a ready made, well-draining soil or you can also mix your own potting medium.

If you want to mix your own, use a combination of three parts potting soil to one part sand. You can also mix one part potting soil, one part perlite, and two parts compost. Either of these make a great start for your plant.

Fertilizer

Your cactus also needs fertilizer for its growth. Since the Christmas Cactus is actively growing and is a houseplant, you should use a houseplant fertilizer.

It is best to add fertilizer to your plant when it is 2 to 3 weeks old. You can fertilize it 2 to 3 times a year but once the buds start to appear, stop feeding it.

You can use a fertilizer that is around NPK 6-18-6.

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How Often Should You Water a Christmas Cactus?

Thanksgiving Cactus being watered
Thanksgiving Cactus

Your Christmas Cactus is not a desert cactus, it is a tropical one. Since it’s not a desert cactus, it cannot tolerate dryness like other Cacti can.

Drainage is really important with Christmas cactus, since it does like to be watered, but doesn’t like it’s roots to be in wet, soggy soil.

Water when it is dry – you can check the leaves, as they will be a bit thinner when it’s time to water.

You can also check the soil. Insert your finger into the soil about one inch, if the soil is dry, it’s time to water.

When you plant is flowering, it should get a bit more water than normal.

How to Make Christmas Cactus Bloom

Large Christmas cactus with buds at the end of the leaves, but no blooms.

You can encourage your Christmas Cactus to bloom for the holidays (being true to its name) by lowering the temperature. The key to getting it to flower is proper light exposure, limited watering, and correct temperature.

When your area starts getting colder, such as in September or October, move your Christmas cactus to a dark, cool room for about two weeks.

Once you see the flower buds forming, it is time to increase the humidity, light, and temperature. You can also start to water the plant, but not too much.

Christmas Cactus Pruning

Beautiful, huge Christmas cactus in bloom.

Some reasons you might want to prune your Christmas cactus are:

  • Without pruning your Christmas Cactus can become quite top heavy.
  • Pruning a Christmas cactus can help it fill out more, becoming bushier.
  • If your Christmas cactus doesn’t have a lot of space to grow out, it can be a problem. By pruning, you can keep your Christmas cactus contained.

A month after its blooming period, you can start pruning your Christmas Cactus.

At this time it will go into a growth period where it will add new foliage. Pruning it can encourage the plant to continue to grow more.

To prune your Christmas cactus, twist the branch between the segments and this will remove part of the branch. If you prefer, you can use scissors or a knife instead.

If you decide to prune your Christmas cactus, you can propagate the cuttings or segments you remove. It is really easy to propagate and make new plants and they make excellent gifts.

Repotting Christmas Cactus

Repot your Christmas Cactus every two to three years.

Once the roots have filled the pots or if you determine that the soil has used up all its nutrients, it’s time to transplant it to a new pot.

When repotting your cactus, make sure to use fresh, new soil.

The best time to repot is between the months of February and April. Make sure not to use a pot that is too large as the Christmas Cactus blooms better when it’s pot bound.

How to Prevent Common Christmas Cactus Problems

Christmas cactus in the shadows.

The most common Christmas Cactus problems that you might encounter when taking care of a Christmas Cactus is that it will often drop its buds.

This issue will arise when there are changes in its environment, like with the lighting, temperature, humidity, and water level.

To keep the blooms from dropping, you should maintain the moisture levels of the soil.

The temperature should also be consistently between 65 to 75 degrees.

Do not apply fertilizer during the late summer to fall months and be sure to subject your cactus to 14 hours of darkness every day.

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Christmas Cactus Tips

Keep an eye on the color of your cactus.

If it starts changing color, especially to a red hue, that means the plant is stressed. Some of the common reasons why it turns to a reddish color is too little water or too much sun.

Do not rush the repotting of your cactus. If it is pot bound, it will bloom better.

Waiting for three to five years before moving your Christmas Cactus into a new pot is best, but it still depends on how fast they are growing. Wait a couple of months after the plant blooms before moving it to a new pot.

Once the cactus starts to bloom, keep the temperature cool, around 50 to 55 degrees. This will allow the flowers to open slower and last longer.

Christmas Cacti are non toxic to cats and dogs.

Christmas Cactus Care

During spring, fertilize your plant after flowering.

During fall, if your plant is outside, move it indoors before the first frost. Maintain drier soil to be sure that the roots don’t freeze.

Begin the blooming regiment in September or October.

During winter, place the pot in a part of the house where it will get four to six hours of indirect sunlight, like next to a window or kitchen countertop. Keep the soil moist but not too wet.

Taking care of a Christmas Cactus is not too complicated. In fact, it needs much the same care that other houseplants need.

Give your home a beautiful pop of color or make a perfect conversation starter by placing a Christmas Cactus on your coffee table or countertop. Plus, they make perfect gifts for your family and friends, too!

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Top is a closeup of a Christmas Cactus bloom.  Middle says "Christmas Cactus Care: Tips to Make it Easy" and the bottom is a Christmas Cactus in bloom.

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