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How to Propagate a Christmas Cactus

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Propagating a Christmas cactus is incredibly easy and probably one of the easiest plants to root.

Many times Christmas cacti are passed down in families. Many cuttings are taken from the mother plant and rooted for family members.

Christmas cacti are a popular gift to give during the holiday season. But sometimes, it can be difficult to find a full-size plant at your local store or greenhouse.

If you want to continue the tradition of gifting a Christmas cactus this year but don’t have access to a fully grown plant, why not root a cutting instead? You can find cuttings from Etsy. Here is the place I picked one up earlier this year.

Cacti are some of the easiest plants to propagate, making it simple to grow a new plant from an existing cactus.

If you’re new to propagation, follow these easy instructions to learn how to root a Christmas cactus at home. These steps will work for any holidays cactus such as a Thanksgiving Cactus and Easter Cactus.

What is Propagating?

Propagating is the process of growing a new plant from a cutting of an existing plant.

Christmas cacti are perfect for propagating because their stems can easily be transferred to a new pot to sprout an entirely new plant. That means you can create a variety of new plants from an existing Christmas cactus to give as gifts or grow in different rooms of your home.

And there’s no need to worry about hurting your current Christmas cactus because taking cuttings off an existing plant does no harm to your cactus if done correctly.

Tips for Propagating a Christmas Cactus

Before you can root your Christmas cactus, you’ll need to start by taking a cutting of your existing plant. To ensure you make the best cut for propagation, it’s important to understand the make-up of your Christmas cactus stem. Each branch is constructed of several pads linked together. The spot where two pads connect is where the roots of a new cactus will begin to grow. 

Taking a cutting from you Christmas cactus is a fairly simple process. But don’t make that first cut into your existing cactus plant before considering these simple tips:

  • Propagate your cactus in the spring for best results. The optimal time to take cuttings of your Christmas cactus is several weeks after the last bloom and at least a month before the plant’s fall dormancy period. 
  • Make sure you are taking cuttings from a healthy plant. Cuttings propagated from an unhealthy or damaged cactus may not grow properly. Or you’ll risk transferring the disease from the unhealthy plant to your new plant, resulting in a damaged plant from its inception. I know many times we are trying to save our plants when something goes wrong. If you are taking a cutting from a plant you are trying to save, take the cutting from the healthiest part of the plant.
  • Always let your cutting dry before attempting to root it. After making your cut, you should let your stem rest for a few days to transition from growing shoots to growing roots. The resting period you need for your cutting will depend the method you choose to use to root your cactus.

How to Take a Christmas Cactus Cutting

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You can either tear the stems between the pads to make a cutting or cut it off.

You should be sure to trim off at least two or three jointed segments of the branch to ensure your cutting is large enough to grow. And if you hope to plant your cutting upright, it’s a good idea to make an even longer cutting to ensure your cutting is big enough to plant directly in the soil.

How to Propagate a Christmas Cactus

After properly cutting your cactus, you’re ready to start rooting your stem to create a new plant. There are three different ways you can root a Christmas cactus:

  • Propagating the cactus stem in soil
  • Rooting the stem flat on top of the soil
  • Rooting your Christmas cactus plant in water

The type of propagation method you choose will depend on what you the speed you want your plants to grow and the size of the cutting you have to work with. I have personally found rooting it in water is the easiest and quickest way.

How to Root a Christmas Cactus in Soil

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Growing your Christmas cactus cutting upright in soil is a great way to start a new plant without the need to repot the new plant after it grows. And it’s a simple method of propagation that often leads to success.

Start by allowing your cutting to rest for one to two days before putting it in soil. Place the cutting in a dry location out of direct sunlight and leave it alone until the resting period is up.

To propagate your Christmas cactus upright, simply place your cutting in fresh potting soil by sticking the end of the cutting far at least a quarter of the bottom pad deep. You can also totally cover the bottom pad if you prefer. Water the soil around the stem lightly and wait two to three weeks for roots to form.

You can see in the pic above some Easter cactus cuttings I am rooting. Some of the cuttings I buried the entire bottom pad, but most I only went up about 3/4 of the bottom pad.

During that time, you should allow the soil to dry slightly between each watering to ensure you don’t over-water your cactus. It’s also a good idea to avoid placing the plant in direct sunlight while its propagating.

This method of propagation is good if you:

  • Have large cutting that are at least four pads long
  • Cut the stems correctly and have whole ends on your cutting without damage to the bottom of the pad

You can check to see if your Christmas Cactus has rooted by gently pulling on the leaf, if there is some resistance then there are roots forming. If it comes out, it doesn’t have roots yet.

Rooting a Christmas Cactus Flat in Soil

While growing your Christmas cactus upright in soil is a great way to root large cuttings, sometimes you’re only able to get small cuttings from your cactus. If you would prefer to root your cactus in soil but only have small cuttings to work with, you can root your cuttings flat in soil for good results.

Also, if you try rooting your cutting and notice it isn’t rooting in the soil, but is instead growing root where the segments connect to each other, taking the cutting out of the soil and laying to root by laying flat can make your rooting successful.

Start by drying out your cuttings in a dry place for one to two days, avoiding direct sunlight during the resting period. After that, your cuttings are ready to be planted.

Instead of placing the cutting into the soil, with this method, you simply place the cutting on top of the soil.

The key to encouraging root growth with this method is to make sure your cutting has direct contact with the soil at the place where the two pads meet. That’s because that section of the cutting is where the roots will grow.

Keep the soil lightly moist as the cutting begins to root and give your plant two to three weeks to begin rooting.

Since your cactus cutting will be resting on top of the soil, you do run the risk of your cutting getting moldy or rotting before the roots form. To avoid this pitfall, make sure to only water the soil surrounding the cutting and avoid wetting the cutting itself.

Consider using this rooting method if you:

  • Have shorter cuttings that only have two to three pads
  • Are able to properly water your cactus by dampening the water without wetting the cutting itself
  • Not having success with rooting your cactus upright and notice roots growing between the leaf pads

How to Propagate Christmas Cactus in Water

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I think rooting in water is the easiest way to root. Not only is it the easiest, it is also the quickest.

Christmas cacti rooted in water tend to grow roots many days before those planted in soil, making it a great option for growing new cactus plants quickly.

If you try rooting in soil and have difficulties (notice your cacti wilting and you become concerned it will dye), then take it out and try water rooting it.

You can see in the pic above some Thanksgiving cactus cuttings rooting in water.

The key to successfully propagating your cactus in water is allowing your cutting to have plenty of time to rest. You’ll need to let your cutting dry out a little bit longer with this method to help it develop a good callous, which aids in water propagation.

Keep the cutting out of direct sunlight and let it dry until the leaf begins to get thinner.

The callus formed during the drying time will help keep your cuttings from rotting as they root in the water. In fact, if your cactus cutting does begin to rot in the water, it’s a sign that your cutting wasn’t left out to dry long enough to form a good callous on its exterior.

To root your cactus in water, place about an inch of water in the bottom of a cup or shotglass. Then, stick the end of the cutting into the water. Be sure to change out the water in the cup for fresh water every day or two to prevent bacteria from forming.

Allow the plants to soak for several weeks or even months, until the roots are at least one inch long before transferring the cuttings to soil. I know several people who leave their cuttings in the water for about 6 months, so they have a ton of roots before planting.

Plant the roots in the potting soil and water it thoroughly. Place the cactus in a warm spot that received indirect sunlight until your cactus is established.

Let the soil in your pot dry only slightly between every watering over the next few months until your cactus is fully rooted and able to withstand dry soil between each watering.

You can root your Christmas cactus in water if you:

  • Want to speed up the rooting process
  • Can see the callous on the cutting to prevent rot
  • Are comfortable transitioning the cutting to soil after the roots have formed. 

Questions about Rooting a Christmas Cactus

I know when doing something for the first time, I always have questions and second guess myself. Even on the easiest things. Here are some common questions people have when rooting a Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus, or Easter cactus.

Which end of Christmas cactus leaf goes in soil when propagating?

At top words: "Which end of the Christmas cactus leaf goes in soil when propagating?" then a picture of a Christmas cactus cutting. An arrow pointing to the bottom of the cutting and the words "Plant This Part" next to the arrow.

The Christmas cactus leaf has a scalloped or rounded top end and a pointed end. The pointed side is the end that goes in to the soil when propagating.

Can you root a broken piece of cactus?

Yes, if you have a piece of Christmas or other holiday cactus that broke off, you can root it. Root it just like you would a cutting. If the bottom pad is not fully intact, you will want to cut it off.

What are some tips on propagating Christmas cactus?

* To make sure your plant is nice and bushy, plant several leaves (5-6) fairly close together in a post.
* If you want more than one color of flower, you can plant different varieties that are different colors in the same pot.

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Top reads "Must Read Guide Christmas Cactus Propagation" and bottom is a picture of a Christmas cactus cutting.

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