How to Care for a Christmas Cactus

By Robin Odach , last updated February 28, 2011

Christmas cacti are tropical plants that require special care, including cool conditions and manipulated environments, to bloom their best. They are particular about having good drainage and the right amounts of light at the right times of the year. They have a reputation of being fussy when it comes to getting them to re-bloom, but that’s not actually the case. They just need the proper rations of light, water and temperature. The rest is elementary.

Soil

Correct soil is important for growing healthy Christmas cacti. Good drainage is the primary soil consideration for cactus plants. Repot your plant if you notice that it is drying out or wilting frequently. Purchase commercial soil for succulent plants, or you can make your own by mixing 2 parts potting soil with 1 part sand or vermiculite. Do not use fertilizers when the plant is blooming, only after the plant experiences active growth. Purchase a regular, houseplant type of fertilizer and follow the directions to determine how much and how often the plant needs fed.

Light

Christmas cacti easily adapt to various light levels, even dim light. Keeping the plant in a sunny location, however, will result in heavier, more abundant blooms. Move them outside in the summer time, but keep them in a semi-shady area to keep the leaves from sunburn. Limp leaves are a sign of too much sunlight. Adjust the indoor time gradually during the fall. Bring them in for a couple of hours, slowly increasing the time each day.

Temperature

Christmas cacti are not adapted to desert conditions like other cactus plants. They prefer temperatures of 60 to 65 degrees at night and 70 degrees during the day. Too much heat may cause the flowers to drop, and too much sunlight may cause fading. Remember that they are cool weather plants and those are the times they shine, whether they are Easter, Thanksgiving or Christmas cultivars.

Blooming

Christmas cacti require 12 to 14 hours of dark to prepare for blooming. Put them in a closet from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. each day beginning in mid-October until you see buds beginning to form. According to Rosie Lerner, horticulturist for Purdue University, a cold environment of 50 to 55 degrees will eliminate the need for the closet treatments. She advises beginning the cool treatments by early November for holiday blooming.

Watering and Propagating

Christmas cacti are not drought resistant, although many people think they are. Water them thoroughly. Watering too little will cause the leaves to wilt. Make sure to water amply during bloom times because lack of water puts the plant into stress and it will drop the flower buds.

Prune the plants in June to encourage branching, to promote more even bloom time, and to encourage the growth of more buds. Plants are propagated easily. Just snip off a few sections of stem and root them in moist vermiculite. Once they are rooted, they can be placed in a small pot with a succulent plant soil mixture.

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