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Christmas Cactus 101 – and Plant Care Tips!

Christmas Cactus 101 - and Plant Care Tips!

The name might make you think of a more prickly version of the poinsettia – and that’s the point! While coming from a cactus family, these plants are as festive as their bushy counterparts.

This houseplant star comes in a spectrum of colors including white, pink, yellow, orange, red, and purple, instantly perking up spaces with its showy vibrance. If you’re looking for more curious cacti trivia, then let’s start the game!

What is a Christmas cactus?

What is a Christmas cactus
Image by Desert Botanical Garden

The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera) is a cactus known for its colorful flowers that bloom around Christmas. With flattened stems and segmented leaves, it’s popular for festive indoor decor.

In the Northern Hemisphere, they go by Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus, crab cactus, and holiday cactus because they bloom in these seasons. In Brazil, where these cacti flourish, it’s known as Flor de Maio (May flower) because – well, it blooms in May!

What is the ideal temperature for the Christmas cactus?

What is the ideal temperature for the Christmas cactus
Image by Garden Betty

The ideal temperature to grow the Christmas cactus around 68°F (20°C). Generally, these crackly cacti can stand temperatures as low as 50°F (10°C) but not any lower.

When exposed to temperatures lower than that, they can quickly slow down their growth and flowering. What’s more, there’s bound to be leaf damage, flower bud drop, and root damage.

Is the Christmas cactus a real cactus?

Is the Christmas cactus a real cactus
Image by Cactus Kingdom

The Christmas cactus is not a real cactus. This is due to its growing preferences, plant characteristics, and flowering behavior.

Plus, the Christmas cactus is epiphytic as it grows on other plants without causing any harm, unlike the desert cactus. Christmas cacti also require well-draining consistently moist soil, unlike true desert cacti.

Since they are native to cool and humid rainforests, their growing habitats differentiate them from desert cacti. Unlike desert cacti, Christmas cacti have flat segmented stems that are not designed for storing water.

Finally, both species differ in terms of flowering patterns and rhythms, with the Christmas cacti blooming predictably during the holiday season.

How do I know if my Christmas cactus is getting too much sun?

How do I know if my Christmas cactus is getting too much sun
Image by Epic Gardening

Your Christmas cactus is getting too much sun if its leaves turn reddish, scorch, wilt, or droop. Excess sunlight dries the soil faster, needing more frequent watering.

Left alone, your Christmas cactus might begin to exhibit signs of sunburn with leaf color changes, leaf drop, dry and wrinkled leaves, brown spots, and stunted growth.

How do I make the Christmas cactus bloom more often and longer?

How do I make the Christmas cactus bloom more often and longer
Image by Southern Living

To make the cactus bloom more often and longer, place it in a sunny indoor spot. When placed outdoors, keep them in a partially shaded area as they can experience leaf burn from excess sunlight.

Christmas cactus blooms last for weeks, usually from late November to December. The duration varies based on care and environment.

How many types of Christmas cactus varieties are there?

How many types of Christmas cactus varieties are there
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There are two species of Christmas cacti: the Schlumbergera truncata and Schlumbergera russelliana. They’ve given us well-known houseplant cultivars: Christmas Cactus, Easter Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus.

Plant enthusiasts and horticulturists have created numerous hybrid varieties, each with its unique combination of colors and characteristics. Who knows, you just might end up with a massive set of exotic and rare Christmas cactus collections!

How can I display my Christmas cactus?

How can I display my Christmas cactus
Image by Hearth and Vine

Christmas cacti are traditionally displayed in pots filled with well-draining soil. They can be displayed in various ways, such as hanging baskets or decorative containers. 

Hanging Baskets

The easiest way to display your Christmas cactus is to place them in hanging baskets or even DIY macrame hangers. Make sure that when you hang your plants, they’ll be well supported to avoid accidents or damage.

Tiered Plant Stand 

Low on space? Use a tiered plant stand to arrange multiple Christmas cacti at different heights! You can group them by themselves or with other plants.

When placing your Christmas cactus of tiered stands, you have more creativity. You can use minimalist containers of the same or similar colors and sizes to pull the look together.

On the other hand, you can go as colorful and unique as you want to be. Try holiday-themed pots, vintage tins, and even ceramic bowls – just make sure they have drainage holes.

Window Sills, Shelves, and Ledges

If you don’t plan to add more floor space, then how about maximizing whatever space you have? Having Christmas cactus on window sills, shelves, and ledges makes any space feel more lively and welcoming.

Table Centerpiece

If you’re looking to pull a quick decor trick, then use your Christmas cactus as a centerpiece. When the holidays come around, add candles, ornaments, and other decorations for that festive focal point.

Can Christmas cactus bloom anytime?

Can Christmas cactus bloom anytime
Image by Epic Gardening

Christmas cacti usually bloom in late fall to early winter, but they can bloom unexpectedly throughout the year based on factors like temperature, light, and plant health. 

While they mainly flower around the winter holidays, occasional blooms may occur at other times. When exposed to the right growing conditions, Christmas cacti even bloom in unison, creating a spectacular display of color. 

What diseases affect the Christmas cactus?

What diseases affect the Christmas cactus
Image by Citycacti

Christmas cacti are susceptible to diseases such as basal stem rot, botrytis blight, impatiens necrotic spot virus, phytophthora root rot, and pythium root rot. 

Basal Stem Rot

Basal stem rot is a fungal disease that affects the base of plant stems. Once infected, the stems display dark water-soaked lesions that cause them to wilt and collapse eventually.

Fortunately, it can be prevented by using well-draining soil, avoiding overwatering, and spacing the plants properly. Fungicides can be applied as a preventive measure as well.

Botrytis Blight (Gray Mold)

Botrytis blight is another fungal disease that causes fuzzy grayish-brown lesions. These show up on leaves, stems, and flowers – causing the plant to wilt.

Simply remove the affected leaves if you spot any. Since prevention is key, all you need to do is provide good airflow and avoid overwatering.

Impatiens Necrotic Spot Virus (INSV)

INSV is a viral disease transmitted by thrips that affects a variety of plants. The virus causes necrotic lesions, ring spots, and distorted leaf growth.

The first thing you need to do is remove and destroy the infected plants. Once done, target the thrips with organic insecticides and quarantine any new plants to avoid contamination.

Phytophthora Root Rot

Phytophthora root rot is triggered by waterlogged or poorly-draining soils. The disease causes affected plants to produce yellowing parts, wilt, and have their roots start to rot.

You can avoid this by providing your Christmas cactus with well-draining soil. It also helps to avoid watering, grow disease-resistant varieties, and apply fungicide proactively.

Pythium Root Rot

Pythium root rot comes up in wet and waterlogged conditions. It affects plant roots, causes damping-off in seedlings, and encourages root decay in mature plants.

By making sure the soil is well-draining and avoiding overwatering, you can prevent this issue. Remember to use sterile potting mix and use fungicides preventatively.

What pests affect the Christmas cactus?

What pests affect the Christmas cactus
Image by San Antonio Express-News

Pests that affect the Christmas cactus are fungus gnats, scale insects, flower thrips, and root mealybugs. 

Fungus Gnats

Fungus gnats are small flying insects that look like mosquitoes. Their young grow best in moist soil and feed on organic matter and plant roots.

To prevent fungus gnats, let the soil dry between watering, use well-draining soil, and use beneficial nematodes. Yellow sticky traps help control adult populations too.

Scale Insects

Scale insects are small and immobile pests that attach to plant stems and leaves and feed on plant sap, resulting in sticky secretions and sooty mold growth. They can have tough armor-like bodies or be soft-bodied.

You can reduce their presence when you regularly inspect plants, prune and dispose of heavily infested areas, and use horticultural oils or insecticidal soaps for control.

Flower Thrips

Flower thrips are tiny thin insects that feed on plant tissues by piercing and sucking. They can cause damage and distorted growth to flowers, buds, and leaves.

Flower thrips can be controlled by natural predators, such as predatory mites, and they use reflective mulches. Insecticidal soaps or neem oil can also be applied for control.

Root Mealybugs

Root mealybugs are small, soft-bodied insects that infest the root systems of plants to feed on the sap. These pests cause stunted growth and weakened plants as they sometimes show up as white cottony masses on roots.

You can reduce root mealybug populations by using sterile growing media, inspecting new plants for signs of infestation, and applying systemic insecticides to the soil for control. 

How to Grow a Healthy Christmas Cactus

How to Grow a Healthy Christmas Cactus
Image by Garden Betty
Ease of GrowingModerate ●●○○○
LightIndirect sunlight, 12 to 14 hours
SoilWell-draining, acidic
WateringKeep moist, avoid waterlogging
Growth RateModerate

Now that you have an idea of what you’re in for, here’s our quick guide to cultivating Christmas cacti to keep your spaces festive all throughout the year!

Find the Right Spot

Place the Christmas cactus in a location with bright, indirect light, avoiding direct sunlight.

Use the Right Materials

Use a well-draining, acidic soil mix to ensure optimal growth.

Provide Proper Care

Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged so water the soil only when the topmost inch starts to feel dry. Maintain a cool to moderate temperature, around 68°F for optimal blooming.

Expect a moderate growth rate, and prune the plant after blooming to encourage a bushier shape. Repot the Christmas cactus every 2 to 3 years to refresh the soil, and consider misting the leaves for humidity.

Watch for signs of overwatering, pests like spider mites, and fungal diseases. Treat promptly if detected.

How to Prune the Christmas Cactus

How to Prune the Christmas Cactus
Image by Gardener’s Path
Ease of ActivityModerate ●●○○○
Materials NeededClean, sterilized pair of scissors or pruning shears, gardening gloves

Since its flowering tends to be seasonal, the Christmas cactus benefits from regular pruning and trimming. Here’s how you can keep your plant healthy and beautiful!

How to Prune a Christmas Cactus

1. Prune your Christmas cactus immediately after it finishes blooming, typically in late winter or early spring. 

2. Look for segments or stems that are excessively long, leggy, or have become tangled. 

3. Using clean, sharp scissors or pruning shears, remove the identified and unwanted segments at their base close to the main stem. 

4. To promote a bushier and more compact shape, focus on removing longer segments while leaving shorter, healthier segments untouched. 

5. Trim away any dead or yellowing segments, as these can detract from the overall health and appearance of the plant.

6. If you want to propagate new plants, the pruned segments can be used for this purpose. Allow the cut segments to callus for a day, then plant them in a well-draining soil mix for propagation.


What causes the Christmas cactus to flower?

Christmas cacti flower with 12 to 14 hours of indirect sunlight exposure and the presence of consistent moisture in the soil, with a period of slight dryness in between watering.

How do you keep Christmas cactus from flowering?

To keep Christmas cactus from flowering, provide 12 to 14 hours of continuous darkness each night for six weeks before the intended flowering delay. Keep regular plant care during the day. 

Avoid any artificial light or prolonged daylight to stop the start of flowering.

How long does the Christmas cactus live?

The Christmas cactus lives for several decades. Some plants have been known to thrive for over 100 years.

Is the Christmas cactus safe for pets?

The Christmas cactus is safe for pets. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) confirms that accidental Christmas cactus consumption shouldn’t lead to irritation or vomiting in pets.

What does the Christmas cactus symbolize?

The Christmas cactus symbolizes friendship and goodwill. This is due to its resilience and endurance as a plant while the long-lasting blooms represent enduring friendships and relationships.

How often should you mist Christmas cactus?

You should mist the Christmas cactus daily. However, water only when the soil is dry to the touch, and maintain humidity by misting the leaves as overwatering can lead to plant death.

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