Christmas Cactus Grow and Care

Posted In: , ,
A close up of the pink flowers of Christmas cactus

The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii), also known as Christmas cacti, Thanksgiving cactus or holiday cacti, no other plant seems to be equal, for its odd beauty or for the number of questions from frustrated owners about its care and culture.

Types of Christmas Cactus

The cactus you see offered for sale just before the holidays is really more likely to be Thanksgiving Cactus than Christmas Cactus. The plants that bloom in late November are a species called Schlumbergera truncata. This species features leaves that have pointed lobes. Additionally, the anthers (pollen producing part) of Thanksgiving cactus blooms are yellow.

Quick Growing Guide

Ritchie feed and Seed Banner

Botanical Name: Schlumbergera bridgesii



Genuine Christmas Cactus actually starts blooming in December. Its species is Schlumbergera x buckleyi. This is a hybrid variety that was developed in England during the 1840s. The leaves of this type of cactus are smooth with no pointy edges. The anthers of Christmas cactus blossoms are purple.

In addition to Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus, there is another variation on this type of holiday cactus called Easter or spring cactus. As the name implies, it blooms readily in the springtime. Easter cactus, scientifically known as Rhipsalidopsis gaetneri, starts to reveal star-shaped flower buds in February and continues to flower from March through May. It has rounded leaf segments with tiny bristles on the edges.

So, to summarize, Thanksgiving cactus blooms close to the end of November with pointed lobed leaves and yellow anthers. Christmas cactus, specifically the Schlumbergera x buckleyi hybrid, starts blooming in December with smooth leaves and purple anthers. Lastly, Easter cactus, or Rhipsalidopsis gaetneri, reveals its star-shaped flower buds in February and blooms through March to May, featuring rounded leaf segments with bristles on the edges.”<

Question after question about Schlumbergera bridgesii (formerly Zyyocactus truncatus). And with good reason. The Christmas cactus is confusing. Even botanists don’t always agree, except on where it originates — Brazil. There it is an air plant, growing on trees. Here, in North America, it has become a pot plant capable of a lively existence in the home or greenhouse. Read on to know more about Christmas cactus care.

Prized For Its Flowers

Its pendent, fuchsia-like flowers, brilliant cerise pink with gold stamens against a background of odd, crablike jointed deep green leaves is as exotic as its orchid neighbors in the tropical forests of Brazil. Christmas cactus plants bloom for about two months at a time of year when good flowering plants are at a premium. As soon as the first flowers fade, more open. Mature plants can produce hundreds of flowers. Its life span is measured in decades. I know of two that are over 20 years old, and have heard of one that is 32. This is not even close to the record.

Right Conditions for Growth


To ensure optimal growth of your Christmas cactus, it is essential to provide the right conditions and care. Keep the plants in a temperature range of 55 F and 60 F (about 15 C) for about six weeks to spur the development of flower buds. This controlled-temperature environment promotes bud formation, which is crucial for the plant to bloom successfully.

To further promote blooming, you can also force the process by lowering the temperature and keeping the plant in complete darkness for 13-16 hours daily for about a month before you want blooms. This period of darkness triggers the plant’s natural response to initiate flower production.

Once the buds start to form, it is crucial to maintain a stable environment and protect the plant from temperature extremes and drafts. Fluctuations in temperature or exposure to drafts can negatively impact bud development and cause premature bud drop.

Lighting and avoid Strong Artificial Light

If you want to manipulate lighting, put your plants in a room with no source of artificial light and limit the amount of natural light they receive to 8–11 hours daily. By controlling the exposure to light, you can encourage the Christmas cactus to enter its blooming cycle.

Strong artificial light on it at night will retard the bloom. if you must turn on the lights where the plant is, cover it with a double sheet of newspaper, sheet, or towel. Watering at this time, when the buds are formed, is decreased. If the plant receives no artificial light from sundown to sunup, it will justify its name by blooming approximately at Christmas.

Moisture… A Relative Term

Proper watering is also essential for the health of your Christmas cactus. Water the plant when the surface of the soil starts to feel dry, as overwatering can lead to root rot. Additionally, fertilize the plant when blooming begins to provide it with the necessary nutrients for robust flowering.

Being tropical jungle plants, they need more moisture and shade than most other cacti. But the term “more moisture” is relative. The soil should be moist but not too much so. Be sure there are broken clay pot pieces, pebbles or charcoal at the bottom of the pot for drainage. Never set the plant in a saucer of water. Too much water causes the root rot. Let the soil dry out occasionally well down into the pot to prevent the soil from going sour.


Occasional pruning can encourage branching, which can result in a fuller and more vibrant plant. You can propagate new plants by rooting pruned segments in fresh potting soil or water, allowing you to expand your collection or share the joy of Christmas cacti with others.

Soil and Potting

Avoid frequent repotting, as Christmas cacti prefer to be slightly root-bound. Repot only when necessary, and use a well-draining potting soil suitable for cacti and succulents to ensure proper root development.

The soil itself should be a little richer than that used for other cacti, but since the plant likes a slightly acidic soil, avoid lime or bone meal. A mixture of two parts good cactus potting mix, one part coarse builder’s sand, and one part peat moss is excellent. Use a pot not much larger than the diameter of the plant (a two-inch plant in a three-inch pot). Put in a handful of soil. Set it in the plant, spreading the roots. Now fill the pot to within a half-inch of the rim and press the soil down firmly with the fingers.

Place the plant in a bright place away from direct sunlight, bright lights and drafts. Try to make this spot almost permanent, as the Christmas cactus does not like to be moved about. Choose an east or west window as the best location for the plant. A south window with some shading is next best.

Christmas Cactus Thrives on Neglect

The number of questions asked about Christmas cactus is amazing considering that the plant thrives on neglect. Weeks without water won’t harm it. In fact, too much care is dangerous to the plant. Late spring is the best time for repotting, should that be needed. Transfer the plant into a pot that is one size larger than what it is in now. Then set it in the shade outdoors for the summer. New leaf growth starts in the spring. When it does, you can start fertilizing it about every two weeks with a good liquid houseplant fertilizer, following the directions on the package.

Time For a Nap

In early fall when nights start to get cool, bring the plant inside and give it a 30-day nap. Place it in a cool, dim location or indirect light and do not water it for about a month. Then gradually expose it to full sunlight and increase the water supply over what it had when it was outside. Like chrysanthemums and poinsettias, the Christmas cactus is a short day plant. As the days get shorter its buds are formed. This is when most of the mistakes are made that delay its blooming or stop it altogether.


The plant is tough and adaptable. It can be grown on its own roots, or those who are technically inclined can graft (propagate Christmas cactus) on pereskia or opuntia cactus plant and make standards out of it. Careless handling sometimes causes the crablike joints to break. Lay the pieces aside in a dry shady spot until the raw ends harden into a callus. Then plant them in a well-drained soil or sand. There is little danger of the cuttings starting to rot. The pagoda-like flowers will brighten up the dull winter months as a special reward for the small care the plant requires.


By providing the right conditions, including controlled temperature, lighting, and proper watering, you can ensure the health and successful blooming of your Christmas cactus. Remember to maintain a stable environment, protect it from temperature extremes, and offer adequate care throughout its growing season.<

Share with Friends and Family

More of Interest