A Winter Holiday Favorite
Most of us come into possession of our Christmas Cactuses around the holidays. Any store with a gardening department, and even grocery stores, will have displays of Christmas Cactuses covered in blooms and there are so many colors to pick from!
The challenge that many plant owners encounter is once their new Christmas Cactus finishes blooming, it never blooms again and they don't know why. In this post we will discuss basic care and creating ideal conditions for a Christmas Cactus to flourish in your home and bloom year after year.
Is it a Christmas, Easter or Thanksgiving Cactus?
The term "Christmas Cactus" is used to generalize a family of plants that are all related and look similar but that do have slight differences including the time of the year when they bloom. Generally speaking though, the care for each of these species is similar and, if you create an ideal environment for them, they will each bloom when they're ready without you having to do much of anything.
Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter Cactuses are all types of Schlumbergera. Schlumbergera is a small genius of cacti with six to nine species found in the coastal mountains of south-eastern Brazil. Plants grow on trees or rocks in places that are generally shady with high humidity. Christmas and Thanksgiving Cactuses are known as Schlumbergera truncata and Easter Cactuses are known as Schlumbergera buckleyi.
In most areas, the Christmas Cactus and its cousins are strictly houseplants. They can live outside on a shaded porch in the summer but must absolutely be brought inside once the temperature starts dropping close to 40 degrees at night. They don't like being that cold and will not survive being frozen.
Christmas Cactus Basic Care
The Christmas Cactus is a fairly low maintenance plant. Many years ago, when I first felt compelled to start filling my house with plants, but didn't yet know much about taking care of them, I found myself with several Christmas Cactuses mostly because they didn't die.
The Christmas Cactus doesn't ask for much. All you really need to make it happy is a clay pot with good drainage, good potting soil (I personally use Miracle Gro brand potting soil in my houseplants) and a room in the house with diffused natural light. I water them just enough that water appears in the dish underneath and I do that once a week, when the soil feels dry. If the soil still feels damp a week after watering, it would be wise to reduce the amount of water so that the soil is able to dry out in a week. Christmas Cactuses are succulents and do not like to sit with wet roots for extended periods of time.
You don't absolutely have to use a clay pot but I like clay pots because they are porous so air and water can pass through them thus allowing the soil to breathe. That being said, be sure to use a plastic dish under the clay pot. If a clay dish is used the water will seep through that as well and potentially damage whatever furniture the plant is sitting on. To ensure good drainage, all pots should have a drainage hole at the bottom. Please do not plant your Christmas Cactus in a pot that doesn't have a drainage hole.
Aside from having a suitable pot with good drainage and some nice potting soil, the most important factor in the happiness of a Christmas Cactus is placement in the home. They like two things: diffused natural light and humidity. They don't like scorching hot sun from a west or south facing window and they don't like artificial light.
At my house, two of my Christmas Cactuses live in my bedroom where there is an east facing window and also humidity from the shower in the master bathroom. My red Christmas Cactus hangs from the ceiling and my fuchsia pink Christmas Cactus lives on a shelf, both are right in front of the east facing window. I have two other Christmas Cactuses that live in my office which also has an east facing window and a humidifier that runs 24/7 because my ukuleles live in there too. It's the same set up with a light pink one in a hanger and a white one on a shelf in front of the window. All four of them bloom like clock work every year!
The Secret To Getting A Christmas Cactus To Bloom
There are two basic secrets to getting your Christmas cactus to bloom. Number one is that they don't like to be disturbed when they're trying to make flowers so once they start putting on buds, don't even think about repotting them until after they're done blooming. This is especially important if you just brought a brand new bud-laden plant home from the store and feel the urge to put it in a prettier pot. Don't. Wait until after it's done blooming and then repot it into a more permanent home.
The second thing, and this is critically important, Christmas Cactuses don't like artificial light. In order to trigger their natural blooming cycle, a Christmas Cactus needs to follow the natural light cycle as closely as possible. The easiest way to achieve this is to keep them in a room where artificial lights are not on after dark. If you can find places in your home that meet this requirement then it is not necessary to do anything special to get them to bloom. If not, then I would recommend moving them to a darker space, like maybe a pantry, once the sun goes down and bringing them back out in the morning, starting in September or October for Thanksgiving and Christmas Cactuses and January or February for Easter Cactuses, and stopping after they've finished blooming.
Cats and Christmas Cactus
One final word to the wise, cats love to eat Christmas Cactuses. The Christmas Cactus is not poisonous to humans, dogs or cats but I have found that my cats will stop at nothing to chew on these plants and will eat them all the way down to the dirt if given the opportunity. Because of this, I recommend using plant hangers or wire shelving that cats cannot climb on.