A Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera) is the ideal plant to gift to people over the festive season. This trailing cactus produces striking winter flowers for some rare colour in the colder months. Not only will this plant flower over the Christmas period, but it will also survive for many years with the right condition and flower each year. Here is our guide to caring for a Christmas cactus.
Christmas Cactus Care
Unlike most cacti, Christmas cacti don’t need that much direct sun. They prefer bright, indirect light. Direct sunlight in the warmer months can damage the plant, turning the leaves pale yellow.
Temperature and humidity
Christmas cacti enjoy warm temperatures, but avoid placing them too close to radiators or heating vents. They need more humidity than most cactus varieties, especially when your heating is on which can dry the air in your house. Group it with other plants to increase the humidity. You could also mist it or place it near a humidifier.
Wait for the soil to mostly dry out before watering your Christmas cactus. When you do water it, thoroughly soak the soil and wait for the excess water to drain from the pot before you put the plant back. You’ll need to water it much more frequently in the warmer months when the soil dries out faster. Christmas cacti will give you a sign if they need watering: their leaves will shrivel slightly from dehydration. You can also check if it needs water by poking your finger into the soil and feeling how dry it is.
Cacti need well-drained soil with plenty of aeration. Use a potting mix with plenty of sand and/or perlite to assist with this. Christmas cacti specifically prefer a slightly more acidic home, so try mixing in a bit of ericaceous potting mix.
Like most cacti, fertilise this plant during the warmer months with diluted fertiliser. You won’t need to feed your Christmas cactus at all during the winter. Always follow the instructions for the product that you’re using; it’s safer to over-dilute the fertiliser than use too strong a mixture.
Pruning and rotation
Due to their growth pattern, Christmas cacti don’t need to be pruned into shape. You might want to prune them to encourage a fuller looking trailing plant or just to remove dead or damaged leaves.
Rotate this plant regularly in the warmer months to make sure it’s getting an even amount of sun around the whole plant.
Christmas cacti don’t mind being rootbound, so you can leave them longer than most plants before repotting them. When you do repot them, choose a pot that will provide an additional two inches of space around the root system. Terracotta pots are recommended for cacti as they can absorb excess moisture from the soil.
Pests and diseases
Watch out for common houseplant pests like thrips, fungus gnats, and mealybugs. If your Christmas cactus is infested, remove any heavily affected leaves and treat the plant with horticultural soap. You may need to change the soil if a pest – such as fungus gnats – naturally lays their eggs in there.
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Will a Christmas cactus flower every year?
Christmas cacti can live for many years and will bloom every year given the right conditions.
How can I encourage my Christmas cactus to bloom?
During the winter, lower temperatures will encourage your Christmas cactus to flower, so don’t place it too close to your heating. Total darkness at night also helps, so consider placing it in a room where you won’t often have the light on at night.