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Christmas Cacti are very popular houseplants — and there are so many reasons for that. Once a Christmas Cactus is in full bloom, this plant produces colorful Christmas cactus flowers in pretty shades of lilac, pink, or white.
These flowers make the perfect decoration for any home. Plus, they have an extra-long blooming period and they are pretty easy to care for, as well.
Given minimal care, this houseplant can bloom on its own. But it is more than just watering and applying fertilizer — taking care and growing a Christmas Cactus involves other requirements, too.
It may sound complicated, but it doesn’t really require all that much effort. However, if it’s your first time to have and care for a Christmas Cactus, it is important that you learn about it so that you can ensure your houseplant will be in full bloom and provide that pop of color to your home in the winter months.
We’re going to discuss everything you need to know about how to grow and care for the Christmas Cacti:
How Much Light do Christmas Cactus Need
To ensure that your cactus will grow well and flourish, place it in a bright spot that has an indirect light source. Too much heat or light can burn its leaves and stunt its growth.
Keep the plant in a well-lit place, like near a window, but still be sure to keep it away from direct sunlight.
If you live in an area where you have less than 8 hours of daylight during the fall and winter months, you may want to use a grow light to supplement the missing daylight.
Christmas Cactus Humidity
If you live in a dry environment, provide your cactus with a source of humidity. The goal is to provide your cactus with 50 to 60 percent humidity in order for it to grow.
One way of doing this is to place a tray of water next to the plant, so once the water evaporates, it can provide moisture.
You can also prepare a humidity tray by filling a waterproof saucer with gravel, and filling it halfway with water, then add your potted plant on top of the gravel. This way as the water naturally begins its evaporation process, your plant will benefit from the humidity your tray provides.
Christmas Cactus Soil
The best Christmas cactus soil is one that is well-draining.
You can either buy a readymade, well-draining soil or you can also mix your own potting medium.
If you want to mix your own, use a combination of three parts potting soil to one part sand. You can also mix one part potting soil, one part perlite, and two parts compost. Either of these make a great start for your plant.
Your cactus also needs fertilizer for its growth. Since the Christmas Cactus is actively growing and is a houseplant, you should use a houseplant fertilizer.
It is best to add fertilizer to your plant when it is 2 to 3 weeks old. You can fertilize it 2 to 3 times a year but once the buds start to appear, stop feeding it.
How Often Do You Water a Christmas Cactus
Your Christmas Cactus is not a desert cactus, it is a tropical one. Since it’s not a desert cactus, it cannot tolerate dryness like other Cacti can.
But this is the tricky part: Be careful not to over or under water your cactus.
What’s the secret of knowing when it’s time to water the plant? Feel the soil using your fingers. Insert your finger into the soil about one inch, if the soil is dry, it’s time to water.
If the climate is dry, water your plant every two to three days when it’s sunny and warm.
If it is humid or cool, water it once a week.
Around mid-October you can start to reduce your watering. Only water your plant when the soil feels dry about one inch below the surface.
How to Make Christmas Cactus Bloom
You can encourage your Christmas Cactus to bloom for the holidays (being true to its name) by lowering the temperature. The key to getting it to flower is proper light exposure, limited watering, and correct temperature.
A Christmas Cactus is a thermo-photoperiodic plant. Which according to Encyclopaedia Britannica means:
Thermoperiodicity, also called thermal periodicity, the growth or flowering responses of plants to alternation of warm and cool periods. Daily temperature fluctuations produce dramatic effects on the growth or flowering of most plants. The lack of lower night temperatures frequently results in poor growth, as can be observed in plants that are grown indoors in even-temperature surroundings.
This phenomenon has been applied in the production of tomatoes. The most flowers are produced when tomatoes are grown at 26.7° C (80° F) during the day and 17.2°–20° C (63°–68° F) at night. Thermoperiodic effects are distinct from photoperiodic effects (caused by duration of light).
Therefore, once the temperature drops to 50 to 60 degrees for a few weeks, the cactus will start to set buds.
During the months of September and October, keep the plant in a cool room where the temperature will remain around 50 to 55 degrees, but be careful not to expose it to freezing temperatures.
Then when night falls transfer the plant to a dark room. Place it in a spot where it will receive indirect bright light during the day but when its night time, place it in total darkness, for about 12 hours or more.
Once you see the flower buds forming, it is time to increase the humidity, light, and temperature. You can also start to water the plant, but not too much.
Christmas Cactus Pruning
A month after its blooming period, you can start pruning your Christmas Cactus. At this time it will go into a growth period where it will add new foliage. Pruning it can encourage the plant to continue to grow more.
If you can’t prune your cactus at this time, be sure to wait until late spring to do it.
Repotting Christmas Cactus
Repot your Christmas Cactus every two to three years. Once the roots have filled the pots or if you determine that the soil has used up all its nutrients, it’s time to transplant it to a new pot.
When repotting your cactus, make sure to use fresh, new soil. The best time to repot is between the months of February and April. Make sure not to use a pot that is too large as the Christmas Cactus blooms better when it’s pot bound.
How to Prevent Common Christmas Cactus Problems
The most common problem that you might encounter when taking care of a Christmas Cactus is that it will often drop its buds.
This issue will arise when there are changes in its environment, like with the lighting, temperature, humidity, and water level.
To keep the blooms from dropping, you should maintain the moisture levels of the soil. The temperature should also be consistently between 65 to 75 degrees. Do not apply fertilizer during the late summer to fall months and be sure to subject your cactus to 14 hours of darkness every day.
How to Propagate Christmas Cactus
Like other Cacti and Succulents, it is easy to propagate a Christmas Cactus. You can propagate your plants by using Christmas cactus cuttings of leaf or by stem.
Propagate your cactus by cutting off two to three short, Y-shaped sections of the stems. Allow these sections to dry for three to four hours before you push them into a 3-inch pot which contains the same potting soil as the parent plant.
Plant these sections halfway down into the pot then water sparingly to prevent them from rotting.
When propagating, treat the sections like mature plants. In about four to six weeks, they will start to root.
Christmas Cactus Tips
Keep an eye on the color of your cactus. If it starts changing color, especially to a red hue, that means the plant is stressed. Some of the common reasons why it turns to a reddish color is too little water or too much sun.
Do not rush the repotting of your cactus. If it is pot bound, it will bloom better. Waiting for three to five years before moving your Christmas Cactus into a new pot is best, but it still depends on how fast they are growing. Wait a couple of months after the plant blooms before moving it to a new pot.
Once the cactus starts to bloom, keep the temperature cool, around 50 to 55 degrees. This will allow the flowers to open slower and last longer.
Christmas Cacti are non toxic to cats and dogs.
Christmas Cactus Care
During spring, fertilize your plant after flowering.
During fall, if your plant is outside, move it indoors before the first frost. Maintain drier soil to be sure that the roots don’t freeze.
Begin the blooming regiment in September or October.
During winter, place the pot in a part of the house where it will get four to six hours of indirect sunlight, like next to a window or kitchen countertop. Keep the soil moist but not too wet.
Taking care of a Christmas Cactus is not too complicated. In fact, it needs much the same care that other houseplants need. Give your home a beautiful pop of color or make a perfect conversation starter by placing a Christmas Cactus on your coffee table or countertop. Plus, they make perfect gifts for your family and friends, too!