How to Keep Your Christmas Cactus Thriving Long After the Holidays Are Over

Amber Guetebier
Written by Amber Guetebier
Updated November 18, 2021
Pink blooming Christmas Cactus in a a bright window
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Highlights

  • Plants known as Christmas cacti are native to the rainforests of Brazil.

  • Your Christmas cactus needs lots of humidity to thrive. 

  • Christmas cacti like bright light but do not need direct sunlight. 

  • To get them to rebloom, you’ll have to deprive them of light. 

  • With proper Christmas cactus care, your plants will live for many years.

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Next to poinsettias or boughs of holly, the Christmas cactus, Schlumbergera bridgesii, is one of the most popular flowering plants of the holiday season. Sometimes sold as Zygocactus, they are known for their beautiful, waxy flowers that come in a variety of colors, from white to coral to hot pink to red. 

These holiday cacti are seen in abundance in the holly-jolly time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but make great house plants throughout the year. This guide will help you with Christmas cactus care so you can enjoy yours for years to come.

Christmas Cactus Care 101

Different colored Christmas Cactus plants in blue and white planters
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The Christmas cactus is native to the tropical rainforests of Brazil, so unlike other cacti you may be used to, Christmas cacti actually like more humidity and less sunlight than their desert-dwelling cousins.

Classified as epiphytes—non-parasitic plants that grow in trees and have shallow root systems—Christmas cacti are similar to orchids in that they get their nutrients and moisture from the air rather than establish deep roots to grow into the soil.

How Much Sun Do Christmas Cacti Need?

Like many houseplants, Christmas cacti prefer bright, indirect light (or partial shade outside during warmer months). Sunlight is less harsh in the winter, so Christmas cacti can handle a couple of hours of direct sunlight during this time, but they don’t require or even prefer it. Exposure to direct sunlight in the spring and summer can damage the leaves and cause them to yellow.

How Often Should I Water My Christmas Cactus?

These tropical plants have shallow roots, so they get most of what they need within the top 2 inches or so of soil. Because of this, they need to be watered regularly when the top inch has dried out, usually every two to three days. Be sure the pots have adequate drainage, too, so that the water runs all the way through the soil. Never let the soil get so dried out it pulls away from the sides of the pot.

What Kind of Soil Is Best for Christmas Cacti?

For excellent Christmas cactus care, the dirt should be a potting soil mix for indoor plants. Be sure that the dirt is porous and well-draining. The Sunset Western Garden book recommends an equal mixture of peat moss, coarse sand, and leaf mold, but the average indoor potting mix should suffice. Christmas cacti do not require frequent repotting, as they like to be a bit crowded in their pots, so chances are yours can stay in its original pot for years to come.

Does a Christmas Cactus Need Humidity?

Because Christmas cacti are epiphytes and rainforest natives, they need a lot of humidity. The average home’s interior is not humid enough for these tropical plants, but it’s easy to boost their humidity.

  • Mist your plants with a household spray mister (water only).

  • Place the plant on a tray of pebbles filled with water.

  • Use a small humidifier in the same room or near the plants.

What Is the Ideal Temperature for My Christmas Cactus?

From about April through September, the Christmas cactus is in its growth period. During this time, they prefer temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If this is a higher temperature than you keep your home, don’t try to make up for it by putting your Christmas cactus near a heat vent. This heat will dry them out too much. You should also avoid areas where there may be drafts from an outside door. Instead, try putting the plant somewhere up high like a shelf or hanging planter as heat rises. 

You may be able to move your holiday cactus outside when temperatures reach above 70 degrees Fahrenheit, especially if an increase in humidity accompanies the rise in temperatures. Just be sure to place them somewhere out of direct sunlight.

How Do You Get Your Christmas Cactus to Bloom?

Getting your Christmas cactus to rebloom is not as tricky as you might think, as long as you meet temperature and light conditions. According to the Chicago Botanic Garden, Christmas cacti are “thermo-photoperiodic,” meaning they will only set blooms if certain light and temperature requirements are met. This task might sound intimidating, but it’s actually pretty easy.

To Get Your Christmas Cactus to Rebloom:

You’ll want to start about eight weeks before you want to see blooms, so typically this is the end of September or October to encourage blooms for the holiday season. 

For those two months (it can vary by a week or two on either end), you’ll need to consistently meet one of the following conditions:  

 1. Cool night temperature between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

 2. If the temperature is above 55, but below 70 degrees, there must be 13 hours of uninterrupted darkness. 

 3. For temperatures above 70 degrees, you must provide 15 hours of darkness. 

You will probably need to deprive your plant of light to encourage reblooming in most homes and climates. You can do this by placing it in a closet or interior room without any natural light for the required number of hours (usually overnight plus a few hours). 

Once the flower buds have formed, you should set your plant back into indirect light.

How Often Should I Feed My Christmas Cactus?

You can feed your holiday cactus once a month with a well-balanced, water-soluble fertilizer—a liquid houseplant fertilizer will usually do. Once you start to see flower buds forming, stop fertilizing until after the blooming period. 

How to Choose a Christmas Cactus

If you are shopping for a Christmas cactus this year, look for a plant with deep emerald leaves and many flower buds. While you may be tempted to get one in full bloom, try to pick one with some blooms and some closed buds. The flowers will open up relatively quickly in the average home, so having flower buds will ensure that the blooming period will last even longer. 

Following these general guidelines for Christmas cactus care should not only help the flowers last longer throughout the blooming season but also help your plants thrive long after the holiday bells have stopped ringing.

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