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How to Care for the Colorful Christmas Cactus

By Staff Writer
Share to PinterestHow to Care for the Colorful Christmas Cactus

Did you get a Christmas cactus as a present during the holidays? You have been gifted a priceless treasure. When properly looked after, these low-maintenance plants can live up to a century. How amazing is that? They also release oxygen at night, unlike most plants, so they could be the perfect functional, natural addition to your bedroom aesthetic.

Give your Christmas cactus the right conditions, and give it a name, because it'll probably be with you longer than anything else in your home.


Bringing your Christmas cactus home

When selecting a Christmas cactus at a garden nursery or retail store, inspect the plant's "leaves" or cladodes. Gently squeeze—the segment should feel firm, unwrinkled, and thick. Leave the specimen in the store if there's yellowing at the base, and leave the plants with moldy soil alone too.

If you can remove the plant from its pot, examine the roots to check that they're a creamy white. When transporting, don't keep your new purchase in a cold vehicle for too long.

Share to PinterestChristmas Cacti at Greenhouse
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Planting your Christmas cactus

The Christmas cactus plant does best in a container rather than in the ground. Start by finding a medium-sized pot, and fill it with sandy soil that’s rich in nutrients—this will encourage bloom growth. Choose high-quality potting soil for the best results.

After placing the plant in the pot, top up the soil to just below the rim. Avoid packing it too tightly, as this can cause the plant to “choke” and prevent it from growing healthy and strong.

Share to PinterestChristmas Cactus in a pot
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A healthy start: sunlight requirements for a Christmas cactus

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Christmas cactus plants enjoy bright light, but too much direct sunlight can harm them. Keep your plant in a sunny window facing east, if possible, to prevent it from sitting in direct sunlight all day. During the summer months, you can move your Christmas cactus outside, but be sure to keep it in a shaded area and continue watering and fertilizing it as if it were still inside. In the winter months, the Christmas cactus should move indoors and get between four and six hours of indirect sunlight.


A healthy start: watering

Since Christmas cactus plants prefer humid conditions, the right amount of water is crucial. Plant this unique species in a pot with drain holes to ensure proper drainage. When the top layer of soil feels dry, soak the plant until you see water coming through the drain holes. Don’t let the Christmas cactus sit in the water left at the bottom of the pot’s tray, as this can cause root rot and other diseases.

When the plant is blooming, it will require a bit more water than normal. You can also mist it lightly between watering to mimic its native humid environment.

Share to PinterestWatering a Christmas cactus
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A healthy start: humidity levels

Christmas cacti enjoy humidity, which is unusual for a succulent. If your climate is accommodating, great. But even if you live in a dry region, you can create a pleasant environment. Put your cactus pot and drip tray in a container filled with pebbles and water that doesn't rise above the stones. The evaporation will provide the right conditions for the plant.

Share to PinterestChristmas cactus small plants closeup view
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A healthy start: special nutrients

Fertilizer is unnecessary while your Christmas cactus is in bloom. Otherwise, a monthly application should suffice. If you want your Christmas cactus to rebloom, use a blooming fertilizer suitable for indoor plants during the growing season and follow the instructions on the packaging.

When you notice new leaf segments, fertilize once every two weeks for optimal growth.

Share to PinterestChristmas cactus Schlumbergera on the window sill
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Healthy growth: pruning your Christmas cactus

Share to Pinterestlarge, shaped christmas cactuses trailing over their pots

You can prune your Christmas cactus around one month after it's bloomed, but avoid trimming after late spring. The plant will branch out thanks to your intervention and look fuller. Use a sharp, sterilized knife or snap off some stem sections with your fingers.

You can propagate the stems you remove and plant them in new pots to spread the Christmas cactus joy.


Healthy growth: repotting your Christmas cactus

You can repot a Christmas cactus every three years or so. It likes being slightly root-bound and flowers well when it's crowded in its pot. The new pot shouldn't be too big. Signs that your plant needs a repotting include drying out and wilting. Clay pots drain well and are ideal. In addition, repot after your Christmas cactus flowers but before brand-new shoots emerge.

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Can I propagate my Christmas cactus?

Share to Pinterestchristmas cactus cuttings for propagation

To propagate a Christmas cactus, take a short, Y-shaped cutting from the tip of the stem. Make sure the cutting has two to three jointed segments and that it comes from healthy, green foliage. Let the cutting dry for a few hours, then place it in a mixture of sandy soil and moist peat, covering about one-quarter of its length.

Put the pot in an area with bright but indirect light and water it sparingly to protect it from root rot. Allow it to root for two to three weeks before moving it to a larger pot. Water and feed it a bit more often than your established plant until it grows larger.


Common diseases

Basal stem rot and root rot are two of the most common diseases that affect the Christmas cactus. If you notice abnormal spots or areas of browning on your plant, trim them away as soon as possible. This will stop any existing disease from spreading further.

Prevent rot by only watering your Christmas cactus when the soil looks dry or when it feels dry to the touch. Keep a close eye on the leaves so you can quickly identify potential signs of disease before they spread.

Share to PinterestSchlumbergera truncata, Thanksgiving or Crab cactus plant growing new leaves
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Common pests

The most common pests that attack the Christmas cactus are fungus gnats, root mealybugs, and flower thrips. Overwatering your plant is a typical culprit, as standing water attracts these nasty pests. Make sure your Christmas cactus has enough water but not so much that the soil stays soaked.

If your plant is infested, it is best to discard it so it doesn’t affect any other plants in your home. The best prevention? Monitor the moisture level of your Christmas cactus and trim off any dead sections.

Share to PinterestChristmas cactus on a table
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Displaying your Christmas cactus

Your Christmas cactus will add a welcome pop of pink and green to a humid patio, kitchen, or bright bathroom. Place the plant where it has room to hang charmingly, like on a side table or shelf. As long as the lighting and watering conditions are suitable, you can't really put a foot wrong here.

Share to PinterestChristmas cactus in bloom
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Similar plants

If you want a slight departure from the holidays, you can opt for other succulents that enjoy high humidity levels. The fishbone cactus comes from the rainforest and has beautiful pink flowers. If you're willing to forego the pink, aloe vera or a snake plant provide easy-to-care-for greenery, and they purify the air.

Share to PinterestHouse indoor plants collection. Succulent and cactus in different pots on white background
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Cautions and additional information

Pet lovers will appreciate that the Christmas cactus is non-toxic to cats or dogs. That's right; your furry friends will be just fine unless they chow down a huge chunk of the plant. Then you can expect some vomiting and diarrhea.

The cactus isn't poisonous to humans, either, so it gets top marks for safety among holiday-themed plants. It can cause allergies and skin reactions, though, so handle it with care.

Share to Pinterestchristmas cactus on table
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Varieties of Christmas cactus

Of course, there's the Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) and the Easter cactus (Schlumbergera gaertneri) to consider. They round out the holiday plant offering and are named for when they flower.

The Thanksgiving variety is sharper-looking, with teeth atop each wide segment. The Easter cactus is rounder and has daisy-shaped flowers, unlike the other two, which have tube-shaped flowers. You'll also notice that Easter cacti have fibrous hairs.

Share to Pinterestschlumbergera plant in blossom, red and pink flowers
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