Move over, poinsettias! The Christmas cactus is the holiday plant you need this year. Consider the hardy succulent the gift that keeps on giving: With proper care, holiday cacti can last for years, blooming at different times depending on the species. Here's how to grow and propagate your Christmas cactus. Plus, get tips for decorating a succulent for Christmas!
- Exposure: Indirect sun
- USDA Hardiness Zones: 9-11 for outdoor plants
- When to plant: Late spring
- Recommended varieties: Thanksgiving cactus or holiday cactus
- Pests and diseases to watch out for: Mealy bugs, root rot
How to Plant and Propagate a Christmas Cactus
Plant your Christmas cactus in well-draining soil in a pot with drainage holes. Water when dry, never letting it become soggy or overly dry. Propagate in late spring, when the cactus is most likely to initiate new growth, according to . Place a cutting from the parent plant in soil and care for as normal; it should root within 4-6 weeks, says .
How to Care for a Christmas Cactus
A native of the tropical forests of Brazil, this hardy succulent is known for its flat green leaves and its striking flowers, which can come in a variety of colors. Although usually fuchsia, some are also red, white, and .
Christmas cacti are pretty low-maintenance plants, as long as you don't underwater or overwater them. To increase chances of blooms, take your potted cactus outside for about three weeks in late summer to early fall, but bring it back inside before it frosts. Fertilize the plant every month between April to October, and give it a "cool temp/short day treatment" in the fall (more on that later).
What's the difference between a Christmas cactus and a Thanksgiving cactus?
As you'd imagine, the different species get their names for the time of year in which they bloom. While Thanksgiving cacti, or Schlumbergera truncata, bloom in late fall, Christmas cacti, or Schlumbergera bridgesii, bloom about a month later. There's also such thing as an Easter cactus, or Rhipsalidopsis gaetneri, which flowers in—you guessed it—late winter to early spring. The shape of the leaves (which are actually stems) may also vary slightly, with Thanksgiving cacti boasting serrated "teeth" on either side and Christmas cacti featuring more rounded edges.
How do you get a Christmas cactus to bloom?
Fertilize monthly from April to October. Transport outdoors during the summer, then back in before it gets too cold. For about six weeks prior to blooming, the holiday cactus requires between 12-14 hours of nighttime. That means cool temperatures (50-65 degrees, recommends a horticulture educator at the ) and no light (not even artificial). You may consider covering it during the day to ensure it will flower.
How often do you water a Christmas cactus?
When the top inch is dry to the touch. Generally, Christmas cacti require less water during fall and winter and more in spring and summer. Soak the plant through to the roots, but discard anything that runs onto the plate, as you don't want your cactus sitting in water.
Do Christmas cacti need a lot of sun?
Although they enjoy plenty of bright sun, make sure it's indirect, as direct sunlight can burn the leaves.
GROWER TIP: Don't overwater your Christmas cactus! "They're a succulent and the pads get soft and mushy if you overwater," Tim Pollak, outdoor floriculturist with the , tells us.