Is the Christmas cactus the new holiday poinsettia?

We love poinsettias, but Christmas cactuses might be even more fun! They’re a long-lived houseplant that are extra special around the holidays, but you can enjoy them year-round.

Intro to Holiday Cactuses

There are tons of kinds of cactuses out there, and some of them are named for holidays. There’s the Christmas cactus, the Thanksgiving cactus, and even an Easter cactus!

They’re named after those holidays because that’s when those types of cactuses actually bloom. Fun, right?

Christmas cactuses bloom in early winter and produce gorgeous, pointed red flowers. The red and green colors will fit right into your Christmas decor!

Just like the holidays, timing is important for these cactuses. You need to plan and prepare for a successful bloom during that time of year, and that means taking care of the plant year round, with a little extra TLC during blooming season.  

Year-Round Cactus Care

So, fun fact about the Christmas cactus: Although it’s called a cactus, did you know it’s actually a succulent? It originates from the tropical rain forests of South America, so it’s not even a desert plant!

However, this means the Christmas cactus actually likes humid environments and needs more water than your typical succulent.

Basic Christmas Cactus Care:

Soil: When you get your cactus, plant it in a soil that drains well, and make sure your pot has drainage holes.

Light: Place in bright, indirect sunlight, like near an east-facing window. Don’t put right in a window, because the sun can scorch the leaves.

Water: For most of the year, let the top inch of soil dry out between waterings, then give the soil a good soaking. Let the water drain out and remove it so the plant isn’t sitting in water.

Temperature: They’re pretty sensitive to temperature and like to stay around 70 degrees fahrenheit during the day and around 65 degrees at night. In the summer, they can go outside in the shade, but don’t leave them out if the temperature drops below 50 degrees.

Fertilizer: Make sure it’s getting nutrients. I just put some Indoor Plant Food in my watering can each week and water all my plants. It’s gentle enough to use every week, and you don’t have to remember an annual fertilizing schedule!

So how do you get your Christmas cactus to bloom in time for Christmas?

Keeping the cactus alive and getting it to bloom at Christmastime are two different matters!

First, follow the above directions to keep the plant healthy year-round.

Near blooming season, tighten up the light schedule, lower the temperature, and give it a little more water.

Follow these tips:

Pruning: In June, make sure to prune the cactus to encourage more flowering around Christmas. Just cut off two or so sections from each stem.

Light: For about six weeks, make sure your plant gets 14 hours of darkness at night and 8-10 hours of light during the day. Cover the plant if you have bright indoor lighting during the night.

Temperature: Reducing the temperature to 50-55 degrees. If it’s near a cold window, this might take care of itself, or you might need to put it in a cold room or lower the temperature of your house overall.

Water: Normally, you want the top inch of soil to dry out between waterings, but it needs just a little more while it’s blooming. At this time, keep the soil fairly moist.  

Also, make sure to watch out for issues that could prevent it from blooming.

A naughty list of Christmas cactus challenges:

If the Christmas cactus gets stressed, it won’t bloom, so it’s extra important to prevent and treat any issues well before Christmas.

Mealybugs – If you notice cotton-like stuff on the joints of the leaves and stems of your cactus, it probably has mealybugs. To get rid of them, use a toothbrush or tweezers to pick off the ones you can see, but be careful not to damage the cactus. You can also dab the affected areas with rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab, but do this sparingly. If all else fails, get a specially formulated insecticide.

Soft brown scale – Scale is actually another kind of pest that can affect houseplants. These look like hard brown bumps on the leaves. If you see these, gently scrape them off with with your fingernail.

Stem and root rot diseases – Prevent this by planting the cactus in a soil that drains well, and don’t let the soil get too moist. Let the top inch dry out between waterings and empty the drainage tray immediately. If your cactus does get root rot, gently remove from the pot, cut off the rotted sections, and repot in fresh, dry soil.

Dropping unopened flower buds – If your plant starts dropping buds, it might be stressed due to a sudden change in light or temperature. Also check for root rot.

Tis the season, but why won’t it bloom?

Cactus not blooming? Here are some possible reasons:

Too much light. Make sure the plant gets a solid 14 hours of darkness at night. Put the plant in a dark place at night or cover it if you have bright light at night.

Not enough water. Christmas cactuses need a little more water when blooming, especially if it has some flowers that look like they’re trying to open, so keep the soil moist.

Too warm. Try reducing the temperature to around 50-55 degrees fahrenheit.

Why did it bloom early? If it blooms early, you might have bought a Thanksgiving cactus. Surprise! They’re sometimes mislabelled. But hey, a Thanksgiving cactus is fun too!

Christmas cactuses are tons of fun and can be a great Christmas tradition, as these plants are fairly long-lived and can bloom year after year.

They’re also beautiful to have year-round, and fun to care for as you dream of beautiful Christmas blooms! For more houseplant care, check out our other articles!