Right up there with Poinsettias and Amaryllis bulbs, the Christmas Cactus is at the top of the list of holiday indoor plants, particularly ones with beautiful blooms. The Christmas Cactus isn’t actually a cactus but rather a succulent. When in bloom, the dramatic flowers—in shades of pink, purple, red, white, or yellow—last for several weeks.
Since it blooms around the holidays, it’s earned its name the Christmas Cactus; otherwise, it doesn’t have much to do with Christmas itself. The best way to care for your Christmas Cactus is by mimicking its natural environment in Brazil.
The Christmas Cactus depends on long, dark nights in the winter to trigger it into blooming.
Sometimes people call other similar plants the same name. Easter Cactus and Thanksgiving Cactus look similar to Christmas Cactus, but you can look at the leaf shape to determine which one you have. Easter Cactus has oval leaves with slightly scalloped edges, plus the flowers are daisy-like; Thanksgiving Cactus has pointed, claw-shaped edges on the leaves; and Christmas Cactus has rounded leaves with scalloped edges.
Christmas Cactus Care
With the right care, your Christmas Cactus can grow for 20 to 30 years! Here’s what to keep in mind when growing this holiday staple.
- Grow the Christmas Cactus in potting soil and in a container with good drainage.
- There’s no rush to repot the plant as it grows—the Christmas Cactus doesn’t mind being rootbound. In its natural habitat, it grows in a cramped environment as it fights for space with surrounding plants.
- Place the Christmas Cactus in a spot with bright, indirect light and consistent temperatures—make sure it’s away from drafts, too.
- Keep the air humid, just like its native environment. You can increase humidity by placing the Christmas Cactus pot on a saucer with pebbles and water. As the water evaporates, the air humidity around the plant will increase.
- Water the plant only when the top inch or two of soil is dry. Do not overwater your Christmas Cactus since this can lead to root rot.
How to Encourage Your Christmas Cactus to Bloom
We often talk about light requirements for plants in terms of how much they need, but for some plants, like the Christmas Cactus, it’s also important to consider how much darkness it gets.
The Christmas Cactus depends on long, dark nights in the winter to trigger it into blooming. The plant needs about 12 hours of darkness and 8 to 10 hours of sunlight each day for 6 to 8 weeks before blooming. Place the Christmas Cactus in a dark closet or build some sort of a cover to make sure it gets the darkness it needs—watch that it’s away from brightness from street lights too. Ensure its darkness needs are met at least six weeks before you want your plant to bloom.
It’s also a good idea to cut back on watering in the fall to help force your Christmas Cactus to start blooming.
Common Problems with Christmas Cacti
One of the most common issues that you’ll run into with your Christmas Cactus is over or under watering it. You may see spots on the leaves or limp, weak stems if it’s getting too much water. If you’re not watering it enough, the plant will wilt and drop its leaves and buds.
Sometimes, you’ll start to see a hint of red on the leaves of your Christmas Cactus; this could mean it has been getting too much light. Simply move it to a spot away from any direct light.
The colorful blooms of Christmas Cactus indicates the holiday season is upon us. As long as you meet the plant’s water and light requirements, it should thrive for years and years, or even decades!