Christmas cactus is a popular tropical houseplant offering bold, colorful blooms. Whether called Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter and labelled as Schlumbergera or Rhipsalidopsis, each variety gets the same care and can be encouraged to bloom on schedule with the special tips provided here.
If you want to ID your plant, see How to Tell the Difference Between Christmas and Thanksgiving Cactus here.
Year-Round Holiday Cactus Care
Table of Contents
Whether your plant is called a Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Easter cactus, they each need the same care.
If you want to identify yours, see the identification tips here.
If you want to force blooms and get the plant to flower during a specific holiday, I have provided flowering tips here. Each plant has its own genetics and inherent timing, but, with the right conditions we can encourage beautiful blooms for the holidays.
To find out why your Christmas cactus leaves are limp or why flowers are dropping off, see the Frequently Asked Questions section below.
And How to Grow Christmas Cactus Cuttings shares how to propagate for more plants.
Indoor Christmas Cactus Care Tips
It’s always helpful to know the origin of a plant to better understand the best growing conditions to provide in your home.
Holiday cacti originated in the rain forests of Brazil with warmth, humidity, and indirect light, so their needs are different from desert cacti.
These epiphytic plants have aerial roots that grow attached to other trees. This tells us that they should not sit with their feet in water, as they grow high off the ground, free from standing water.
Here’s what they need.
- Light | Bright, indirect natural light.
- Water | Allow potting mix to dry between watering. Empty saucer after watering.
Over-watering will stress the plant and cause buds to drop off. In most homes watering is needed every 1-3 weeks.
- Air Temperature | 65-75 °F (18-23 °C) until it’s time to force into bloom.
- Soil | Use a potting medium made for cacti (Amazon)
- Root Space | Prefers to be slightly pot-bound. Repot every few years.
- Humidity | 50-60% is ideal. Plants often like it higher but your house would get moldy.
- Fertilize | A few months after flowering is done, begin using organic cactus plant food following instructions on container. Stop during budding and flowering cycles.
- Pruning | Leaf segments can be removed (and rooted as cuttings) to encourage a bushier plant.
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How to Know if a Christmas Cactus is Healthy
It is not unusual for an older Christmas cactus to drop leaf stem or appear somewhat limp at various parts of its growth cycle but newer, younger plants should be very green and perky.
Examine your plant for any signs of insects, disease, or distress.
The plant should be robust, deep green in color, soil should be moist (press your finger tip in to check) and free of mold.
If you find anything suspicious, isolate your plant from other houseplants and investigate the problem. Some things are harmless, others can spread to your other plants.
Buy 6′ Christmas Cactus | Succulents Box (US Shipping)
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How to Make a Christmas Cactus Bloom
Ready to Make Your Christmas Cactus Flower?
These plants are thermo-photoperiodic, meaning their blooming cycle is triggered by specific temperature and light conditions.
Assuming your plant hasn’t already bloomed in the past six months, two months before desired bloom time, move to an indoor space and provide these conditions:
- 12-14 hours of darkness every 24 hours; moderate light for rest of time. Be mindful of streetlights and other light sources: it’s all light to the plant.
- Temperature range: 50-65°F (10-15°C).
If room is not cool enough, increase darkness time to compensate.
- Water less frequently than normal.
Buds will gradually form and then flower.
At this stage, gradually increase light and temperatures going back to normal care routine.
Over-watering can cause buds to drop, so error on the side of caution and allow soil to dry between watering.
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Frequently Asked Questions
1Why did my Christmas cactus drop its flower buds?
Here’s some possible reasons:
- Sudden change in temperature. These guys like temperatures to remain steady in their comfort range.
- Over-watering causes stem and root rot, which can, in turn, cut off water to rest of plant and cause bud drop.
- Low humidity can cause bud drop.
- Pests are not common but mealybugs (see FAQ 10) and soft brown scale can also cause bud drop.
2Why are the leaves on my Christmas cactus limp?
- Over-watering is a common cause. If your soil is moist, let it dry before watering again and reduce your watering schedule.
- Root bound: if your plant has not been repotted in several years, it may be time to move up a pot size. I have one Christmas cactus that is over forty years old and having limp leaves is normal for a plant this old with a huge, compacted root system.
3How often do you water a Christmas cactus?
- Watering always depends on the unique conditions within your home, but, in general, holiday cacti can be watered every 1-3 weeks.
- Check the soil with your finger tip or a moisture meter and water when it’s near dry.
4Can you put a Christmas cactus outside in the summer?
- Yes, if you live somewhere with the right weather conditions. Avoid direct sun, provide indirect light, and temperatures in the range of 65-75 °F (18-23 °C) are ideal.
- In some locations, the transition into fall weather provides just what the plant needs to begin budding and then flowering indoors. See the tips (above) for more information.
5How do I keep my Christmas cactus blooming?
You can’t really prolong blooming beyond what is natural for the plant, but you can make efforts to prevent shortening it.
- Water carefully, leaning toward under— and never over—watering.
- Keep the plant away from temperature swings (drafty windows, forced air heat).
- Keep the plant out of direct light.
- Do not fertilize during flowering time.
6How can I revive my Christmas cactus?
This will depend on what caused your plant to struggle.
- Read over the basic care tips and figure out what was missing.
- If there are not pests or diseases present, you may be able to revive the plant by providing basic, consistent care (without over-doing it).
- Other times, just parts of the plant are worth saving. In that case, take stem cuttings and root them in soil as described here.
7When should I cut back my Christmas cactus?
Often a Christmas cactus will bloom twice within a few months but that’s it for a year.
- After the second flowering can be a good time to prune the plant if it needs some assistance to achieve a healthier, more pleasing shape.
- Any healthy stems you remove can be rooted for new plants.
8Do Christmas cactus need full sun?
No, these plants originate as jungle plants which means they like indirect light, warmth, and humidity, but never wet roots.
9How do I get my Christmas cactus to bloom again?
Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti in the Schlumbergera family often flower twice: first between October and February, and then between March and May.
Sometimes the conditions in our homes are favorable for budding and flowering, other times we may have to assist the plant with these tips.
A second flowering session may also occur naturally (if conditions are again favorable), or the plant may need encouragement after first flowering is done.
When all flowering is done, it’s time to begin fertilizing for six months to add nutrients for future blooms. Use organic cactus food and follow the instructions on the product label.
10What is the white gooey stuff growing on my Christmas cactus?
This may be mealybugs (Pseudococcidae family), a soft-bodied wingless insect that gathers in the joints of plants as well as the soil. They are essentially sap-suckers that release gooey honeydew, drying out and eventually killing your plant.
There are three main steps to get rid of them.
First, isolate your plant from other houseplants so you do not spread them while treating them.
- Remove all visible bugs or goo.
Use a swab dipped in 70% rubbing alcohol and apply directly to the bugs.
- Spray all foliage with rubbing alcohol. Check all nooks and crannies: these guys are sneaky.
- Gently wash plant and repot in disinfected pot with new potting mix.
- If any reappear, nab them immediately with rubbing alcohol.
Long-term care may require neem oil spray or another plant spray made for this purpose. This explains what neem oil does to insects outdoors.
More Holiday Cactus Tips
- Christmas Cactus Care | Illinois Extension Office
- How to Grow and Care for Holiday Cactus | worldofsucculents.com
- How to Delay Holiday Cactus Blooming | hortmag.com
Good luck with your holiday cactus. And remember to put a reminders in your calendar to remember to force blooms (two months ahead) and begin fertilizing (after flowering is done).
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛
Christmas Cactus Care Tips
Supplies & Materials
- 1 Christmas cactus plant
- Plant in potting mix made for cacti with roots slightly root bound.
- Provide bright, indirect, natural light.
- Allow potting mix to dry between watering.
- Air temperature should be 65-75°F (18-23°C) when flowering.
- To force blooms, keep plant at 50-65°F (10-15°C) for two months with 12 to 14 hours of darkness a day.
- Humidity at 50 to 60% is ideal. Plants often like it higher but your house would get moldy.
- Fertilize with organic cactus plant food a few months after flowering. Stop during budding and flowering cycles.
- Leaf segments can be rooted as cuttings in water or potting mix.