Use these tips to ensure your Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Easter cactus thrives year-round and blooms again for the holiday season.
If you want to ID your plant, see How to Tell the Difference Between Christmas and Thanksgiving Cactus here.
Year-Round Holiday Cactus Care
Whether your plant is called a Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Easter cactus, possibly labelled as Schlumbergera or Rhipsalidopsis, 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.
For troubleshooting problems like limp leaves, red leaves, or buds dropping off, see the Frequently Asked Questions section below.
And How to Grow Christmas Cactus Cuttings shares how to propagate for more plants by planting stem segments.
If you’d like to print out the tips, be sure to get your free tip sheet in the Resources section.
- Daily Care Tips
- Flowering | How to Make a Christmas Cactus Bloom
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Resources | Free Tip Sheet
Daily 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.
Be sure to get the free tip sheet as well.
Best Growing Conditions
Here’s what they need.
- Light | Bright, indirect natural light. Too much light stresses the plant.
- 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 and higher humidity can attract pests. Despite popular advice, a tray of pebbles covered in water does not really humidify a room.
- 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, which are actually modified branches called cladodes or “clades,” can be removed (and rooted as cuttings) to encourage a bushier plant. You can also remove old flower buds by hand.
- Wilting or limp leaves: This can be due to several different things.
Are you over-watering? Let the potting mix dry out between watering.
Under-watering? Use the finger test and water if the soil is dry one inch below surface. Also avoid placing the plant near a heat source.
Is there adequate light? Provide bright, indirect natural light unless forcing blooms.
Is the plant rootbound? There may not be enough room in the pot for the amount of water needed. Time to move it to a larger container.
- Black or rotting stems: Too much water.
- Dark red or pink leaves: Can occur when light is too intense. Also when soil is too dry for an extended period of time. Water thoroughly when the soil is drying out, reaching the full depth of the soil and drain excess from saucer.
- Buds dropping before blooming: Also a sign of over-watering or extreme temperature fluctuations. Is your plant in a drafty location or have you moved it inside or outside?
- Yellow stems or leaves: Check for thrips which transmit a virus in the plant. The treatment is insecticidal soap. If it’s extensive, dispose of the plant.
- Distorted leaves: Could be an insect infestation. Check for mealybugs—they are small and white and hide where it’s dark and moist. There are suggested treatments below.
Ready to Make Your Christmas Cactus Bloom?
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Christmas cactus may drop flower buds for a few different reasons including temperature changes, overwatering, and low humidity.
If there is a sudden change in temperature, your Christmas cactus may drop its flower buds. These plants like temperatures to remain steady in their comfort range.
If a Christmas cactus is overwatered for a long period of time, the roots and stems can rot. This in turn can cut off resources to the buds, causing them to dry out and drop.
In low humidity conditions, a Christmas cactus may also dry out and drop its flower buds.
Pests are not common but mealybugs and soft brown scale can also cause bud drop.
Christmas cactus watering is generally needed every 1 to 3 weeks. Watering always depends on the unique conditions within your home, but, in general, the soil (potting mix) should be watered when the top inch or so is nearly dry.
Yes, you can grow Christmas cactus outdoors in summer if the conditions are right. 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.
This shows how to get your plants ready to come back indoors at the end of the summer.
How to revive a Christmas cactus depends on what caused the problem. The issue could involve light, soil, water, or pests.
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). Sometimes the plant requires repotting due to crowded root conditions.
Other times, just parts of the plant are worth saving. In that case, take stem cuttings and root them in soil.
It’s best to cut back a Christmas cactus when it has completed its blooming cycle. 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.
Christmas cactus do not require full sun. These plants originate as jungle plants which means they like indirect light, warmth, and humidity, but never wet roots.
Getting Christmas or Thanksgiving cactus to bloom again takes time. Both 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.
White gooey stuff on a Christmas or Thanksgiving cactus may be mealybugs (Pseudococcidae family) which are 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.
It is not unusual for an older Christmas cactus to drop leaf stem (their branches or “clades”) or appear somewhat limp at various parts of its growth cycle but newer, younger plants should be very green and perky.
If yours has limp leaves for an extended period of time or you find the buds fall off before the plant blooms, over-watering is the most likely cause.
The plant may also be unhealthy for other reasons.
Look for any signs of insects, disease, or distress including aged and overcrowded roots.
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.
With proper, consistent care, a holiday cactus can last for decades. There are plants that have been passed through generations for 30, 40, or 50 years.
If you notice tiny mosquito-like insects flying around your houseplant, it may be fungus gnats.
You can trap the adults using these sticky yellow cards which will in turn prevent females from laying eggs.
Free Tip Sheet
Empress of Dirt
FREE TIP SHEET
Christmas & Thanksgiving Cactus Care Tips
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More Holiday Cactus Tips
- How to Identify Your Holiday Cactus
- How to Propagate Your Holiday Cactus From Stem Cuttings
- Easy Houseplant Tagging System To Simplify Plant Care
- Tips For Keeping Plants Watered While You’re On Vacation
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.1 Christmas cactus plant
- 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 (the branches also known as "clades") can be rooted as cuttings in water or potting mix.