How to Care for Christmas Cactus


how to take care of christmas cactus

It is a succulent plant having its origin in the tropics. Cactus has a scientific name Schlumbergera truncate or Schlumbergera bridensii. The plant grows on trees or rocks in habitats that are shady with high humidity. In the natural habitats, it’s a non-parasitic plant that does well in temperate climates of temperatures between 45-85 F. The plant is easy to take care of and can live for several decades.

How to Propagate Christmas Cactus

The best time to start Christmas cactus is 1-2 months after blooming has ended. Following this routine, you can be sure to get all blooms of your plant. You should propagate Christmas cactus by cutting off short, y-shaped sections of the stem. Each stem-part should consist of 2-3 joined segments. Allow the portions to dry for a few days before planting. Laying them allows healing of cut parts and should be away from direct sunlight.

Choosing the Right Pot

Use a well-drained container, having holes at its bottom to allow drainage of excess water. The pot should also be sizeable to enable the growth of the plant but not extra-large. For instance, if your plant has a dense stem structure and a minimal root network, plant it in a small pot. But for support, place the small vessel in a larger container, filling the space with gravels. Doing this aids the growing Christmas cactus to gain base support without having damaged roots.

Type of Soil/ Potting Mixture to Use

Use the right potting mixture with 3 parts of soil and one-part of sand as the potting medium. Alternatively, you can use one-part potting soil, two sections on moss or compost, and one part of sand or perlite.

How to Root Christmas Cactus

Root the broken piece of cactus in water or potting mixture.  The rooting procedure in water is as follows;

  • Start with 1-4 cuttings with each cutting containing 1-4 leaves.
  • Take an empty jar or vessel and fill the bottom with pebbles or stones about two inches deep.
  • Add water so that it gets to the top of the stones.
  • Place your cuttings in ensuring the bottom touches the water, and it should be well placed above water and stones.

The humidity in the jar helps the plant root without rotting. You should ensure the water doesn’t evaporate by always adding if it reduces. The rooting occurs between 2-3 weeks, and once you spot the roots forming, it means the plant is ready for transplanting.

How to Plant the Cuttings

Transplanting Christmas cactus after rooting is the next step in propagating this plant. You should fill your pot with the appropriate potting mixture. Wet the mixture through and dig a half to one-inch deep indents. You can either use a mini-trowel, spoon, or a chopstick. Then, stick your cuttings into the indents and lightly cover the bottom parts with soil to ensure they stand up well.

You can check this guide on transplanting succulents to learn more before trying to transplant your Christmas cactus.

Immediate Care After Planting

Watering

You should water your plant thoroughly when the top inch soil feels dry to touch. The plants shouldn’t be overwatered or underwatered, as this will affect its growth. As the cutting’s roots keep growing, keep adding the amount of water. You can use a spray bottle to wet the soil or a watering can.

Placement

Place your plant in bright light but not direct to prevent wilting or scorching by the sun. Make sure the temperatures are not too warm or too cold.

Repotting

It’s also an after-care practice but occurs later when the plant is fully grown. Repotting happens when the plant roots start to appear at the drainage holes, meaning the vessel has become too small for the plant. The practice mostly is done after 3-4 years when the plant looks inactive and after blooming.

Can You Root Christmas Cactus in Water?

You can root your plant in water, using a glass jar, pebbles or stones, and healthy stem cuttings. The process can take longer than rooting in the soil mix, but it becomes successful when done well. The plant sections sit in water until the roots appear ready for transplanting.

How Long Does It Take to Root Christmas Cactus?

The plants root easily when the cuttings are healthy and well prepared for rooting. For preparations, the rooting medium should be sterile to ensure no disease or rotting of the cuttings. The rooting process takes between 6-8 weeks. To ensure rooting takes less time, do it in late summer to early autumn.

How to Make Christmas Cactus Bloom

There are some tips to follow and get Christmas cactus to bloom. They include; proper light exposure, correct temperature, and limited watering.

Lowering the Temperature

This plant sets buds when day and night are almost equal, and temperatures drop to 50-60 degrees F for a few weeks.  If the temperatures lower further blooming fails. In September – October, keep the plant in a cold room where temperatures are 50-55-degrees F and don’t allow it to freeze.

Keep Your Plant in the Dark Room at Night

In the fall period, the plant should receive indirect, bright light during the day and total darkness at night. The darkness at night should be 12 hours or more. Place the plant in a dark area, 12 hours each night for 6-8weeks or until you see buds.

Increase Light and Humidity When Buds Form

When the buds appear, increase light, humidity, and temperature for the plant. If the buds form too early, you can lower the temperatures to stunt them so that they appear at holiday times.

How Often Does Christmas Cactus Bloom?

The plant can bloom more than once in a year if it has proper growth and blooming conditions. Placing the plant in a spot that receives abundant indirect sunlight during the day and total darkness at night can trigger flowering once more.

When Do Christmas Cactus Bloom?

Most Christmas cactus species bloom in spring, and flowers do open during the day. Other species flower at night and are pollinated by moths and bats, lasting only a day.

Why Isn’t My Christmas Cactus Blooming?

Christmas cactus won’t bloom due to the following reasons;

  • Overwatering
  • Repotting at the wrong time
  • Lack of proper nutrients
  • It’s not a Christmas cactus

Overwatering

The cactus species require less water before flowering. Too much water encourages root rot and bugs. The plant only needs watering when the 1 inch of the soil feels dry to touch. But to promote blooming, lower the amount of watering and frequency, especially from October.

Repotting Your Plant at the Wrong Time

The Christmas cactus can live for an extended period of up to 30years. For it to bloom, it requires to be slightly snug in the vessel or rootbound. Transferring it to another container regularly interferes with blooming. Repot your plant when necessary, and after flowering, doing it in early summer works best and allows the plant to regain before another blooming.

Failure to Apply Fertilizer That Provides Nutrients

Applying a water-soluble fertilizer like 20-10-10 at a rate of ½ teaspoon per gallon monthly is essential. You can also use at a rate of ¼ teaspoon per gallon every two weeks when leaves appear discolored with yellow, red patches. The application should continue until buds emerge and after growth cycle stops. The fertilizer provides flowers with nutrients and promotes blooming. But remember not to apply it in fall as it will hinder the ability to flower.

It is Not a Christmas Cactus

If your plant missed blooming, it may be a different species like Easter cactus, a perennial that bloom in late fall or spring. Its commonly grown as houseplants, it’s among numerous hybrids and crosses that may flower any time and more than once from fall to early summer if light and heat conditions are right. Like their Christmas counterpart, the flowering response occurs in shorter days and colder temperatures, regular fertilizing during growth, and bud-set stages.

How to Water Christmas Cactus

Christmas cactus requires enough water to grow well. The amount of water you give depends on where they are developing indoors or outdoors and the season. If your plant is growing outdoors, it requires much water every 2-3 days, while an indoor plant requires watering once a week.

During fall, reduce watering to encourage blooming and in winter too because the plant is inactive. Before watering, make sure the soil is thoroughly dry. You can check this by feeling the top inch soil, which should be dry to touch. To promote humidity for the plant, mist it using a spray bottle or place a tray with pebbles and filled with water under the plant.

Mistakes to Avoid When Watering

  • Avoid overwatering or underwatering. Too much water leads to fungal rot diseases causes buds and leaves to drop. Also, less watering makes the plant to wilt.
  • Don’t do overhead watering, wetting the whole plant causes fungal diseases
  • Do not use high water pressure on your plant. You can learn more about watering succulents.

When to Repot Christmas Cactus

Repotting Christmas cactus should be done when blooming ends and flowers have wilted during winter or early spring. The plant does best when it’s rootbound.  Therefore, it’s advisable to transfer your plant once every 3-4 years. You should only do it when the plant looks inactive.

How to Repot Christmas Cactus

  • Prepare lightweight, well-drained potting mix or use two-third regular potting soil and one-third sand.
  • Transfer the plant into a slightly larger container than the current. Ensure the vessel has drainage holes at the bottom.
  • Remove the plant from its pot with the surrounding root soil and loosen the roots. If the soil ball is too hard, wash it off gently with some water without damaging the roots.
  • Replant the plant into the new pot and water it moderately.
  • Place the plant in a shady spot for 2-3 days before resuming usual routine care.

Why are the Leaves on My Christmas Cactus Limp?

Your plant leaves may limp due to the following reasons;

Low Humidity

Low humidity may cause the plant to wilt as it naturally survives in areas with high humidity. You should imitate the natural habitats by misting the plant with a spray bottle or placing a shallow filled tray with pebbles and water underneath your plant.

Less Aerated Soils

The plant requires a well-aerated potting mix to grow well in containers. If the soil is too compacted and lacks air, the plant will start limping. Make sure to repot the plant when the soil is compacted to improve aeration.

Too Much Direct Sunlight

Christmas cactus requires indirect bright light or filtered bright light. During summers, the hot sun rays may increase the transpiration rate causing water stress in the plant. The high temperatures lead to wilting and even sunburns. If the plant is potted, you should move it indoors to a spot with indirect bright light. Also, for the outdoor plants, water them frequently to compensate for water loss.

Underwatering or Overwatering

Too much water for the plant causes root rot, which eventually leads to the whole plant wiling, including leaves. Less watering also, makes the plant to be dehydrated, and this makes the leaves look soft and wilted. You can fix the problem by doing the correct watering. Make sure the plant gets enough water during the growing season and reduce it from October for blooming.

How to Prune Christmas Cactus

Trimming Christmas cactus is necessary when it’s too large to prevent it from tipping over or growing faster on one side, and you want it to have balanced growth. If you’re going to reduce its size, you should prune it by 1/3 each year.  Pruning enables your plant to become bushier and therefore have more flowers.

Also, pruning helps to remove any dead or infected plant parts, and this controls diseases. The best time to trim your plant is after blooming in early spring, otherwise doing it before will hinder blooming. The pruning procedure includes;

  • Remove one or two leaves from the plant at their joints. Use your fingernails to pinch leaves or snip them using the best pruning shears for Christmas cactus.
  • Pinch of any wilted, brown, or dead leaves segment.
  • You can also prune healthy 3-section leaf segments at the joints with sharp shears or scissors for propagation.
  • Using of sharp tools to prune your plant makes it less likely to get infections if sterilized

Check this too: How to Trim Succulents

How to Fertilize Christmas Cactus

Christmas cactus requires fertilizers to stimulate bloom and also nutrients for plant growth. The plant mostly requires a high amount of phosphorus, magnesium, and less nitrogen. If the plants lack these nutrients, the leaves become discolored with yellow, purple, or red patches.

The best fertilizer to use for the plant is houseplant fertilizer. The recommended one is 10-10-10 or 20-20-20 formulations. You should dilute the fertilizer with twice as much water as instructed on the package to give a half-strength solution. Apply the fertilizer in the growing season from April- October.

You don’t apply it after October to ensure blooming occurs or during winter as the plant is dormant. Make sure you adhere to the application rates to prevent the buildup of salts in the soil. Apply the fertilizer as you water, for quick absorption by the roots.

Are Coffee Grounds Good for Christmas Cactus

Coffee grounds contain nutrients like nitrogen, thus beneficial to the plants. Brewed coffee also provides potassium and magnesium, which are significant nutrients of the plant. The coffee grounds also lower the soil pH as Christmas cactus does well in slightly acidic soils. You can use the coffee grounds by applying 1-2 tablespoon, spread it in a thin layer, 2-3 inches away from the plant. Then water the soil immediately.

Besides, coffee grounds act compost materials by adding nitrogen into the soil and also increasing acidity that promote decomposition. Epson salt is also significant in raising magnesium levels in the soil. Use it by mixing one teaspoon of salt per gallon of water and apply. While using coffee ground;

  • Only use black coffee on your Christmas cactus
  • Use cold coffee grounds on Christmas cactus as hot or warm can damage the plant’s roots
  • Make sure you are using the right soil

Christmas Cactus Lifespan

The plant can live for several decades when you take good care of it. Some succulent perennials live a short life, lasting as little as three years. Other plants have a long lifespan, lasting for ten years or more. For example, Christmas cactus can live for up to 30 years, and thus it’s a perennial plant. Perennials will last longest if grown in the right conditions and cared for properly. Also, while growing in the proper requirements, it can flower year after year.

Conclusion

Christmas cactus is the right choice of houseplant that requires less upkeep. Once you provide the requirements like light, soil, watering, and nutrients, it’s effortless to take good care of it. The various tips also explained in this article, like promoting blooming, are significant to growing a healthy plant. Ensure you protect your plant from extreme stress like excess heat, water problems, diseases, and nutrients deficiency for it to live long.

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