The Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) is a tropical succulent species that is native to the coastal mountains of Brazil. It is a popular holiday plant known for its brightly colored, pendulous flowers that bloom in shades of pink, red, white, and purple. In this guide, we will explore the history, care, and cultivation of the Christmas Cactus, as well as its many uses and benefits.
The Christmas Cactus is a small to medium-sized succulent that typically grows to between 6 and 12 inches in height. It has flattened, leaf-like stem segments that are green in color and are covered in small spines. The succulent produces large, showy flowers that are typically 2-3 inches wide and can appear in a variety of colors. The blooms appear on the tips of the stem segments, often in clusters of 2-3. The plant is also known for its ability to rebloom, with some plants blooming multiple times throughout the year.
What is the origin of the Christmas Cactus?
Christmas Cactus is a hybrid plant, thought to be a cross between Schlumbergera truncata and Schlumbergera russelliana, which are both native to Brazil. They were discovered by European collectors in the early 19th century and were later brought to Europe and North America.
How did the Christmas Cactus become associated with Christmas?
Christmas Cactus got its name because it typically blooms around the Christmas holiday season. The plant blooms between late November and early January, which is why it is often associated with Christmas.
Caring for Christmas Cactus
What are the light and temperature requirements for the Christmas Cactus?
Christmas Cactus prefers bright, indirect light, but can also tolerate low light conditions. The ideal temperature range for Christmas Cactus is between 60-70°F (15-21°C) during the day and 50-55°F (10-13°C) at night. When the buds of a Christmas cactus look as if they’re about to open, make sure to water the plant regularly and keep it cool so it has enough energy to bloom.
How should I water and fertilize my Christmas Cactus?
Christmas Cactus should be kept evenly moist as it is a tropical succulent, but not waterlogged. Water the plant when the top inch of soil feels dry. Plan to water every 2 to 3 weeks, but only water when the top one third of soil feels dry to the touch. For example, if the plant is in 6 inches of soil, water when the top 2 inches feel dry. It’s most important to water well while the plant is flowering since blooming takes a lot of energy out of the plant. From spring through early fall, feed every 2 weeks with a balanced houseplant fertilizer. During the fall and winter, feed the cactus monthly to encourage successful blooming.
Succulent fertilizer available to purchase on Etsy.
How can I propagate my Christmas Cactus?
Christmas Cactus can be propagated by rooting stem segments or by taking leaf cuttings. Late spring is the best time to propagate these cuttings because most holiday cacti emerge from their winter rest and initiate new growth. Simply cut off a few sections of each stem; the plant will branch from the wound. If you wish, place the cut pieces in a lightly moist potting soil—they root easily after a few weeks and make for excellent Christmas presents!
If your Christmas cactus is exposed to any type of stress, the plant will likely drop its blossoms. This could be related to the amount of light, or a sudden change in temperature, as discussed in above plant care section. Also, ensure that your soil doesn’t get too dry while buds are forming. They are also susceptible to mealy bugs and, if over-watered, root rot. If you have problems, cut out infected areas and repot in clean soil.
How to get the Christmas cactus to bloom?
Christmas cactus is affected by a variety of factors, including light and temperature. Christmas cactus requires day lengths of less than 12 hours to initiate bud formation, accompanied by cool night temperatures ranging from 40 to 65°F. Once days get shorter, buds should start to form within 10-20 days. Day length will not affect development at this point, except for the possibility of bud drop due to insufficient light. It is advisable to discontinue fertilizer use 3-4 weeks before bud initiation and switch to using only rainwater.
Flowering usually occurs around 7-8 weeks after bud initiation, making Halloween a good time to start for Christmas blooms. Low light levels beyond the natural day-length can inhibit flowering. A flowering period from mid-November to March is possible depending on light and temperature. It’s recommended to give some supplemental limited hours of artificial light to the plants during growth if daylight hours are too short.
What are the Differences Between the Holiday Cacti?
Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, and Easter Cactus are native to the coastal mountains of Brazil. While they are all similar in appearance and care, there are some key differences between the three types of cacti.
Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) is known for its brightly colored, pendulous flowers that bloom in shades of pink, red, white, and purple. It typically blooms around the Christmas holiday season, between late November and early January.
Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) is similar in appearance to the Christmas Cactus, but it blooms earlier, typically between late September and early December. The flowers are also typically smaller and less showy than those of the Christmas Cactus.
Easter Cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri) is also similar in appearance to the Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti, but it has a distinctively different blooming time, typically between March and April. It also has more elongated and curved stem segments, and its flowers are typically smaller and less showy than those of the Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti.
In summary, Christmas Cactus blooms around Christmas, Thanksgiving Cactus blooms around Thanksgiving and Easter Cactus blooms around Easter. It is also important to note that the flowers of Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus are more showy than Easter cactus.
They all have flattened, leaf-like stem segments that are green in color and are covered in small spines. However, there are some subtle differences in the shape of the stem segments that can help to distinguish the three types of cacti.
Christmas Cactus stem segments are typically more rounded and have a slightly scalloped edge.
Thanksgiving Cactus stem segments are typically more elongated and have a more pointed edge.
Easter Cactus stem segments are typically more elongated and curved, with a more pointed edge than the Christmas Cactus and a less sharp edge than the Thanksgiving Cactus.
Flower Shape and Size
They all produce large, showy flowers that are typically 2-3 inches wide and can appear in a variety of colors.
Christmas Cactus flowers are typically more rounded and have a slightly scalloped edge, and are larger than the flowers of Thanksgiving Cactus and Easter Cactus.
Thanksgiving Cactus flowers are typically more elongated and have a more pointed edge, and are smaller than the flowers of Christmas Cactus and Easter Cactus.
Easter Cactus flowers are typically smaller and less showy than those of the Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti, They are also typically more elongated and curved with a more pointed edge than the Christmas Cactus and a less sharp edge than the Thanksgiving Cactus.
These characteristics are not always clearly visible and sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between the three cacti, especially if the plant is not in bloom or if it is a hybrid. In this case, the blooming time can be used as a guide to identify them.
Is Christmas Cactus Toxic?
No, according to the ASPCA, Christmas Cactus is not toxic to cats, dogs or horses.
What is the lowest temperature for Christmas Cactus?
Temperature range: Christmas cactus grows best between 60-75°F (16-24°C) during the day and no lower than 50-55°F at night.
Cold damage: Constant temperatures below 50°F can cause leaf drop and damage to the plant. Prolonged exposure below freezing (32°F/0°C) will kill the plant. Keep in mind, this is an epiphytic jungle cactus!
How do you root a Christmas Cactus?
Here are the basic steps to root a Christmas cactus from stem cuttings:
- Take stem cuttings. Cut stems right below a node (the bumpy part of the stem where leaves or branches grow out) using clean, sharp pruning shears or a sharp knife. Cuttings should be 2-4 inches long.
- Remove leaves. Gently remove all leaves from the bottom 1-2 inches of each cutting. Leave the top leaves intact.
- Let cuttings dry. Allow the cut ends of the stems to dry and form a callus for 2-3 days. This helps prevent rot.
- Prepare rooting medium. Use a well-draining potting mix designed for rooting cuttings. You can also use perlite, vermiculite or sand.
- Plant cuttings. Stand the cuttings upright in the rooting medium. Bury about 1/2 to 2/3 of the stem, keeping the top leaves above the surface. Space cuttings 1-2 inches apart.
- Maintain moisture. Keep the rooting medium slightly moist but not soaked. Use a plastic bag or dome to increase humidity levels. Check daily and water as needed.
- Root formation. Within 2-6 weeks, roots should start to form from the stem nodes buried under the soil line. Once developed, transplant the rooted cuttings into potting soil.
When you’re rooting or transplanting your succulents and cacti, use SUPERthrive to help reduce the chance of transplant shock and grow a strong root system.
Do Christmas Cactus Like to be Misted?
Yes, misting can be beneficial for Christmas cactus plants. Here are some key points about misting Christmas cactus:
- Misting helps increase humidity levels around the plant, which Christmas cactus prefers. They are native to tropical forests in Brazil where humidity is typically high.
- Occasional misting, once or twice a week, can help prevent drought stress, especially if the air in your home is very dry. It provides some moisture without overwatering the soil.
- During winter bloom time when the plant is putting on flowers, misting daily can help prolong bloom duration by keeping flowers from drying out prematurely.
- Use room temperature water for misting. Cold water can shock the plant. Mist in the morning so leaves have time to dry out before night.
- Be careful not to directly wet leaves and flowers, as sitting water droplets can lead to spotting or fungal issues. Mist above the plant so water falls like rain.
- Avoid over-misting, as too much moisture can potentially lead to root rot. Only mist when the top 1-2 inches of soil is dry.
- Misting is optional but can benefit Christmas cactus if humidity levels are low. It works as a supplement to regular watering rather than a replacement.
Why are my Christmas Cactus leaves turning purple?
There are a few common reasons why the leaves on a Christmas cactus may be turning purple:
- Low light conditions – Insufficient light can cause leaves to turn purple as the plant tries to produce more anthocyanin pigments to boost photosynthesis. Move to a brighter spot.
- Cold temperatures – Temperatures below 60°F can cause leaves to take on a reddish-purple hue. Keep above 60°F if color is unwanted.
- Stress from underwatering – Dehydration stress can signal the plant to produce anthocyanins. Ensure soil is moist but not soggy.
How to Revive a Wilted Christmas Cactus
tips for reviving a wilted Christmas cactus:
- Check the soil: Feel the soil and water it thoroughly if it’s dry. Wilting is often caused by a lack of moisture.
- Increase humidity: Mist the leaves and place the plant on a pebble tray with water to raise the humidity around it. Wilting can also be caused by low humidity.
- Check for root issues: Gently remove the plant from the pot and check the roots for any rot. Trim off any mushy or brown roots.
- Repot if needed: Move the plant to a fresh pot with well-draining soil if the roots or soil look unhealthy. Repotting can help renew growth especially if your Christmas Cactus is rootbound.
- Cut back watering: Reduce watering to allow the soil to dry more between waterings. Overwatered soil can cause wilting.
- Move to bright light: Place the plant in a sunny spot to encourage it to perk back up. Lack of light can cause weakness. Slowly acclimate it to more light if the transition is harsh though.
- Fertilize sparingly: Give a light application of diluted, balanced houseplant fertilizer only after signs of recovery.
- Be patient: It may take a few weeks for the plant to fully revive from wilting. Keep the soil moist but not soaked and provide optimal light. New growth should emerge.
- Prune as needed: Trim off any completely shriveled or dead leaves or stems to direct energy into healthy parts.
With proper care adjustments, a Christmas cactus should bounce back from mild wilting. However, severe cases may require more time or stem cuttings for propagation.
Christmas Cactus (and its holiday relatives) is a versatile and beautiful plant that can bring a touch of holiday cheer to any home. Whether you’re looking to add a festive touch to your home or give a unique gift, the Christmas Cactus is sure to delight. If you have any problem with pests or disease, take action immediately, and if you have problems getting the cactus to bloom, make sure to pay attention to the light and temperature requirements. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different propagation methods to grow your own Christmas Cactus collection.