Christmas cacti (Schlumbergera) flower over the Christmas period, from late November to January – hence their name. They make good Christmas gifts – their bright, trumpet-shaped flowers in shades of red, white, pink, purple and even yellow bring a welcome splash of colour to any room. Their flat, segmented and trailing stems look attractive all year round.
You’ll find Christmas cactus plants in garden centres or supermarkets during the holiday period, but for the widest range of varieties, its best to buy from specialist retailers online.
Schlumbergera are forest cacti – in the wild, they grow in tropical rainforests, where they grow attached to trees. This means that need different growing conditions to desert cacti. They need to be kept away from bright sunlight and like plenty of humidity.
Christmas cacti will flower every year given the right treatment – the main thing to remember is that they need two periods of rest (in a cool room, with less watering): one after flowering and another in autumn. The plants can last for years and are often handed down through generations.
How to grow Christmas cactus
Grow your Christmas cactus in a warm, bright spot out of direct sunshine, and mist a few times a week. In order to flower every year, Schlumbergera need two periods of ‘rest’ – lower temperatures and less watering – after flowering in late winter and again in September.
More on growing Christmas cacti:
Christmas cactus: jump links
- Where to grow Christmas cactus
- How to care for Christmas cactus
- How to get a Christmas cactus to reflower
- How to propagate Christmas cactus
- Christmas cactus problem-solving
- Types of Christmas cactus to grow
Where to grow a Christmas cactus
Give your plant a bright spot away from direct sunshine, which can scorch the leaves, and a steady temperature of 18-24°C. Try not to move the plant when it’s in bud – it can cause the buds to drop. Schlumbergera need two periods of ‘rest’ in order to flower: after flowering and again in September. Pop them in a cooler room (around 12°C) and reduce watering. This encourages flower buds to form.
How to plant a Christmas cactus
Repot your Christmas cactus every 1-2 years, when the rootball has filled the pot. The best time to do this is in March, when it has come out of its period of rest. Repot into a slightly larger pot – the roots like to be snug. Use a cactus compost or John Innes No. 2 compost with a little grit mixed in for drainage. Christmas cacti grow quite wide, so a wider pot is better than a deep one, for stability.
Caring for a Christmas cactus
In spring and summer, water only when the top 2-3cm of compost is dry, and let any excess water drain away – Christmas cacti suffer if they sit in cold, wet compost. Water more sparingly during winter and during the two rest periods.
As Schlumbergera hail from rainforests, they do best in a humid atmosphere. Mist your plant a few times a week, or place on a pebble-filled tray of water. Feed monthly in spring or summer.
Schlumbergera don’t need pruning, but the stems can get leggy or too long. Make the plant more bushy by removing the tips after the plant has flowered. You can also remove some of the older stems at the base at the same time.
How to get a Christmas cactus to flower again
Christmas cacti will reflower every year with the right care. After flowering, move to a cool room (around 12°C) for two months, and reduce watering. Then bring it back into its usual spot (you can put it outside, on a patio or balcony, in summer). From mid-September, give your plant another period of rest in a cool room and reduce watering again, until you see buds appear. Move back into its flowering position and take care not to move it around – this can cause the plant to drop its buds.
How to propagate a Christmas cactus
Christmas cacti are very easy to propagate. Just follow our step-by-step guide:
In May, remove parts of the stem that has two or three leaf sections. Allow the cutting to dry out indoors for a day or two.
Insert the cuttings into a 50:50 mix of seed or cutting compost and sharp sand. Push the bottom of the cuttings into the compost about 1cm deep, so that they stand upright. Water in well and let any excess water drain away.
Keep the cuttings in a bright spot, out of direct sunshine – a north facing windowsill is ideal. Water very sparingly and mist occasionally.
After a month or two, the cuttings should have rooted – give the cutting a gentle pull to check. If it doesn’t budge, it has rooted. Pot the cuttings on into small individual pots and grow on in a warm room or greenhouse.
Growing Christmas cactus: problem solving
The most common problem with Christmas cacti is lack of flowers. This is due to lack of the two rest periods and can resolved by following the care suggestions above.
Bud drop can be caused by moving your plant around when it’s in bud, over watering, or fluctuating temperatures between night and day. Once you’ve found the right spot for your Christmas cactus, don’t move it and water only when the top few centimetres of compost have dried out.
Red leaves are a sign that your plant is getting too much sunlight. Move it to a spot that has bright light but no direct sun.
Mealybugs can be found on the stems, especially the undersides – look out for insects that look like white, fluffy blobs. Wipe them off with a damp cloth or cotton bud that has been soaked in an insecticide that contains fatty acids or plant oils. Keep checking the leaves, as mealybugs can be hard to eradicate.
Varieties of Christmas cactus to grow
Most Christmas cacti are simply sold by colour – eg. Schlumbergera ‘Red’. Some, such as the ‘Tricolour Cactus’ above, have three flower colours on one plant.
- Schlumbergera truncata is also known as the Thanksgiving cactus as it flowers earlier than other Christmas cacti, in November
- Schlumbergera gaertneri is known as the Easter cactus, as it flowers in spring