Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) as well as Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) are succulent, tropical plants available for purchase during fall and winter. Read Thanksgiving vs. Christmas below if you want to know the difference. There is also an Easter cactus that blooms in spring, if I see one this year I’ll buy one and write about it.
Caring for your Christmas Cactus
Keep your holiday cactus indoors in bright, indirect light. It will thrive in temperatures between 70-80 F. I used to leave my apartment thermostat at 58 degrees when I wasn’t home, and about a week after I purchased a Christmas cactus, all the blooms fell off. Lesson learned!
Water the soil when it gets slightly dry. Set the plant in the sink and allow the water to saturate the plant twice and then drain. Don’t water again until the soil is slightly dry to the touch.
If you live in a climate where temperatures don’t exceed 90F or dip below 50F, you can plant your cactus outdoors in a shady place. Otherwise, keep your plant indoors and treat it like a regular houseplant.
Get your Christmas Cactus to Bloom Again
Once your cactus stops blooming, do not water it for about 6 weeks. Place it in a spare room that does not receive artificial light at night but receives bright, indirect light during the day.
Cactus blooms grow on mature “leaves,” (actually flattened stem segments called phylloclades). Pinch back the stems to shape the plant in June, and then in September, pinch back the new growth to older segments. Resume watering and fertilizing.
Water your cactus less during cool weather, then stop watering and fertilizing in October. Put your plant in a room that gets equal light and darkness and temperatures of 50-60F. Buds should appear in about 3-4 weeks. Once buds set, keep the soil evenly moist and fertilize again.
Make More Cactuses? Or Cacti?
Cactuses or is it Cacti? Are epiphytic** plants. As a teenager, I actually got into an argument with a friend about the plural of cactus. Turns out both are correct! And I’ve been a nerd ever since…and probably before that too.
Propagate cactus during warm weather. Pinch off 3-4” cuttings with your thumb and index finger, making sure each one has at least 3 segments. Set the cuttings aside and allow them to callous over for a few days. Put the cuttings into a cactus mix, pushing the bottom segment of the cactus halfway into the mix (make sure you use the correct end of the cactus).
Keep the cuttings in bright, indirect light. Water them lightly, being careful not to oversaturate the soil. Fertilize after about a month. If you use a large container, you can root several cuttings together, several inches apart and create a brand new plant to give as a gift.
Other Holiday Plants
There are other nice holiday plants to choose from with red flowers such as poinsettias and amaryllis. Each of these also takes a bit of work for a rebloom again. But that’s the fun and challenge of gardening! Please email me with your experiences. I’m always excited to hear from fellow gardeners. firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanksgiving vs. Christmas
*The plant pictured here is actually a Thanksgiving cactus. I bought it under the assumption that it was a Christmas cactus. The difference between the two is very slight, as the Thanksgiving stems have 2-4 sawtoothed projections on them (which you can see in this photo) while the Christmas does not. Both require the same care.
**epiphytes are tropical plants that live in rain forests in the crotches of trees and get nutrients from rain and filtered light.