Christmas Cactus Care

Easy growing tips for this seasonal favorite.

Related To:
511790642

511790642

Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera) in pot on the window

Photo by: iStock/Nadezhda_Nesterova

iStock/Nadezhda_Nesterova

The Christmas cactus is a long lived plant with flat, segmented stems. Most of the year its appearance is fairly unassuming. Some potted green in the corner of the living room or parked under a tree in the back yard.

Around Christmas, however, something magical happens.

With care, this plain looking plant will blossom with flowers of red, white, pink, purple or orange. Because of this festive seasonal bloom, the Christmas cactus is a tradition in many European and North American homes during the holidays.

But the beauty of the hardy Christmas cactus isn’t limited to just the holiday season. Jeanne Dombcik, an Ohio transplant living in Raleigh, NC, tells the tale of her fifty-year-old Christmas cactus and the family ties it symbolizes.

“So it’s 1985 and I’m staying with my grandmother Gladys Browngardt in Sag Harbor, New York, working on my cousin Hank’s farm stand,” Jeanne recalls. “She had this Christmas cactus that sat outside under the pine trees when I was there and I took care of it all summer.”

Jeanne’s grandmother passed away that summer.

“After my grandmother died, all of my 24 first cousins came to the house to help clear it out. When it came my turn to decide what to take, I thought about it. I decided that what I really wanted was that Christmas cactus I had been keeping alive all summer.”

“I got a cardboard box, my dad helped me pack the Christmas cactus up and I drove it from Sag Harbor to Cleveland, Ohio, where I took cuttings of it and rooted them.  I sent them back to Sag Harbor to live with all of my cousins and aunts and uncles.  Now whenever I go to visit their houses, I see a piece of my grandmother’s original Christmas cactus.”

Jeanne still passes along cuttings from her grandmother’s plant, which continues to thrive today.

Caring for Christmas Cactus

Christmas cactus thrives in bright, but indirect sunlight. Keep it near a window when indoors or shaded by trees if kept outdoors in warmer months.

Despite its name, the Christmas cactus is not a desert plant, but rather has its origins in the tropical rain forests of South America. If you live in a dry climate, make sure a source of humidity like a shallow tray of water is kept nearby. The plant will not tolerate dry soil and requires regular watering (done at the base of the plant).

Conversely, too much water will cause leaves to spot and fall off. Allow the top layer of soil to dry completely before watering.

Ensuring a Christmas Bloom

In fall, night temperatures around 50-55 degrees will trigger Christmas cactus to form flower buds. A carefully monitored balance of darkness and sunlight will give you beautiful blooms in time for the holidays. Six to eight weeks before Christmas, place the plant in a completely dark space where the temperature is 60 degrees (such as a closet or garage) for 12 hours each night. Be sure to bring the plant out to a sunny spot for the other 12 hours each day. Water only when the top inch or so of the soil feels dry, and you should get flowers for the holiday.

A few weeks after the flowers have faded, prune stems back to encourage new growth.

Propagation

Start your own tradition by sharing your own Christmas cactus. By transplanting a cutting of at least three stem segments into a small pot of soil (preferably taken from the pot of the parent plant). Bury at least one segment. Care for the cutting as a mature plant and it should take root in 4 to 6 weeks.

The day after sharing her story with me, Jeanne dropped by my office bearing a gift. A small cutting from her grandmother’s Christmas cactus.

My own little piece of a holiday tradition that lives on all year long.

Keep Reading

Next Up

Winter Floral Arrangements

Brighten dreary winter days with splashes of living color. Learn easy ways to create your own winter floral arrangements.

Winter Flowers

Satisfy your cravings for living color by decorating your home with winter flowers. Discover bloomers that thrive indoors and out.

Winter Blooms

Flowering witch hazel and honeysuckle varieties liven up a garden during cold weather.

Flowers that Bloom in Winter

Fill your outdoor spaces with flowers that bloom in winter. Some of these bloomers can even start inside before shifting outdoors.

Hellebores Shine in the Winter Garden

Few plants are tougher and give more pleasure in the winter garden than hellebores.

Winter Pansies

Fill your landscape with winter pansies to paint your yard with dazzling color through the garden’s quiet season.

Winter Jasmine

Try this easy-growing shrub to savor sunny yellow blooms in the heart of winter.

Overwintering Geraniums

Get tips on preparing these pretty blooms for winter to keep them coming back next spring.

In the Weeds: Winter Jasmine

Easily confused with forsythia, winter jasmine has buttercup-yellow flowers and blooms late-winter.

Plants That Produce Pre-Season Blooms

These beauties can help brighten the dull landscape between winter and spring.

On TV

Living Big Sky

6:30am | 5:30c

Living Big Sky

7:30am | 6:30c

Flea Market Flip

8:30am | 7:30c

Flea Market Flip

9:30am | 8:30c

Home Town

10am | 9c

Home Town

11am | 10c

Fixer Upper

12pm | 11c

Desert Flippers

1:30pm | 12:30c

Desert Flippers

2:30pm | 1:30c

Desert Flippers

3:30pm | 2:30c

Flip or Flop

4:30pm | 3:30c

Flip or Flop

5:30pm | 4:30c

Flip or Flop

6:30pm | 5:30c

Flip or Flop

7:30pm | 6:30c
On Tonight
On Tonight

Flip or Flop

8pm | 7c

Risky Builders

8:30pm | 7:30c

Flip or Flop

9:30pm | 8:30c

House Hunters

10pm | 9c

House Hunters

11pm | 10c

House Hunters

11:30pm | 10:30c

Flip or Flop

12am | 11c

Flip or Flop

12:30am | 11:30c

House Hunters

1am | 12c

House Hunters

2:30am | 1:30c

Risky Builders

3:30am | 2:30c

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.