Christmas Cactus Q&A: Essential Things You Should Know

Is your Christmas cactus not flowering and looking a bit limp? Are you a new plant parent and not really sure how to care for your cactus? Or perhaps you’ve inherited an old Christmas cactus and want to ensure it continues to grow in your care?

This article will answer all the essential questions about how to care for the Christmas cactus, from the type of soil to use and how often to water it, to how to get it to flower each season.

Here’s what you need to know.

Growth


For a complete list of questions and answers about Christmas cactus growth click here. We cover how big they get, how fast, the growing cycle, and where they grow in the wild.

How Long Do Christmas Cactus Live?

Christmas cactus enjoys excellent longevity and can live for more than 100 years. Healthy, well-looked-after plants are often passed down from one generation to another as family heirlooms. On average, you can expect your Christmas cactus to live for at least 30 – 40 years.

Sunlight and Temperature

christmas cactus in the sun

Click here for the top questions and answers about Christmas cactus sunlight and temperature requirements.

Essentially, you want to keep Christmas cactus indoors (unless you live in the Brazilian rain forest) and in bright, indirect light.

Water

water on a christmas cactus

How Often Do You Water a Christmas Cactus?

Unlike desert cactus species, the Christmas cactus is very sensitive to drought but doesn’t like being overwatered either. Depending on the light, humidity, temperature, and the size of the pot, you may need to water it once every two weeks or once a month.

First, allow the soil to dry almost completely, then give it a good soak until you can see water pour through the drainage holes. 

Should You Water Christmas Cactus From the Top or Bottom?

Always water your Christmas cactus from the top. This will help flush out salt and mineral buildups in the soil, improve soil aeration, and ensure that the soil is evenly moist. 

How Can You Tell if a Christmas Cactus Is Overwatered or Underwatered?

You can tell if your Christmas cactus is receiving too much water if the stems are turning yellow, starting to limp, and if they feel soft to the touch.

An underwatered cactus will have wrinkly stems but may also begin drooping and yellowing. When in doubt, always test the first 2 inches (5 cm) of the soil with your finger, and adjust your watering schedule accordingly. 

Soil


What Kind of Soil Does a Christmas Cactus Need?

Christmas cactus prefers growing in a well-draining, slightly acidic soil mix. This plant is an epiphyte and, in its natural habitat, grows in small pockets of vegetal matter between tree branches and on rocks.

This type of substrate provides sharp drainage but also retains some moisture. When growing Christmas cactus in your home, try replicating the type of soil it’s used to in its natural environment.

Does Christmas Cactus Like Acidic or Alkaline Soil?

Christmas cactus grows best in neutral to slightly acidic soil, with a pH ranging from 5.5 to 6.2. Like all tropical succulents, it will struggle to grow if the soil pH is too high and die in very alkaline soil. 

What Is the Best Soil Mix Recipe for Christmas Cactus?

You can use a pre-made succulent soil mix for your Christmas cactus or make your own at home. A soil recipe that works very well for this species is combining equal parts potting soil, peat moss, and perlite.

You can also add some orchid bark to improve further drainage and some horticultural charcoal, which helps keep the roots healthy.

Fertilizer


When Do You Fertilize a Christmas Cactus?

Always fertilize your Christmas cactus during the growing season, from early spring until early fall. Then, the plant will enter a brief period of dormancy in winter when it doesn’t need additional feeding. 

Should You Fertilize Christmas Cactus While It’s Flowering?

No. Stop giving your Christmas cactus fertilizers when you notice it’s starting to form flower buds. Instead, please wait until the plant has stopped blooming and resume feeding it in early spring.

What Is the Best Fertilizer for Christmas Cactus?

Christmas cactus needs a balanced, organic fertilizer diluted to half strength. Liquid seaweed is a good choice, but you can also use a fertilizer designed for cacti and other succulents.

Are Coffee Grounds Good for Christmas Cactus?

Yes and no. Coffee grounds can provide your Christmas cactus with a potassium and nitrogen boost and help acidify the soil. However, if the soil is too acidic, the plant will struggle. Also, you will need to dry your coffee grounds before using them; otherwise, they will mold.

For best results, reduce the amount of fertilizer you give your Christmas cactus, and avoid giving it any coffee grounds after repotting. 

Does Christmas Cactus Like Epsom Salt?

You can use Epsom salt or magnesium sulfate to help your Christmas cactus grow faster and bushier, produce more blooms, and help germinate seeds. Mix one tablespoon of Epsom salt in one gallon of water and use it as a foliar spray or a monthly fertilizer application. 

Flowering

christmas cactus flower

How Do You Get a Christmas Cactus to Bloom?

A healthy, mature Christmas cactus needs two things to start blooming:

  • Daytime temperatures ranging between 50°F and 60°F (10°C to 15°C).
  • At least 12 hours of darkness per day.

Stop fertilizing and reduce watering in mid-fall to get your Christmas cactus to bloom. Then, move your cactus to a cool room, and limit the amount of light it receives for 6 to 8 weeks.

After that, you can force it to bloom by keeping it in temperatures as low as 45°F (7°C) for a few hours each day and by increasing the amount of darkness to 14 hours a day. 

Christmas cactus typically starts blooming in early winter and will continue blooming until mid-winter. When you notice the first flower buds, move it to a room with bright, indirect light.

Water it regularly, but never let the soil dry out completely, and protect it from cold drafts.  

How Many Times a Year Does Christmas Cactus Bloom?

Christmas cactus blooms typically only once a year, from late November or early December, until January. 

How Do You Keep a Christmas Cactus Blooming?

In theory, you can keep your Christmas cactus blooming by providing it with cool temperatures (50°F to 60°F or 10°C to 15°C) and keeping it in complete darkness for at least 12 hours a day. But, unfortunately, this is rarely possible in most homes, especially during summer. 

Remember that it’s not natural for a Christmas cactus to flower constantly. The plant needs a period of rest between each blooming season, and it needs to spend its energy growing new stems and roots. 

Do You Need to Deadhead a Christmas Cactus?

Yes. Regularly removing the spent blooms encourages your Christmas cactus to produce more flowers and can also be used to prolong its blooming season. 

Potting and Repotting


How Often Should Christmas Cactus Be Repotted?

Depending on how fast your Christmas cactus grows, you may need to repot it once every 2 to 3 years. If you notice that the plant is not growing new stems, not blooming, and if you can see roots coming out through the drainage holes, it’s time to move your cactus to a wider container. Pay close attention to cacti living in the same pot for more than five years, as there’s a good chance they need repotting. 

Does Christmas Cactus Like To Be Pot-bound?

Christmas cactus likes growing in a tight container but will not thrive if it’s rootbound. The roots need space to develop, and if the container is too small, this will limit the plant’s access to water and nutrients. On the other hand, if the container is too wide, the soil will stay wet for longer, and the roots will suffer.

When Should You Repot Christmas Cactus?

The best time to repot your Christmas cactus is in early spring. By then, it should have finished flowering and should start entering its growing season. You can also repot it in early summer.

What Is the Best Pot for a Christmas Cactus?

The ideal container for a Christmas cactus is a clay or terracotta pot with drainage holes at the bottom and is one size or 2 inches (5 cm) wider than the pot the cactus is currently planted in. Clay pots help wick out excess moisture, and their porous texture improves soil and root aeration. You can also use plastic containers, but keep in mind that they keep the soil moist for longer.

Propagation

propagating christmas cactus

How Do You Propagate Christmas Cactus?

The easiest way to propagate Christmas cactus is using stem cuttings. You can use this method in early spring and summer, or at least two months after your cactus stops blooming.

First, use a sharp, sterilized blade to cut a stem section, then let the cut callous in a dry, well-ventilated room for two days. Your stem cuttings should then be ready to propagate.

Should You Propagate Christmas Cactus in Soil or Water?

Christmas cactus cuttings will develop roots in both water and a potting mix. For best results, avoid using soil, and propagate them in a mixture of coarse sand and perlite. Keep the substrate moist but not soaked, and place the propagation pot in bright, indirect light. 

Remember to change the water once every 5 to 7 days for water propagation to prevent algae and bacteria growth. Then, when the roots are at least 2 inches long (5 cm), you can transplant your Christmas cactus in a well-draining potting mix.

Can You Grow Christmas Cactus From Seed?

If your Christmas cactus produces fruit, you can easily propagate it from seed. First, wait until the fruit is fully ripe, then remove all the pulp to expose the seeds. Fill a shallow tray with a mixture of equal parts potting soil and perlite or vermiculite, spread the seeds on top, and water them well.

Cover the tray with a lid to help preserve moisture, and keep it in bright indirect light. When the seedlings are at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) in size, you can separate them and repot them in individual containers.

Common Problems


If you encounter white hair-like things growing from your Christmas cactus, wilting, discoloration, or other issues, check out this page on all the common Christmas cactus problems and how to solve them.

Here is a video that shows a quick highlight of problems and how she solved them:

Toxicity


Is Christmas Cactus Toxic to Cats & Dogs?

The ASPCA does not list the Christmas cactus as toxic to cats and dogs. However, stems can cause vomiting and diarrhea if eaten in large amounts. To keep your pets safe and prevent any damage to your plants, keep your Christmas cactus on a high shelf or in a room where curious pets can’t get to it. 

Final Thoughts

The Christmas cactus is a low-maintenance succulent that can live for well over a century. The only tricky parts are watering it correctly and giving it the right conditions to start flowering. And by using the right soil type, giving it the right amount of light and water, and keeping it in a cool, dark place in the fall, your Christmas cactus will produce an abundance of blooms that will light up your home each festive season.