Growing a Christmas Cactus

Blossoming Christmas Cactus

I can remember as a young child going into people’s homes and seeing their beautiful Christmas Cactus.  As an adult I began giving one to my mother each year.  The fall and winter season for us wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t have a Christmas cactus in the house.

Usually I lose much of these wonderful blossoms

But we’ve seldom been able to keep them for long.  Usually the buds fall off, or the blossoms are few and far in between.  Research was called for this year because I found the prettiest young cactus at the roofing store (go figure!) and decided it was time to make a go of it. While I found a lot of information, how you treat your Christmas cactus is subjective to what works for you.  For example, according to Dick Kohlschrieber:

“It happens that Schlumbergera are “thermo-photoperiodic”. This means that their bloom initiation is triggered by a combination of day length and temperature. The primary trigger is the day length. Once the day length decreases to approximately twelve hours, the plant recognizes that it is time to bloom. Night temperature of 55 to 65 degree F. should accompany the short day.”

Another reference confirms the importance of  12 – 14 hours of darkness throughout the fall, with temperatures of around 50 degrees.  This encourages the blossoms we love.  Once they start blooming a nice bright room will work, but keep them out of direct sunlight, and make sure you don’t have a heater vent blowing on it.  And, finally, since it is a succulent, let it dry out between watering.  Keep in mind their structure holds moisture longer, so when the first inch of the soil is dry it is time to water.

Check out the size of these beautiful blossoms

The plant I have pictured here is in a six inch pot, but I have known people to grow their Christmas cactus for years, gradually increasing the size of the pot to accommodate the plant and keep it root bound.

I am making a point of following these instructions this year.  Can anyone share any of their tips on caring for this lovely winter plant?

  1. Linda says

    I take mine outside in the spring and keep it out all summer (in the shade). When fall arrives and the temps drop, it fills with buds. In years past, I would bring it in when the temps were supposed to get in the low 30’s, but all the buds would fall off. I learned by trial and error, the contrast in temps is what made it lose its buds. Same goes for ones you buy in a lawn and garden center. They too are liking the cooler temps. This year, I have left it outside. It has more buds than I have ever seen on it, and they are just getting ready to open. I won’t bring it in until it has finished blooming.
    Now, on the other hand; my mother brings hers in long before the temps drop low, and they bud and bloom beautifully indoors. I believe they just need consistency.

  2. says

    I have a christmas cactus that i grew from a slip given to me about 5 years ago.Its about 3 feet accoss.I have expaned it x1 in larger pot.I keep it in a back bedroom thats closed off from the rest of house.It stays cooler than rest of house.I have it on a table in front of window,never any sun.window open about 1/2 in year round.blooms in november,just beautiful.afraid to bring it out so everyone can see it,afraid it will quite blooming.!!

  3. Linda says

    I have a large old one I got at a garage sale. The first year I had it nothing happened, but this year I put it outside in a mostly shady area and then brought it in right before frost and put it in the bathroom and it developed buds and is now blooming!

  4. Lori S. says

    I live in Ohio. I take my Christmas cactus outside in May after danger of frost has passed. It sits in partial sun until Oct. when danger of frost reappears. I take it inside and place it in my north window. Within a couple of weeks it blooms and beautifully. It will usually rebloom once more as well. They are very beautiful plants!

  5. Janet Wagenseller says

    I have a very old Christmas cactus and I too keep it in my bedroom where it is cooler and has some indirect sunlight.
    Mine starts blooming in November. One year I tried taking it into the living room and it failed to bloom so back to the bedroom it went. This summer I am going to transplant it into a larger pot and maybe divide it.

  6. diane says

    I leave mine in a west window all summer, and water about once a month to six weeks. When buds form, I take it out of the window and place it in my living room which has much less direct light. I water in well and if blooms beautifully for about 6 weeks. Have done this for years and get beautiful blooms each November

  7. Shirley Carlen says

    I have many Christmas cactuses. I leave them on the porch outside until danger of frost. They bloom as soon as I bring them inside. Therefore, I now refer to them as Halloween cactuses.
    They are easy to root and start new plants. I root them in water. Very rewarding plant.

  8. says

    I so needed this article. i have a cactus that only has bloomed with ONE bloom the past two years and it is about 7 yrs old. its been by the kitchen sink near a window but not directly. 2 wks ago a gal at church decided she didnt want hers and heard i had trouble growing mine…she brought her big beautiful all in bloom Christmas cactus and just gave it to me!! Its absolutely beautiful and im so afraid im going to kill it somehow. Its in the front picture window on table so im wondering after reading your article if i dare move it. she says put it in sunlight and you say not. i can grow most any other plant but these and have many. its a touchy plant eh?

    • Collie (Northwest) says

      I hope you take the time to read what other people have said, too. My experience and references are not necessarily a dyed in the wool format, because so much of it depends on the humidity in your home, how long they would be in direct sunlight…;just pay attention to what the blossoms are doing. For example, we had this one on a table which also had a light on it. It seemed the light was destroying the blossoms, so I have changed my position and will check to see how it does after a couple of days.

  9. JoAnn Preen says

    I actually moved my cactus from home to my office because it did nothing at home. My windows have a lot of shaded light and the house is cool all year. Since I took my plant to my office and hung it in front of the window where direct sunlight comes in and the temp alternates depending on the season it has grown and blooms beautifully. I also only water when dry. I have rooted pieces that have fallen and they also so have bloomed. My neighbor many years ago had a back porch with no heat, but plenty of windows. Her cactus hung in the windows year round and were gorgeouse. I believe you just have to work with it.

  10. Lauren says

    I have many Christmas Catus’. My oldest one was in my in-laws house when my husband and I got married and lived in the basement. That was 1984 and it is doing “wonderful”! It goes outside every year and in the house when I feel it may be too cold for it outside. It has bloomed every fall, past christmas and into the new year. I never do anything special with them. I have 2 christmas catus that were in my mothers apartment hallway over one winter about 5 yrs ago. They were completely dried out and woody. They are in an incredible bloom right now. They all look so pretty and make this time of year so festive.

  11. Nancy Glisan says

    I have had my cactus in a window for years and they always bloom. Mine is blooming now on the side facing the window. It is a West facing window.

  12. also Linda says

    My christmas cactus is 39 years old.. we’re old friends now. We’ve moved about 20 times, including across the country and back again. What began as 1 plant is now 5+ plants. I’ve lost track of now many I’ve given away. I’ve woken up in the morning to find this monster plant toppled onto the floor, dirt and broken branches everywhere ( no pets) Gently I pick it up, transplanted the broken bits with root hormone, and repot the mother stems. We just moved again, october 1st and all 5 plants came into full bloom, again. They are currently in a south facing window with sheer curtians.. and they are as happy as can be.
    Happy growing! :)
    PS mine blooms twice a year

  13. Gayle Guerin says

    I live in southeast Louisiana and I leave my Christmas Cactus outside on my patio all year around. It has bloomed every year with no worries. The only time I bring it inside is when our temps get below 35 degrees which is not very often. My cactus has light pink and cream double blooms. It’s very consistently beautiful!!!

  14. says

    I have one in my East-facing kitchen window and there is an ac/heat vent in front of it. It blooms in October, November, December, early spring and sometimes in summer. It fills most of the window and the blooms appear on the side near the window, so I rotate it. Do not know if it is a Christmas or Easter cactus, or what since it blooms randomly. Of course, this is Mississippi.

  15. Sue says

    I live in North Dakota, and I have had the same Christmas cactus for about 8 years. It never fails to bloom and I keep it in a south facing window all year long. Last year we had moved and the number of blooms dwindled, so I transplanted it this fall and the plant is full of blooms. I think the blooms come from the shock of moving having passed–the plant seems very happy in full sunshine.

  16. Jeanni says

    I take mine outside in the Spring with my other house plants. I keep them on the North side of the house until fall. Then I put them in the computer room on a chest in a large south window. They are blooming right now. Just beautiful. Just water them when they get really dry.

  17. Helen kearney says

    i have had a Christmas Cactus for 3 years. The 1st year I had 26 blossoms and it was magnificent. It was so crowded I had to transplant to a larger pot. i lost some pieces in doing it. However, the plant is once again beautiful, has only yielded 2 blossoms but is healthy. I am looking forward to another great yield. I live on the 5th floor of a studio apartment and have a small table with 2 African Violets which bloom almost constantly. i will send a photo when my Christmas Cactus blooms.

  18. joyce nielsen says

    I started with a very small Christmas Cactus and put it on a window ledge facing E/NE. I left it there for the last ten months or so, and just over a week ago it burst into bloom. The plant also more than doubled in size in the ten months. I did fertilize it with a bloom booster around early summer. Just water when it starts to dry out. Now that it’s in bloom I brought it into the center of the room to enjoy it!

  19. Helen Kearney says

    My Xmas Cactus just finished after yeilding 26 blossoms. I planted a couple of other sprigs and it yeilded one red 8 peach (original plant) and 15 hot pink. I took pictures a s the blossoms progressed. Wih I could submit photos on this.

  20. Nancy Scott says

    I never take my Christmas & Thanksgiving cactus outside because I seem to live on an ant hill. Don’t want to bring any bugs into the house. I learned to not over water and to put them in darkness around October and they will bloom nicely. Also I’ve learned not to over feed them. I do have a problem with one that is large and seems to be heavy on one side. It will fall over if I am not careful when watering it. Any idea’s how to get them to grow evenly. I’m thinking about repotting and trimming some of the weight from the heavy side. ??

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