A Christmas cactus is a beautiful holiday plant that blooms twice a year, generally at Christmas and Easter. Christmas cactuses are wonderful holiday plants, as they are not toxic and are therefore safe for kids and pets. They last beyond the holiday season and require very little maintenance. If you received a Christmas cactus as a holiday gift, you’re probably wondering how to care for your plant. Fortunately, with a bit of attention, your cactus will be here to celebrate next Christmas, when the buds will open up and add color to any holiday scene.
How to Find the Right Spot for Your Christmas Cactus
Place the plant in a well-lit area, but avoid direct sunlight. Too much light can burn the leaves and cause the plant to stop growing. Other factors to avoid are drafts, fireplaces and heaters; the rapid changes in temperature and humidity found in drafty areas or spaces near heat sources can kill your plant. During the summer months, move the cactus outdoors to a shady place. The cactus will enjoy the warmer temperatures and natural sunlight. Outside of the summer months, the Christmas cactus needs an indoor temperature of 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
How to Water Your Christmas Cactus
Watering is perhaps one of the more difficult aspects of Christmas cactus care to master, but it is critical to maintaining the growth and longevity of your plant. You won’t want to put the cactus in the same watering schedule as the rest of your houseplants. It’s important that this plant receive the right amount of water. Understand that the Christmas cactus not really a cactus, and won’t thrive in completely dry conditions; it is a tropical plant and does need regular watering. However, the thick leaves of the Christmas cactus are able to store water; this means that you can overwater your plant if you aren’t careful. Feel around the soil once a week or so and if it’s dry, it’s time to water the plant.
If the cactus receives too little water, the leaves on the plant will wilt and the buds will fall off. If the cactus receives too much water, brown spots can appear and cause rotting on the leaves, which will then fall off. If you’re concerned about your area being too dry, create some humidity by placing a bowl of water next to the plant. If you are ever in doubt, it’s better to give this plant too little than to overwater it. If you’re having trouble getting the timing right, then cutting back on regular watering and giving the plant a quick mist with a spray bottle in between will help it thrive.
When checking your Christmas cactus, make sure that the soil is damp and evenly watered. Generally speaking, people who live in a dry climate and plan to keep the cactus outdoors will need to water every two or three days. If you’ll be keeping your plants indoors, watering once a week is adequate. During the fall and winter seasons, you can taper off your watering to once every week and a half.
How to Prune and Propagate Your Christmas Cactus
To help your cactus reach its full growth, add a houseplant fertilizer two to four times a year. Pruning the cactus will also help it reach its potential and is best done after the holiday season. You can also wait until the springtime to prune the plant, as this is when some new growth starts to form. It’s true that the cactus may look a bit dry and stale before this growth occurs, but rest assured that pretty blooms await you in the near future.
Bringing the Christmas cactus to bloom is what makes this plant so exciting, especially as all the magic unfolds around Christmastime - and if you’re lucky, it’ll bloom again during Easter. The good news is that a Christmas cactus can reproduce asexually if you cut off a section of the stem that includes two to three of the segments. You can then replant that section by pushing it into soil and treating it as a mature plant.
Planting the cutting in a three-inch pot is best. You will also want to include some of the soil that came with the original plant in the new pot. You will see growth in four to six weeks, and then you can fertilize the plant so that it will bloom for you. Only fertilize after the cutting has grown new shoots; once this happens, you can expect that your plant will continue to be healthy.