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Christmas Cactus Care: 24 Questions Answered!

If you want to know everything there is to know about Christmas cactus (and caring for them) then you’ve come to the right place.

Christmas cactus, also known by its Latin botanical name of Schlumbergera, is a species of epiphytic cacti that flowers between late November and the end of January, making it an attractive flowering plant to have at home over the festive holidays.

Join us as we answer every question you never knew you had about caring for these beautiful flowering plants…

Does Christmas Cactus Like Sun or Shade?

Christmas cactus, or ‘Schlumbergera’ to use its Latin botanical name, likes indirect sunlight. So if it’s indoors, a sunny room is good, ideally near an east or west-facing windowsill.

If it’s outdoors, choose a shady spot, such as under a tree. This is because even though it’s not a cold-weather plant, too much direct sunlight can burn its leaves.

Where Is The Best Place To Put A Christmas Cactus?

A bright and sunny room is ideal for a Christmas cactus, provided it’s not in a too-bright spot like a south-facing windowsill. It’s a tropical plant, not a desert cactus, so it doesn’t like to get too hot or dry.

If you live in a warmer region, you can keep your Christmas cactus outside, provided it’s not in direct sunlight (in the dappled shade from trees is a good spot).

When Should You Put A Christmas Cactus In The Dark?

Do you want your Christmas cactus to bloom in time for the holidays? You may need to trigger this yourself. Six to eight weeks before Christmas, move it into a dark place overnight. Bear in mind that this place needs to have a temperature of about 60 degrees Fahrenheit, so a garage or closet is ideal.

Keep it in the dark for at least twelve hours out of every 24, then move it back into a sunny position again (some folk suggest as long as 16 hours in the dark). This should ensure you have a beautiful bloom for Christmas.

Is It Ok To Put My Christmas Cactus Outside?

Yes, you can keep your Christmas cactus outside; however as ever, this depends on what your local climate is like. In many places, this means that your potted Schlumbergera can spend the summer outdoors. Find a shady spot, and make sure it doesn’t dry out.

In the Fall, bring it back indoors. It needs a nighttime temperature of around 60 degrees fahrenheit to bloom, so bear that in mind when you’re deciding where to put it.

What Is The Coldest Temperature A Christmas Cactus Can Withstand?

A Christmas cactus needs temperatures of about 60 to 65 degrees to produce its gorgeous pink/purple blooms. It can survive, although not thrive, if the temperature dips into the 50s, but not for prolonged periods. A frost will kill it, so if your cactus has spent its summer on the patio, bring it indoors in the Fall.

How Often Do You Water A Christmas Cactus?

As tropical plants, Schlumbergera don’t like to get too dry, and shouldn’t be treated like typical cacti. Water them when the soil feels dry to your fingers. Let any excess water drain onto the saucer beneath the plant pot, then empty it: the Christmas cactus does not like having “wet feet”.

Do You Water A Christmas Cactus From The Top Or Bottom?

Always water a Christmas cactus from the top, into the soil. It doesn’t like having waterlogged roots, and sitting in water can cause root rot. When you water it from the top, take care that it doesn’t end up sitting in a water-filled saucer.

How Can You Tell If A Christmas Cactus Is Overwatered?

An overwatered Christmas cactus may start to drop leaves, or the leaves could develop brown spots. Problems caused by overwatering include stem rot and root rot, and too much humidity causes a type of gray mold called Botrytis Blight.

Christmas Cactus
Is it hard to keep a Christmas Cactus in blooming good health?

How Do I Keep My Christmas Cactus Blooming?

So, after you’ve encouraged your Christmas cactus to bloom, by using the 50/50 light/dark method, how do you keep those beautiful flowers coming?

There’s no big trick or secret here: the main way to keep your holiday cactus blooming is to take care of it. It doesn’t like sudden changes in temperature or humidity, so once the buds form, find it a permanent home for the winter.

Keep it in indirect sunlight, such as in an east-facing window, and water it when the soil feels dry. Mist it occasionally to keep it humid. Ideally, the room stays at around 60 degrees or at least, has no massive fluctuations. You can also treat your Schlumbergera to some potassium-rich fertilizer once a fortnight (when it’s not in bloom).

What Triggers A Christmas Cactus To Bloom?

To produce those glorious flowers, the Schlumbergera needs that short-day cycle we mentioned earlier. So, keep it in complete darkness for between 12 and 16 hours in every 24 hour period, returning it to its partially sunny spot in between. It also needs the temperature to remain around 60 degrees fahrenheit. 

We know this seems like an incredibly fussy bedtime routine for a plant. But trust us, it’s worth it, as you’ll be rewarded with beautiful blooms.

How Many Times A Year Does A Christmas Cactus Bloom?

The typical Christmas cactus flowers once a year between November and January, hence the name. Some plants have been known to have a second flowering later in the winter; however, this will only happen if the conditions are right to trigger a bloom.

Should I Fertilize My Christmas Cactus While It Is Blooming?

No, it’s best not to fertilize a blooming holiday cactus, but save that for after it’s finished flowering. The best time to feed your plant is during its growing season, which is from spring until fall.

Do You Deadhead Christmas Cactus?

The spent flowers tend to drop off anyway; however it looks tidier and encourages more new growth if you keep deadheading your Christmas cactus yourself.

Do You Trim A Christmas Cactus?

At the beginning of the summer, you can give your Christmas cactus a tidy-up. Trim back the lankier-looking stems and make sure it looks neat in time for the next blooming season.

How Big Does A Christmas Cactus Get?

Because a well-loved Christmas cactus can live for years, they can reach a decent size. The hanging branches can reach lengths of two to three feet. Time to put it on a higher ledge or invest in a hanging basket!

What Do You Feed A Christmas Cactus?

Look out for a potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus fertilizer, and feed it to your cactus once or twice a month during its growing season. A fertilizer that dissolves in water makes it easier to feed. You can also give it a dose of Epsom salts (more about this in a moment).

Do Christmas Cactus Like Coffee Grounds?

Your Christmas cactus will enjoy a coffee as much as you do! Coffee grounds are a good source of potassium and nitrogen, two things the cactus needs to keep it healthy. 

Don’t use the grounds straight away, as moist grounds can go moldy, so you need to dry them first by spreading them out. Give your plant its coffee ration either by mixing the dried grounds in its water or by scattering them on the soil. Fertilize your cactus this way a maximum of once every two weeks.

Is Epsom Salt Good For Christmas Cactus?

Yes, your Christmas cactus will love a dose of Epsom Salt. It’s a great way of making sure the plant gets all the magnesium it needs to bloom and grow. Mix the salt into water, at a ratio of one teaspoon of salt to a gallon of water. Stop feeding it in the Fall, as it only needs fertilizer and food during the spring and summer growing season.

How Long Do Christmas Cactus Live?

The oldest Christmas cactus on record lived for 111 years! Most don’t live that long, but if you care for yours, it could survive for two, even three decades.

They’re also great to propagate, so you can share your beautiful plant with your family and friends. Here’s a guide to how to propagate a Christmas cactus. It’s super-simple, and makes a lovely gift.

Why Is My Christmas Cactus Limp?

This could be (and we know this isn’t a helpful answer) either because it’s had too much or too little water. If you think it’s gotten too dry (and you should know if it’s been regularly watered), start building it up again by watering it little and often, and gradually increase the amount.

Overwatering can lead to root rot, which also causes droopiness. Try reviving it by repotting it into good-quality compost. A third reason is too much sunlight. Move the plant to a more shaded area and see if this starts to revive it.

Why Is My Christmas Cactus Turning Purple?

If your cactus’ leaves are turning purple at the edges, this could be sunburn. Try moving it to a more shaded area. An east or west-facing window is ideal.

What Kind Of Soil Does A Christmas Cactus Need?

Your Christmas cactus needs well-draining, aerated soil to prevent its roots from rotting. You could also use a mix of regular potting soil and sandy (two parts to one part).

Are Clay Pots Good For Christmas Cactus?

Clay pots are a great choice for your Christmas cactus. The naturally porous material absorbs water and provides good air circulation. They can also be excellent value for money! Their light brown color also looks good with the bright pink or purple flowers.

One word of warning: clay will shatter if dropped. It’s worth thinking about this, as you begin your plant’s winter cycle.

Are Christmas Cactus Poisonous To Cats & Dogs?

The good news is that Christmas cactus isn’t poisonous to your cat or dog. This makes it a great alternative to that other holiday favorite, the poinsettia, which is. 


So there we have it – our essential guide to everything you need to know about Christmas cactus. We hope this article helps you care for yours successfully so you can enjoy its beautiful blooms every festive season.

Best of all, Christmas cactus make lovely presents for friends and family over the holidays – and will help bring some vibrant winter color to their homes. 🙂

Mark H.

Homeowner and property investor Mark H. aspires to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >