How to Grow and Care for Christmas Cactus

Find out how to keep this cactus thriving and blooming year after year.

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potted Christmas cactus plants with pink and red blooms

Carson Downing

Christmas cactus is a popular, low maintenance houseplant and a favorite pass-along plant that can live for years. Named for its festive flowers that often appear around the holidays, this succulent plant actually can bloom at other times of the year as well. The orchid-like flowers can be shades of red, pink, purple, orange, and white. Unlike most desert cactuses, Christmas cactus is native to the Brazilian coastal rainforests. In its natural habitat, it gets plenty of moisture and high humidity. That means it has different care requirements than other cacti in your indoor garden. Have furry friends at home? Not to fret, this pretty plant is also pet friendly.

Christmas Cactus Overview

Genus Name Schlumbergera
Common Name Christmas Cactus
Plant Type Houseplant
Light Part Sun
Height 6 to 12 inches
Width 1 to 2 feet
Flower Color Orange, Pink, Purple, Red, White, Yellow
Foliage Color Blue/Green
Season Features Fall Bloom, Spring Bloom, Winter Bloom
Special Features Good for Containers, Low Maintenance
Propagation Seed, Stem Cuttings

Christmas Cactus Care Tips

With a little TLC, you can easily get a Christmas cactus to thrive and bloom year after year indoors.

Light and Temperature

Bright but indirect light is best for a Christmas cactus. It can tolerate a little direct light, but avoid direct light during the summer, when the sun's rays are stronger and can burn the fleshy leaves. “If the stems begin to turn a reddish-purple color, this is an indication that it is receiving too much sun,” says Alfred Palomares, Resident Plant Dad for In too little light, plants will become thin and spindly, and the blossoms, if they bloom at all, will be sparse.

Christmas cactus thrives in cooler temperatures and will grow best in ranges from 60–70℉. It's best to keep the plant away from radiators, fireplaces, and other extra warm places. During warm summer months, you can grow your Christmas cactus outdoors in a sheltered, part-shade location. Just be sure to bring the plant indoors before temperatures get below 50℉.

Water and Humidity

The time of year is critical when determining watering levels and amounts. While most cacti can thrive in drier climates, Christmas cactus requires weekly watering in the spring and summer months. “Hold off on watering in early October until buds begin to set, then start to give it a weekly drink again until flowering stops,” says Palomares. During flowering season, keep it evenly moist at all times. "Once flowering stops in January, a twice-monthly watering schedule is recommended throughout the rest of the winter to avoid overwatering,” he adds.

Christmas cactus appreciates higher humidity, so you may want to place a humidifier nearby. Or, try putting your plant on a tray of pebbles and fill the tray with water to just below the top of the rocks. As the water evaporates, it increases humidity around the plant.


When it's actively growing from late winter to late summer, give Christmas cactus a monthly dose of liquid fertilizer at about half strength. This plant benefits from micronutrients, too, particularly magnesium, which you can provide by mixing a teaspoon of Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) into a gallon of water. Apply this mixture monthly during active growth, but not at the same time you add fertilizer.


Pruning is usually not necessary unless you'd like to reduce the size of an overgrown Christmas cactus. Remove faded flowers to encourage the cactus to continue blooming as long as possible.

Potting and Repotting

Use 3 parts regular potting soil mixed with 1 part potting mix formulated for cacti and succulents to provide a little extra drainage. Make sure the container has drainage holes because while this cactus needs plenty of moisture, too much will cause it to rot.

You won't need to repot the plant very often because Christmas cactus actually flowers better when it's a little pot-bound. Every three years or so you can repot it in the spring as it begins to actively grow again.

Pests and Problems

Any stems that have softened or that are yellowing are an indication of too much water. “Aside from letting the soil become dry between drinks, make sure that it is well drained so water can move freely," says Palomares. “The plant should also be potted in a container with drainage holes, so that the roots don’t sit in pooled water and develop root rot.”

Stem wilting or wrinkling can signify the opposite problem of not enough water. If that is the case, then give the cactus a full drink of water, then try not to let it get too dry again. 

Palomares points out that flower buds can potentially fail to develop and bloom if the light and water it received before early October (when watering stops) was insufficient. Bud loss can also happen if the plant did not have enough humidity or it received too much water. It's best to avoid moving a plant during this time, as movement from one room to another can stress it out and cause the flower buds to drop off.

Christmas cacti can be attacked by several common houseplant pests such as mealybugs, spider mites, and scale. A strong spray of water can be enough to dislodge most bugs. For more persistent pests, treat the plant with neem oil according to label directions.

Christmas Cactus Requirements for Blooming

During its flowering season, Christmas cactus has specific light requirements to help it set buds. Sleep cycles are important not just for humans but for plants too. “Be mindful that if the buds have not set yet, then just like people, this houseplant needs its sleep and requires between 12-15 hours of complete darkness per day,” says Palomares.

Late-summer, cooler nights as fall begins to set in helps to naturally begin this process for Christmas cacti growing outside in the summer. To initiate it indoors, count back eight weeks from the date you want blossoms. At this point, place your plants where they'll get the required amount of uninterrupted darkness. This means no light of any sort, not even a lamp or streetlight through a window. One way to do this is to keep the plant in a basement or dark room with a grow light on a timer for 8 weeks. Once buds have begun to set at the tips of the leaves, place the plant back in its usual spot.

Christmas cactus will "typically bloom in late October to winter (around January),” says Palomares. “Throughout its flowering season, it will continue to set buds and bloom, but in January it will begin to wind down until the following year. However, sometimes, you might see buds appear now again.”

Types of Christmas Cactus

Christmas Cactus

Christmas cactus
Bill Jr. Hopkins

Schlumbergera X buckleyi has scalloped leaf margins and whorls of satiny flowers that dangle from segmented stems, which resemble leaves. It is sometimes called zygocactus or holiday cactus. The true Christmas cactus usually does not bloom until mid-December; many plants sold as Christmas cacti are actually Thanksgiving cacti.

'Madame Butterfly' Christmas Cactus

'Madame Butterfly' Christmas cactus
Kritsada Panichgul

This rare variety of Schlumbergera has cream-color variegated leaves and magenta flowers with white centers.

Thanksgiving Cactus

Thanksgiving cactus
Jay Wilde

Schlumbergera truncata blooms several weeks earlier than Christmas cactus. It has two to four pointed teeth along the margins of stem segments.

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