13 Tips To Make A Drooping, Wilting Christmas Cactus Bloom Brightly This Winter Season… Pssst, Don’t Treat It Like A Cactus
Ahhh, the Christmas cactus or, as my friend’s mother-in-law calls it, the Hanukkah plant. Also known as the crab cactus or Thanksgiving cactus, no matter what you call it, you have likely acquired at least one of these lushly flowering winter perennials through the years. No surprise there… With vibrant red, hot pink, purple-burgundy, and even orange blooms, the Christmas cactus is perfectly timed to brighten up the dark dreariness of the winter season. While all is merry and bright while your Christmas cactus is in bloom, what do you do when your plant turns into a drooping, flower-less vision of sadness? Fear not. Instead, keep reading to learn exactly how to get a Christmas cactus to bloom. Plus, did you know the Christmas cactus is not even a true cactus? Let’s get to know more about this “cactus” with origins far away from any desert…
But, first, a bit of background on the history of the Christmas cactus… To skip straight to Christmas cactus care tips, scroll down to, “How To Get A Christmas Cactus To Bloom? 13 Tips To Get Your Christmas Cactus To Bloom…”
The Christmas Cactus – A Colorful Holiday Tradition
Next to poinsettias, the Christmas cactus, aka Schlumbergera truncata or Schlumbergera bridgesii, is one of the most popular holiday plants. While the original hybrid had cherry-red blossoms that bloomed during the holidays, hence the name Christmas cactus, today, roughly 300 hybrids exist. These modern versions of the plant come in a variety of color combinations, from white to orange to red, fucshia pink, purple, and even yellow.
The Christmas cactus may be the most famous, but it is just one of a family of similar “cacti” known for flowering around certain holidays…
A Christmas, Thanksgiving & Easter Cactus? The Surprising Origins Of These Seasonal “Cacti”
A Cactus From A Rainforest?
While it may be hard to believe, the ancestors of the of the modern-day Christmas cactus were actually discovered in the rainforests of southeastern Brazil in the early 1800’s. There they lived in the tree-top canopy of the rainforest, quite similar to the way epiphytic orchids grow, interestingly. Who would have thought?
The ancestors of the Christmas cactus include an October and November flowering specimen known, fittingly, as the Thanksgiving cactus. Another late winter and early spring-blooming ancestor is known as the Easter cactus.
Fun Fact: How Can You Tell A Christmas, Thanksgiving & Easter Cactus Apart?
Other than their different seasonal blooming periods, the holiday cacti can be distinguished by their leaves.
The Christmas cactus is notable for its flatter leaves with a round border of teeth. On the contrary, the Thanksgiving cactus sports more pointy-toothed leaves similar to the Easter cactus which combines pointy-edged leaves with fibrous leaf joints.
Bottom-line: While all the holiday cacti may have subtle differences in appearance, they all have very similar cultural and care requirements…
How To Get A Christmas Cactus To Bloom? 13 Tips To Get A Christmas Cactus To Bloom
While the Christmas cactus has the potential to a live a very long life with proper care, much like the orchid, confusion abounds when it comes to what constitutes proper care. Let’s clear it up. First, let’s start with its confusing name….
***Before it blooms, it must bud… To find out the steps to take specifically in the autumn months to bloom your Christmas cactus by the holidays, scroll down to, “How To Get A Christmas Cactus To Bloom By Doing These Things In The Fall…”
TIP #1… Know That Christmas Cactus Is Not Really A Cactus (But Rather A Tropical Succulent That Enjoys Humidity)
Remember how I stated above that the Christmas cactus originated in tropical Brazil? That’s right, this “tropical cacti” isn’t really a cactus at all… It is one in name only. This “cactus” is really a succulent that is native to the shady, humid rainforests of Brazil. As a result, it has a clear yet surprising preference for higher humidity.
Now that we got that cleared up… How can you create the humid conditions a Christmas cactus prefers in the dry air inside most homes?
How To Create The Christmas Cacti’s Preferred Humid Conditions
Rather than turning your home into a sauna, selectively raise the humidity around your Christmas cactus by placing its pot on or above a small tray or pan filled with pebbles in a low level of water. Be careful not to let the water touch the bottom of the pot. As the water in the tray begins to evaporate, the evaporation will envelop your Christmas cactus in a cozy cloud of humidity.
TIP #2… Understand That Christmas Cactus Doesn’t Like To Be Too Dry
Now that you know that the Christmas cactus is actually a tropical plant, you will understand why it wilts if its soil is allowed to get too dry. Under the stress of extreme drought, the Christmas cactus can actually start to drop flower buds, causing the unthinkable effect of short-circuiting its blooming cycle.
**However, as you will see later, there is one time of the year when cutting back a little bit on water is beneficial to your Christmas cactus and its blooming potential…
TIP #3… But Don’t Overwater Your Christmas Cactus Either
Since the Christmas cactus is a succulent, you still do not want to overwater it. Overwatering can lead to root and stem rot, as well as flower drop. If anything, err on the side of more dry than wet.
How Do You Prevent A Christmas Cactus From Getting Too Dry Or Too Wet?
To prevent an out-of-bloom Christmas cactus from getting too dry or too wet, make sure the top inch or two of soil feels dry to the touch before you water it. However, there are two times in the year when this can be modified, which I discuss below…
Check Your Christmas Cactus Weekly For Water
Depending on the time of year, weather and whether your Christmas cactus is indoors, the length of time between watering may vary.
However, your best bet is to use the dryness level of the soil as your indication to water. Also, consider whether or not it is in bloom…
When Does Your Christmas Cactus Appreciate A Little More Water? When In Bloom
When your Christmas cactus is in bloom is one time you can be more generous when watering. Watering your plant during a blooming phase is acceptable even if its soil feels slightly moist throughout.
How Much Water Should Your Christmas Cactus Get?
When you do water, soak your plant’s soil so any excess drains from the pot into a tray or saucer, which you can then empty. Airy, fast-draining soil should help with this as I discuss in Tip #4 below…
**Bonus TIP: Does Your Christmas Cactus Have Limp Or Wrinkled Leaves?
Limp or wrinkled leaves can actually be a sign your Christmas cactus is getting either too little or too much water, causing its roots to dry out, or the opposite, become waterlogged. Do the soil “touch test” to ascertain the true cause of your plant’s shriveled leaves.
**Bonus TIP: A wilted, limp Christmas cactus may also be caused by too much direct sunlight.
TIP #4… Choose The Right Kind Of Soil & Pot For Your Christmas Cactus
You want to select a soil with excellent drainage so succulent or cactus potting mix is best. No matter what soil you have, you can add larger particulate perlite to help aerate it and to encourage drainage.
Christmas cacti are often sold in clay pots as clay helps the soil dry out quicker than a plastic pot. No matter what type of pot you use, make sure it has at least one drainage hole to keep the soil from staying overly wet.
**Bonus TIP: Does Water Run Right Out Of The Pot When You Water Your Christmas Cactus?
If water runs straight through the pot, your plant is likely pot-bound, which could damage its roots. To remedy this, try repotting your Christmas cactus in a slightly larger pot with fresh potting mix.
TIP #5… Should You Fertilize Your Christmas Cactus?
When your Christmas cactus has new growth, from spring through early fall, you may apply a water-soluble flowering houseplant fertilizer according to its directions for amount and frequency. Refrain from fertilizing while your Christmas cactus is in bloom, or when it starts to bud.
TIP #6… Place Your Christmas Cactus Outside
Take advantage of warm weather from spring through fall by moving your plant outdoors. One caveat is to remember to relocate your plant indoors before the arrival of freezing temperatures. Before you place your Christmas cactus outside for the warm weather, however….
TIP #7… How Much Sunlight Should A Christmas Cactus Get?
As rainforest natives, Christmas cacti are not fond of direct sunlight. For most of the year when your Christmas cactus is not ready to bloom, keep your plant in an area with bright but indirect sunlight. Outside this might mean on a shaded patio or under the filter of a large tree. If indoors, you may want to consider light filtering curtains for bright windows.
When preparing your plant to bloom, however, there is another strategy which I discuss below…
**Toxicity… Is The Christmas Cactus Toxic To Dogs Or Cats?
Happily, the answer is no! Unlike poinsettias, which are mildly toxic to cats and dogs, according to the ASPCA, neither the Christmas cactus nor its flowers are poisonous to pets. However, the fibrous plant material could contribute to an upset stomach.
How To Get A Christmas Cactus To Bloom By Doing These Things In The Fall…
For approximately 6 to 8 weeks leading up to the holiday season, follow these tips to get the most blooms out of your Christmas cactus:
TIP #8… Keep Your Christmas Cactus In The Dark To Help It Bloom
That’s right, your Christmas cactus is sensitive to light, especially as it prepares to bud. Believe it or not, this can include indoor lighting, in addition to sunlight. That’s why, for maximum flowering, starting around mid-fall or 6 weeks before blooming, move your Christmas cactus into a darker area so it gets at least 12 hours or restricted light.
**TIP! How Important Is Reduced Light Really?
For full disclosure, I have had Christmas cactus bloom well even when kept outdoors in the same location where it received the same bright but filtered sun all year. So, this tip is not necessarily the determining factor. What made the most difference? The naturally occurring shorter days coupled with the slight seasonal reduction in temperature outdoors, as well as limited watering, all combined to produce lushly flowering results.
Therefore, you may still get blooms even if your Christmas cactus isn’t placed in a dark area if you follow the rest of the tips.
TIP #9… Keep Your Christmas Cactus Cool To Get It To Bloom
Moderately cooler temperatures actually contribute greatly to promote blooming so aim to keep your Christmas cactus in an environment with a temperature somewhere in the 50° to 65° Fahrenheit range. Similar to light reduction, keep this routine throughout the fall or until you see buds begin to form.
TIP #10… Reduce Watering To Get Your Christmas Cactus To Bloom
Similar to the tips above, around mid-fall, cut back a little bit on your watering routine since a slightly dry period can trigger blooming.
Ok, after following the tips above, hopefully, you are now finally starting to see buds forming…
What Should You Do When Your Christmas Cactus Has Buds? More Tips To Get Your Christmas Cactus To Bloom…
Congratulations! You now see buds appearing on your Christmas cactus… However, the wait is not quite over. Patience is still required as it can take up to another 8 weeks for these buds to turn into long-awaited flowers.
TIP #11… Relocate Your Christmas Cactus From Darkness Back To The Light
Now that you see buds appear, relocate your Christmas cactus back to its original location in bright but indirect sunlight — assuming it is not too cold.
TIP #12… Return To Your Normal Watering Routine
Since you have triggered buds, you don’t have to be so restrictive with watering. However, be careful not to overwater either. Too much water, as we now know, can cause those buds to fail to open.
TIP #13… Have Patience…
If you are following these tips, your Christmas cactus should be blooming in no time, just as your holiday preparations are getting underway.
How To Get A Christmas Cactus To Bloom? Follow & Bookmark These Tips
See? Blooming your Christmas cactus is as easy as following these simple steps. Now you have all the secrets to turn your wilted, sad Christmas cactus into a merry and joyful explosion of flowers. Don’t forget to bookmark and share these tips because something tells me there are more Christmas cacti in your future…
What are your tricks & tips to get a Christmas cactus to bloom? Share in the comments!