Houseplant of the Week: Christmas Cactus

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Christmas Cactus with red-orange flowers in full bloom.

The Christmas Cactus, part of the genus Schlumbergera (which we think is just a fun word to say), is a staple of the holidays with its festive color popping during the season. The plant comes in pink, white, a rusty orange/red, yellow and purple.

There’s only a few species within this group of colorful cacti, and they all  are native to the coastal mountains of southeastern Brazil. Fun fact: while the Christmas Cactus blooms around the winter holidays in the U.S., it is known as the “May Flower” in Brazil, because that’s when it blossoms in the southern hemisphere.

Christmas Cacti are different from other succulents because they are looking for humidity as opposed to their desert counterparts.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Schlumbergera comes from Frederick Schlumberg, an enthusiast for the plant, who had a collection of them in his home in France in the 1800s.

Caring for Your Christmas Cactus

Water: While it is blooming, keep it evenly moist and mist frequently (remember, this plant loves humidity). You might also want to place a tray of pebbles filled with water beneath your plant container to introduce more humidity. That being said, you never want to water it so heavily that its roots become water logged.

Food: Once buds appear, give it some high-potassium fertilizer every couple of weeks.

Light: While the Christmas Cactus will tolerate lower light, it really prefers bright sunshine and even a little direct sunlight (but not too much; you don’t want to burn the leaves). This will encourage it to bloom.

Temperature: About 65 degrees is perfect for your Christmas Cactus.

Encouraging More Blooms

Your Christmas Cactus might have several blooming cycles during the year, but will usually stop flowering by fall. At that point, you should encourage its brief dormancy cycle by reducing water, light and temperature. About six to eight weeks before you want to see it bloom again, make sure the plant gets 12 to 14 hours of darkness in temperatures around 55 degrees.

Once you start seeing buds again on the plant start reintroducing it into warmer temperatures and watering it more frequently. You’ll see blooms again in about six weeks.

You can check out all of our Houseplants of the Week in our gallery here.