How to: Caring for a Christmas cactus

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Updated Nov 28, 2023

christmas cactus

Christmas time is known for the traditional plants such as holly, mistletoe, Christmas trees, and more. But one plant your customers might have forgotten about is the Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii).

Many customers may not realize the plant they have is a Christmas cactus; these plants will have smooth, scalloped stems and tiered blooms. It is leafless and has flattened, spiked, segmented stems. Each stem has an areole that grows a flower, and these flowers more often than not are white, pink, and red. These flowers can sometimes look like two flowers stacked together, as they are tiered.

When it’s not in bloom, the Christmas cactus still shows off its bright green leaves, and it can brighten up your customer’s home.

Typically, Christmas cacti will bloom naturally at the start of winter. To bloom, a Christmas cactus will need cooler nights â€“ usually around 50 degrees Fahrenheit – and over 13 consecutive hours of uninterrupted darkness.

Keep the lights off at night to encourage a Christmas cactus to bloom, and the plant can also be covered with a black cloth or placed in a dark closet overnight.

Contrary to other cacti, Christmas cacti do require water, as they are native to the rainforest. When the top inch of the soil is dry, it’s time to water it, but avoid any excess water pooling in its container. When the cacti begin to flower, water them more frequently, but do not change the volume. To avoid root and stem rot, it’s important to make sure that the plant is never sitting in water.

For customers who have a Christmas cactus, be sure they keep it in a well-humidified area. Since they are a tropical plant, they will thrive when there’s moisture in the air. If your customers have a wood stove or fireplace, recommend that they keep their Christmas cactus in a room farther away from these.

During the day, these plants should be placed in bright light, such as on a windowsill, but tell your customers to watch so that they don’t get burned.

For customers who want to share the joy of a Christmas cactus with their friends and family, it’s good to know that these plants easily propagate. To do so, tell your customers it can be done by cutting a Y-shaped segment from the tip of the stems. Remind them that these cuttings should only be taken from plant foliage if it’s healthy.

Once the segment is taken, it should be planted a quarter of its length in slightly sandy soil. Evenly moisten the soil and place the cutting in an area that is well-lit, but direct sunlight should be avoided.

To get new plants from root cuttings, cut the shoots back from the tips and cut at the second joint of each tip. These cuttings should show growth signs after a few weeks. At this time, the plant can be transferred to another container, if your customer chooses, with a potting soil mix that’s loose and consists of loam, sand, and compost.

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