Christmas Cactus Care: What you need to know

Perhaps you decided to try something new this year and added a Christmas Cactus to your holiday decorating. With its succulent-like leaves and trumpet-like blooms, a Christmas Cactus is an interesting complement to traditional holiday plants. And, if taken care of, will last for many years to come. 

Now that the holidays are over, it’s time to care for your new plant so it can be a show-stopper in next year’s display. The big question is how do you do that?

A Christmas Cactus can live up to 100 years, often passed down through generations in families.

Even though they’re succulents, Christmas Cacti are actually native to tropical rainforests rather than dry, arid deserts. That means they prefer a warm, humid environment with dappled sun instead of the dry, hot, sunny environment typically associated with succulents. And while they do store water in their leaves like their arid cousins, these succulents prefer a more moist soil – not too dry but not too wet either. Wondering when to water? When the top inch of soil is dry, give it a good drink but don’t let it stand in water.

Humidity is also key for a happy Christmas Cactus. Winters in Michigan lend themselves to dry heat indoors. One way you can raise the humidity is to take a shallow drip tray, fill the bottom with pebbles then just cover the pebbles with water. Set the Christmas Cactus on top of the pebbles. (The water should not be touching the bottom of the pot.) As the water evaporates, it will increase the humidity around the cactus.

A Christmas Cactus needs nutrients in the soil to thrive.

In addition to water and humidity, a Christmas Cactus needs nutrients to thrive. It absorbs much of its nutrients from the soil. If the plant is new this year, the soil should be nutrient rich. If it’s been more than 4 years since you changed the soil, now might be a good time. A lightweight, well-draining cactus or succulent potting mix is ideal. And let’s not forget plant food! Feeding your cactus with a balanced houseplant fertilizer at half strength monthly from June through August will help it get ready for blooming.

Now that your Cactus is happy and heathy, how do you get abundant blooms?

Now that your cactus is happy and healthy, there are a couple of keys to encouraging abundant blooming. The first is temperature. For the best blooming, these cacti prefer nighttime temperatures around 60 degrees and daytime temperatures of around 70 degrees. Since 60 degrees may be a bit cool for the family, try placing the plant in a specific room and closing or partially closing the heating vents to lower the temperature. 

Light is another other key. Successful blooms need successful buds and budding requires 14-16 hours of dark and 8 hours of light for at least 8 days. This is easier than it sounds, especially in the late fall in Michigan. “Dark” doesn’t need to be total darkness. Simply put the plant in a room that has a window (for the 8 hours of light) that doesn’t get used or entered often (for the 14-16 hours of dark) and isn’t exposed to artificial light. Even briefly turning on a light in the room during the “dark” hours can impact the budding process. Remember, you’ll still need to water your cacti during the budding process.

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