How to Care for a Christmas Cactus: Bloom Cycle & Tips

Learn how to care for a Christmas cactus, with information on how to cultivate blooms in time for the holidays and maintain water and soil conditions throughout the year.

The Bloom Cycle of a Christmas Cactus

Although its known as a cactus, the Schlumbergera bridesii or Schlumbergera truncata is really a succulent, having its origins in the tropics. Like the poinsettia, the Christmas cactus needs to follow a pretty strict regimen in the fall to bloom in time for the holidays. To form flower buds, the plant needs extended darkness for at least four weeks prior to the holidays.

Follow these steps to ensure beautiful blooms for Christmas

  • STEP ONE: In late September or early October, place the plant in a dark room or keep it covered (under a box or bag works fine) for at least 12 hours a day.
  • STEP TWO: When the tiny buds appear (after three to four weeks), the light/dark schedule can cease.
  • STEP THREE: As the buds get bigger, move the plant to its "display area," avoiding extreme temperature or lighting changes.
  • STEP FOUR: Continue to water and feed while budding and blooming.

General Tips for Growing a Christmas Tree

  • Keep them potbound in sandy soil.
  • Water only when the soil is completely dry.
  • Provide some humidity to the environment.
  • Don't worry if some of the buds drop off - it's natural for the plant to lose a few.
  • Keep the temperature above 21 C in the daytime, and from 12 C to 18 C at night.

No matter what regimen you use or how strictly you adhere to it, the bloom time may vary based on the variety of plant. But, whether or not it blooms right on time for the holidays, you still have a treat to look forward to.

Yearly Plant Care Schedule for a Christmas Cactus

  • Spring - Fertilize after flowering. 
  • Summer - Move outdoors to shady area. Maintain water and fertilizer. 
  • Fall - Move indoors before frost. Maintain drier soil. Start the budding regimen in September. 
  • Winter - Put it in a location where it will get four to six hours of indirect sunlight. Keep soil moist. Do not let the air get too dry.

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