When to bring in Christmas cactus from outside?
This article provides tips and tricks for successful annual cactus reblooming.
The holiday season is a time for cacti, with grocery stores and plant nurseries filled with colorful displays. Many people have experienced or received holiday cacti during the past winter season. Michigan State University Extension horticulture educators and Ask Extension receive calls and emails about caring for these cacti after the holidays.
Home gardeners are preparing for the winter season, preparing their plants for blooming again. This time of year, particularly for holiday cacti, requires more involvement from the gardener to ensure their plants are flush with flowers.
Holiday cacti, commonly known as Christmas, Thanksgiving, crab, Easter, or holiday cactus, are hybrids of Schlumbergera, crossing different species to achieve desirable flower colors and habits. These commercially available Schlumbergera hybrids range from white to pink, red, salmon, soft purples, or lavender.
Cactus, native to southeast Brazil, thrive in shaded, high humidity habitats on trees or rocks. They prefer humus-rich soil and a “pot-bound” environment, similar to the conditions found in tropical or sub-tropical climates. Cactus plants are sensitive to dry conditions and direct sunlight, and prefer to be potted in a sheltered location, similar to the crook of a tree branch.
To ensure a holiday cactus thrives, mimic their natural habitat and provide bright, indirect light or filtered light. Grow them in west-, north-, and east-facing windows in the house, and ensure they receive enough moisture to prevent potting material from drying out.
Holiday cacti bloom in their tropical environment near the equator, where they receive less light and temperatures typically stay around 20-30 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year. This climate allows them to adapt to the changing light levels and temperature patterns in their native region.
Adjusting the light and temperature in a holiday cactus’ environment can stimulate its bloom, thereby enhancing its flower bud production by controlling the amount of light it receives or lacks.
To encourage bud set, provide bright light, temperatures between 55-65 F, and 13 hours of continuous darkness daily. For winter flowers, start long nights in late September or October and continue for eight weeks. If light interrupts the darkness, the plant may drop its buds. Additionally, extreme temperature changes, such as a cold December day or a heating radiator near the plant’s location, can cause buds to drop.
To ensure 13 hours of continuous darkness daily for cactus plants, owners can use blackout curtains, blankets, closets, or boxes, and use smartphone calendar notifications to remind them to remove and replace the plant when needed.
After the plant has finished flowering, care for it like any other houseplant. Avoid soil wetness and dryness, and apply a balanced fertilizer like 10-10-10 monthly. Holiday cacti can be placed outside during summer but should avoid direct sunlight to prevent burns or reddish color. Bring them indoors when nighttime temperatures drop below 60 F. Reduce fertilizer and water application in the fall to force the plant to bloom in winter.
The color of a plant’s flowers may change next year due to variations in temperature during bud formation and growth. Lower temperatures can produce pink tones in white or yellow selections, while nutrients available to the plant can also affect the color.
Tips for Growing Christmas Cactus Outdoors
Christmas cactuses, popular houseplants with stunning flowers, can thrive in outdoor gardens, provided mild winters are maintained.
Schlumbergera genus perennials, native to tropical and subtropical forests, thrive in partial sun or shady gardens with moderate summer temperatures and mild winters.
The plants are hardy only in USDA Zones 10 to 12, limiting year-round outdoor cultivation to frost-free regions.
These plants thrive in temperate areas, enjoying summers outdoors and delivering an easy and reliable bud set in fall.
Cacti are colorful, photoperiodical plants that flower during longer hours of darkness and cooler temperatures during the changing seasons.
The flowers are available in various colors, making them ideal for late autumn and early winter gardens or indoors during the holiday season.
Join us for a detailed explanation on growing Christmas cactus outdoors for tropical blooms in your garden or home this winter.
What You’ll Learn
- Outdoor Schlumbergera Cultivation
- Pruning and Maintenance
- Container Care
- Moving Inside Pots Out
- Managing Pests and Disease
- Quick Reference Growing Guide
How to Care for a Christmas Cactus: Bloom Cycle and Tips
How to Plant a Christmas Cactus and Encourage Blooms
The Christmas cactus, a succulent plant from the tropics, requires a strict fall regimen to bloom in time for the holidays. To form flower buds, the plant needs extended darkness for at least four weeks. To propagate and plant a mature Christmas cactus from an existing plant, follow these steps:
1. Remove the existing plant from the ground.
2. Place the new plant in the new pot.
4. Water the plant regularly.
General Tips for Growing a Christmas Cactus
- Keep the plant pot-bound 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 70 degrees Fahrenheit in the daytime and from 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit at night.
The bloom time of a plant may vary depending on its variety, and despite not being on time for the holidays, it still provides a delightful treat to enjoy.
Yearly Plant-Care Schedule for a Christmas Cactus
- Spring: Fertilize after flowering.
- Summer: Move outdoors to a shady area. Maintain water and fertilizer while the plant is actively growing. You can encourage flowering by stopping fertilizer application at the end of summer.
- Fall: Move indoors before the first frost. Maintain drier soil. Start the budding regimen above in September or early October.
- Winter: Put the plant in a location where it will get four to six hours of indirect sunlight. Keep the soil moist and don’t let the air get too dry.