When to stop watering Christmas cactus?
There are two types of cacti that bloom during specific holidays, in addition to the Christmas cactus.
The Christmas cactus, native to Brazil, is a hardy and magenta-colored succulent that thrives in slight humidity. Named after the holiday season, it can live for decades with proper care.
The dark winter season is an ideal time to add colorful plant additions, especially those with seasonal themes like the Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii). Despite appearing to prefer a hot, dry environment, this cactus is native to the tropical and humid rainforests of Brazil. Karen Musgrave, marketing and e-commerce associate at Hicks Nurseries, shares her best care tips for this hardy and colorful plant.
Discovering the Christmas cactus
Three types of cacti, Easter cactus (S. gaertneri), Thanksgiving cactus (S. truncata), and Christmas cactus (S. gaertneri), are named after the holidays they bloom. These cacti have a similar appearance and are commonly known as Christmas cactus, blooming from late winter to mid-winter.
The Christmas cactus, a unique and tropical plant, is often overwatered to mimic its tropical origin. A good rule of thumb is to water them every one to two weeks in spring and summer, and every three to four weeks in fall and winter. In warmer zones, they can be misted daily, only watering when the soil has completely dried out. Over-watering is the most common killer of cacti, and during summer, especially when temperatures are over 90 degrees, it is recommended to reduce watering to every two weeks. Mist sprays can provide the necessary humidity for the cactus in warmer temperatures.
Potting and fertilizer
Musgrave recommends using a cactus-specific soil blend, known as a succulent or cacti mix, which includes sand, perlite, and peat moss for proper drainage. A terracotta pot with a drainage hole is also recommended. Christmas cacti are long-lasting, tough plants that can live for decades with proper care. To fertilize, feed monthly in summer and early fall, resuming after blooming, using a cactus/succulent fertilizer with a 15-15-30 NPK ratio, following the label’s instructions.
Christmas cacti thrive in low light conditions, but prefer bright, indirect sunlight from east-facing windows. They bloom best in warm weather, but prefer cooler temperatures indoors around 60 to 70 degrees, as they grow on trees under dappled canopy.
The Christmas cactus is susceptible to pests, diseases, and root rot due to overwatering. To prevent infestations, separate the infected plant from others. Pests like mealybugs, aphids, and spider mites can be controlled with insecticidal soap, according to Musgrave.
To encourage new blooms, prune a Christmas cactus immediately after it has bloomed.
Pruning is crucial for a Christmas cactus’ health and growth, as it encourages new blooms. Due to its unique leaf and stem system, pruning requires cutting or pinching between segments. The best time to prune is after blooming, using pruning shears to twist or cut at its narrowest spot between sections.
Should you water a Christmas cactus while it is blooming?
To encourage blooming in Christmas cacti, keep them cool, water them lightly, and withhold fertilizer. House them in a temperature between 55º and 65º and alternate between 10 hours of light and 14 hours of total darkness for four to six weeks after growth appears. Hold off on Plant watering in early October, and when buds set, start giving them a weekly drink until flowering stops. Mist the plant every few days during bud formation and bloom season. After flowering stops in January, water twice-monthly throughout the winter to avoid over-watering. Introduce the plant to warmer temperatures and start regular culture. The plants should bloom in about six weeks. Repot the Christmas cactus every three to four years, noticing if roots grow out of the container’s bottom or if the plant appears weary.
How do you tell if Christmas cactus is
overwatered or underwatered?
A Christmas cactus is a succulent plant, so it absolutely can’t tolerate soggy feet. Water only when the surface feels dry to the touch. If the flat stems get soft and mushy, you’re overwatering. If the stems look shriveled, you’re probably under-watering.
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Christmas Cactus Overview
|Christmas cactus, holiday cactus, crab cactus
|Schlumbergera x buckleyi
|Succulent, cactus, perennial
|6–12 in. tall, 12–24 in. wide
|Moist, well-drained, loamy
|Pink, red, white, purple, orange