Plants 101

Christmas Cactus Care Guide: How to Care for a Christmas Cactus

Learn how to care for species of Schlumbergera, including all the Holiday Cacti—the Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus (zygocactus), and Easter Cactus.

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Schlumbergera, or the Christmas Cactus, is a small genus of cacti found in humid and somewhat shady areas of southeastern Brazil, including Brazil’s costal mountain ranges. These unique cacti are epiphytic (plants that grow on trees) and epilithic (plants that grow on rocks), and look quite different from their desert-dwelling Cactaceae family members.

The cacti in the Schlumbergera genus are known for their leaf-like pads, or stem segments, that connect from one to the other and trail. There are nuances between the shape of the stem segments that help differentiate the species, or cultivar, of Schlumbergera the cactus is.

Two of the most popular species are the Schlumbergera truncata and the Schlumbergera russelliana. From these two species, the cultivars we’ve come to love as houseplants have derived: Christmas Cactus, Easter Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus. These common names generally refer to the plant’s flowering season and small nuances in the shape of their stem segments. The differences can be so subtle that the cultivars are often sold as each other. Who minds when, no matter the month, the houseplant’s red, pink, white, or lavender flowers create a beautiful display.

Christmas Cactus Care 101

How much sunlight does a christmas cactus need?

Christmas Cacti thrive in bright indirect to medium indirect light. They are not suited for long periods of intense, direct sun. However, extended periods of lower light in the early fall will help to encourage future winter blooms.

How often should you water a christmas cactus?

Water every 1-2 weeks, allowing the potting soil to dry out at least half way down between waterings. Expect to water more often when your cactus is in brighter light and less often in lower light. They can benefit from higher humidity when in bloom, so if you have a humidifier, keep it close by or place your Christmas Cactus on a pebble tray.

Schlumbergera can be sensitive to water with a high calcium content. Try using filtered water or leaving water out overnight before watering your cactus.

Do christmas cacti need humidity?

They can benefit from higher humidity when in bloom, so if you have a humidifier, keep it close by or place your Christmas Cactus on a pebble tray.

Are christmas cacti easy to care for?

Christmas Cacti are generally easy houseplants but there are some common problems you can look out for:

SYMPTOM: Mushy leaves or black stems
CAUSE: Overwatered

SYMPTOM: Wrinkling leaves, dry potting soil
CAUSE: Thirsty plant, underwatered

SYMPTOM: Blooms dropping
CAUSE: Fluctuations in temperature, cold drafts, or roots drying out or becoming water-logged

Are Christmas Cactus safe for pets?

The Christmas Cactus is pet-friendly! They are considered non-toxic, making them safe to keep around curious cats and dogs. However, the best practice is to keep houseplants out of reach of small children and curious pets just in case.

Words By The Sill

Empowering all people to be plant people—a collection of articles from The Sill’s team of plant experts across a variety of plant care topics to inspire confidence in the next generation of plant parents. Welcome to Plant Parenthood™.

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