Growing Christmas Cactus

by Elmer Krehbiel, Master Gardener
December 19, 2003

Christmas cactus (Schlumbergerera x buckleyi) is a traditional Southern plant that originated in the jungles of Brazil, where it grows on the branches of trees. Although happy on trees, it is equally content in pots.

Light & Soil

Christmas cactus is easy to grow. It looks good in hanging baskets or footed pots, where its graceful branching habit is best displayed. It prefers moist well-drained soil. If exposed to to too much moisture, its roots will rot. If kept too dry, its roots will die.

Christmas cactus needs bright, indirect light, so a window with an Eastern exposure is ideal. It also likes to be outside in the summer in a lightly shaded spot, but dont place it in the ground slugs love its stems.

Buds begin to set in the fall, as days become shorter and nights cooler. If the plant has been outside, continue to leave it outside, but do not allow to get too cold. Treat it much like a poinsettia.

Once a Christmas cactus has finished blooming, reduce watering and feeding and allow it to remain dormant for several months.

Rooting Christmas Cactus

After he plant has flowered, cut stems that are about 5 inches long and have several branches. Since Christmas cactus is a succulent, allow the cuttings to dry before potting the stem. You can use a rooting hormone to speed new growth. Use a quick draining potting mix with organic matter. Clay pots are best, since they breath and therefore the cutting will not rot from over-watering. Place the cutting in bright, indirect light and keep the soil moist. It should develop roots in several weeks.

Dividing Christmas Cactus

If you do not wish to start new plants from cuttings, you can separate several leaf stems (with roots intact) from the mother plant and reset them in a new pot. This should be done only every 3 or 4 years.

Christmas cactus prefers to be pot bound, so add only a little top dressing of soil in the spring. In the summer, resume regular water and feeding routines.

When next Christmas rolls around and new flower buds on your cactus appear, the blooms will spark memories of shared plants and a season of joy.

Christmas cactus loves to be root bound, so you can keep it in a small clay pot until youre ready to move it to a larger container.

More on Christmas Cactus

Dr. Elmer Krehbiel is the former President of Keep Brazos Beautiful. See his column in The Eagle.