Christmas cactus has really striking, exotic flowers – but a bad reputation! Yes, we all went through the disappointment… We bought it one winter in full bloom, and then it never blossomed again, or only gave us a small display the second year we had it indoors.
But why? In most cases, it is because we give our Schlumbergera too much! And there are tricks of the trade to get it to grow and open its buds again, and again… Even out of season!
True, we love our Christmas cactus, but we tend to be too generous, and we don’t give it the right conditions it needs to blossom. So, how about we work together to get your beloved cactus to flower once more, perhaps even aiming for a rebloom in February? Here are some secrets for you to encourage your Christmas cactus to bloom, even well beyond the holiday season.
1. Ensure Your Christmas Cactus Gets At Least 13 (Up To 16) Hours Of Darkness
The most common mistake we make with Christmas cactus is that we give it too much light, and this stops it from flowering! Schlumbergera is a photoperiodic plant, which means that it blossoms when the hours of light and darkness match its blooming season…
Which is winter (or late fall for Thanksgiving cactus…) In its natural environment, southeastern Brazil, days are shorter than 12 hours at this time…
So, “teach it” that it is time to bloom, by keeping it in a dark place for at least 12 hours a day, ideally 13 and a maximum of 16.
Because we keep it as a houseplant, we often have it in a well-lit place, where we keep the lights on in winter… A bedroom or bathroom are better for Christmas cactus in this season, than a living space or kitchen…
2. Stop Feeding It as Soon as You See the First Flower Buds!
Once again, with Christmas cactus, less is more! You need to stop feeding Schlumbergera as soon as it produces the first flower buds! If you don’t, they may fail and never open…
Start fertilizing it again after its colorful blossoms are spent. This will start it growing new segments again (called phylloclades, technically).
3. Feed Your Christmas Cactus Correctly, and It Will Thank You with Great Blooms!
However, feeding your Christmas cactus when it is not in bloom or dormant is essential to give it the energy it needs to grow and to blossom, but what us the correct way?
These are pretty long intervals, every three or four months. Start a it has blossomed, ideally in January (Schlumbergera truncata) or February (Schlumbergera bridgesii).
Then, repeat about 3 to 4 times till the first buds appear in November (for Schlumbergera bridgesii, or Christmas cactus) and about late September or early October with Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata).
4. Give Your Christmas Cactus Just Enough Water and It Will Blossom
Too much or too little water will result in poor or even no blooms from your Christmas or Thanksgiving cactus. So how much is enough?
On the other hand…
5. Your Christmas Cactus Needs Humidity to Blossom!
Indoor spaces can be quite dry for Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti, and they need humidity levels at about 50 to 60%. They do come from a tropical region, even if they grow on mountains there…
While you cannot leave its roots in water, you can place a a second wider saucer under the your Schlumbergera and fill it with wet pebbles.
You can also mist spray it regularly if the room your Christmas cactus is in is too dry.
6. Your Christmas Cactus Likes Fresh Temperatures to Blossom!
Christmas cactus is native to Brazil, but it id a mountain succulent, as we said, so, it also needs fresh temperatures to blossom, between 60o and 65oF (16o to 18oC) during the day and 45o to 55oF (7o to 13oC) at night.
This is hard to get indoors, but it needs a room roughly within those temperature ranges. So, bathrooms or even pantries are ideal. Then, you can move it back to your living room when it starts blossoming.
In fact, Christmas cactus is technically a thermo-photoperiodic plant. A cold greenhouse is the best place to get it to blossom, and in any case, keep it away from heat sources, like radiators.
7. Get the Light Right If You Want Your Christmas Cactus to Bloom…
Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti cannot stay in direct light, but they need bright indirect (or filtered) light to grow and blossom.
Ideally, it should stay 5 to 6 feet (1.5 to 1.8 meters) from a curtained window. Ideally it should be east facing, but south and west are fine as well.
8. Repot Your Christmas Cactus at the Right Time If You Want Generous Blooms!
Christmas cactus needs repotting when the roots have filled the container it is in. You will notice that your Schlumbergera has overgrown the pot, and this can happen once a year or every two years.
But you cannot repot Christmas cactus at any time; if you do it too close to its blooming season, it may not blossom at all, and even if you do it too late or too early, you may get fewer flowers…
So, the best time to repot Christmas cactus is March, which is after it has blossomed when it is coming out of dormancy.
9. Use the Right Potting Mix When You Repot Your Christmas Cactus, and It Will Enhance Its Bloom
When you repot your Christmas cactus, make sure you choose a new container that is only a bit bigger than the previous one, and, above all, use the right potting mix! Schlumbergera does not need a lot of nutrients, but it does need excellent drainage!
So, the ideal potting mix for Christmas cactus is:
Half of all the potting mix must be drainage.
10. You Can Get Christmas Cactus to Rebloom at a Different Time, But It May Not Be a Good Idea…
You can exploit the thermo-photperiodism of your Christmas or Thanksgiving cactus to bloom out of season, mainly in summer, but is it wise?
In fact, if you have the right temperature and light conditions, you can “convince” your Christmas cactus that it is winter, and it will blossom. This process is called forcing.
However, first of all you need to give it time to rest, get out of dormancy and produce energy with its segments (phylloclades), so, the only time you can actually do it is summer.
But there is a major drawback if you force your Christmas cactus… It may nit have the energy and time to flower when it is meant to, which is late fall and early winter for Schlumbergera truncate and mid and late winter for Schlumbergera bridgesii….
Even if you do get some blooms again, your plant will have weakened, so, my advice would be to avoid it…
On the other hand, you can…
11. Propagate Your Christmas Cactus To Get More Plants and Blossoms!
Luckily, Christmas cactus is very easy to propagate, like all succulents, and you can do it with cuttings.
The best time to propagate your Schlumbergera by cuttings is 1 to 2 months after it has finished flowering; again, when it is starting the vegetative phase, and it is in its most vigorous period…
There are two ways and in both cases, you will need a cutting of at least two segments (phylloclades), but three are better, in my opinion.
Alternatively, you can:
And now you know know how to get your Christmas cactus to bloom profusely, and also how to get more plants out of the one you bought, your home will never miss its amazing, colorful and exotic flowers again!
Amber Noyes was born and raised in a suburban California town, San Mateo. She holds a master’s degree in horticulture from the University of California as well as a BS in Biology from the University of San Francisco. With experience working on an organic farm, water conservation research, farmers’ markets, and plant nursery, she understands what makes plants thrive and how we can better understand the connection between microclimate and plant health. When she’s not on the land, Amber loves informing people of new ideas/things related to gardening, especially organic gardening, houseplants, and growing plants in a small space.