Ultimate Christmas Cactus Guide

12 Sep 2021

The Christmas cactus is a gorgeous houseplant with its stunning flowers and lengthy bloom span. It makes for the perfect centerpiece, and once you’ve nailed down how to care for it, you’ll be greatly rewarded with a pop of color in the wintertime.

This guide will fill you in on how to care for and revive this astonishing, unique plant.

Main Features

The Christmas cactus goes by two other names; the holiday cactus and crab cactus. Its botanical name is schlumbergera buckleyi and it is native to Brazil in South America. Unlike other cacti, such as the desert rose, the Christmas cactus thrives in tropical, humid conditions.

This houseplant is an epiphytic meaning that it flourishes in shallow debris found on tree trunks or rocks.

There are a few stories and legends that surround this plant. The story native in Brazil goes as follows; there was a young child who wandered into the rainforest and prayed to the heavens for a sign of Christmas.

Days went by with his prayers left unanswered, until one day he woke up surrounded by cactus branches with flowers on the tips. The cactus symbolized the idea of answered prayers and hope.

Did you know that there are three species of holiday plants? The Easter cacti, Thanksgiving cacti, and Christmas cacti.

How Big Does It Get?

The schlumbergera buckleyi can grow up to around 6 to 12 inches (15.2 – 30.5cm) high, and 12 to 24 inches (30.5 – 61cm) wide.

Once their vivid, beautiful flowers bloom at the apex of branches, they grow around 3 inches (7.6cm) long.

How Fast Does It Grow?

The schlumbergera buckleyi is a slow grower and takes 2 to 3 years until it reaches its mature height and 2 years to grow up to 2 feet (61cm) spread. If raised from a seed, the schlumbergera buckleyi will grow 2 to 4 inches (5 – 10cm) per year until it is mature. Once it reaches its mature height, it’ll grow between 0.4 to 1.2 inches (1 – 3cm) per year.

Fun Fact: The Christmas cactus never really stops growing. All the way up until it dies, it’ll continue to grow.

How Long Does It Live?

In suitable conditions, it will thrive for an average of 20 to 30 years. If it’s in perfect conditions and well-cared for then it can survive for a whopping 100 years.

Fun Fact: The oldest discovered schlumbergera buckleyi is 111 years old.

Is It Poisonous to Cats and Dogs?

This stunning houseplant is not toxic to either pets or humans.

Christmas Cactus - size, lifespan, toxicity, growth speed (infographics)


How to Care

Let’s take a look at the top care tips and guides to ensure your Christmas cactus blossoms and lives for many years to come.

How Often to Water

This houseplant thrives in a moist environment as it’s native to tropical regions. Typically, one can water it every 2 weeks.

Keep in mind that the schlumbergera buckleyi’s environment will influence the amount of water it requires, so water it when one-third of the soil is dry to touch.

Just like the jade plant, overwatering the Christmas cactus can be the demise of your houseplant. The pot size, amount of sunshine it receives, as well as temperature and humidity, will all influence your watering schedule.

During its active growing months in the spring and summertime it requires the soil to be fairly damp, however, always be wary that the soil is not completely saturated, so don’t overwater it. The plant may develop root and stem rot if it becomes waterlogged.

During winter, when it’s blooming, make sure that you water your houseplant well.

Quick Tip: While your plant is flowering, keep the soil equally wet by spraying it often.


Drainage is pretty important for this houseplant, but don’t worry, it’s easy to achieve optimum drainage. The Christmas cactus may enjoy a moist environment, but much like the African violet, it doesn’t prosper in soggy conditions. You can ensure adequate drainage by using the right potting mixture and pot.

A well-draining lightweight potting mixture is imperative to prevent your plant from becoming waterlogged and developing root rot. You can add in some perlite, gravel, coarse sand, or vermiculite to improve aeration and drainage.

The pot or container used should have either one larger draining hole or multiple drainage holes at the bottom. This will allow the excess water to flow out. Additionally, small stones or gravel can be layered at the bottom of the pot to enhance drainage.

A quick reminder to always empty the saucer of water, so that your cactus isn’t sitting in soggy conditions.

How to Prune

The best time to trim and prune your schlumbergera buckleyi is right after its beautiful flowers have blossomed. This will encourage your little houseplant to branch out, resulting in more stalks growing.

You may prune it to minimize its size by removing close to a third of the plant every year, or use the stems to propagate more Christmas cacti.

If you are unable to trim it immediately after it blooms, you can always prune the houseplant at any point between after it blooms and late spring, to prevent harming it.

Pruning this houseplant is fairly straightforward due to its distinctive stems. Let’s discuss how you’d go about cutting back your Christmas cactus.

  1. Before pruning, wash your hands and clean your pruners, shears, or pair of scissors. Simply rub the blades with a rubbing alcohol mixture to prevent the spread of any disease.
  2. All you need to do now is simply cut the stems between one of the sections.
  3. After pruning, water it with a complete soluble cactus fertilizer, such as a 2-7-7 mixture. In 1 quart of water, dissolve roughly 10 drops of fertilizer.
  4. Proceed to fertilize it with this solution once every month until mid-autumn.

Trimming this houseplant is especially enjoyable since you can simply root the trimmings and gift the new stunning cacti to your friends and family.

How to Repot

The schlumbergera buckleyi doesn’t require repotting often. In fact, it can be repotted every 3 to 4 years, so that it can absorb more nutrients in the fresh potting mix.

Repotting your houseplant may be necessary when your plant becomes rootbound, you can tell this is happening when the roots start to grow through the drainage hole. If you notice any signs of root rot or disease, such as your houseplant limping, wilting or scorched, then immediately repot it.

It’s best to repot it during the early springtime or late winter after blooming has occurred. This houseplant doesn’t require to be repotted frequently and repotting during its blooming time will cause some damage.

There are a few things that you should keep in mind when repotting your cacti. The new pot should be about 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5cm) larger than its previous pot, the pot must also have a drainage hole, and the potting mixture must drain well and be aerated.

Here are a few simple steps to repot your cactus:

  1. Water your houseplant 1 or 2 days before you want to repot the plant. Watering keeps the potting mix moist, and roots watered.
  2. Remove the Christmas cactus from the current pot by sliding it out on its side or loosening the soil by sliding a blunt knife around the pot’s perimeter.
  3. Gently wash away the potting mix from the roots under a gentle stream of water.
  4. Replant it in the new container using a well-draining potting mix.
  5. Place the top of the Christmas cactus’ rootball approximately 1 inch (2.5cm) below the pot’s rim.
  6. Water the plant lightly and place it in a shady area for about 2 to 3 days before resuming a normal care routine.


The schlumbergera buckleyi can be a tad fussy, so ensuring that it grows in an optimal environment is imperative for it to survive and thrive.

Light Requirements

Just like the prayer plant, Christmas cacti blossom in bright, indirect sunlight.

The schlumbergera buckleyi can withstand lower levels of light, but it’s unlikely to bloom, however, be cautious that it doesn’t receive too much direct sunshine as its leaves may burn.

Find a sunny windowsill, where it’ll receive ample amounts of bright light, but remember that it shouldn’t be placed in direct sunshine.

Did you know that direct sunlight can bleach your houseplant’s leaves? Its stunning green leaves will become an unattractive blotchy yellow color.


The schlumbergera buckleyi flourishes in a moist, well-aerated, and nutrient-rich potting mix, just like the ponytail palm. Although it prefers a moist environment, it won’t survive in soggy and saturated soil.

Avoid using heavy garden soil as it’ll smother your poor cactus’ roots. Try using a commercial succulent or cactus soil that drains well, while also holding onto the right quantity of moisture. This will allow your plant to stay nourished.

Try out this simple recipe for the best draining soil; 1 part of compost (for the nutrients), 1 part of perlite, and 1 part of milled peat.


Fertilizer is not necessary for the survival of this houseplant, but it will promote growth and flowering, however, once it has developed flower buds, cease fertilizing until it blooms.

During the spring and summertime, you should ideally use a mild diluted balanced fertilizer every 2 weeks. When it’s cooler during autumn and winter feed your houseplant once a month to encourage blooming.

Pot Size and Type

Your Christmas cactus will prosper in a clay pot with a drainage hole. Its rim should be roughly a quarter of an inch (0.6cm) wider than the main body of the houseplant.

Plastic pots are totally suitable for this plant; however, clay pots are porous and allow for good air circulation and conductive conditions.

If you notice the roots growing through the hole at the bottom, then it should be repotted in a larger pot.

This houseplant loves to be snug as a bug in its container as it encourages blooming.


The schlumbergera buckleyi prefers a warm environment with a temperature ranging from 60 to 70°F (15 – 21°C). They love tropical regions like the rainforest, so make sure it’s kept indoors if you live in a cooler area.


The schlumbergera buckleyi absolutely thrives in a humid environment. The humidity in your home is super important if you want your plant to blossom. The optimal humidity is 60% relative humidity.

If your home has a low level of humidity, you can mist your plant with lukewarm water, or place a humidifier nearby. Another great way to increase humidity levels is by placing pebbles in a tray and pouring some water into the tray. Make sure that the pot is not touching the water and is on top of the pebbles.

A bright windowsill in your bathroom or kitchen is the perfect place for your plant.

Outside vs. Inside

This houseplant grows best in USDA zones 10 to 12, so if you live in a cold climate where temperatures drop below 50°F (10°C) at night, then it should be kept indoors.

The schlumbergera buckleyi looks absolutely stunning when kept in a hanging basket outdoors. If kept outdoors it should be placed in bright, indirect light in the early morning through afternoon during the spring and summer. In winter and autumn, the houseplant should be positioned in a slightly brighter area.

Always, no matter what season, keep your plant out of direct sunlight, or its leaves will wither and become shriveled.

Christmas cactus - care, water, sunlight, soil, temperature, fertilizer (infographics)

How to Get It to Bloom

One of the most interesting things about this plant is that it’s a winter-blooming houseplant. You can enjoy these vivid, brightly colored flowers for about 5 to 7 days, before the fall off.

The lower temperatures and lengthier nights of autumn cause the blooming of the Christmas cacti along with the Easter and Thanksgiving cacti.

If you’re concerned that your Christmas cactus isn’t flowering, it may be due to either over or underwatering.

Here are some pointers to help you get yours to bloom:

  1. Keep your plant cool during its blooming period.
  2. Water them only enough to keep the soil slightly damp, and refrain from feeding them fertilizer once their flower buds appear.
  3. Flower buds emerge when the plant is nurtured at temperatures ranging from 50 to 60°F (10 – 15°C).
  4. Please ensure to water the plant consistently when it is blooming. If the plant dries out too much, the buds can possibly fall off.
  5. Ensure that your cactus is kept in a draft-free zone, as the draft will make it look droopy and sad.

How to Propagate

Growing it from seed is rarely successful, however, you can propagate your Christmas cactus from stem cuttings in either soil or water. This will make for a stunning gift or an amazing addition to your houseplant collection.

In Soil

How to Divide

It is best to divide your Christmas cactus when it’s dormant, during the winter after its flowers have fallen off. Follow the steps below to make a perfect gift or multiply your Christmas cactus collection.

  1. Gently remove it by holding the base of the plant and wiggling it out.
  2. Run a stream of water through the roots to remove excess soil, or try gently shaking the excess soil off the roots.
  3. Detangle some of the roots, and cut those that you can’t with a sterilized knife.
  4. Look for logical areas to divide the mother plant. You should find some sections to separate that will cause the least amount of damage to the root system.
  5. Prepare some new pots with a cactus potting mix and peat moss.
  6. Plant the new Christmas cacti in each pot about an inch (2.5cm) deep and water it immediately.
  7. Place the containers in an area that is humid, bright, and where they’ll receive plenty of indirect light.

Rooting Cuttings

It’s imperative to make sure that your potting mixture is aerated, lightweight, and allows for an adequate amount of drainage.

Follow the steps below to easily propagate your Christmas cactus.

  1. Use a sterilized pair of scissors or pruners to cut a Y-shaped stem with at least 2 or 3 joined segments.
  2. Plant the cutting an inch (2.5cm) deep into a potting mixture that is made up of 2 parts organic matter such as compost or peat moss, and 1 part sandy soil.
  3. Place the pot in a well-lit area with indirect sunlight. The leaf markings will fade, and the plant will not bloom if it’s in an environment that is too shady.
  4. Water the plant lightly, so that the soil is moist.
  5. The cutting’s tips will become red, which indicates that your cutting has begun growing and rooting.

In Water

Just like when choosing a cutting to propagate in soil, make sure the cutting is Y-shaped with 2 or 3 joined segments.

Follow the straightforward steps below.

  1. Fill a small jar with clean water, and cut a stem with a clean pair of shears or pruners.
  2. Place the stem’s cut side in the water, and make sure the nodes are fully submerged.
  3. In a few days, you’ll notice some roots developing.
  4. While watching and checking up on your cuttings, add water when necessary.
  5. In about 6 or 8 weeks your roots will grow as long as the cutting itself, and then you can plant it in some nutritious and aerated potting soil.

How to Revive

The schlumbergera buckleyi can sometimes be a tad fussy when it comes to humidity, sunlight, and water. This means that you may run into some problems, but don’t worry, with a few subtle changes your plant will be back to normal and healthy as ever.

Why Is It Limping and Drooping?

If your schlumbergera buckleyi is starting to look limp, droopy, or shriveled, this is due to improper watering. The soil may be too wet or too dry, which requires you to adjust your watering schedule.

When deciding if you’re either under or overwatering your houseplant, simply touch the top inch (2.5cm) of the soil and feel whether it’s damp or dry.

If your soil is damp then let it dry out slightly before watering your schlumbergera buckleyi again, however, if it’s saturated then you must repot it in new dryer soil.

Your potting soil may be too dry. If so, then water it until it drains out the hole at the bottom.

Why Are its Leaves Turning Red and Pink?

When your houseplant’s leaves become a red or pink color, it’s trying to tell you that it’s receiving too much sun or too little water.

Find a new home for your plant and place it in an area where it’ll receive ample amounts of bright but indirect sunlight.

The schlumbergera buckleyi thrives in moist soil, so make sure you’re regularly watering your cactus. Check the top inch (2.5cm) of the soil and if it’s dry then water your houseplant to maintain a moist environment.

Flower Buds Keep Falling Out

Have you ever been super excited for your flower to bloom but suddenly the flowering buds fall off? This is due to multiple environmental factors, such as changes in light, humidity, temperature, watering, or relocation.

The Christmas cactus doesn’t enjoy change and prefers to be homed in the same position. If you’ve recently moved house, then simply be patient and let your plant adjust to its new environment and it’ll bloom next winter.

One should have a regular and consistent watering schedule that creates a moist environment for the plant. Don’t leave the potting mixture completely saturated but make sure it’s moist.

If the level of humidity has suddenly changed, try running a humidifier nearby or mist your plant with lukewarm water.

Additionally, your plant’s leaves will burn if placed in direct sunlight, so make sure it’s in a bright area with indirect sunshine.

My Plant Has Stem and Root Rot

Stem and root rot are common when it comes to Christmas cacti as they’re often overwatered in an attempt to keep the soil moist. Overwatering will cause the soil to become soggy and waterlogged.

You can tell if your plant is suffering from root or stem rot if its leaves are wilting, the soil is soggy, black or red spots appear, and the leaves start to turn brown.

Immediately remove the schlumbergera buckleyi and cut back the squishy, rotten roots. Repot your plant in a container with a drainage hole and slightly moist potting soil. Water it again once the potting mix has become dry, and remove the excess water out of the saucer.

Let’s Wrap This Up

The schlumbergera buckleyi may have a few demands when it comes to its environment and care, but once you provide it with a suitable environment, then it’ll repay with its beautiful blossoms.

Just remember that this houseplant needs to be in a bright, humid, and moist environment if you want it to flourish.

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