The dramatically beautiful flowers of Christmas cactus are a popular element of the holiday season around the world. The vibrant colors and unique shapes of these succulent houseplants brighten up the shortest days of the year.
Not every blooming cactus is a Christmas cactus, though. Commonly they’re all referred to as “Christmas cactus,” but there are also Easter and Thanksgiving cactuses. When your cactus blooms depends on what kind of cactus it is and whether it receives the right care to encourage blooming.
How Do I know if I have a Christmas Cactus?
The differences between Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas cactus can be pretty subtle. Here are a few basic differences:
- Thanksgiving cactus has conical leaves with sharp pointy teeth and usually has yellow pollen. The tubular flowers generally grow horizontally and are not symmetrical. They typically bloom between the end of September to mid-December.
- Christmas cactus has conical leaves with scalloped edges free of sharp points, and the flowers usually have pink pollen. They typically bloom between October and January and may bloom again between March and May. The tubular flowers are symmetrical and grow downward.
- Easter cactus has oval-shaped leaves with slightly scalloped edges. They usually bloom in spring, around Easter. The flowers have a more spiky open shape.
Regardless of which cactus you have, they all require similar care, and they all flower beautifully.
Caring for Christmas Cactus
While we call them Christmas cactus, they’re not quite the same as the cacti that live in the deserts. Holiday cacti are native to the tropical rainforests of Brazil. So, while they do like to have drier soil than other plants, they won’t last as long without water as the other cacti species commonly kept as houseplants.
How Do You Keep A Christmas Cactus Alive?
Keeping a Christmas cactus alive isn’t as complicated as you might have heard. They like soil that drains well, so choose a soil specifically for cacti. They love humidity, so use a pebble tray or set up a humidifier nearby. They also need to be watered more frequently than other cacti.
How Often Do You Water a Christmas Cactus?
You should water your Christmas cactus when the top inch of soil feels dry, making sure to empty any remaining water from the drip tray after an hour or two. Blooming does require a little more water, so check if the soil feels damp or dry every couple of days when your Christmas cactus starts to make flower buds.
Do Christmas Cactus Need A Lot Of Sun?
Christmas cactus need bright light, but too much direct sun can actually burn their leaves. They’ll be happiest in a room with a sunny window. Either keep a sheer curtain between them and the window to diffuse direct sunlight, or keep them a few feet back from the window so that they don’t get too much sun.
How Do You Get A Christmas Cactus To Bloom?
Christmas cactus bloom in reaction to typical seasonal light and temperature changes in the fall. If your Christmas cactus won’t bloom at all, it might be because it doesn’t get cold enough or experience sufficient periods of darkness.
Christmas cactuses need nighttime temperatures around 50º-60ºF, and 13 hours of darkness per night to start blooming. If the room where you’ve placed your Christmas cactus gets a lot of ambient light from outside, close the curtains or blinds, or cover the cactus with a dark-colored sheet. If you lower the overnight temperature in your house and start covering your Christmas cactus overnight in early October, it should bloom on time for the holidays. Once you see buds forming, you can stop covering it at night.
Holiday cacti, whether Easter, Thanksgiving, or Christmas, will live for years if lovingly cared for! Our garden center is now closed for the season, but we look forward to seeing you again in January. Happy Holidays from our team at Ted Lare Design & Build!