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Traditions

December 13, 2023

Christmas Cactus Care

Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know

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A mature Christmas cactus with red blooms in a clay-colored pot on a white surface in front of a window.

iStockPhoto / Nadezhda_Nesterova

Sorry Poinsettia, there’s a new Christmas plant in town. Meet the Christmas Cactus! This perky and somewhat paradoxical little plant offers an intriguing twist to your traditional Christmas decor. Come along with SANTA.COM as we explore the life and times of this heartwarming plant - truly, everything you've ever wanted to know about the Christmas Cactus!

Deck the Halls with Boughs of… Cacti?

Unlike their prickly desert cousins, the Christmas Cactus, scientifically known as Schlumbergera (say that five times fast!), has no sharp spikes and hails not from arid wastelands but from the tropical rainforests of Brazil! So yes, if you're planning a Western-themed holiday this year, you might want to stick to your classic cacti. But if you're all about mixing tradition with a refreshing splash of eccentricity, this is your cue!

First, you may ask: Why on earth is it called a Christmas Cactus? These tropical treasures are dubbed so because they have an uncanny knack for bursting into a full cactus bloom just in time for Christmas. Their flamboyant flowers come in a spectrum of festive shades from vibrant red, coral pink to snow white. The yellow Christmas Cactus plant is an incredibly rare beauty!

Christmas Cactus Care

Let There Be Light!

Two red Christmas cacti in decorative Mexican pots, on shelves in the living room in indirect sunlight
Two red Christmas cacti in decorative Mexican pots, on shelves in the living room in indirect sunlight
iStockPhoto / Lana2011

Wondering how to care for a Christmas Cactus? Christmas cacti aren’t particularly demanding plants but some TLC would certainly help them thrive and add that perfect pop of natural color to your holiday decor. They crave some brightness, so pick a spot where they can enjoy indirect light. Beware though: unlike your committed tinsel, these fellows aren’t fond of being under the spotlight. Direct sunlight might turn them grumpy!

Not a Dry Guy

A pink Christmas Cactus being watered with a yellow watering can held by a hand.
A pink Christmas Cactus being watered with a yellow watering can held by a hand.
iStockPhoto / Olga_Anourina

How often should you water a Christmas Cactus? Unlike the Dickensian phrase “as solitary as an oyster,” your Christmas Cactus doesn’t particularly appreciate being lonesome and dry. They like a bit of humidity and moisture – after all, they were brought up in tropical rainforests. 

So just remember to give your Christmas Cactus a drink every week or two, and make sure the soil gets a chance to dry out about halfway before you water it again. Oh, and if you've got it in a brighter spot, it might get a bit thirstier, so water it a bit more. But if it's in a dimmer area, you can water less frequently.

Shhhhh…Do Not Disturb!

Blooming red Christmas Cactus in the dark.
Blooming red Christmas Cactus in the dark.
iStockPhoto / Lana2011

Another interesting tidbit about your new holiday friend: they are no early birds! Christmas cacti, like other Schlumbergera, follow a unique biological process called “short-day photoperiod,” where they need 14 hours of darkness and only about 10 hours of indirect daylight to get them in the mood... to flower, of course.

Live Long & Propagate

A hand holding clippings of a Christmas Cactus over a pot of soil.
A hand holding clippings of a Christmas Cactus over a pot of soil.
iStockPhoto / Bilal photos

The Christmas Cactus is the gift that keeps on giving! How to propagate a Christmas Cactus? Propagating and repotting a Christmas Cactus is incredibly easy! You can gift them to friends and family over the holiday season simply by propagating stem cuttings earlier in the year. 

The best time for taking cuttings is in the summer when the plant is actively growing. Simply twist off a section of the stem with 2-3 segments, leave it to dry for a few days, and then plant it in a moist potting mix.

Is the Christmas Cactus Poisonous to Cats?

Cat sniffing a yellow Christmas Cactus and looking into the camera.
Cat sniffing a yellow Christmas Cactus and looking into the camera.
iStockPhoto / Anna Miszczyk

Unlike some holiday plants, according to the ASPCA, the Christmas Cactus is non-toxic for both cats and dogs - neither the cactus nor the flowers are poisonous to pets. 

Adopt a Cactus, Adopt a Tradition!

And as if you needed another reason to bring a Schlumbergera into your life, these cacti have quite an intriguing history. They have been part of our holiday tradition since the 1800s. (“The 1800s? Why am I just hearing about them now?!?”) Some say these cacti were brought to Europe by explorers in the Victorian era, adding to their Christmas charm with an interesting past.

Finally, as they say, “a friend is a gift you give yourself.” In line with that wisdom, a Christmas Cactus makes a wonderfully unexpected holiday gift. This is one Christmas surprise that won't be returned and doesn’t pack up once the Yuletide magic winds down. They're long-lived, often turning into beloved heirloom plants passed down through generations. 

This jolly, exotic bloom truly represents the wonderful oddities and diverse traditions that make Christmas the wonderful season that it is. 

Merry Cacti Christmas, to you and yours!

SANTA.COM… MAKING HAPPY HAPPEN™


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