Christmas

How to grow a Christmas cactus – for a pretty seasonal display

So-called because it flowers from November to January, the Christmas cactus makes a lovely festive display or gift. Here's how to grow and care for a Christmas cactus

Christmas cactus
(Image credit: Getty Images)

With its pretty tendrils and colorful flower drops, the Christmas cactus is an attractive plant that adds vibrancy and prettiness to a festive display. But it's important to learn how to grow a Christmas cactus – and to care for a Christmas cactus – properly to get the most from this attractive succulent.

'The Christmas cactus, scientifically known as schlumbergera, earned its name because it flowers right around the festive season,' says Rachel Martin, of Patch Plants. 'It’s also known as Thanksgiving cactus and holiday cactus, for the same reason. Basically, this plant loves a celebration, erupting in pink flowers to cheer up winter.'

We take a look at how to grow and care for Christmas cactus – the most natural of all your Christmas decor ideas.

What is a Christmas cactus?

Schlumbergera truncate Christmas cactushouseplant

(Image credit: Alamy)

Schlumbergera truncata, aka the ‘Christmas Cactus’, is a type of epiphytic succulent, recognised by its flat, glossy segmented stems and its impressive red, pink, purple, or white flowers. 

This festive house plant takes its common name from the nature of when it blooms, typically coming into flower from late November to January, making it a wonderful Christmas gift or display. 

With top tips from plant experts below, you can learn how to grow a Christmas cactus to wow this holiday season. And once you've got it? We have tips on how to care for Christmas cactus too.

How to grow Christmas cactus

'Being an epiphyte, this plant in the wild would typically grow on the trunk or body of another plant or tree and live comfortably under the shaded canopy of foliage of its host so, in a home, it prefers partial sun, or dappled natural light,' says Keira Kay, Bloom & Wild plant expert.

'The Christmas cactus is most happy in a well-draining, loose potting mix – I would suggest a blend of two parts compost, with one part fine bark and one part grit or pumice, to ensure no excess moisture or residue hangs around the delicate roots after watering.'

How to care for Christmas cactus

'Unlike a lot of cacti, this plant doesn’t naturally live in hot, dry conditions,' says Patch  Plants' Rachel Martin. 'In the wild, you’ll find it growing in shady spots in humid forests and jungles, generally in crevices in rocks or trees. Try to imitate those conditions in your home to keep it really happy and maximize flowering. 

'It likes its soil to be gently moist and adapts well to quite low light. In the growing season (roughly April to September) it likes some bright-ish light, to help it develop flowers, but the rest of the time it can live happily in semi-shade. 

'The only thing it doesn’t like is direct sunlight, but otherwise it’s pretty easygoing. A monthly feed in spring and summer will help it grow more flowers. That little bit of extra work in the middle of the year will guarantee this plant a happy Christmas.'

Bloom & Wild's Keira Kay says: 'The Christmas cactus prefers bright, indirect light. In a window with dappled light or a well-lit but a semi-shaded location is best in order for this plant to thrive.'

How to care for Christmas cactus indoors

According to Keira Kay, this plant likes to be frequently and thoroughly watered during its growth period, and likes to drain well, but remain slightly moist to the touch whilst in bloom, so watering every seven to 10 days is sufficient. 

She adds: 'When in dormancy and no longer flowering, the top an inch of soil can be allowed to dry between waterings, and frequency can be adjusted to every 14-20 days. The plant will not like sitting in water, as this can lead to root rot.'

Keira's top tips? She advises: 'The Christmas cactus likes humidity and will appreciate a misting or pebble tray under its nursery pot whilst in bloom and likes temperatures ranging between 60-70ºF (15-21ºC) in the home. 

Christmas cactus problems

The Christmas cactus requires very little care but can become a little leggy or congested after blooming, says Keira.

'If the plant is looking sparse, cut back a few of the tips to see it bush out a little more,' she advises.

'If the plant is too full, remove some of the older stems at the base to encourage new growth.'

Can you grow a Christmas cactus from a cutting?

'Christmas cacti are incredibly easy to propagate, and you can do so with a healthy Y-shaped cutting direct from the stem – approximately two to four segments are enough,' suggests Keira Kay.

'Allow them to sit for a couple of days so the cut can blister and begin to heal. Pop into a small vessel filled with a loose, sandy potting mix, mist with water sparingly for three to 12 weeks until new roots develop, then pot up individually. It is best to take cuttings in spring.'

Ruth Doherty

Ruth Doherty is an interiors writer who has worked for Homes & Gardens and Ideal Home magazines among many others.