It's easy to avoid Christmas cactus mistakes once you know how to identify them. Get the conditions spot on and you'll have a faithful plant, which could survive for decades.
A plant will always let you know when it's not getting the care it needs. Droopy leaves and a lack of flower heads are just a couple of telltale signs. With indoor plants, a lot of finding out what mistakes you're making is trial and error, and the Christmas cactus is no different.
Christmas cacti rank at the trickier end of the plant spectrum, as they have specific requirements in order for them to perform. However, if you know the signs that it might be unhappy, and the pitfalls to avoid, you will have a thriving Christmas cactus for years to come.
Christmas cactus mistakes and how to fix them
Water, temperature, humidity, lighting and fertilizer, are all key elements to get right if you want to make a Christmas cactus bloom.
Homes & Gardens writer Sarah Wilson tells us: 'Naturally flowering in winter, these gorgeous blooms in pink, red and white can start flowering from as early as late summer, right through to the new year.
'They are ideal for humid environments, such as kitchens and bathrooms, because in the wild they grow in tropical rainforests. As well as ensuring humidity, they need to be somewhere warm.'
Probably the most common of all Christmas cactus mistakes - and in fact, many houseplants fall victim to overwatering. Keen to avoid killing our plants by forgetting to water them, we end up drowning them in more water than they need.
How often to water a Christmas cactus depends on the soil. When the soil isn't allowed to fully dry out between watering, you leave it susceptible to developing root rot. Good drainage in your container is also crucial for root health.
Start poking your finger in the soil before you water, to check that the top inch is nice and dry, before adding more water.
Sarah Wilson suggests: 'Keep the pot in a gravel-filled tray and add water until it touches the base. Then keep it topped up for a striking display.'
Sarah Wilson has been writing about flowers, plants, and garden design and trends since 2015. Having already studied introductory garden and landscape design as well as a course in floristry she is currently adding to her list of qualifications with an RHS Level 2 course in the Principles of Plant Growth and Development.
Humidity is too low
Given their origins as rainforest plants, Christmas cacti are used to humidity. Hot, dry atmospheres will not result in a healthy plant. But if you do live in a hot, dry climate, you will need to provide a decent boost of humidity to keep your plants happy.
This could be something as simple as placing your pot on this black plastic humidity/drip tray from Walmart. Alternatively try growing it in a bathroom, if yours has the right light and heat conditions.
Wrong light conditions
Striking a balance here is key. Direct sunlight can scorch the leaves of your Christmas cactus, but insufficient light will also mean you won't get the abundance of flowers that you crave.
For example, if it's in a bright, south facing room, it should be kept at the furthest point from the window. Or in a darker room you might try it on the windowsill itself. That is, provided the spot isn't drafty.
Your plant will tell you when it has enough light as it will bloom happily in its environment. From there you can double down on your success and start on how to propagate a Christmas cactus.
It's too cold
Not keeping a consistent temperature and having the incorrect temperature, are both equally damaging Christmas cactus mistakes. If you've spotted the buds of your plant starting to drop, it's likely this is due to heat shifts.
If it's a choice between a slightly cooler atmosphere than a warm one with drastic shifts in temperature, then opt for slightly cooler (no lower than 50ºF). So, keep it away from radiators or drafty rooms. This is a good rule of thumb for tropical indoor plants in general.
Too much fertilizer, or too little
Again, it's about striking a balance of just enough, but not too much. Tom Su, a garden and landscaping expert and the owner of Lawn Edging explains that these indoor plants require little feeding, though total disregard for fertilizer may stop them from growing and blossoming.
'Apply a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer monthly throughout springtime and summertime,' says Tom. 'Slacken in autumn and cease in winter.'
Autumn is a horticulture specialist and marketing professional at Perfect Plants Nursery. With four years of experience in the horticulture industry, she has developed a passion for helping people create beautiful indoor and outdoor spaces to enjoy. Her expertise in horticulture encompasses a broad range of activities, including plant care and selection, landscape design, and maintenance.
What's wrong with my Christmas cactus?
'Many people get Christmas Cacti with the intention of enjoying the brightly colored blooms. However, a common problem seen with Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti is that they do not bloom,' explains Plant Expert Autumn-Hilliard Knapp.
'This can be for a few reasons. The main reason is because the plant is not in its natural climate. The Christmas cacti is originally from Brazil, a warm and tropical climate.
'While the Christmas Cacti can grow in any indoor garden, for it to flower its natural climate needs to be stimulated. The Christmas Cacti bloom in the colder months, hence its name, from the colder temperatures and the addition of darker nights.'
To stimulate the plants blooming conditions Autumn advises: 'It will need to receive about 14 hours of dark and 8 hours of indirect bright sunlight. The best temperature to keep the plant in would be 52.70 to 55.40 °F.'
What does an overwatered Christmas cactus look like?
'An overwatered Christmas Cacti will have droopy wilted leaves, darker-colored leaves, and even black spots,' says Autumn.
These are all signs of root rot, also a common fiddle leaf fig problem, which is what your plant will experience if watered too much.
'Christmas Cactus are succulents so they tend to not need a whole lot of water. They only need to be watered about every 1-2 weeks and the soil should be about halfway dry between waterings.'
What does a stressed Christmas cactus look like?
'When a Christmas Cactus is under stress, you may notice brownish-red or pink leaves, which can result from insufficient watering or excessive sunlight,' says Autumn.
They aren't low light indoor plants by any means. However, Autumn urges that while these plants enjoy sun, it's crucial to avoid overexposure.
'If your plant appears stressed, it might be positioned too close to a window, thus receiving direct sunlight,' she explains.
'Rather than placing it directly on the windowsill, consider moving it to a nearby table, where it can still receive light from the window, but in a less direct manner.'
Growing a Christmas cactus is a rewarding task. Other tropical plants which enjoy similar conditions include orchids. So, you might try displaying these plants together.
Succulents on the other hand are used to dry, desert climates, and would need a different environment from the humidity-loving Christmas cactus.
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Teresa was part of a team that launched Easy Gardens magazine two years ago and edited it for some time. Teresa has been a Gardens Editor at Homes & Gardens, Country Homes & Interiors and Living Etc magazine since 2020 and has developed close working relationships with some of the top garden designers such as Charlotte Rowe, Butter Wakefield, and has been exposed to an array of rich garden content and expertise.
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