Pruning a Christmas cactus: when, how and how much for repeat blooms

Houseplant experts how to prune a Christmas cactus to keep their size in check and to encourage more flowers

A christmas cactus in a pot besides christmas candles on a windowledge
(Image credit: Alamy)

Christmas cacti can quickly outgrow their containers when looked after correctly. To keep yours a manageable size, and to encourage blooming in future, learning how to prune a Christmas cactus is the best option.

Christmas cactus care is relatively simple. However, Maryam Ghani, an indoor plant expert, told us that this popular Christmas plant can sometimes benefit from a quick trim to keep its size in check.

'This very low-maintenance plant is something we like to put into our "unkillable" list of plants to have in your home,' explains Maryam of luxury floral gifting service Haute Florist. 'Christmas cacti don’t require pruning, however over time their stems can grow a little long, causing them to droop over the sides of the pot and look a little unruly,' Maryam Ghani explains. And it's at this point you might want to prune your Christmas cactus – and it's unlikely you will do it any harm by doing so.

How to prune a Christmas cactus

pruning shears besides a small trowel and rake

(Image credit: Alamy)

Pruning or trimming a Christmas cactus is a simple task made even easier by the plant's unique stem structure. 

'In order to trim these houseplants, either use your fingers or a small pair of clear scissors to separate the stem from the plant,' continues Rachel Crow, garden editor for Homes & Gardens. 'It is a good idea to break the stem away from a natural breakage point, such as the thin area between two segments, to make sure you do not cause damage to the rest of the plant.

'It is important to avoid removing more than one third of the plant's foliage at a time when trimming or pruning, however,' Rachel adds. 'One-third should be enough to reduce its size – any more will risk damaging the plant and prevent blooms.'

When to prune a Christmas cactus

A Christmas cactus with pink flowers

(Image credit: Alamy)

Knowing when to prune a Christmas cactus is just as important as knowing how to. Getting the timing right can ensure the plant recovers from the loss of foliage and can even help make a Christmas cactus bloom more impressively the following season. 

'You can remove older stems at the base of the plant or remove the tips once the plant has flowered, which is usually around mid-January,' Maryam says. 

After the blooming period, Christmas cacti begin to reserve energy for their growth period; pruning during this growth period encourages the growth of fresh stems that will maintain the plant's shape resulting in a bushy plant, rather than a houseplant that trails.

Why it is beneficial to prune Christmas cactus

A Christmas cactus with pink flowers

(Image credit: Alamy)

'Christmas cacti grow at alarming rates if it is well looked after,' says Rachel Crow. 'If it is not trimmed and kept in shape it can quickly become 'leggy' looking with an abundance of old stems.

'It is beneficial to trim your Christmas cactus back at least every few years to encourage the plant into a more bush-like shape and promote fresh, better-looking growth,' she concludes. 

Consider using your cuttings to propagate a Christmas cactus to create new plants to gift to family and friends during the holidays. 

What to do if you over prune a Christmas cactus

A Christmas cactus with pink flowers

(Image credit: Alamy)

'The good news is that it is hard to over prune a Christmas cactus unless you cut off every single stem, that is,' Rachel reassures. 

'While I would obviously never recommend removing all the stems and leaves from a plant, it is possible to remove around half of it without causing too much damage. An over-pruned houseplant will likely look a little droopy for a while as it regains its strength, so it might be a good idea to bolster growth with some fertilizer while it picks up.' Specialized succulent fertiliser like this top-rated brand is available on Amazon.  

'Try to stick to removing only one third of a plant at a time to be safe, however,' Rachel affirms. 

Should I deadhead a Christmas cactus?

It is a good idea to deadhead a Christmas cactus once it has finished blooming after the Christmas holidays in order to encourage further plant growth. The flowers will begin to shrivel up and dry out as the blooming period comes to an end. This is a good sign to start deadheading your plant – just make sure to leave flowers still in bloom alone. 

How do you rejuvenate an old Christmas cactus?

If your Christmas cactus is looking a little worse for wear, then it may be a good idea to trim the branches to help rejuvenate the plant. Trimming particularly old stems back to the base and other, slightly less leggy plants back a few segments will help breathe new life into your plant and help maintain a 'bushy' apperance.

Chiana Dickson
Writer

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for a year, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.