Should I keep my Christmas cactus in the dark? Our houseplant expert weighs in

It is thought that periods of darkness can help your Christmas cactus to bloom year after year

Schlumbergera plant in blossom, red and pink flowers
(Image credit: morgenstjerne / Getty Images)

If you are wondering whether to keep your Christmas cactus in the dark, the answer is yes - at least in part - if you want it to successfully flower year after year.

In general, your Christmas cactus should be kept in a partially shaded spot, and out of direct sunlight. It can tolerate low light, but it needs some to enable it to bear flowers.

Knowing when and how to put your Christmas cactus in the dark without causing any damage to your plant will see it thriving into next year.

Beautiful red flowers of red Christmas cactus of Schlumbergera family

Some people keep their Christmas cactus in the dark to help encourage buds

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Do Christmas cacti like the dark?

'As with any successful indoor plant, you'll need to be sure you have the right light conditions,' says houseplant expert Holly Crossley

Many plant parents assume that cacti need full sunlight, but the Christmas cactus actually thrives best in bright but indirect sunlight. 

Too much sunlight can cause its delicate leaves to bleach and burn, so placing your plant near a north-facing window is ideal,' she says. 'It can handle low light, but bright, indirect light is the optimum for this plant and will make a Christmas cactus bloom, too.'

headshot of Holly Crossley
Holly Crossley

Holly is a former allotment keeper and professional gardener. She now spends her time tending to her many houseplants and writing about gardens and outdoor living for Homes & Gardens.

Christmas cactus in a pot in a beige living room

Too much light is bad news for your Christmas Cactus

(Image credit: nzfhatipoglu / Getty Images)

How to keep your Christmas cactus in the dark to promote new buds

Establishing a dormancy period is required before a Christmas cactus can bloom. Christmas cacti are sensitive to light and temperature. They generally flower from November onwards, after which a resting period is required. This includes reducing water, temperature and eventually light.

Failing to do so might be a reason why your Christmas cactus is not blooming. Keeping it in the dark is an important step to let your plant know that flowering season is upon it. Here's how you do it:

Close up of Christmas cactus leaves

Christmas cactus need at least 12 hours of darkness in the lead up to flowering 

(Image credit: saraTM / Getty Images)
  • A couple of months before its flowering period (this would be around September time), move your Christmas cactus into a darker position.
  • Place it in a dark room overnight every evening to encourage buds to form.
  • Alternatively you can cover your plant with a piece of dark cloth in the evening and remove it the next morning.
  • This should also reduce the temperature to help force it into dormancy.
  • It typically needs around 12 hours of darkness per day to begin flowering.
  • Whilst reducing the light, only water your Christmas cactus when the top inch of compost is dry to the touch.
  • When buds start to form, reposition your plant in a brighter, warmer spot.


Do Christmas cactuses like to be in the dark?

Christmas cacti like a partially shaded spot away from direct sunlight. So keep them away from windows. They can tolerate low light however and like to have 12 hours of complete darkness every night, leading up to their flowering season in December.

When do Christmas cacti flower?

'Christmas cacti, as the name suggests, are Christmas plants and tend to bloom around the festive period. The first flowers usually appear in early November and will last until January,' says houseplant expert Holly Crossley.

'Once the buds have appeared, it can take up to twelve weeks for the flowers to fully develop,' she says.

If you want your Christmas cactus to bloom next year, you should keep it in the dark for 12 hours (or overnight) for a few weeks before its blooming season begins. Once buds start to appear you can return it to its original spot.

Teresa Conway
Deputy Gardens Editor

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 top garden designers, and has been exposed to an array of rich garden content and expertise.