Have you ever seen one of those pretty cactus plants with the long segmented leaves and colorful flowers blooming on each end?
That’s a Christmas cactus.
Their colorful leaves give them a one-of-a-kind look, and they’re actually pretty easy to care for once you get them going.
But getting it going is what we’re focusing on today. One cool feature of the Christmas cactus is that you can root a brand new plant just by taking a few clippings from an existing plant.
How do you do it? Here’s everything you need to know about how to root a Christmas cactus.
What Exactly is a Christmas Cactus?
The Christmas cactus’s scientific name is Schlumbergera. This plant comes from the mountains of Brazil, and, unlike the typical desert cactus, it grows in a cascading shape.
Each “leaf” is comprised of segmented sections. They droop as they grow long, and they’re usually topped with pretty little flowers in various shades of white, red, and pink.
There are several species of this plant, but the Christmas cactus gets its simple name because it tends to bloom around the holiday season.
In some circles, they’re referred to as the Thanksgiving cactus or the holiday cactus.
How to Root Cactus Cuttings
Before we get into how to root this plant, let’s get specific.
After all, if you want to be a respectable horticulturist, you should know the technical terms!
When we talk about rooting a cactus, what we’re actually talking about is propagation. You can propagate a variety of different plants through this process.
Some can be rooted in soil. And some need to be rooted in water.
The Christmas cactus can be propagated either way.
Propagate a Christmas Cactus In Dirt
If you like getting your hands dirty (and what gardener doesn’t?), then get yourself a pot, a peat/sand/soil mix, and a few cuttings of your favorite existing plant.
The best way to root a Christmas cactus in dirt is:
- Take between one and four cuttings from an existing, healthy plant. Take them from a dead or dying plant, and you’ve got a slim chance of bringing it back to life. Start by taking Y-shaped cuttings with a minimum of two to three segments attached.
- Let them sit in a cool, dry place for three or four days. Depending on the conditions in your home, they could be ready to root in as little as 48 hours. (The less heat and humidity they’re subjected to, the sooner they’ll be ready to root).
- Get a flower pot and fill it with soil that includes that sand and peat mix. You don’t want to bury the entire cutting beneath the soil. You simply want to stand them upright with a segment of the cutting submerged about one inch deep.
- Once they’re planted in the dirt, water them sparingly until you start to see new growth. They can start to rot if you add too much water.
- For the best results, place them in indirect sunlight. They need some sun, as most plants do, but they don’t need full sun. In other words, don’t put your plant on a windowsill that gets direct sunlight all day long.
Propagate a Christmas Cactus In Water
Prefer to go the hydro route? The Christmas cactus can also be rooted in water.
To try this method, you’ll need a glass jar, some pebbles or stones, and a few cuttings from a healthy plant.
The best way to root a Christmas cactus in water is:
- Like the dirt rooting method, start with between one and four cuttings. Each cutting should be approximately three to four inches long, with a minimum of three or four leaves on each one.
- Take an empty glass jar and fill the bottom with stones or pebbles about two inches deep.
- Add water so that it comes to the top of the stones.
- Then place your cuttings in, with just the very bottom of them touching the water. The majority of the cutting should be in the jar, well above the water and the stones.
The humidity in the jar will help your plant to root without rotting. Just make sure that the water doesn’t evaporate! Keep an eye on it and add more water as you see it vanishing.
You’ll need to have a bit of patience while your Christmas cactus roots. It will not happen overnight!
A successful rooting will take about two to three weeks. Once you see the roots starting to form, it’s time to transplant your now-rooted cuttings into a pot, where your cactus can actually grow.
During the rooting process, you want to keep your cutting watered but not soaked. They need sun but not too much sun.
Propagating a Christmas cactus isn’t hard to do, but it may take some trial and error. If you don’t succeed the first time, give it another try.
As with anything in life, practice makes perfect!
How to Care for a Christmas Cactus (Once It’s Rooted)
Once you’ve transplanted your rooted cactus to its proper pot, here’s what you’ll need to do:
Water it on a regular basis, especially during the spring and summer. Saturating it can cause it to rot, so you need to water it regularly and thoroughly without saturating or soaking the soil.
Plants grow and thrive differently, depending on your specific region and climate. In certain conditions, mild houseplant fertilizer can produce even better results.
For a complete list of what plants grow best in which climates, Gardenia put together a comprehensive guide by hardiness zone.
Is It Easy to Root a Christmas Cactus?
Generally speaking, the Christmas cactus is a fairly easy plant to root.
If you’ve ever tried to plant a garden or grow an indoor houseplant before you already know two things: it takes patience, and it takes practice.
When it comes to the Christmas cactus, the most important thing to remember is this:
Take your cuttings from a thriving, healthy plant. It’s nearly impossible to bring something dead back to life. So put your best foot forward and start with healthy cuttings to give you the best advantage.
And, once you’ve mastered the art of cactus rooting, keep at it!
A potted Christmas cactus is a great gift to give any relative, in-law, neighbor, or friend who invites you into their home during the holiday season.