Have you ever seen one of those pretty cactus plants with 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 Christmas cactus cuttings from an existing plant.
How do you do it? Here’s everything you need to know about how to root a Christmas cactus as well as a few tips on getting it to bloom.
What Exactly Is a Christmas Cactus?
The Christmas cactus’s scientific name is Schlumbergera. This plant comes from the coastal mountains of Brazil, and, unlike the typical desert cactus, it grows in a cascading shape in indirect light and humid conditions.
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 actually a couple of different varieties of this cactus: the Truncata cultivar has yellow pollen and usually blooms in November. That’s why it’s come to be nicknamed the “Thanksgiving cactus.” The Buckleyi cultivar, on the other hand, has pink pollen and usually blooms in December, which is why it’s known as the “Christmas cactus.”
Related: 12 Indoor Trees For A Happy Home [Green Thumb Not Required]
General Care of the Christmas Cactus
Before we talk about rooting a Christmas cactus, a few tips on its care will help to keep your plant healthy. As we mentioned, unlike a desert cactus, it thrives in lowlight, tropical conditions similar to those of an orchid.
It likes bright but indirect light and should be kept away from direct sunlight, fireplaces and heaters. The potting mix for this plant should be lightweight and drain easily. Succulent or African violet mixes work especially well. And be sure that the pot has drainage holes to avoid root rot.
You can water your Christmas cactus thoroughly, but make sure the top third layer of the soil dries out completely before watering again. If you live in an especially dry climate, misting your plant will also help to keep it happy. You can also fertilize your cactus every two weeks during the growing season which is April through September.
Although the ideal temperature for the Christmas cactus is between 60 and 70 degrees fahrenheit, it can be grown outdoors in United States Department of Agriculture zones 9 to 11. Just keep in mind that it won’t tolerate frost or snow and needs to be protected from extreme temperatures.
(For a complete list of what plants grow best in which climates, Gardenia put together a comprehensive guide by hardiness zone.)
How to Propagate a Christmas Cactus in Dirt
Now that you know a little more about the Christmas cactus plant, let’s dig in on how to root one, step by step!
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.
Here are some tips on propagating your cactus in the dirt:
1: Choose the right time. The best time to root a Christmas cactus plant is in late spring or summer when it’s done blooming and all of its flowers have fallen off.
2: 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.
You can also remove the stems without cutting by simply twisting the stem where it’s attached to the segment below. Just be sure the bottom doesn’t break above the connecting joint or it may not root.
3: To avoid stem rot, 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).
4: Get a flower pot with drainage holes 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.
5: Once they’re planted in the dirt, water them sparingly until you start to see new growth. The holiday cactus can start to rot if you add too much water.
6: 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.
7: In about three to eight weeks or when their roots are about a half inch long, you can transplant your cuttings into small pots with drainage holes and potting soil mix and care for them as usual.
Related: 5 Ways Plants Help With Your Mental and Emotional Wellbeing
How to Propagate a Christmas Cactus in Water
Prefer to go the hydro route? The holiday cactus can also be rooted in water.
To try this method, you’ll need a glass jar, some pebbles or stones, and a few stem 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 Christmas cactus 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 three to eight 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.
Christmas cactus propagating 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!
What to Do if Your Christmas Cactus Is Not Flowering
Can’t get your Christmas cactus to bloom? Here are a few tips that should help.
1: Christmas Cacti flowers sprout when the days get shorter and cooler. If you want to encourage those pretty little buds in the time for the holidays, then make sure your plant is getting between 12 to 16 hours of darkness from September on.
You can do this by putting it in a closet or a very dark room for at least 12 hours a day starting in the fall. Also, temps of about 60 degrees help the plant to flower so make sure it doesn’t get too warm in the fall and winter.
When it is out of the closet or dark room, make sure it’s never in direct sunlight.
2: Don’t replant too often. As counterintuitive as it may sound, this plant likes to be rootbound. If you put it in too large a pot, its energy will go towards growing roots instead of flowers! So when you do replant, make sure the new pot is only slightly bigger than the old one.
3: Also, lay off the fertilizer when the buds are developing as it also reduces flowering. You can give your plant that extra fertilizer love between April and September, but don’t do it for the rest of the year.
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.
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 Christmas cactus 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.
You might also be interested in: 13 Thoughtful Christmas Gift Ideas To Show You Care