How to Care for a Christmas Cactus

For those of you who think the holidays begin and end with a decorated fir tree, it’s time to bring the Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera x Buckleyi) to add to the Christmas cheer at home. Don’t be intimidated! Contrary to what you might think, you don’t need a green thumb to keep houseplants. A little persistence and a few drops of common sense (and water) should be enough to keep them alive and kicking. Caring for a Christmas cactus, one of the most colorful succulents on the market, is just as easy as, say, a money tree or pothos, but like a person, it has its own specific needs. Here’s everything you need to know.

christmas cactus schlumbergera

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What is a Christmas cactus?

The cheerfully colored plant, native to Central and South America, is cultivated as an epiphytic succulent (for all Danger fans reading this), making it a cactus, but not like the ones Wile E. Coyote could hide behind to catch the Road Runner. Namely: These guys don’t have spikes and they don’t grow in the sand. They also do not thrive in dry climates, preferring instead the moisture of the rainforest.

Christmas cacti galore

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OK! How do I care for a Christmas cactus?

If you’ve gotten this far into the story, you’ve clearly committed. Without further ado, here are a few tips on how to keep your Christmas cactus not just lively, but cheerful.

  • Make sure the planter it’s in has a hole in the bottom to drain excess water into a tray. Wet floor is a no-go.
  • It might sound like a contradiction, but it’s important that your Christmas cactus is bathed in bright but indirect light (found near north and east windows or shady south and west windows).
  • The window in the kitchen and the master bathroom are great places to keep it, as the steam created by showers and saucepans simulates this equatorial humidity level.
  • You only need to water your cactus once every three weeks. (Two is fine, too, if patience isn’t your forte.) Water enough to completely soak the soil. Some drainage is a sign of success. But if the tray overflows, don’t freak out. Just remember to dial back your pouring zeal for next time.
  • In the months leading up to autumn, regular fertilizing and light pruning are recommended for better flowering.
  • Last but not least – and this goes for all houseplants – don’t forget to give your Christmas cactus a name. There’s nothing unusual about talking to him or kissing him. You might even think about getting him something for Christmas. Plants are our friends after all, so act accordingly.

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