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.
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.
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.
Charles Curkin is ELLE decor‘s Articles Editor, who covers everything related to architecture, interior design, real estate and travel industries and has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journaland The Paris Review.