How To Take Care of Your Christmas Cactus

Have you kept your grandmother’s Christmas cactus growing?  I don’t have my grandmother’s; wish I did. But I do have this one, given to me several years ago by a friend from church.

When I kept it on my desk inside an artificially-lit office, it didn’t re-bloom much. Worse, I made the mistake of re-potting the first year, only to discover later that these plants like to be somewhat root-bound.

Finally, I took my Christmas cactus home and left it on my shaded porch all summer and fall. One day I realized it was studded with buds, and today—ta dah! It’s turned out to be more of a Veteran’s Day cactus than one for Christmas, because it’s already blooming and it’s not quite mid-November, but that’s okay. It’s beautiful anyway, and I know the ones in stores have been cultivated in greenhouses, so they’re timed to bloom at the holidays.

I’ve done some reading about these plants, and I’ve learned that even though they are called “cacti,” they’re really epiphytes, and they’re in the same family as orchids. They’re native to Central and South America, where you’d find them growing in the forks of trees, rooted in the fallen leaves and other debris that gets caught in the branches.

To coax your Christmas cactus into bloom, give it cooler temperatures starting in September and October, around 50 degrees F. Keep it in a room where no lights will be on at night–even a little light will disrupt the bloom cycle. It will need 12 to 14 hours of total darkness each day.

Water your plant, but keep it on the dry side throughout the fall and winter. (Overwatering can cause the buds to drop.) Don’t expose it to freezing weather, or you’ll have mush and blackened stems. You can use an all-purpose liquid fertilizer during the growing season, which is roughly April to September each year.

Or you can do what I do, and just put your cactus outside in a shady spot starting in the spring, and water it when the top soil feels dry. Bring it in when the buds start to form. Keep it out of drafts, and in a spot that gets good light–but not in a window where direct sunlight will burn it.

By keeping your plant outdoors, Mother Nature will take care of the light exposure as the days grow shorter. Of course, your cactus will also bloom before Christmas, as mine is doing right now. That’s okay…it’s beautiful! And I’m grateful for the glory of flowers 🙂

P.S. –Want to know more about caring for your Christmas cactus? Click this link to tips from Purdue University.





  1. I’m going to have to hunt down a shady spot outside next year. I moved mine into the guest bedroom that we never go into, and I am happy to report that I have some buds on it! So, maybe I’ll have Christmas flowers this year!