UF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service

458 Highway 98 North

Okeechobee, FL 34972-2578

Phone: (863) 763-6469

E- mail: indianco@ufl.edu 

December 8, 2004

Feature Article - for release the week of December 12, 2004

Dan Culbert - Extension Horticulture Agent

Colorful Christmas Cactus Care

The holidays are bearing down on us, and another seasonal plant now available in our local garden centers is the Christmas cactus.  Around this time of year, they are covered with colorful flowers that began forming way back in October.

 Many people hold these plants for many years, and according to Duval County Extension Agent Terry DelValle, it can be tricked to bloom at Christmas if treated properly in October.  In today’s column she gives us some tips on how to care for holiday cacti.

There is some confusion when referring to Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving cactuses. They are three distinct types with minor variations in leaves and flowers. All will bloom at the appropriate times if grown under natural lighting conditions. Or, they can be forced to bloom at Christmas and are all referred to as Holiday cactuses.  

To ensure blooming

Christmas cactuses, like poinsettias and chrysanthemums, are short-day plants. They produce leaves when the days are long in the summer, and form flower buds in response to shorter days in the fall. Cooler temperatures also help stimulate flower production.

Christmas cactuses grown in natural lighting will flower when the days become shorter.  If these plants are exposed to any artificial light, like a streetlight, plants will not set flower buds.  To make Christmas cactus bloom during the holidays, they need to be moved to a dark area from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. each day.  This short-day treatment lasts for six weeks.  Plants kept in the dark like this for six weeks of short-day treatments will bloom10 weeks.  So, last year’s plants should have been put in the closet around October 11th to be in full bloom by December 20th.  

Christmas Cactus Care Checklist

Plants grow best in bright light and should be placed within 6 feet of a window. Any light exposure will work with the exception of north windows. When new growth begins following bloom, prune plants to force branching. The last pruning should be done in late spring. This will increase the number of flowers. The segments cold be cut off , but they can just as easily be twisted off when pruning is done.

Make sure the soil is well-drained and light. If the soil holds too much water, the plant stems or roots will rot. Combinations of peat moss and perlite, vermiculite, or builder's sand are all acceptable soil choices. Try a mix of two parts peat moss to one part perlite for a rich but well-drained media.

Watering is one of the keys to success with these plants. Allowing the soil to dry out will cause the flowers to drop. On the other hand, soil that is too wet will lead to disease problems.  It's important to keep the soil moist but not wet. Having a light, airy soil media that's rich in organic matter is the most forgiving.  A Christmas cactus needs freely draining soil and a pot with open drainage holes. Water whenever the top inch of soil feels dry rather that on a fixed schedule. Water thoroughly, until water runs out the bottom. If the soil becomes too dry and won't absorb water, water every 10 minutes until it holds moisture. Afterward, pour out any water that accumulates in the saucer.

Fertilize every month or every two months, depending on the growth of the plant. If it's a fast grower, monthly fertilizer applications would be best. Soluble fertilizers or slow-release products are both acceptable. Terry typically reduces the rate that is listed on the label, because excess fertilizer salts can contribute to root problems.

Heading off problems

A common problem with holiday cactuses is bud drop. This usually occurs because of a change in environment, especially high temperatures. To avoid bud drop, do not place the plant in a draft or near a heat source (vent, fireplace or television). Other than high temperatures, the other thing that usually causes bud drop is improper watering.

These plants are easily propagated by placing cuttings of two or three jointed sections in one pot full of  moist sand.  Use three or four cuttings per 4-inch pot or five to six cuttings in a 6-inch pot. Keep them in high indirect light and keep them moist until rooted – when new growth appears.  Once rooted, transfer them to one of the mixes mentioned above. Cuttings are typically taken in the spring following a flush of new growth.

I’ve placed some references and photos of various holiday cactus cultivars below. If you need additional information on Holiday cactus, call or stop by our office at 458 Hwy 98 North.  Our phone number is 763-6469, and you can email us at okeechobee@ifas.ufl.edu.

Links / References

Verspreiding Schlumbergera

This map shows  where in Brazil is the native source of the genus Schlumbergera, which were used to hybridize the hundreds of cultivars grown today 
"The ultimate webpage about Schlumbergera"  A Dutch Commercial Nursery site, this webpage has lots of variety pictures and technical information about these plants:  http://www.schlumbergera.org/  

Commercial Growers:  Here are links to Production Guides for those in the business: 

R.T. Poole, L.S. Osborne and A.R. Chase UF/IFAS Holiday Cactus Production guide

Dr. Raymond Kessler  Commercial Greenhouse Production of Holiday Cactus [Auburn University, Alabama]

Thomas H. Boyle Commercial Production of Holiday Cacti [University of Massachusetts] 


Trade names, where used, are given for the purpose of providing specific information. They do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of products named, nor does it imply criticism of products not named. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin. Florida Cooperative Extension Service / IFAS /University of Florida. Nick Place, Dean. Last update: 12/12/2012 .  This page is maintained by Dan Culbert  Hit Counter