You can get your Christmas cactus to bloom again with a few easy tricks. These holiday cacti rely upon triggers of changes in light and temperatures to know when to set bloom, or blossoms. Without these changes, they won’t know what season they’re in. After all, they’re actually from Central and South America – and they may be “confused” about when to bloom!
Christmas cactus (or Holiday cacti, or Thanksgiving cactus) aren’t really cactus at all. They’re succulents hailing from moist, cool climates, and as such, they need a little more TLC than your average desert cactus. They can live for decades, producing gorgeous flowers like the ones shown here. I took these photos this past week of my own Christmas cactus – yes, they’re blooming a little earlier than expected, but I’m happy with the gorgeous show this year!
Tips to Get Christmas Cactus to Bloom
Christmas cactus or Holiday cactus are usually sold at garden centers and home stores starting near Thanksgiving and throughout the Holiday season. Christmas cactus make excellent house plants, and can live for years, if not decades, if given the right care. Most people purchase a Christmas cactus for its flowers. Christmas cactus flowers come in white, pink, red, peach and fuchsia, and if given the right care, they bloom abundantly, with blooms lasting several weeks.
However, many people are frustrated because their Christmas cacti don’t bloom again. Their plants are green and healthy but fail to generate buds and flowers. What’s wrong? How can you make your Christmas cactus bloom this holiday season?
Using these tips, you’ll be able to create the conditions your Christmas cactus needs in order to trigger the flowering process.
Light Requirements for Christmas Cactus to Bloom
When the hours of daylight shorten, Christmas cactus will bloom. Specifically, Christmas cactus need 12 or more hours of darkness in order to trigger the blooming process. The combination of longer night hours and dropping temperatures is the signal your Christmas cactus needs to flower.
If your home temperature remains warm in the evening hours, increase the amount of darkness the Christmas cactus receives in order to coax it into flowering. A combination of cool night time temperatures and 12 or more hours of darkness are usually the best signals for getting your Christmas cactus to bloom.
Cool Temperatures and Christmas Cactus Flowers
Another factor that triggers Christmas cacti to set blossoms is temperature change. Cool night time temperatures around 55 to 60 degrees F along with extended periods of darkness are the keys to getting your Christmas cactus to bloom,
Most homes remain in the 60s or 70s at night, unless you are able to control the temperature near your Christmas cactus by opening a window in a closed room and letting cooler night air circulate near them. To compensate for the warmer temperatures, you must increase the amount of darkness your Christmas cacti receives in order to get it to flower.
Water and Humidity Requirements for Christmas Cactus
While water and humidity per se won’t directly get your Christmas cactus to bloom again, if conditions are too dry or the humidity is too low, the Christmas cactus will drop its buds before it blooms. Place a pan of pebbles under the Christmas cactus and keep them evenly moist. As the water evaporates, it will increase the humidity near the plant. Misting your plant with water and watering it gently but frequently also provides the conditions your Christmas cactus needs to be healthy.
Tips and Quick Hints
My dad was a champion at getting his huge collection of Christmas cactus to bloom on cue, and he always had beautiful flower Christmas cacti between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Here’s what he taught me about getting Christmas cactus to bloom:
- Use a light table or an indoor plant light. We place ours in the basement where it is a steady and cool 60-65 degrees.
- Place your lights on a timer.
- Set the timer so that your plants have about 10-12 hours of light or less.
- The cool temperatures and longer periods of darkness get your plant to bloom.
- Do this for several weeks, timing the changes to begin in September so that the plants set flowers for the holidays.
- Mist and use pebble trays filled with water to improve humidity.
- Don’t transfer Christmas cactus to a radically different environment after they have buds. The shock of moving from a cool 60 degree basement to a warm 72 degree house can make them lose their buds.
- Keep the house cool to preserve the buds, and gradually get the plant used to warmer temperatures.
Christmas cactus are a beautiful flowering houseplant that creates a delightful burst of color near the holidays. If you received one as a gift last year, use these tips to get your Christmas cactus to bloom again this year.
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.