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How to Grow Christmas Cactus — Schlumbergera

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Schlumbergera–commonly known as Christmas cactus– is a popular holiday houseplant that features flat, sectioned branches that cascade down, and when in flower, terminate in tubular-shaped blooms in shades of pink, lavender, or white. Plants bought near Christmas have typically been “primed’ to flower then, hence the common name.

Schlumbergera benefits from bright, indirect light, and moist, well-drained soil. To encourage bloom, reduce watering, and provide at least 12 hours of uninterrupted darkness in the month prior to yearly bloom.

Schlumbergera is a member of the cactus family that is included in a group known as jungle cactus because it requires higher moisture and humidity than desert cactus does.

Schlumbergera truncata is synonymous with Zygocactus truncatus.

Get to know Schlumbergera

  • Plant type: Tropical evergreen succulent perennial
  • Growing Zones and range: Zones 10-11
  • Hardiness: Hardy to Zone 10
  • Height and width: Grows 6 to 18 inches (15-46cm) tall and 12 to 24 inches wide
  • Foliage: Flat, segmented, thornless, trailing succulent green stems; each segment is 1½ to 2 inches long
  • Flowers: Starry, drooping, 3-inch (7.5cm) flowers are bright red, salmon, purple, or white flowers in winter
  • Bloom time: Winter
  • Uses: Houseplant in hanging baskets
  • Common name: Christmas Cactus
  • Botanical name: Schlumbergera
  • Family: Cactaceae
  • Origin: Tropical Southeastern Brazil

Growing Schlumbergera as a houseplant

  • Place Schlumbergera in a room where the light is bright and the humidity is medium to high.
  • The room should be warm from early spring to fall when the plant is growing and cool in fall when the plant is setting flower buds.
  • Grow plats in a rich soilles, well-drianed medium.
  • Keep it evenly moist except in fall after lowering the temperature to set flower bus then the medium sold be allowed to dry slightly between waterings.
  • As soon as flower buds form, resume normal watering and return the plat to a warm room.
  • flower buds will drop if the medium is too dry or too wet, or if light or humidity is too low.
  • Fertilize monthly in spring and summer and when plants are flowering
  • To ensure that Schlumbergera blooms for the holidays, place the plants in a cool in early autumn and place them in complete darkness for 16 hours per night until mid-autumn, then return them to normal conditions.

Schlumbergera soil needs

  • Grow Schlumbergera in small pots.
  • Pot Schlumbergera in a soil mix that is well-drained but not as coarse as a cactus mix—a mixture of soil, sand, peat moss, and compost is good; in nature, Schlumbergera grows in moist, humus-rich soil conditions found in jungles.

Schlumbergera light needs

  • Plant Schlumbergera in medium to bright indirect light.
  • Schlumbergera can tolerate direct morning light but afternoon light especially in summer can burn the leaf tissue.
  • If stems turn reddish-purple, the plant is getting too much sun.
  • Too much direct sunlight will result in fewer flowers.

Schlumbergera water needs

  • Schlumbergera needs evenly moist soil. It will require weekly watering in during spring and summer.
  • Reduce water when buds begin to set in autumn; once buds set resume weekly watering.
  • After the bloom period ends, reduce water to twice a month. Avoid overwatering in winter.
  • Mist Schlumbergera frequently; the plant wants 45 to 60 percent humidity. Set the pot in a tray of pebbles and then fill the tray with water to the top of the pebbles. Evaporation will provide the humidity Schlumbergera needs.

Schlumbergera fertilizer needs

  • Feed Schlumbergera with an organic all-purpose liquid fertilizer at half-strength from late winter until late summer. Choose a fertilizer formulated for cactus or tropical plants.
  • Give Schlumbergera a monthly dose of magnesium. Mix a teaspoon of Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) in a gallon of water. Alternate weeks between feeding magnesium and feeding an all-purpose fertilizer.
Christmas cactus, Schlumbergera
Christmas cactus, Schlumbergera

When to plant Schlumbergera

  • Set Schlumbergera outdoors any time in tropical regions. Grow as a houseplant elsewhere.
  • Schlumbergera leaves may turn yellow if the light is too bright; move the plant to a spot with less light.
  • Set Schlumbergera growing as a houseplant outdoors in summer; place in a shady spot protected from direct sun and pests.

Planting and spacing Schlumbergera

  • Space Schlumbergera 12 to 18 inches (30-46cm) apart.
  • Schlumbergera needs average household temperatures and humidity most times of the year, but cooler temperatures of below 55°F/13°C are needed in fall for the plant to start bud formation.

Schlumbergera care

  • About three months before holiday bloom time or after outdoor temperatures have fallen to 45°F/7°C, bring Schlumbergera indoors to a cool room or the garage where temperatures remain around 55°F/13°C. Reduce watering, keeping the soil only slightly dry and cool as it forms flower buds; it may drop buds if the growing conditions change. Four to five weeks ahead of holiday bloom, bring plants into the warmth and begin watering more frequently. After blooming, allow them to rest for a couple of months by keeping them again at 55°F/13°C and keeping the soil on the dry side.
  • To force Schlumbergera to bloom at other times of the year, manipulate the light similarly, starting approximately three months ahead of the date on which you want the plant to bloom,
  • Re-pot Schlumbergera in fresh medium each spring.
  • Too much or too little water or water that is too cold can cause leaves to drop.

Schlumbergera blooming requirements

  • Schlumbergera has special needs in order to bloom. The plant will need complete darkness for 12 to 15 hours each day to help it set buds in late summer and autumn.
  • Eight weeks before you want the plant to bloom, place it where it can get uninterrupted darkness for 12 to 15 hours each day. It is important to place the plant where it will get the required darkness.
  • When buds begin to form at the tips of leaves, the plant can be returned to its usual spot where it will bloom.

Pruning Schlumbergera

  • Schlumbergera branches can be pinched to control growth. Pinch the plant at a node.
  • Deadhead spent flowers to keep the plant blooming and to keep it tidy.

Potting and pepotting Schlumbergera

  • Schlumbergera does not mind being potbound. Small plants growing to maturity may need repotting each year. Repot if the roots are growing through the drainage hole at the bottom of the pot.
  • Repot Schlumbergera after flowering when it is starting its annual rest period.
  • Use a potting mix formulated for cacti and succulents; this mix will be well-drained.

Schlumbergera pests, diseases, and problems

  • Schlumbergera can be attacked by spider mites, mealy bugs, scale, and aphids. Control these insects with insecticidal soap or wash them off the plant with a steady stream of water.
  • Dropping buds result from drafts, sudden changes in temperature, lack of humidity, or when the soil is too dry. Avoid moving the plant after buds develop; a change in light or temperature can cause buds to drop.
  • If stems soften or yellow, the plant is getting too much water. Repot to a dry soil mix; make sure there is adequate drainage.
  • If stems wilt or wrinkle, the plant is likely not getting enough water.

Schlumbergera propagation

  • Propgate Schlumbergera from tip cuttings taken in summer. Place 6-inch cutting in water until they root in about 2 to 3 weeks. Change the water every three days or so.
  • Once the cutting has rooted, pot it in a sterile potting mix formulated for cacti or succulents.

Schlumbergera varieties to grow

  • Schlumbergera bridgesii, Christmas cactus. Branches are made up of 2-inch segments with rounded margins; this plant blooms during winter. The variety ‘Madame Butterfly’ gas cream-colored variegated leaves and magenta flowers with white centers.
  • S. x buckleyi has scalloped leaf margins and whorls of satiny flowers. It is known as zygocactus or holiday cactus,
  • S. truncata (syn. Zygocactus truncastus) is known as the Thanksgiving cactus; it is the parent of the Christmas cactus, with similar looks and needs but flowers earlier.

Schlumbergera frequently asked questions

Q: Are Christmas cactus and Easter cactus the same plant?

A: No. Easter cactus is a different species, but the two plants look very much alike. The botanical name of the Easter cactus is Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri. Christmas cactus has pointed projections from the flattened leaf-like segment; the Easter cactus has scalloped, not pointed, ends.

Q: I bought a Christmas cactus full of flowers; it never bloomed again. Why?

A: In order to bloom, Christmas cactus (and Easter cactus) need a resting period in summer each year when water and warmth are decreased. Be sure they get 12 to 15 hours of complete darkness each day beginning 8 weeks before you want them to bloom. During the resting period, plants should be maintained at about 55°F/13°C. When buds appear, introduce the plant to warmer temperatures and resume regular watering and feeding.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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