Growing Christmas Cactus

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension

Flower buds on my Christmas cactus in my office are starting to swell.  Temperature and day length are the crucial bloom triggers for a Christmas or  Thanksgiving cactus.  Flower buds will form if one of the following conditions is met for approximately 8 weeks prior to your target date:

·         night temperature maintained at 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit (the plant will produce buds regardless of day length)  or

·         13 hours of uninterrupted darkness per day (if the temperature is between 55 and 70 degrees)

Uninterrupted darkness means no light, not even a candle light, to achieve this cover the cactus with a cloth or box and place it in a closet.  When buds appear, increase the number of times you water but not the volume of water. Too much water and/or moving the plant may cause buds to drop off.                              

The ideal soil for a Christmas cactus is a light, well-drained potting soil.  The cactus should be re-potted every two to three years or whenever the pot is filled with roots.  If the soil starts to change colors and loose it's characteristics it is probably depleted of nutrients and should be re-potted in fresh potting soil.  Christmas cactus should be re-potted in the spring but an unhealthy plant can be re-potted at any time of year to try to rejuvenate it.

Christmas cactus does not like direct sunlight.  When grown in a south or west window you will need to diffuse the light with a shade from May to September.  If placed in a north or east window no shading is necessary.

Unlike the prickly cactus, Christmas cactus need moisture and will die quickly if neglected with lack of water.  But, do not over water and let the stems get flabby with too much water.  If the house is dry, place the Christmas cactus on pebbles in a dish with water.  Remember do not let the water touch the bottom of the container.  After blooming, withhold water for six weeks.  When new growth appears re-pot with fresh potting soil.  Resume watering to keep soil moist.  In the spring start applying a liquid houseplant fertilizer every 2 or 3 weeks.

Christmas cactus prefers a cool night temperature of 60 to 65 degrees F from October through blooming.

A common problem of Christmas cactus is bud dropping.  This can be caused by over watering, exposure to cold drafts, positioned to close to a hot draft such as a heater vent or lack of nutrients in the soil.   

For more info on Christmas cactus care or gardening, call the Wilson County Master Gardeners at 252-237-0113 Monday, Wednesday, or Friday from 1-3 p.m. or email at