How to Make Your Christmas Cactus Bloom

Tropical Christmas cactus is an easy-care houseplant with blossoms in shades of pink, red, white, and yellow that open during the fall to winter holiday season.

The name is a catch-all term that includes a number of Schlumbergera species and hybrids, including S. russelliana, S. bridgesii, and Schlumbergera x buckleyi, as well as S. truncata, the Thanksgiving cactus, which blooms approximately one month before the Christmas variety.

These plants are South American epiphytes that cling to rainforest trees or rocks, drawing sustenance from rainfall and the nutrients in their immediate environment.

A close up vertical image of Schlumbergera plant with bright red flowers on a windowsill with a winter garden scene in soft focus in the background. To the center and bottom of the frame is green and white printed text.

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Instead of true leaves, this plant has flattened segments called phylloclades, or cladodes, that are fleshy and, unlike many cacti, have no thorns. On Christmas varieties, the margins are rounded. Thanksgiving types have serrated edges.

Blooms appear at the end of the stems, on the last segment.

In our guide to growing Christmas cactus, we discuss cultivation indoors in bright indirect light and organically-rich, well-draining potting medium.

A close up horizontal image of a small potted Christmas cactus plant in full bloom growing in a terra cotta pot pictured on a soft focus background.

This article will cover how to coax plants to produce an abundance of flowers in time for the holidays.

Here’s the line-up:

Let’s get started!

Dormancy Is the Key

For plants to set buds, they must experience a period of winter dormancy like they would in their native tropical rainforests.

A close up horizontal image of the developing flower buds of a Schlumbergera plant growing indoors pictured on a soft focus background.

Known as “short day” plants, it’s the period of shorter days and cooler weather that halts foliar growth and jump starts the flowering process.

How can we replicate the appropriate conditions at home?

To trigger the natural inclination to bloom, four factors must be manipulated: nourishment, moisture, light, and temperature.

A close up horizontal image of a small flower bud on a Christmas cactus plant pictured on a soft focus background.

By making adjustments to these four aspects of plant care, we can stimulate dormancy.

You’ll need to start preparing your plant for flowering six to eight weeks before Christmas.

Here’s how to do it:

Suspend Nutrition

If you have been fertilizing your plant during the growing season, stop any fertilizer applications.

Withholding additional nutrition is the first step in the gradual shift from foliar to reproductive growth, or flowering.

Limit Moisture

Instead of a thorough soaking every few weeks, during the resting period, water only when the top inch of the potting medium feels dry to the touch, and then only enough to moisten it.

Do not allow the soil to dry out completely.

Need more assistance? Check out our guide on choosing the best potting medium for Christmas cacti.

Withhold Light

To mimic the shorter days of winter, you’ll need to keep the plant in total darkness for 14 to 16 hours each night.

During the day, the plant should be exposed to bright indirect light, but at nighttime it requires total darkness – even exposure to artificial light can stop it from flowering.

You can place your plant in a seldom used room with the shade pulled down, or place a bag or inverted box over the entire plant at night. Alternatively, you can move your plant in and out of a closet every day, but this could cause some unnecessary stress, as Christmas cacti don’t like to be moved.

Decrease the Temperature

And finally, the plant requires a cool location where the temperature is between 50 and 55°F. A chilly coat closet for nighttime and a north-facing window sill during the day work just fine.

Consistently cool temperatures, the appropriate amount of darkness, minimal water, and no supplemental nutrition trigger dormancy, the key ingredient in the flowering formula.

Start a Holiday Tradition

When buds appear, it’s time to return the plant to its usual placement in a temperate room with indirect sunlight, so they can unfurl to reveal their exquisite blossoms.

For a second bloom in spring, you can induce dormancy using the same process six weeks before Easter. However, there are likely to be fewer flowers.

If you do want reliable flowering at Easter, an alternative is a different species of Schlumbergera. S. gaertneri, formerly Hatiora gaertneri, is the Easter cactus.

It has star-shaped blossoms and slightly scalloped margins. The same dormancy process applies, and should be started about six weeks before Easter for spring flowers.

A close up horizontal image of a large Christmas cactus plant with bright pink flowers on a brick mantlepiece in a home, pictured in bright sunshine.

Include Schlumbergera cacti in your holiday decor. They’re easy to grow, live long enough to become family heirlooms, and are easy to propagate via cuttings. And when the buds burst into tropical blossoms, they never cease to delight.

Does your Christmas cactus bloom every year? Do you have any tips for helping it along? Let us know in the comments section below!

For more information about Christmas cactus, you’ll want to read these articles next:

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Nan Schiller is a writer with deep roots in the soil of southeastern Pennsylvania. Her background includes landscape and floral design, a BS in business from Villanova University, and a Certificate of Merit in floral design from Longwood Gardens. An advocate of organic gardening with native plants, she’s always got dirt under her nails and freckles on her nose. With wit and hopefully some wisdom, she shares what she’s learned and is always ready to dig into a new project!

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Marilee Larkey
Marilee Larkey (@guest_15250)
2 years ago

I grow them because I think they are an awesome beautiful plant and because my grew them forever.

Bonnie (@guest_15372)
2 years ago

Love this group. Have a red and white Thanksgiving catus.

Sonya (@guest_18166)
1 year ago

I am new to this group. My cactus has only bloomed 3 times since I’ve had it.
What am I doing wrong?
My north window area is a hot back porch.
Please help

Lona Pillers
Lona Pillers (@guest_30213)
11 months ago

My Christmas Cactus is oer 80 years long and does not bloom You can tell it looks old and am wondering if i can save it. I have propagated several.

Jill Coffee
Jill Coffee (@guest_36940)
6 months ago

The first Christmas cactus I had was in Northern California, it bloomed profusely 3-4 times per year. I now live in New Mexico @ 7000 feet. I bought a Christmas cactus last Christmas and it’s got blooms coming on quick.