Christmas and other holiday cacti from the Schlumbergera genus are highly ornamental with flaring tubular flowers in gorgeous colors… that is, when the flower buds don’t drop off before they open up!
Although these South American succulents are easy to grow and care for, once the buds are set they’re susceptible to a few environmental stressors that can cause the future flowers to fall, causing much heartache to the grower.
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Plants that come into our homes from commercial greenhouses have been grown in exacting conditions that few of us can replicate.
And ones that come indoors from spending the summer out in the garden also have to adjust to changes in humidity, light, moisture, and temperature.
A few dropped buds can be expected as plants acclimate to a new environment, but with a little forethought to their needs, bud drop is easy to minimize and even eliminate!
Are you ready to enjoy an exuberant floral display this holiday season? Then let’s unwrap the steps on how to prevent Christmas cactus bud drop.
Here’s what you’ll find ahead:
How to Prevent Bud Drop in Holiday Cacti
Native to the coastal mountains of Brazil, Schlumbergera species and hybrids are indigenous to tropical rainforests where they grow on tree branches and rocks in filtered sunlight.
As houseplants, they do best with indirect light of bright or medium intensity.
This makes east-, north-, and west-facing windows the best choice.
South- and south-west-facing windows should be avoided as hot, direct sunlight can cause sunburn and scorching to the stems as well as dropped buds.
When in bud, these short-day plants need to receive around 14 hours of darkness each night. You can learn more about how to encourage them to bloom in our guide.
Placing them in a room with bright, artificial light that stays on long after sundown can also cause buds to drop. Instead, place them in a location where overhead lights can be turned off or dimmed in the evening.
Keep Things Cool
As much as possible, try to mimic the climate of their greenhouse environment – which in turn, mimics their native habitat’s late fall weather of cool evenings and warm days.
Overnight temperatures of 55 to 65°F are ideal with daytime highs of up to 80°F.
In your home, aim for a range of 70 to 80°F and avoid hot rooms with poor air circulation – temperatures over 90°F are problematic for maintaining blooms.
Also, don’t place your plants close to cooling and heating vents or drafty doors and windows – cold or hot blowing air is another reason for bud drop.
And if your plants spend summer and early fall outdoors, be sure to bring them in before the first frost as icy temperatures are another cause of falling flowers. Get the scoop on outdoor care here.
Humidity and Water
These rainforest natives love humidity but they don’t appreciate wet feet.
Overly wet roots or irregular watering when budding or in bloom are a couple of additional stressors that can cause flower loss.
Although holiday cactus can handle dryish conditions for most of the year, when setting buds and when in bloom, consistently moist soil is important, but wet soil needs to be avoided.
Check out our guide to saving an overwatered Christmas cactus if this is a problem for you.
Allow the top one inch of soil to dry out between water applications.
Bottom watering in a sink or tub of water is the preferred method for Schlumbergera, but moving them when they’re ready to flower, or in bloom, isn’t recommended.
Instead, water slowly just until the liquid emerges from the bottom of the pot into a catchment saucer. Allow the soil to reabsorb water for up to an hour, discarding any that remains in the saucer after that.
Mist lightly on a weekly basis to provide the humidity they like.
If the winter air in your home is very dry, try placing your potted cactus on a shallow bowl of pebbles and water.
As the water evaporates, it envelops your plant in moist air. But don’t nestle the pot into the pebbles – keep its base on top of the stones and above the water line to prevent wet soil which can lead to root rot.
Hold the Feed
Holiday cacti are light to moderate feeders and can suffer when overfertilized.
Providing too much nutrition can burn the roots with mineral salt buildup and can also produce an excessive number of buds, with several on a single stem tip.
Too many nascent flowers can cause some to drop off in order to provide room for others to develop fully.
Suspend fertilizing in late summer and only resume feeding plants when the new growth cycle resumes in spring.
For feeding details, check out how and when to fertilize Christmas cactus in our guide.
Beautiful Holiday Blooms
To keep your Christmas cactus fully loaded with beautiful blooms, some simple tweaks to their environment and care can provide the solution to bud drop.
Give them a cool to warm location out of hot, direct sunshine and drafty conditions, and keep the soil lightly moist, but not wet.
Don’t fertilize until spring and give them some down-home ambiance by turning down the lights at night… your plants should be in full bloom for the holidays!
Any questions about how to keep your holiday cactus happy? Drop us a line in the comments section below.
And for more information about Christmas cacti, check out these guides next: