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So, you’re all set with outdoor plants, but want to invest in a flowering plant that will bring a little cheer to your home as winter looms. Good news, friends: ‘Tis the season of the Christmas cactus—a pretty (not prickly) succulent that will come to life with vibrant pink or red blossoms for a couple weeks at a time (i.e., in time for the holiday festivities you have planned), provided you treat it right. Like most succulents, the Christmas cactus isn’t very hard to keep alive, but it still needs some fairly specific conditions if you want it to be in full bloom for your Christmas feast. This particular genus of cactus is native to the southeast mountains of Brazil, and the key to helping it thrive boils down to making sure it doesn’t get too homesick for its natural habitat. So what exactly does this entail? We spoke to Erin Marino, plant expert at The Sill, to get the full scoop on how to care for a Christmas cactus.

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How to Care for a Christmas Cactus

When it comes to lighting, Marino says that, in general, Christmas cacti do well in indirect bright light, with “extended periods of low light...to encourage their delicate winter blooms.” Indeed, the latter is particularly important if you want a Christmas cactus to develop its signature exotic flowers. So how do you strike the perfect balance? Until you see buds develop, position your plant so that it receives bright but indirect sunshine by day, then move it somewhere nice and dark in the evening and overnight. That way it spends 12-14 hours in a low-light environment every day. Note: Once the cactus has begun to bud, it won’t demand quite as much darkness.

how to care for a christmas cactus
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As for watering, Marino advises against overdoing it: In order to get the plant to bloom, it must first enter dormancy, and this is best accomplished by keeping your cactus fairly dry. The expert’s suggestion is to water Christmas cactus roughly once a week so that the soil dries out “about halfway down between waterings” but not completely.

Finally, climate is also an important factor when trying to coax a Christmas cactus into flowering. Per Marino, cool and humid conditions are best for promoting a full bloom. In other words, keep your cactus away from radiators or other sources of heat and, as previously mentioned, don’t let it bake in direct sun. As for the humidity component, Marino says that regular room humidity will do the trick (so don’t sweat it)...but if you can bring in a humidifier, you’ll have a leg up on getting your cactus to bloom.

That’s all there is to it! Follow those simple instructions, and your Christmas cactus will bloom not just once, but possibly several times a year.

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