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How to Get a Christmas Cactus to Bloom in Time for the Holidays

The Christmas cactus is an iconic plant you’ll see everywhere at the holidays. With their handsome, notched foliage and exotic-looking flowers, these handsome plants can live for decades. (Some up to 100 years.) Native to Brazil, they grow in the rainforest on tree branches as an epiphyte, a type of plant that grows on another plant but isn’t a parasite (air plants and most orchids also are epiphytes, just for reference).

Any Christmas cactus plants that you purchase in the fall are bred to bloom in time for the holidays with no help from you. But if you have one from last year, you may wonder how to get it to rebloom. There’s definitely a trick to it, because they’re what is known as short-day plants, which means they need long nights and short days to initiate flowers. If you interrupt their day/night cycle, they won’t cooperate. You’ll be left with a nice plant but no blooms, and then, what’s the point?

How Do You Get a Christmas Cactus to Bloom?

There are a few other environmental conditions that these plants need to bloom well. Read on to discover how to get your Christmas cactus to bloom this year:

1. Christmas Cactus Need Cool Temperatures to Set Buds 

Because of their native range, these plants actually prefer cool-ish temperatures. They’re happiest in 60 to 65 degrees, but they like it a bit cooler from dusk to dawn, at around 50 to 55 degrees. Because most of us don’t keep our homes that chilly, just try to keep it in the coolest room in the house at night.

2. Give Your Christmas Cactus Plenty of Darkness

Buds start forming from September to November. This is when it’s essential to give your plant bright, indirect light (not direct sunlight, which will scald it) during the day. At night, your Christmas cactus needs 12 to 16 hours of complete darkness. And we mean complete: Even table lamps or streetlights shining in a window can mess up the cycle. You can shuttle it into a closet if you can’t find a room that’s nice and dark.

After your plant is done blooming, pinch back the stems in mid-winter if they seem too heavy in order promote better branching. This technique also prevents stems from breaking. It’s also helpful to feed your plant with half-strength plant food every month from late winter to early spring. Finally, water only when the soil feels dry because doesn’t like wet feet.

Why Didn’t My Christmas Cactus Bloom?

Even if you do everything correctly, your plant may not bloom in time for the holidays. It may be because it’s actually another type of holiday cactus: Both Thanksgiving and Easter cacti, which are named for the holidays closest to their bloom times, look incredibly similar to Christmas cactus. In fact, Thanksgiving cactus are much more readily available these days than any other type.

It’s not easy to tell them apart, but the flattened stems, which are the “leaves” of the plant, are more tear-dropped in shape with tubular flowers on a Christmas cactus. A Thanksgiving cactus has pointy edges with yellow pollen on its flowers, while Easter cactus stems are very subtly-rounded with little bristles on the segments and star-shaped flowers.

These other holiday cacti also require short days and long nights, but they need different amounts of time to set buds. So, if your plant doesn’t bloom on time, examine it closely to make sure it’s really a Christmas cactus. Even retailers don’t always label the plants correctly, or they may call them “holiday cactus” to avoid confusion.

If you’ve made an effort for a few years and still have no blooms, you may want to repot your plant. Although any type of holiday cactus likes to be a little crowded in their pots, refreshing the soil may help rejuvenate it. Then follow the same rules for light and dark cycles.

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Bio:

Arricca Elin SanSone is a gardener with more than 15 years of experience. In addition to PureWow, she writes for Prevention, Country Living, Veranda, The Spruce, and many other national publications.

She also trials new plant cultivars and field tests garden products to evaluate practicality and durability.