Christmas Cactus care – guide to caring for Schlumbergera plants

Follow these tips to get your plant blooming in time for the big day
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  • If you’re looking for a hardy plant to see you through the year, consider the beautiful Christmas cactus. The perfect plant for both summer and winter, with a little know-how, it’s relatively easy to take care of and can last for years.

    Of course we appreciate that gardening may not be top of anyone’s tasks this winter, but indoor plants can still thrive indoors – making Christmas cactus care easy to maintain.

    While it has absolutely nothing to do with the nativity or the festivities, the Christmas Cactus is perfect for this time of year as it can handle the warmer indoor temperatures. As with most other cacti it’s a particularly good option if you have the tendency to kill off anything green in your home.

    Christmas Cactus care guide

    The Christmas Cactus takes its name from the fact that it usually flowers in wintertime, giving your home a splash of colour when most plants are without. They also add a touch of greenery to your indoor decor, mirroring any similar festive outdoor Christmas decorating ideas that you may have introduced to your garden or patio.

    a potted plant with red flowers

    Image credit : Alamy Stock Photo

    Just as you might want to know how to care for a poinsettia at this time of year, Christmas cacti have a few specific must-haves to ensure that they thrive.

    Firstly, it’s worth knowing that Christmas cacti love the warmth. As they originally hail from rainforests, they naturally thrive in humid environments like bathrooms and kitchens. So while they need to be protected from frost in winter, they can be moved outdoors during the summer months.

    Chris Bonnett from GardeningExpress.co.uk says: ‘There are some fantastically festive plants and flowers which are easy to care for during the chillier months and will add the spirit of Christmas to any room.’ He is of course talking about  on-trend Christmas cacti.

    ‘Many of these blooms also make for beautiful presents, so are worth bearing in mind when buying for green-fingered friends or family members.’

    Also called Schlumbergera, the Christmas Cactus tends to flower between late November and January with blooms varying from white to pink to red. Its leaves are rounded with a scalloped appearance, visually similar to that of holly, but thicker and smoother like those of a succulent plant.

    Where to put your Christmas Cactus

    a plant with pink flowers in a gold planter

    Image credit : Alamy Stock Photo

    They love bright spots, but not in direct light as the leaves can get scorched and shrivel up. They are happiest living in temperatures between 18-20°C, so in wintertime they’re best indoors in snug plant pots.

    ‘Whilst these varieties are easy to care for, they can be pretty picky with heat and light,’ warns Chris Bonnett from GardeningExpress.co.uk. ‘A windowsill might seem like a good idea, but the temperature really fluctuates in front of the glass in the winter, especially if there’s a radiator underneath.’

    ‘Avoid draughts and hot spots near radiators or fires too. Instead, display them somewhere that’s bright yet maintains a steady temperature.’

    Or if you’re looking for some alternative indoor Christmas hanging basket ideas, you could have it cascading from a suspended planter. As mentioned, it’s a good idea to move them outdoors in the summertime as this is when the plant does most of its growing.

    Christmas cactus – common problems and how to fix them

    close up of a plant with white flowers

    Image credit : Alamy Stock Photo

    • Shrivelling or scorching – This usually happens when you’ve placed your plant in direct light. A Christmas cactus prefers a bright, shaded spot. Shrivelling can also happen if you have over (or underwatered) your plant. To ensure you don’t overwater, check that drainage holes are open and try changing the soil to a grittier mix to help the water drain through easily.
    • Dropping buds – If you tend to be in and out of the house often in wintertime, turning your heating on and off often, this can sometimes affect the flower buds on a Christmas cactus. Repeated fluctuations in temperature can result in them dropping off before they reach their full potential. Keep the plant in a warm spot to avoid this occurring.
    • Lack of growth – Christmas cacti are fast growers. If your plant is stalling and isn’t producing any new leaves or buds, it could be that it’s in the wrong pot. These plants don’t like large pots and planters, they prefer a more snug fit.

    Where to buy a Christmas cactus

    a potted plant with red flowers

    Image credit : Future Plc

    Head to your nearest garden centre to find Christmas cacti at this time of year, or try a super pretty pre-potted version from Waitrose or a pot-free white flowering cactus from Crocus.

    Make a Christmas cacti feel all the more festive by carefully decorating with a set of miniature baubles.

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