Knowing how to propagate a Christmas cactus is a great way to increase your houseplant collection. It also makes for a brilliant, very affordable Christmas gift for loved ones.
How to propagate a Christmas cactus
You can never have too many houseplants – and there are so many different houseplant ideas to try out. However, collecting houseplants can be an expensive hobby – unless, of course, you propagate.
Propagation helps you to create more of your favourite houseplants for free. In the majority of cases, it's fairly easy to do though does require a healthy dose of patience.
When it comes to learning how to propagate a Christmas cactus, you'll be relieved to know that it is ridiculously easy: simply cut, plant, water and wait. The steps are very similar to how to propagate succulents.
You will need
- A healthy, large Christmas cactus
- Sharp knife
- Rubbing alcohol – to sterilise your knife
- Small pot with drainage holes – or one large pot with drainage holes
- Cactus compost, such as Westland Cactus/Succulent Potting mix on Amazon
1. Assess your Christmas cactus
Before you take a cutting, you need to make sure that your plant is suitable. Opt for a large Christmas cactus – it should have plenty of stems and it shouldn't look bear when you've removed a few leaves. It also needs to be healthy and well-watered – with plump leaves. The healthier the Christmas cactus the more successful your cuttings will be.
If you don't already have a Christmas cactus then you can buy one from a local shop – they are popular with supermarkets at this time of year – or you can purchase the best indoor plants online.
2. Take a cutting
‘To take cuttings, use a clean, sharp knife and cut a Y-shaped section from the end of a stem that’s near the lower part of the plant,’ advises Elizabeth Marshall, buyer at Hillier Garden Centres.
This is best done in early springtime, after flowering. Also, by taking your cuttings early in the season, you will have a substantial plant by next Christmas.
We recommend taking between three and five cuttings when hoping to propagate a Christmas cactus as this will increase the probability that you will have a successful rooting.
We recommend taking cuttings the Monty Don way – though why would you do it any other way?
3. Let dry
As with when you propagate aloe vera from leaves, it is important that you let your Christmas cactus cuttings dry out before planting. 'Leave the cut to callous or harden over for 2-3 days,' advises experts from the RHS. This helps to prevent rot and will help the cutting to root more quickly.
4. Pot up
Fill a pot (with drainage holes) with cactus compost and then plant your cutting. It is important to ensure that the part which was attached to the plant is under the soil and that it stands firm in the soil.
'Pop the cutting in a free draining medium so that it stands on its own, and firm the medium around the cutting,' says experts from the RHS. 'Water in to settle the medium.' You may need to refirm your cutting after watering as this can cause the soil to shift.
You can either plant your cuttings in individual nursery pots or you can plant several cuttings in a single, large pot.
Some gardeners recommend laying your leaf on top of the compost, and so long as the node that was attached to the plant is in contact with the soil, it should work.
5. Place cuttings in a warm spot
Once you've potted up your cuttings, it is important that you place the pots in the right place.
'Leave your potted Christmas cactus cuttings a bright humid spot. If you have a heated mat then this will encourage root faster however if you don't have a heated mat, then don't worry as the cuttings will still root,' says experts from the RHS.
If you are propagating a lot of houseplants, it might be worth investing in a heat mat – such as the Hyindoor Seedling Heat Mat, £17.99 on Amazon.
'It typically takes about 12 weeks for the plant to root, so start to propagate a Christmas cactus in the early spring as will give them plenty of time to grow before next Christmas,' advises Elizabeth Marshall. While waiting for the plant to root, check the soil regularly and only water when the medium is very dry.
Once your Christmas cactus has rooted, you can repot it into a larger pot. You can tell that your cuttings have rooted when they offer resistance to being pulled – you must be extremely delicate when testing as the new roots will be very fine.
If you lack patience, the water propagation method may be better for you as you can easily see the roots as they start to grow.
How to propagate a Christmas cactus in water
If you are a little impatient, then you might prefer to propagate a Christmas cactus in water rather than letting it root in the soil. The process is very similar to that above and very easy to do.
Take a cutting as before, however, for this method you don't need to cut into it or let it dry. Instead, take your leaf cutting and suspend it over a small glass or vase of water. It is vital that the flat node which was previously attached to the plant is submerged – cling film can be useful in supporting the plant.
Change the water weekly – ensuring to clean away any build-up of algae in your vessel – and new roots will appear within a couple of months.
Since it is very easy to see your plant's progress without disturbing them, this method is ideal if you aren't very good at leaving your plants alone and like to check on their progress.
Once the roots are around 5cm long, you can plant your cuttings in free-draining cactus compost – just as you would when potting up a rooted seedling that has propagated in soil.
What is the best time of year to propagate Christmas cactus?
The best time to propagate a Christmas cactus is in early spring after it has bloomed. At this time of year, the plant is going into its active growing phase, so it is best positioned to produce new roots. In theory, though, you can propagate at any time of year.
How long does it take a Christmas cactus to root from a cutting?
It can take between a month and a couple of months for a Christmas cactus to root. Of course, this depends on the time of year you take the cutting and how warm it is.
What to avoid when you propagate a Christmas cactus
When you propagate a Christmas cactus, avoid taking cuttings when the Christmas cactus is in flower during this stage most of the plant's energy will be directed towards the flowers rather than growing new roots. Wait a few weeks, until the cactus has stopped blooming, which is the optimum time to propagate a Christmas cactus.
What is the best soil to root Christmas cactus cuttings?
The best soil to root Christmas cactus cuttings is Cactus/Succulent compost you can easily buy this on Amazon.
However, experts at the RHS recommend creating your compost mix, made from a 60% peat-free substrate with 20% perlite or grit at 20% fine-graded orchid bark. But they also acknowledge that a premade mix will still work well.
Regardless of whether you make your own mix or buy some ready-made, the most important thing to remember is that Christmas cacti need a free-draining medium.
Will you be gifting out some little Christmas cactus babies this year?
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Holly is one of Ideal Home’s content editors. Starting her career in 2018 as a feature writer and sub-editor for Period Living magazine, she has continued this role also adding regular features for Country Homes & Interiors and the Ideal Home website to her roster. Holly has a passion for traditional and country-inspired interiors – especially kitchen design – and is happiest when exploring the countryside and hills of the Lake District. A keen gardener, she is a strong believer that you can never have too many houseplants.
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