Thanks to its long bloom season and profuse floral display during the winter months, Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera truncate) has long been considered a seasonal staple among houseplants.
However, those who purchase this plant at the start of the holiday season when it’s beginning to bloom often find themselves at a loss as to how to care for it — and without the proper care, their Christmas Cactus plant may fail to bloom the next year.
Although Christmas Cactus does very well in indoor home environments, they have a few conditions that must be met if they are going to perform their best.
Here’s what you need to know:
Cultivation Requirements of Christmas Cactus
One of the most important requirements for Christmas Cactus to bloom is a period of time when it receives 12-14 hours of complete darkness every 24 hours.
Most people put their Christmas Cactus on a windowsill in a room that’s never used after sundown or before sunup.
It’s also important to stop watering this plant for about a month and keep temperatures relatively cool.
Pruning is also an essential cultivation requirement that, if not done properly, can inhibit or even prevent flowers from forming the following year.
Pruning Christmas Cactus
Because Christmas Cactus doesn’t have standard stem and leaf system, but instead has leaf segments attached to one another that produce flowers on the tips, pruning them can be confusing for those who have never had them before.
When pruning this plant, it’s important to cut them off between leaf segments. They should also be pruned no later than one month after the plant has passed its bloom season.
After Christmas Cactus blooms, it enters a growth period where new foliage is formed, and pruning helps create a bushier plant by forcing the growth to go in an outward direction rather than upward.
Use a sharp, sterile pruning knife or clippers
The pruning knife you use should be very sharp in order to prevent tearing the delicate plant tissues and sterilized in a commercial solution designed for use on gardening tools or a homemade mixture of one part bleach to nine parts water. You should also wash your hands thoroughly before pruning — these precautions help prevent the spread of plant disease.
Prune at the gap between segments
Always prune your Christmas Cactus at the gap between the leaf segments. This should be easy because these are the weakest part of the plant. Some people prefer to twist at the segment to remove foliage instead of using a knife, but this approach seems to work best on newer growth.
It’s not advisable to prune more than one-third of the existing foliage off of your Christmas Cactus. If you recently purchased the plant and it’s still small, you only need to remove about an inch. The end result should be that each stem is roughly the same length.
Pruning also provides an excellent opportunity to thoroughly inspect your Christmas Cactus for any pests or pathogens that may be present so you can treat the plant to avoid any further damage.
Use cutting for more plants
It’s never a good idea to leave the trimmed plant material sitting in the pot — as they decompose, they’ll become attractive to a variety of pests and pathogens.
As an alternative to simply tossing them into the trash or the compost bin, consider using the cuttings to propagate more plants.
All you have to do is let cuttings sit in a cool, dry place for a few days before placing them in a container with potting soil, watering sparingly until the new plants develop root systems.