Cactii

Guide to Schlumbergera: How to Grow and Care for the “Christmas Cactus”

Read our complete guide to Schlumbergera for everything you will ever need to know! Tips for growing and caring for “Christmas Cacti”
Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

Schlumbergera, also known as Christmas cactus, Holiday cactus, Thanksgiving cactus, Easter cactus, or Crab cactus is a very popular and easy-to-care-for succulent. Unlike most succulents and cacti, Schlumbergeras aren’t native to arid regions, but instead, they thrive in subtropical and tropical climates, more specifically in the coastal mountains of south-eastern Brazil.

The tubular flowers of the Christmas cactus are beautiful; they have long bloom time and can be white, pink, or red depending on the variety.

There are three main types of Holiday Schlumbergeras (Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter Schlumbergeras) and each one of them blooms close to the holiday that it is named after. Telling them apart can be quite confusing because most of them are labeled as Christmas cacti but interestingly enough, most of them turn out to be Thanksgiving cacti.

Flowers of the Christmas cactus
Flowers of the Christmas cactus

So, if you want to know what type of Schlumbergera you have, you need to take a close look at its leaves and flowers and pay attention to its blooming season.

The most popular type of Holiday Cactus – the Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) has the pointiest leaves and, on the edges, you’ll notice some claw-shaped projections. The leaves of the Christmas cactus are less pointy and more scalloped and have a teardrop shape while the leaves of the Easter cactus are rounded. The flowers of the Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti are tubular, while the flowers of the Easter cactus are daisy-like.

About Schlumbergera

  • Schlumbergera is a genus of cactii with six to nine species.
  • Schlumbergeras thrive on indoor windowsills as they do not tolerate cold weather, but you can place them in your garden as long as the temperatures don’t drop below 50°F (10°C).
  • They don’t need a lot of water so it’s best to ‘apply the soak’ and dry technique to avoid overwatering.
  • It’s recommended to repot your Christmas cactus in well-draining soil as soon as you bring it home especially if its nursery soil and its pot are not appropriate.
  • Schlumbergera truncata generally bloom between November and January and depending on the variety, its flowers are white, pink, or red.
  • With proper growing conditions, Schlumbergeras can bloom more than once a year. Placed near an east-facing window where it will get twelve hours of bright indirect light and twelve hours of darkness each day, this beautiful succulent will bloom again.
  • The preferred daytime temperature for Schlumbergeras is 70°F (21C) and the evening temperature is 60-65°F (15-18°C).
  • It is easy to propagate from cuttings and it doesn’t need to be repotted very often.
  • When exposed to stress such as sudden changes in temperature or improper lighting conditions, Christmas cacti will start dropping their blossoms.
  • They can be susceptible to mealy bugs and root rot (when overwatered).
  • A great thing about Schlumbergeras is that unlike most holiday plants, they are non-toxic so your curious pets are perfectly safe.

Schlumbergera Live Plant, From Amazon

Schlumbergera Features: An Overview

  • Schlumbergeras are a group of flowering succulents that make popular gifts for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
  • In their natural habitat, they are epiphytes (air plants), they grow on other plants and rely on them for physical support, but they are not parasitic.
  • Schlumbergeras thrive in the mountainous jungles of Brazil and shady areas of cliffs and rock outcrops.
  • They don’t have true leaves, but their round and flat stems are often confused with leaves.
  • Young plants can have an upright form, but as they mature, they tend to droop and become pendant-like.
  • There are three different, yet very similar, types of Schlumbergeras/Holiday Cacti: the Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii), Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata), and the Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaetneri).
  • Most succulents labeled as Christmas cacti on the market are Thanksgiving cacti.
  • The Christmas cactus blooms in early winter, the Thanksgiving cactus blooms in late fall, and the Easter cactus blooms in mid-spring. But, as mentioned above, with proper care, these succulents can bloom more than once a year.
  • These succulents will generally grow up to 10 inches (25.4 cm) in height and 24 inches (60cm) in diameter.
  • The hanging branches of the Schlumbergera are flat, glossy, and green and they can grow up to 36 inches long. The flowers bloom at the tip of these branches, have several tiers of flowers, and are about 3 inches long.
  • Their flowers are tubular and have a flower-within-a-flower aspect. They can be peach, red, pink, purple, orange, or white.

Red Thanksgiving Cactus, Schlumbergera Truncata, From Amazon

Growing Schlumbergera

The Schlumbergera is a low-maintenance plant that thrives in average home conditions. This succulent doesn’t mind low light environments, but it produces blooms only when exposed to indirect bright light. Since it is a coastal plant the Schlumbergera accepts more humidity than other succulents and cacti do and it requires extended periods of darkness to begin its flowering process.

This plant will usually bloom just in time for the winter holidays and its flowers are red, yellow, pink, purple, and other pastel colors. The flowering period of the Schlumbergera spans over several weeks and the flowers last for a few days.

It is worth mentioning that direct sunlight can burn the leaves of the Christmas cactus, so if you want to keep it outdoors, make sure it gets partial shade. The perfect temperature for Schlumbergeras ranges between 60 and 70°F (15-21°C).

As mentioned above, the Christmas cactus prefers an average level of humidity. So, if you keep the plant in a dry environment, you can place a tray of pebbles filled with water beneath its planter to increase the levels of humidity.

By the end of the flowering season (usually in fall or six to eight weeks before the next flowering period), the Christmas cactus needs to become dormant. During this period, the plant needs less humidity, a cooler environment (50-55°F/10-12°C), and less light (12-14 hours of darkness).

Schlumbergera flowering
Schlumbergera flowering

Watering Schlumbergera

Schlumbergeras are thirstier than other succulents and cacti because they are endemic to tropical and sub-tropical forests. Whenever you notice that the top inch of soil is dry, make sure you add more water. This plant cannot tolerate completely dry soil and it prefers humid environments.

When watering your Christmas cactus, take into consideration the time of year, the climate, and the environment. If you keep your plant outdoors in a hot and dry climate, water it every two to three days and place it in a shady area.

In a cool and humid environment, especially if it’s indoors, the Schlumbergera does fine with a once a week watering schedule. To stimulate blooming, cut back on watering during the fall and early winter months.

Although it is native to tropical and subtropical regions, the Christmas cactus is quite sensitive to over-watering. If the soil is too damp, the plant can get fungal rot disease and its leaves will start to fall off. To avoid overwatering but to ensure that the plant gets enough moisture, place a tray of water near the plant or mist your cactus regularly with a spray bottle.

Plant the Schlumbergera in well-draining soil and fertilize it regularly, especially in spring and summer. Cut back on the water (without letting the soil dry completely) and fertilizer during the dormancy period (late autumn, early winter for about 6 weeks) to encourage blooming.

Schlumbergera truncata
Schlumbergera truncata

Propagating Schlumbergera

Propagating Christmas cacti is a very easy and rewarding process and the best part is that you can offer the plants to your loved ones as Thanksgiving or Christmas gifts.

The first step of the propagation process is taking a small Y-shaped cutting from the Schlumbergera stem tip. It’s best to take a cutting of two or three joint segments and to ensure that they are healthy.

To avoid excess moisture and root rot you should let the cuttings rest and dry for a few hours. Once the cuttings are dry, place them in a pot with well-draining soil (succulent and cacti soil mix).

The freshly potted cuttings will take root if placed in a well-lit area with plenty of indirect light. It’s recommended to water sparingly at first until the plant has taken to the new environment. The first sign that the cuttings are adjusting to their new home is when they have fresh growth at the tips of their leaves.

Don’t worry if your plant wilts a little in the beginning. This is perfectly natural and more often than not, the plant will start to look better once it takes to its new environment.

In conclusion

Schlumbergera, also known as the Christmas cactus, the Thanksgiving cactus, or the holiday cactus is a low-maintenance plant with beautiful flowers. When placed in a suitable location with plenty of indirect light, 12 hours of darkness, and enough moisture, this versatile plant will surprise you with additional blooming cycles throughout the year.

The Christmas cactus is a great gift for your loved ones and, luckily, it is very easy to propagate. If you have a thriving Schlumbergera with long healthy stems, you can take some cuttings, wait for them to root, plant them in beautiful containers, and offer them as gifts. Everyone will be pleasantly surprised, especially when they find out that you propagated the plants with your own hands.

669 views
Miruna Secuianu

Miruna is an experienced content writer with a passion for gardening. She is the proud owner of an outdoor rose garden and an indoor collection of tiny succulents. She bought her first succulent 10 years ago - an adorable Echeveria Setosa. Now she owns more than 100 succulents and cacti of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Miruna is a versatile writer and, as you might have guessed, her favorite topic is gardening. Contact miruna@gardenbeast.com

Write A Comment