5 Tricks To Stunning Christmas Cactus Blooms. Full Bloom Guide

Christmas cactus bloom

In this article I cover everything you need to know about christmas cactus blooms. You will discover when this desert succulent blooms and how many times it blooms per year along with the duration of the blooms and how to make those blooms last longer. I also offer you essential care guidance for maintaining a healthy cactus after blooming has occurred.

A Full Guide To Christmas Cactus Blooms

The christmas cactus is a desert succulent from the family Schlumbergera. Other flowering cacti in this family include thanksgiving cactus, crab cactus and the easter cactus many of which are mistakenly sold as christmas cacti by unknowledgeable vendors.

The christmas cactus,  Schlumbergera bridgessii, grows natively in the warm coastal regions of south-eastern Brazil. Here is grows naturally on trees and in rocky outcrops which provide partial shade and lots of indirect sunlight.

It is relatively easy to grow christmas cactus as a houseplant but only gardeners who live in USDA climate zones 9 through 11 should attempt to cultivate this succulent outdoors.

These 5 christmas cactus care needs must be observed for the plant to bloom

In order to ensure christmas cactus bloom you must give the succulent the proper care it needs, and this starts by ensuring it is placed in the correct environment.

In order for christmas cactus to bloom the plant needs:

  • A minimum of 8 hours of good indirect sunlight per day.
  • At least 12 hours of darkness each day.
  • Temperatures between 65°F – 75°F.
  • Fairly high levels of humidity.
  • The correct well-draining succulent soil.
  • Fertilization every 2 weeks during growing season prior to actual blooming. Use a liquid fertilizer that you can apply directly to the soil so you are not overwatering the cactus.
  • Watering every 3 weeks.

1. Christmas cactus light needs

In order to get a christmas cactus to bloom you really need to get its lighting correct.

I have found that, disease and pests aside, by far the biggest reason for a non-blooming christmas cactus is incorrect light conditions.

Christmas cactus in full bloom
Christmas cactus in full bloom

Christmas cactus requires a certain amount of light to bloom but it is known as a short-day plant for a reason; as well as light this plant also requires long hours of complete darkness at night

As I already mentioned the biggest reason for a healthy christmas cactus refusing to bloom is incorrect light. This succulent requires a minimum of 8 hours of indirect light per day. When it’s in  blooming season you should really aim to give the plant at least 8 hours of good indirect light per day while also ensuring it gets at least 12 hours of darkness at night.

Without sufficient light and dark a christmas cactus will simply not produce flowers.

Now bear in mind 2 things:

  1. Christmas cactus should not be placed in a location that gets direct sunlight. It should always be given indirect light.
  2. The plant also requires at least 12 hours of darkness every night.

If you find that your christmas cactus refuses to bloom then consider using a grow light to make up for any light deficiencies the plant may be experiencing and also ensure it is placed in complete darkness at night. Either move the plant to a completely dark room or cover it with a soft cloth or ventilated darkened tent for at least 12 hours every night.

See our christmas cactus light requirements guide for more detailed information on this.

2. Temperature & humidity requirements of a christmas cactus houseplant

The natural habitat of the christmas cactus plant is both warm and humid. Therefore to ensure you get your plant to bloom you must, as best you can, replicate its natural climate. How do you do this?

Well, the temperatures in the coastal areas of south-eastern Brazil are fairly similar to those you experience normally in a standard American home. Although temperatures can climb as high as 90°F in the native habitat of the christmas cactus, regular temperatures usually range between  65°F – 75°F. As most US homes are kept at at constant 70°F they offer the ideal growing environment for this succulent – at least as far as temperature goes.

Of course because the coastal south-eastern areas of Brazil have moist humid air and humans do not feel comfortable in humid conditions you must take a few small steps to ensure the localized environment around your christmas cactus is humid without it affecting your overall home’s humidity levels. How do you do this?

There are 2 simple tricks for creating localized high humidity around your plant.

Christmas cactus bloom trick #1: Place your christmas cactus pot on top of a standard pot tray. Fill the tray with pebbles. Then add water to the tray. The water will evaporate slowly and create moisture in the air directly around the plant thus increasing humidity levels in a very small but localized area.

Christmas cactus bloom trick #2: Only use good quality terracotta pots for christmas cactus. Terracotta naturally sweats out moisture from the soil to the outside of the pot. This moisture then evaporates and helps maintain the humidity levels around the plant in a similar way that the water tray does.

3. You must meet a christmas cactus’ soil requirements for blooming to happen

To ensure your christmas cactus blooms you must plant it in the correct soil. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I have seen houseplant owners repot their cacti in standard potting soil.

This is not just a bad idea but it can be disastrous for your succulents.

Christmas cactus flowering
Christmas cactus flowering in terracotta pot

Regular potting soil is far too rich for cacti and it also holds on to moisture too long for succulents. Cacti need a well-draining, sandy soil in order to thrive.

Always use cacti or succulent soil with your christmas cactus plant or it will likely not bloom.

4. Christmas cactus has unique fertilization requirements

The only problem with cacti soil, or succulent soil, is that a plant can exhaust the nutrients it contains fairly quickly.

Where regular potting soil is packed with nutrients and a well balanced mix of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, succulent soil is made of one third sand and one third perlite or vermiculite.

Thus there is much less nutrients available as only one third of the soil is made up of compost.

This is why it is important to use a good succulent fertilizer during the growing stage, just prior to blooming, of a christmas cactus.

Do not use a regular houseplant fertilizer as it will not contain the correct mix of nutrients and will likely be too rich for your cacti plants.

Christmas cactus bloom trick #3: Use a well balanced cactus fertilizer every 2 weeks from April to October, prior to blooming season, as this will increase the blooms and make them more vibrant. Use a liquid fertilizer that you can apply directly to the soil so you are not overwatering the cactus.

Christmas cactus bloom trick #4: Add a little epsom salts to the water every 3 weeks to replenish the magnesium in the soil. Mix it at 1 teaspoon per gallon of water. As I pointed out in the article about christmas cactus leaves care a lack of magnesium in the soil can affect the pigmentation of the foliage, so to improve the color of christmas cactus blooms it is important to main the magnesium levels in the soil.

5. Your christmas cactus watering routine must be 100% correct

Christmas cactus, like all cacti and all succulents, must not be watered too much!

Both overwatering and underwatering a christmas cactus will prevent it from blooming, along with a creating a whole host of other problems.

If you underwater a christmas cactus not only will the plant become dehydrated but much-needed nutrients will not reach the upper parts of the plant and feed it so it can produce flowers (the water carries the nutrients to the stems and foliage).

Conversely, if you overwater the plant there will be too much moisture in the foliage and the roots will start to rot. As the roots rot they become unable to absorb moisture and nutrients from the soil and thus cannot distribute them to the rest of the plant. The cause may be different but the effect is the same – dehydration and starvation.

If you live in a regular home with normal temperatures you should aim to water your christmas cactus only once every 3 weeks. If you live in an area with higher, or lower temperatures, then you will need to alter your watering schedule appropriately.  You can learn when it is necessary to do this, and how do this, in our christmas cactus watering guide.

Always water the plant from the bottom.

How often you can expect a christmas cactus to bloom naturally

So, how often can you expect your christmas cactus to produce flowers?

A christmas cactus will naturally bloom once per year in its native habitat. However, christmas cactus houseplants can bloom several times per year with the proper care.

Christmas cactus bloom in late December
Christmas cactus blooming in late December

Left to its own natural cycle a christmas cactus will bloom once per year. However, as I will cover later in this article, it is possible to force a christmas cactus to rebloom several times in the same year.

Once the plant produces flower buds it can take up to 8 weeks before the flowers bloom. This means the bloom cycle can take between 8 – 12 weeks to produce open flowers.

Why some christmas cactus bloom at christmas & others do not

Many people wonder why christmas cactus tend to bloom in late December around christmas time.

Christmas cactus bloom at Christmas largely due to light conditions and temperatures. Christmas cactus will produce buds and flower when days have shorter daylight hours with lower temperatures and longer hours of darkness.

Because the winter months have shorter days and longer nights (from a sunlight perspective) and are cooler than summer days, christmas cactus will enter the blooming stage in winter. This is why this cactus tends to flower at christmas indoors as the temperatures are lower but still comfortable (like its natural tropical habitat) but the lighting is greatly reduced.

Keep in mind that christmas cactus will still require at least 8 hours of indirect light per day in order to bloom even though they must be given at least 12 hours of total darkness.

How long you can expect your christmas cactus to stay in bloom

How long can you expect your christmas cactus to bloom?

The christmas cactus has a blooming cycle that lasts between 3 – 6 weeks. During this stage the plant will continue to produce new flowers as old ones die.

Three weeks is a fairly short blooming cycle compared to many other houseplants and you may think it’s not really worth it to grow these cacti plants if they only produce flowers for 3 weeks. But bear in mind that this is at the lower end of the scale and you can expect a 6 week blooming stage if your plant is growing in optimal conditions.

What’s more, the actual flowers can live for several days past the last bloom.

How to make christmas cactus blooms last longer

How can you make christmas cactus blooms last longer?

The key to making christmas cactus blooms last longer is to regulate the environmental conditions of the plant.

Do the following to make christmas cactus blooms last longer:

  • Ensure the temperature is kept between 50°F and 60°F.
  • Create a humid environment around the plant using the techniques mentioned earlier.
  • Give the plant only 8 hours of indirect light per day – but no less.
  • Make sure the cactus gets at least 12 hours of complete darkness at night.
  • Stop fertilizing the plant.

Although taking the above steps will help to make your christmas cactus blooms last longer, all is not lost if they only last a few weeks. You can always make the plant bloom again!

How long christmas cactus flowers usually last

With some christmas cactus plants having a short blooming cycle many indoor gardeners wonder if it is worth the effort cultivating these cacti if they may only produce flowers for a few weeks.

If you only want to grow these cacti for their beautiful blooms you will likely want to know how long  christmas cactus blooms last.

Each flower that a christmas cactus produces can last up to seven days. Although the flowers may have a short lifespan the blooming cycle of the plant can last up to 6 weeks where the plant continues to produce new flowers. It can also be forced to rebloom.

Normally christmas cactus flowers will stay fresh and vibrant for several days after blooming. But even as old flowers start to fade and die new ones are being created while others are starting to bloom. So, you can expect a nice bloom on a christmas cactus for several weeks.

How to make a christmas cactus bloom again

Not many christmas cactus houseplant owners realise that they can force their plant to rebloom.

You don’t need to settle for one yearly Christmas bloom with this cactus!

Christmas cactus reblooming
Christmas cactus reblooming

Through a few simple steps you can make your cactus flower more than once in a calendar year. How do you do this?

The key to making christmas cactus rebloom is to manipulate its growth cycle.

Christmas cactus bloom trick #5: By manipulating the light conditions and environmental temperatures of a christmas cactus you can force it into a new blooming cycle.

By forcing the plant to first enter a stage of dormancy, you can trigger new growth and a new blooming cycle several times per year.

Let’s look at how you can achieve this.

8 tricks to making a christmas cactus rebloom

To make a christmas cactus rebloom follow the steps below.

You must force the plant into dormancy about 8 weeks before you want it to start its blooming cycle. To do this:

  1. Reduce your watering schedule to once every 4 weeks.
  2. Place the plant in a location that gets about 14 hours of complete darkness per day.
  3. Ensure there is no light source close to the plant during its darkness hours.
  4. Reduce the temperature around the plant to between 50°F – 55°F.
  5. Do not fertilize the cactus during this period.
  6. After about 8 weeks the plant will enter a new growth cycle.
  7. Once the plant starts to produce flower buds you can move it to a location with more light.
  8. The cactus can now receive 8+ hours of indirect light per day and only 12 hours of darkness per night.

Why some christmas cactus bloom early

If you find that your christmas cactus plant is blooming early it is down to its lighting.

Christmas cactus plants will bloom early if they get lots of light between 10 – 12 hours per day. By reducing the amount of light the plant gets, to 8 hours per day, you can slow down bud development and delay blooming.

Christmas cactus care tips for after blooming

After a christmas cactus blooms you should not fertilize the plant again until it enters a new growth cycle, when it is producing new stems.

Christmas cactus needs a period of dormancy to rest and gather resources for its new growth cycle. At this stage, after blooming has completed, you should reduce your watering schedule, only watering the plant when the soil has dried out – usually every 4 weeks.

If you want you can relocate the plant to an area that gets longer hours of darkness per day and that is cooler than your regular house temperature. During dormancy christmas cactus like temperatures between 50°F – 55°F and 12 – 14 hours of complete unbroken darkness per night.

The dormancy stage is short and you will usually see new growth appear several weeks later. Read our guide to christmas cactus care for more detailed instructions about looking after this succulent.

If you find that your christmas cactus refuses to produce flowers then read our article outlining why christmas cactus won’t bloom and shows you the quick easy steps to get your succulent producing flowers quickly and every year after.

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