Christmas cactus one of the popular holiday cacti that are grown mostly indoors across the US. Like many cacti houseplants though, christmas cactus fails to flower for many plant owners. In this article I will outline simple and easy-to-apply steps for making your christmas cactus bloom.
How to make christmas cactus bloom
The information given below will be of most help to those people who have a non-blooming christmas cactus. Although we have a dedicated article covering the reasons why a christmas cactus won’t bloom (that also outlines the steps to fix the problem), this article also has helpful insights into getting a christmas cactus to bloom when you want it to.
The article will also also help those christmas cactus owners who have plants that bloom out of season (though I have much more detailed information on that in our christmas cactus bloom guide).
So let’s look at how to make christmas cactus bloom.
Christmas cactus is a perennial succulent that naturally flowers once per year, usually around Christmas time – hence its name. Being native to tropical areas of south-eastern Brazil this cactus has evolved to grow under some very specific conditions. When these conditions are not met the plant will not bloom.
I have outlined how you can create the ideal growing environment for this succulent in our christmas cactus care guide and I urge you to read that so you can cultivate a very healthy plant that lives for many decades. But even those houseplant owners who give their christmas cactus the ideal care and attention may find that they have a plant which needs a little helping hand when it comes to blooming.
In the above mentioned christmas care article you will see that there are 7 basic needs you must provide a christmas cactus if you want to grow a healthy plant.
The basic needs of a christmas cactus involve having the right: soil; pots; temperature; humidity; light; water; fertilizer.
The key to forcing a christmas cactus to bloom involves manipulating, and slightly changing, just 3 of these basic requirements. By slightly altering your care routine in these 3 areas it is possible to make your christmas cactus bloom even if it has never bloomed before.
To get a christmas cactus to bloom you need to change:
- The amount of light the plant gets.
- The temperature around the plant.
- The moisture level in the soil.
Let’s look closer at the 3 steps you need to take to force blooming in a christmas cactus.
How to get a christmas cactus bloom – the 3 step strategy
Christmas cactus, as I mentioned earlier, gets its name from the fact that it naturally blooms in the winter and is usually in full flower around the holiday season. In its natural habitat this will mean few hours of daylight and lower temperatures.
In our part of the world Christmas falls in mid winter when temperatures are cooler and light is more scarce. So you would expect a christmas cactus plant to bloom freely and easily at this time of year. However, this is not always the case because conditions within a typical American home do not reflect winter temperatures.
Unfortunately for christmas cactus houseplants American homes have internal conditions, such as temperature ranges, that are kept at consistent levels throughout the year – they don’t drop to a level that mimics tropical winter which is needed to encourage blooming in a christmas cactus.
What you need to do therefore is slightly alter the environment around your cactus so it better matches the winter conditions of the natural habitat of the plant.
How do you do this?
Christmas cactus has very specific light requirements. Normally a christmas cactus can get up to 12 hours of good strong indirect light per day. This is especially beneficial when the plant first enters a growth stage and also when you want to increase the overall size of the plant or make it fuller,- maybe after repotting it in a bigger container.
However, as christmas cactus blooms naturally during the winter, when there is less daylight and more darkness, 12 hours of light is too much in the winter and will restrict blooming.
Therefore, when you want to encourage blooming in a christmas cactus you should ensure the plant gets no more than 8 hours of indirect light per day and 16 hours of darkness.
In my experience with non-blooming christmas cactus the cause usually lies with the temperature range that is maintained around the plant.
Because home temperatures are kept reasonably high during the winter, to offset the cooler outside temperatures, the temperature range around a christmas cactus houseplant will often be too high for blooming.
To encourage blooming, place your plant in a location that is cooler than the average temperature of your home. You may find that putting it beside an east-facing window is all you need to do to both ensure the cactus is getting the right amount of light and is also not experiencing the higher average temperatures of the building.
During normal growth a christmas cactus should be growing in temperatures between 65°F – 75°F. However, when you want you encourage blooming ensure a christmas cactus is getting between 50°F –60°F.
Just by lowering the temperature you will have taken a big step towards making your christmas cactus bloom.
Although christmas cactus, like all cacti, is a succulent that requires much less water than the average evergreen houseplant, when it comes to blooming the plant needs to be given even less water than normal.
As I covered in our christmas cactus watering guide, on average a christmas cactus will need to be watered once every 3 weeks. However, as you lower the temperature around the plant the moisture in the soil will evaporate more slowly.
As the plant is no longer actively growing and producing new leaves it will not require as much water to hydrate itself.
Both lower temperatures and slower growth means the soil of the plant will retain more moisture than normal. The plant will therefore require fewer waterings.
Christmas cactus should only be watered when the soil dries.
The best way to gauge when a christmas cactus needs to be watered is to use a cheap moisture meter. Although they only cost a few bucks they are fairly accurate and will allow you to get your watering routine correct.
When it comes to encouraging a christmas cactus to bloom the moisture meter should read “dry” before you water the plant again.
How to make christmas cactus blooms last longer
When you follow the 3 simple steps outlined above, for making a christmas cactus bloom, you will have a blooming christmas cactus to be proud of in a very short period of time. But, now that you know how to get the cactus to flower you will no doubt want to learn how to make those blooms last longer!
To make christmas cactus blooms last longer you must regulate the light around the plant. Once a christmas cactus begins to produce flowers you should increase the amount of light the plant gets from 8 hours per day to 12 hours per day and return to a normal 3 week watering routine.
Giving a christmas cactus more light during its blooming stage will encourage the plant to produce more flower buds.
Although each bloom will not last longer individually the fact that the plant remains in the blooming cycle longer means you will have flowers on the plant for a longer period.
How to make christmas cactus fuller
Longer lasting blooms are great but only if they fill the pot. A christmas cactus with scant foliage and minimal blooms is far from ideal. You will want a plant that produces an abundance of buds and thus more flowers.
Below is some simple advice that, if followed, will ensure your christmas cactus blooms are fuller.
To make a christmas cactus fuller you need to encourage more foliage growth, and then later more bud growth, on the plant. You can do this by pruning the foliage and adding fertilizer, along with some epsom salts, to the soil prior to blooming.
By pruning just 1 or 2 segments off the stems (removing two leaves from a stem) you can greatly encourage new foliage growth on a christmas cactus during its active growth cycle. This will greatly increase the flowers that the plant produces when it starts to bloom as more foliage equals more blooms.
During the growth stage, but prior to blooming, when a christmas cactus is producing new leaves it uses up a lot of magnesium in the soil. So, by adding a little epsom salts to the plant’s normal water routine (every 3 weeks or so) you can quickly replenish the lost magnesium in the soil. This magnesium boost will greatly encourage fuller foliage on the plant which in turn will give the plant more opportunities to develop buds.
Also during the growth stage, and also prior to blooming, using a well balanced cactus fertilizer every 2 weeks (roughly from from April to October) will increase the production of buds and also make the flowers more vibrant when they do bloom.
Use a liquid succulent fertilizer as you can apply it directly to the soil so you are not overwatering the cactus. If you plan to use this technique to help with christmas cactus blooms do not use a regular houseplant fertilizer! Regular fertilizer is much too rich and will cause leaf burn and will likely negatively affect the plant blooms.
Why did my christmas cactus bloom early?
Not all christmas cacti bloom when they are suppose to or when you want them to. Why do some plants bloom early and what can you do to make your cactus bloom at the right time?
A christmas cactus will bloom out of season due to the overall environmental factors around the plant. It is during winter that the plant blooms in its native habitat but most homes do not mimic those tropical winter conditions. For instance, most homes have higher than ideal temperatures in winter for christmas cactus blooming due to HVAC and similar temperature controls.
Incorrect light conditions along with the wrong temperatures can affect when a christmas cactus blooms.
If you find that your christmas cactus has a tendency to bloom out of your desired season then follow the advice given in the early sections of this article to ensure the plant has tropical-winter-like conditions during the months when you want it to bloom. Also read our guide on how to grow christmas cactus for more tips on cultivating this beautiful succulent.