How to grow a Christmas cactus: caring for this indoor plant made easy

Learning how to grow a Christmas cactus will help you brighten up your home this winter

how to grow a Christmas cactus
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Wondering how to grow a Christmas cactus? We're here to help. These jolly indoor plants are brilliant for brightening up your home throughout the cooler season. And with a few simple tips and tricks, they're easy to look after.

When it comes to your interior decor, bringing in one or two of the best Christmas plants is a great way to boost the mood. And a Christmas cactus is ideal if you're going for a more contemporary feel. 

'Traditionally, these low-maintenance plants provide a colorful display of red flowers during the festive period, but also come in pink, white, purple, and orange varieties,' explains the houseplant experts behind Baby Bio®. So, there's one to suit every decorating scheme.

4 simple tips on how to grow a Christmas cactus

Planning your indoor holiday scheme is just as important as getting your outdoor Christmas decor ideas sorted. And alongside lights and the traditional tree, a potted Christmas cacti or two makes a lovely addition. 'Festive, floral, and full of color – the Christmas cactus is always a popular plant for this time of year,' says Founder of Beards & Daisies and houseplant expert, Jo Lambell. Plus, you can enjoy the look of the foliage throughout the other seasons.

'Whilst it's still classed as an easy-care plant, don't treat it in the same way you would with a normal cactus,' Jo adds. 'It is an epiphyte and is native to the tropical rainforests of southern Brazil, where they grow on tree branches. For this reason, its care should be more similar to that of a tropical plant.'

We've brought together the key points on how to grow a Christmas cactus, to ensure you get the best results.

flowering Christmas Cactus plant with bright pink flowers

Add a splash of color to your home this winter

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1. Plant it in suitable soil

First of all, you'll need to make sure your Christmas cactus is in the optimum type of soil. This is especially important to consider if you're learning how to repot a Christmas cactus or potting up plants from cuttings.

'Like any other succulent or cacti, make sure your plant is potted in well-draining soil,' says the team at Baby Bio®. But also, bear in mind that Christmas cacti prefer slightly acidic conditions. Using a specific cacti feed can help maintain the right balance to help your plant flourish. 

'Use fertilizer every couple of weeks from spring through to autumn, and during winter reduce the feeding to once a month to encourage blooming,' adds the team.

You can learn more about fertilizing plants in our guide.

Close-up of Christmas cactus flowers

Get the growing conditions right and you'll be rewarded with beautiful blooms

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2. Get the lighting right

As with any successful indoor plant idea, you'll need to be sure you have the right light conditions. 'Many plant parents assume that cacti need full sunlight, but the Christmas cactus actually thrives best in bright but indirect sunlight,' says the team at Baby Bio®. Too much sunlight can cause its delicate leaves to bleach and burn, so placing your plant near a north-facing window is ideal.

Jo Lambell agrees: 'It can handle low light, but bright, indirect light is the optimum for this plant and will encourage more flowers, too.'

As it turns out, bright, indirect light is optimum when learning how to care for a poinsettia, too.

Christmas cactus in pot

A Christmas cactus makes a lovely addition to festive decor

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3. Up the humidity

These plants like high humidity levels. The team at Baby Bio® suggests misting your plant regularly or placing it on a tray of damp pebbles. This is particularly useful during the winter months when the air in homes can become very dry due to heating systems.

Even better, pop them in a kitchen, or add them to your collection of indoor plants for bathrooms. Both of these areas benefit from high humidity compared to other rooms in the home, the team says. 

The experts at Essential Living also advise to 'always avoid putting your cactus near a hot fireplace or radiator which will suck the moisture from the air.'

white Christmas cactus on chair

White varieties are perfect for a wintry scheme

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4. Rotate the pot regularly

'Be sure to rotate your plant regularly,' adds the team at Baby Bio®. This will ensure all sides of the plant get a similar amount of light, which helps it establish an even growth pattern.

'And, try placing them in a hanging pot to encourage full and even growth,' the team adds.

Speaking of hanging plants, why not create some beautiful, blooming displays outdoors, too? Our guide to the best plants for winter hanging baskets is a good place to start.

Christmas cactus on windowsill

Help your plant grow evenly

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What are the common problems when growing Christmas cacti and how do you resolve them?

Even the best indoor plants can have their fair share of problems, but most are easy to resolve. In terms of Christmas cacti, look out for the following, as says Jo Lambell of Beards & Daisies.

  • Flower buds dropping can be put down to sudden changes in temperatures, as well as overwatering. During the growing season, it's best to maintain a temperature of 64.4–68°F (18-20°C) .
  • Shriveling stems can occur when the plant is too hot or is down to incorrect watering, whether too much or too little. Adjust the light and amount you water the plant, and it should recover.
  • Discoloring happens when the Christmas cactus is exposed to too much light. Remember, these cacti are different from desert cacti and are used to dappled light as they grow naturally in rainforests.

How often should you water a Christmas cactus?

Overwatering is one of the biggest killers of the Christmas cactus, as it can lead to diseases such as white rot. 'They only require watering once every couple of weeks during the summer, and as little as once a month during winter,' says the team at Baby Bio®. 

'Only water when the top two inches of soil are completely dry, so use your finger or a pencil to test its moisture levels before each water. If it feels dry, aerate the soil to allow for an even distribution and use tepid water, or water from the bottom if your pot has drainage holes.'

However, it's a fine balance. Don't leave your plant for too long without water or it will wilt, as Essential Living explains. A Christmas cactus cannot tolerate completely dry soil, unlike a desert cactus.

You can learn more about watering plants with our dedicated guide.

watering a Christmas cactus

Be careful not to overwater your Christmas cactus

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Can you grow a Christmas cactus from cuttings?

Learning how to take cuttings from plants is an easy way to get new ones for free. 

'The Christmas cactus is very easy to propagate,' says the team at Baby Bio®. It is typically best to take cuttings in early springtime. They share their tips on how to do it:

  1. Using a clean, sharp knife or pair of scissors, simply take a Y-shaped cutting from the end of a stem, near the lower sections of the plant.
  2. Allow the end of the cutting to dry out for approximately a day to avoid stem rot, then plant it into well-draining compost about 1cm (0.4in) deep. Place your plant baby in bright but indirect sunlight and water it sparingly to prevent rotting.
  3. Typically, it takes around 12 weeks to root in, so they are perfect for propagating in spring to gift to friends and family next Christmas.

If you're looking for more budget-friendly ways to decorate with foliage for the festive season, you might like our guide on how to make a Christmas wreath and our DIY Christmas decoration ideas, too.

Christmas cactus cuttings in pot

Grow new plants for free

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Where to buy your Christmas cactus

Now that you've learned how to grow a Christmas cactus, you may well be eager to buy one of your own. Christmas cacti can be bought from local garden centers or sometimes, in large grocery stores. However, buying one online can be more convenient.

Our roundup of quicklinks will help you start your search:

Where to buy Christmas cacti in the UK:

Where to buy Christmas cacti in the US: