A Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) is a very cool plant and looks so good over the festive period in full bloom. It brightens up those decorations with all of its natural sass.
Despite its flashy appearance, Christmas cacti are fairly easy houseplants to care for. But if you (like me) haven't seen blooms this year or if yours is looking a little too limp, something might be off. Spot the signs of overwatering and bad light conditions early and it's possible that you can restore yours back to health. Sure it might not bloom now as you'd hoped, but care for yours properly from here on out and you might have a better shot at having a beautiful plant next year.
"Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti do well during this season and have beautiful blooms," says Ashley Nussman-Berry, founder and administrator of the Facebook group Black Planters, noting how you can find them easily at gardening centers, grocery, and home improvement stores. Whether you've had yours for a couple of years or a couple of months, if it's not looking its best, here is where you could be going wrong.
1. You're using the wrong type of soil
Perhaps you've repotted your Christmas cactus and used generic soil that's meant for gardens or other houseplants. Easily done. However, this can actually be a fatal mistake and even lead to root rot.
"Soils that do not hold moisture are best for cacti," says Nussman-Berry. "To avoid rot, I suggest buying a soil marked specifically for cacti, or creating your own pebbly and/or sandy cacti mix. The more drainage it provides, the better. You can add substrates like perlite, pumice, rock, sand, etc. to potting soil to create a great mix."
2. You're giving yours too much attention
When you love your plant, it's easy to go overboard with watering and general care. Though a lot of TLC may feel necessary, Nussman-Berry says that similar to all cacti, you can leave Christmas cacti alone.
"Water and forget about them," she says. "Let them dry out completely in between watering sessions. I thoroughly water and let the water drain out if my soil is airy and ideal. If the cactus is in regular potting soil, I water a little bit at a time and water more often."
Although you might switch up your decor on the regular, once you've found a good spot for your Christmas cactus, just leave it there as moving it around too often will do it more harm than good.
3. Yours isn't getting enough light
The right level of light is essential with most houseplants, particularly when caring for Christmas cacti. "Lots of light is key with almost every cactus," shares Nussman-Berry. "Using grow light supplementation is especially important during winter months or in places that do not get a lot of sunlight."
4. You're skipping feedings
There is such a thing as going the other way and completely neglecting your plant. Don't skip feeding your Christmas cactus in the lead-up to the flowering season (December) as this can have a negative impact.
You want to feed your cactus from spring after it flowers and every month after that. Gardeningetc suggests using a fertilizer every two weeks or so and lowering the number of feeds you do once you hit winter. In these colder periods, once a month will suffice. Less frequent fertilization may even lead to those blooms you're after!
5. You're not listening to your Christmas cactus
You might not consider yourself a houseplant whisperer, and that's okay. But Nussman-Berry does share the importance of keeping an eye on your Christmas cactus in case anything changes as it can be a quick telltale sign that something is up.
"Listen to your plant, watch for any changes, and act as soon as you notice something is off, because even though cacti are usually pretty beginner-friendly, they can decline fast when unhappy."
When it felt like the world was falling apart at a time of pandemic and protests around Black lives, plant enthusiast Ashley Nussman-Berry noticed that she and other Black people were being shut down and silenced in planting communities and forums just for voicing their feelings. Tired of feeling unheard, she created Black Planters as a safe space for Black gardeners to gather, relate, and share with one another as they posted their latest plant purchases and latest learnings on plant care. The group has also evolved into a platform to help reclaim the practice of gardening and remove the stigma around gardening that others might carry from generations of ancestors being forced into the practice. Black Planters was recently inducted into Facebook’s Accelerator program, which works with community leaders to provide funding and mentorship to better their causes. Ashley will be using the program to help set up community gardens in predominantly Black areas and throw events with Black master gardener speakers.
Pick a good spot for your Christmas cactus, water and feed it only when needed, and it will look happy and healthy year after year.