Cactus Care Made Easy: The Ultimate Fertilizer Guide

Person mixing soil and fertilizer in a pot using a trowel.

If you’d like to see your Christmas cactus blossom, you might buy some fertilizer to help it with blooming. I like Christmas cactus fertilizer as well to promote faster growth of the plant and to promote a greener, happier and healthier plant. However, while you can boost growth with fertilizer, you do need to keep a few things in mind for the best results. 

How Often Should I Fertilize My Christmas Cactus

You should fertilize your Christmas cactus once a month throughout the growing season from April to September. During this time, you may need to repot your cactus as it grows too big for the pot. Most of the time, you should repot the cactus in the spring season after blooming except in emergencies where the pot is hindering the growth of the cactus. 

Expert Tip: Don’t fertilize the plant immediately after the blooming season. Christmas cactus require a rest period after blooming from four to six weeks to ensure that it blooms next year. Don’t repot it during this time either.  

You also should avoid fertilizing them during the season when they enter into their blossoming period (after September). You do it this way because it will give you the best flowering, which can happen anywhere from November to early January. 

The reason that you fertilize the Christmas cactus from April to September is that it promotes growth and helps your Christmas cactus store energy for the blooming season. Whenever a plant produces flowers, it requires a great deal of sunlight and nutrients to produce from the energy.  Be aware that you need to buy high-quality fertilizer that will feed the cactus during this time. 

Don’t over fertilize the Christmas cactus. Excess fertilizer can damage critical proteins that the plant needs to protect itself from pests and diseases. When you over fertilize a Christmas cactus, it will burn the sensitive roots of the plant and make it decay. Christmas cactus are also not heavy feeders, so you shouldn’t use too much. 

What is the Best Fertilizer for the Christmas Cactus?

To fertilize your Christmas cactus, you need to look for a balanced or high-phosphorus fertilizer. In general, this fertilizer helps most cacti species to bloom, including the Christmas cactus. 

I would recommend the Grow Co Succulents & Cactus Plant Food. It releases nutrients slowly to the Christmas cactus, and you can use it as an alternative to a liquid fertilizer. You can use it for other plants as well so that if you only have one or two Christmas cactus, you can still get the most from the fertilizer by using it with other plants. 

Nutrients from Fertilizer and How It Interacts with the Christmas Cactus

In general, you need nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium for the Christmas cactus. Each of the nutrients will play a different role in the growth of your cactus. For example, nitrogen promotes plant growth, gives it the necessary protein and helps it to produce chlorophyll and nucleic acid. 

You want a fertilizer with phosphorus because this helps with cellular growth, plays a role in energy transfer and helps the plant to resist diseases. Finally, you have potassium, which plays a role in boosting immunity, promoting the growth of roots and helps the leaf to produce starch and sugar. Provided you use the right amount, you will help your Christmas cactus to grow faster and produce more beautiful blooms. 

X Tips to Fertilize Your Christmas Cactus

Tip #1 Choose the Right Fertilizer

You need to pick a high-quality fertilizer, or it won’t create the desired effect of growth and better blooming. The right balance of nutrients will give you the best results. 

Tip #2 Use a Balanced Fertilizer

A balanced fertilizer consists of a 20-20-20 ratio of three major components: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. The numbers represent the percentage of each nutrient in the mix. 10-10-10 means less concentration than the 20-20-20 mixture. These three main components that make up a balanced fertilizer play an essential role in your Christmas cactus’ health.

  • Nitrogen helps produce new stems, leaves and flowers. It stimulates the plant’s growth and development.
  • Potassium supports plant processes such as photosynthesis, water transport and helps fight diseases.

You can use a fertilizer with a higher concentration of any of these nutrients to provide your Christmas cactus an extra boost. For instance, use a fertilizer with higher phosphorus concentration to encourage more blooms from your Christmas cactus. However, too much fertilizer harms plants. Make sure to follow the labels in fertilizer to avoid over-fertilizing. 

Tip #3 Fertilize During the Growing Season

The growing months of Christmas cactus fall from April to September. These months make the best time to fertilize our Christmas cactus because it helps our plant increase growth, produce better blooms and enables an overall healthier Christmas cactus. 

  • Increase Growth – fertilizer allows the development of new stems, leaves and flowers.
  • Better Blooms  – fertilizer boosts the production of larger flowers and abundant blooms.
  • Healthier Christmas Cactus – applying fertilizer allows plants to withstand pests and disease so it stays healthy.

Also, take note that your Christmas cactus in its growing season requires bright but indirect sunlight, regular watering and temperature ranging from 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Tip #4 Dilute the Fertilizer

Fertilizers contain concentrated nutrients that our plants need to grow. Too much fertilizer harms it otherwise. We dilute the fertilizer to prevent this problem. When we dilute fertilizer, we just add water to reduce the concentration of nutrients. Christmas cactus roots only absorb a certain amount of nutrients at a time. Diluting the fertilizer first allows the roots to absorb the nutrients without causing harm. 

Fertilizers come with labels with instructions on the amount of fertilizer to dilute. As an example, let’s say you will dilute a 20-20-20 fertilizer. You need to mix it with water in a ratio of 1:10 to 1:20. Meaning, if you have 1 tablespoon of fertilizer, you need to mix it with 10 to 20 tablespoons of water. By following this diluting ratio, we can avoid the following over-fertilizing risks:

  • Root burn: This problem occurs when roots get exposed to too much fertilizer and the Christmas cactus starts to die.
  • Leaf burn: When the leaves start to turn yellow or brown, it shows signs of over-fertilizing.
  • Nutrient lockout: Plants, such as the Christmas cactus, become unable to absorb nutrients because the soil gets too soaked with fertilizer. 

Tip #5 Thoroughly water the Christmas cactus after applying fertilizer

Watering thoroughly after applying fertilizer allows further dissolution and helps reach the roots. Water distributes the dissolved fertilizer throughout the soil so the roots effectively absorb them. This practice also helps further dissolve fertilizer particles that weren’t dissolved prior. 

Thoroughly watering the Christmas cactus after using fertilizer prevents fertilizer burn. Fertilizers not diluted properly harm your plants and turn them yellow or brown until they die.  

Tip #6 Do not apply fertilizer during winter

Christmas cactus goes dormant from December to February. Don’t give your plant fertilizer during these months. It results in growth that is not in line with the natural cycle of the plant.

Applying fertilizer also promotes root damage and the growth of molds. Christmas cactus prefers a cool and dry place when it goes dormant. Using fertilizer creates a moist environment that encourages the growth of molds. 


Christmas cactus beautifies our homes and adds a touch of holiday cheer. However, they can be tricky to care for, especially when it comes to applying fertilizer. In general, you don’t need to fertilize your Christmas cactus very often. A balanced fertilizer specifically designed for cacti can be used once a month during the summer and spring months. Always follow the instructions on the label. 

By following the simple tips discussed above, you can ensure that your Christmas cactus gets the nutrients it needs to stay healthy and bloom beautifully.

Frequently Asked Question

What Is the Best DIY Fertilizer for Christmas Cactus? 

Coffee grounds make excellent DIY fertilizers because they contain key minerals ideal for plant growth such as nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, iron, calcium and magnesium. Coffee grounds also help absorb soil contaminants like heavy metals and attract worms that are great for your garden. 

Simply sprinkle some coffee grounds around the base of your Christmas cactus or you can mix it into the potting soil when you repot your plant. 

Are Eggshells Good for Christmas Cactus?

Eggshells can provide a decent amount of nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus and potassium that are essential for Christmas cactus growth. However, it can’t provide as many nutrients as commercial fertilizers. You can powderize the eggshells and sprinkle them around the base of your Christmas cactus. 

Eggshells take a while to break down in the soil so you may need to reapply the powder regularly.

How Can I Make My Christmas Cactus Grow Faster?

You can make your Christmas cactus grow faster by applying nutrients to its soil and repotting it into a pot 2 inches bigger than its diameter to promote root growth. Nutrients may be provided through fertilizers mainly rich in nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Also, make sure that the potting soil contains a generous amount of organic matter and drains properly. 

Why Is My Christmas Cactus Turning Purple?

Christmas cactus is a popular indoor plant because of its vibrant colors. However, seeing the purple discoloration on its leaves and stem brings concern about your plant’s well-being. 

Why is my Christmas cactus turning purple? A Christmas cactus turns purple as a response to environmental stress, such as too much light, to protect itself from the sun’s rays. Other factors such as nutrient deficiency, sudden temperature drops or overwatering also lead to the plant’s discoloration. 

If you’d like to know an in-depth discussion about why a Christmas cactus turns purple and ways to help it turn back to its normal color, keep reading.

What Is a Normal Color for a Christmas Cactus?

A deep, vibrant green indicates that your Christmas cactus is normal. A healthy Christmas cactus possesses plump green leaves and bears abundant flowers. Here are additional indicators of a healthy Christmas cactus:

  • Green-colored stems. Yellowish or pale green stems exhibit signs of nutrient and sunlight deficiency. If the stem turns dark green or purple, it indicates getting too much sunlight. 
  • Glossy green leaves. Purplish shade on leaves means the plant was exposed to too much light. Colors such as yellow, orange or brown on leaves signal a problem.
  • Bright-colored flowers. Flowers make a good indicator of your Christmas cactus health. A healthy Christmas cactus produces vibrant and uniform blooms. If the flowers look faded, it might be a sign that your plant doesn’t get enough light. Aside from the colors, the flower should also:
  1. Produce abundant flowers. If the Christmas cactus grows a noticeably small amount of flowers, it might be a sign of deficiencies in light, nutrients or water.
  2. The size and shape of the flowers are ideal. The flowers of a healthy Christmas cactus look large and well-formed. Small or distortedly-shaped flowers mean your plant doesn’t get enough light and nutrients.
  3. Long-lasting lifespan of flowers. The average lifespan of the Christmas cactus flowers ranges between four to six weeks. However, if the flowers last for several days only, your plant lacks enough water or nutrients.

Importance of Understanding the Causes of Color Change in Christmas Cactus

Knowing and understanding the changes in the color of your Christmas cactus plays a very important role in maintaining a healthy plant, providing optimal care, timing blooms and increasing propagation and cultivation measures. In the following section, we will discuss the essential factors in understanding why your Christmas cactus changes color.

Related article: Best Pot for Christmas Cactus 

To Detect Potential Problem

When your Christmas cactus turns yellow, brown or purple, it indicates problems such as overwatering, nutrient deficiency or root rot. Color change also signals your plant experienced environmental stress or acquired diseases. By understanding why your Christmas cactus alters its color, we can identify and address the problem correctly.

To Provide Optimal Care

Factors such as the amount of water and sunlight, temperature and fertilizer affect the color of your Christmas cactus. Knowing these factors allow Christmas cactus owners, like us, to provide the right amount of care for your plants. For example, adjusting the amount of light exposure promotes more vibrant-colored stems, leaves and flowers. Also, supplying the right amount of nutrient levels and water guarantees healthy leaves and flowers. 

Successful Cultivation and Propagation

Knowledge of the color change of Christmas cactus allows plant breeders and enthusiasts to successfully propagate this plant using different techniques like grafting to preserve and propagate specific color traits. They can also use the knowledge about changes in color to develop new varieties, or cultivars, with desired colors. Some examples of Christmas cactus cultivars are the Christmas Fantasy and the Christmas Flame.

Related article: Most Common Christmas Cactus Problems [+How to Solve Them]

Reasons for Purple Coloration in Christmas Cactus

Anthocyanins are color pigments responsible for the purple color of your Christmas cactus. Environmental stress factors produce these pigments on plants as their response. In the case of your Christmas cactus, anthocyanins absorb the excess sunlight to prevent damage to your plant’s cells. In other words, the Christmas cactus changes color to purple to protect itself from too much light absorption. 

Aside from excessive light protection, here are the other reasons why your Christmas cactus turns purple.

Temperature Stress

Temperature changes induce the production of anthocyanins in the Christmas cactus. The cold temperature causes the accumulation of anthocyanins to prevent cold-induced damage. The ideal temperature for your Christmas cactus should range between 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Exposing your plant to temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit can cause permanent damage. 

Related article: How to Grow a Bigger Christmas Cactus

Nutrient Deficiencies

The purple discoloration signals a lack of nutrients – specifically magnesium and phosphorus. Phosphorous deficiency increases the development of anthocyanin levels which turns foliage to purple discoloration. It also impedes root growth. For the worst symptom, your plant becomes pale due to extreme deficiency. 

On the other hand, a deficiency in magnesium turns the leaf edges purple. Magnesium is a component of chlorophyll – a green pigment in plants. When your Christmas cactus lacks magnesium, it inhibits the production of chlorophyll. To compensate for the lack of chlorophyll, your plant produces anthocyanins, which are purple pigments. 

Although anthocyanins play an unnecessary part in your plant’s growth, they help protect leaves from any damage caused by too much sunlight exposure. 

An ideal amount of phosphorus and magnesium for Christmas cactus is shown in the table below. 

NutrientRecommended Amount
Phosphorous200-300 ppm
Magnesium50-100 ppm

Christmas cactus requires a balanced amount of phosphorus and magnesium. Phosphorus helps your plant bloom and magnesium plays an important role in photosynthesis. We can supply these important nutrients to your Christmas cactus by using fertilizer. The ideal fertilizer ratio contains 20% nitrogen, 20% phosphorous and 20% potassium. 

You can provide magnesium to your plant by using Epsom salts – a natural source of magnesium. You can easily mix this with your fertilizer. The ratio of Epsom salt to give is 1 teaspoon per gallon of water.

Other Underlying Issues

Environmental stresses such as pests, improper potting soil and overwatering or underwatering cause purple discoloration in your Christmas cactus. 

  • Overwatering – Overwatering leads to root rot. Root rot stops the plant’s absorption of water and nutrients. This problem stresses your Christmas cactus which leads your plant to produce anthocyanins – the purple pigments in your plant.
  • Underwatering – Insufficient water supply causes stress to your Christmas cactus. It attempts to produce anthocyanins to protect itself from stress. This causes your plant leaves to turn purple. 
  • Pests – Pests such as mealybugs, scale insects and aphids don’t directly cause the purple discoloration to your Christmas cactus. However, when they feed on the sap of your plant, it weakens your Christmas cactus. It stresses them and causes the production of anthocyanins. 
  • Improper Potting Soil – Using soil not appropriate for your Christmas cactus causes purple discoloration. Improper potting soil brings forth several problems such as poor drainage, nutrient deficiency and too high or too low soil pH. As mentioned, these problems cause stress that leads to the production of anthocyanins in your plant. 

Natural Color Variation

Some Christmas cactus variations naturally exhibit purple color in their leaves and stem. Examples of these variations include the Purple Passion Christmas cactus, Schwarzenberg Christmas cactus and Limelight Christmas cactus. Purple leaves and stems are perfectly normal for these variations and don’t indicate problems. This means that observing the growth and overall health of your Christmas cactus helps determine if this is the case. 

Will a Purple Christmas Cactus Turn Green Again?

Yes, the Christmas cactus can go back to its normal color. Here are the following steps on how to address the purple discoloration: 

  • Provide adequate light. The cactus needs 8 hours of indirect light per day. The ideal location to put the Christmas cactus is by the window except the south. If we place the plant in a south-facing window, use blinds or sheer curtains to filter the light.
  • Fertilize using a balanced fertilizer. The ideal fertilizer formula for this plant is 20-20-20 – 20% nitrogen, 20% phosphorous and 20% potassium. It helps solve the nutrient imbalances causing purple discoloration in the Christmas cactus. 
  • Ensure proper watering. Soak the soil and let it completely dry before watering. Consistency is the key here. If you follow consistent and appropriate practices in watering, it restores your plant’s health and color. 
  • Maintain stable temperatures. We must keep the Christmas cactus in a stable temperature that ranges between 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Exposing this plant to fluctuating temperatures causes it stress, which may turn it purple again.

If the following conditions above are met and still the plant doesn’t return to its normal color, the presence of genetic factors or underlying issues may affect its ability to return to its normal color. You may want to consult a horticulturist for further assistance. 

Related article: Ultimate Guide: Types of Christmas Cactus 


Aside from its normal color variation, environmental stresses cause the purple discoloration in the Christmas cactus. These stresses include temperature stress, nutrient deficiency and underlying issues such as overwatering, underwatering, pests or improper potting soil. We can help address these issues by consistently providing the appropriate care such as addressing the right amount of light, water and nutrients. By doing these things, you can help your plant return back to its normal color. 

How to Grow a Bigger Christmas Cactus

Christmas cacti are a popular choice for indoor plants because they are relatively small and easy to care for. However, they can grow larger in ideal environmental conditions. A Christmas cactus can reach a maximum of 12 inches in height and 24 inches in width. Several factors determine the size of a Christmas cactus. If you want to keep it small, provide your plant with indirect sunlight, well-drained soil and a pot of just the right size. You have to provide more light and a larger pot if you’re looking for a larger Christmas cactus. 

How to grow a bigger Christmas cactus? Choose a pot that is two to three inches larger than the current pot to give its roots enough room to grow. Also, use well-draining soil with high organic content and water your Christmas cactus correctly. 

In this article, we’ll discuss the key factors for growing a bigger Christmas cactus. Keep reading to learn more.

Key Factors for Growing a Bigger Christmas Cactus

Pot Size

Christmas cacti prefer pots that are not too big for them. As suggested, use pots that are two inches bigger than your plant. For example, you have a Christmas cactus that measures 2 inches in diameter. In that case, utilize a pot that measures 4 inches in diameter. Christmas cacti prefer smaller pots because they don’t grow large roots. Using pots that are too large for Christmas cacti inhibits their growth because it causes them to release a stress hormone known as abscisic acid. Abscisic acid is a plant hormone that is released when the plant is stressed in response to several environmental factors. 

Using smaller pots also prevents root rot as it doesn’t hold too much water in the soil. If the Christmas cactus like smaller pots, how can you grow a bigger one? Christmas cactus need repotting every 4 years. After 4 years, the Christmas cactus will outgrow its pots. This is the best opportunity to transition to a bigger pot – but make sure you still follow the correct ratio between the plant size and the pot size. You can check these terra cotta pots that come in different sizes ideal for Christmas cactus.

Related article: Best Pot for Christmas Cactus


The soil you use impacts the growth of your Christmas cactus. To encourage the growth of your Christmas cactus, choose the right soil. In the next section, we will discuss the different factors to consider in picking the right soil for your plant.

  • Drainage – Use soil that drains well to prevent root rot. Christmas cactus are especially susceptible to this kind of problem. The right soil must not be soggy but must be able to hold some moisture too.
  • Aeration – Aeration provides oxygen to the plant’s roots. Roots need oxygen to survive. Oxygen is required for respiration so roots can produce the energy the plant requires to survive. Compact soil squeezes out the air pockets that give roots difficulty in getting oxygen. It’s very important to choose soil that provides aeration.
  • Organic Matter – Examples of organic matter in soil are compost, peat or leaf mold. Organic matter improves aeration, drainage and water retention. 
  • pH Level – pH level refers to how basic or acidic soil is. It affects the presence of nutrients essential for plant absorption. Christmas cactus requires slightly acidic soil that ranges between 5.5 to 6.2 in pH levels. Too much alkaline content inhibits nutrient absorption in plants. 
  • Nutrients – The major nutrients that Christmas cactus require include nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. You can provide these nutrients by using fertilizers.


How you water your Christmas cactus could either hinder its growth or help it reach its potential size. The ideal time to water your Christmas cactus is when the soil becomes totally dry. The best way to water your plant is by soaking it in water and letting the water drain through the pot’s holes. However, water your Christmas cactus less frequently during the winter months. 

The problem of overwatering is mostly common in Christmas cactus. If the roots are exposed to wet soil for too long, it leads to root rot. Too much water in the soil prevents the roots from absorbing nutrients and oxygen crucial for a plant’s survival. On the other hand, underwatering wilts the leaves of the Christmas cactus until it dies. Although the Christmas cactus tolerates underwatering more than overwatering, it’s best to practice the right way of watering it so that it grows into a bigger Christmas cactus. 

Here are some extra tips for watering your Christmas cactus:

  • Thoroughly water the Christmas cactus until the water runs out of the pot’s drainage holes. 
  • Always use a pot with drainage holes to prevent water from getting stuck in the soil.
  • Let the soil turn completely dry in between waterings.
  • You can mist the Christmas cactus leaves regularly to increase humidity.

Related article: Can Christmas Cactus Survive Outside?


All plants, including the Christmas cactus, require light to produce energy. This energy makes the plant grow through a process called photosynthesis. Without light, energy can’t be produced and your plant will die. The Christmas cactus needs at least 8 hours of exposure to indirect light. You can achieve this by putting your plant in the window facing east or south. 

Below, we will discuss in detail how light impacts your plant’s growth:

  • Light intensity – As mentioned, Christmas cactus likes bright but indirect light. Direct exposure to sunlight can burn its leaves while less light can slow down its growth rate.
  • Light quality – Christmas cactus prefer filtered light by the window or shade cloth. This plant can tolerate bright light but not for long. 
  • Light duration – Take note that the Christmas cactus requires 8 hours of indirect light exposure and 12 to 14 hours of darkness. Aside from its growth, it needs darkness to encourage your Christmas cactus to bloom. During the nighttime, this plant gets pollinated by insects, such as moths, which helps their reproduction.

Alternative lights can make up for the insufficient natural light during winter. You can check out this full-spectrum light for indoor plants ideal for Christmas cactus and your other house plants during winter.

However, take note that Christmas cactus still prefer natural light. Also, winter months are when most Christmas cactus undergo the dormancy period. You can reduce the amount of light your plant receives. By giving your Christmas cactus the right amount and right quality of light, you help it grow in size and bloom beautifully. 

Related article: Most Common Christmas Cactus Problems [+How to Solve Them]


Taking good care of the Christmas cactus involves pruning. Pruning plays two important roles in the life of your Christmas cactus. What are these two?

  • Pruning encourages new growth – Pruning involves removing old woody leaves and stems. By doing this, you allow your plant to focus on producing new and healthy stems and leaves. The new stems grow larger and stronger than the old ones which results in a bigger Christmas cactus overall. 
  • Pruning improves air circulation – Better air circulation happens between stems when a Christmas cactus is well-pruned. It prevents pests and diseases that keep your plant healthy. A healthy Christmas cactus is more likely to grow bigger. 

How do we prune our Christmas cactus the right way? You can follow these tips from our Christmas cactus experts. 

  • Prune your Christmas cactus only after it has bloomed. Why? After its blooming period, the plant enters into a growth period that is more likely to produce new and healthy stems.
  • Use a sharp and clean knife to cut dead or infected stems off the plant. This prevents the spread of any pests and diseases the old stems of your plant carry.
  • Prune right to the base of the stem. Pruning from the base stimulates the plant to produce new growth.

Questions you may ask about pruning:

  • When is the best time to prune? As mentioned, after the Christmas cactus has bloomed is the right time to prune. This happens somewhere from November to January.
  • How much do I need to prune? If your Christmas cactus is overgrown, you can prune it to about 1/3. However, if your plant is healthy, just remove any dead, damaged or diseased stems. 
  • What specific part do I need to prune? Prune the stems. Leaves are not really needed for the plant’s growth so you can leave them on the plants.
  • What tools do I need to prune? You need a clean and sharp knife to prune the Christmas cactus. Always disinfect your knife before and after pruning to stop the spread of diseases.

Related article: Ultimate Guide: Types of Christmas Cactus


Several factors should be put into consideration to grow a bigger Christmas cactus. Use the right pot size that is only 2 inches bigger than the diameter of the Christmas cactus currently. Choose soil that provides good drainage and aeration for your plant’s roots. Provide indirect yet quality light for your Christmas cactus. Don’t overwater or underwater your plant. Lastly, prune your Christmas cactus to encourage healthy growth. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the Best Fertilizer for Christmas Cactus?

The best fertilizer for Christmas cactus contains high potassium content in liquid form. Liquid-form fertilizers have less salt content than granular fertilizers. Roots retract from fertilizers that contain too much salt. Examples of liquid-form fertilizers good for your Christmas cactus include Miracle-Gro LiquaFeed Advance Starter Kit, Miracle-Gro Blooming Houseplant Food and Miracle-Gro AeroGarden Liquid Plant.

Where Is the Best Place to Put a Christmas Cactus?

The best place to put your Christmas cactus is in the corner of your house with indirect sunlight, such as your window facing the east, west or south. Christmas cactus thrive well when exposed to indirect light for 8 hours a day.

Ultimate Guide: Types of Christmas Cactus

Did you know that the Christmas cactus is a hybrid of the Thanksgiving and E:aster cactus? The Thanksgiving cactus was the first species discovered in the forest of Brazil in 1817. Later in 1837, Charles Lemaire found the Easter cactus. He crossbred the two species that resulted in the first Christmas cactus in 1852. Today, hundreds of Christmas cactus hybrids exist. Christmas cactus has now become a popular indoor plant and a holiday gift.

What are the different types of Christmas cactus? The three types of Christmas cactus include the Thanksgiving cactus, Christmas cactus and Easter Cactus. Each type acquires distinct features that make them different from each other. Types refer to distinct species that have been identified by scientists.

As we learn the three main types of Christmas cactus, join us as we explore each type in this article. 

Thanksgiving Cactus

We will discuss the first type of Christmas cactus – the Thanksgiving cactus. The Thanksgiving cactus is a native of Brazil’s rainforest which was discovered in 1817. Today, this type of Christmas cactus is a popular indoor plant that blooms during the fall and winter months. It’s also a low-maintenance plant. What makes this type different from the other Christmas cactus variety?  

Key Characteristics of the Thanksgiving Cactus

Leaves – The Thanksgiving cactus has green spineless leaves that are flattened. These leaves possess pointed teeth that appear like a crab’s claws, the reason it is also known as the crab cactus. The Thanksgiving cactus leaves reach a mature size of 12 to 24 inches long. 

Flowers – The flowers of the Thanksgiving cactus come in a variety of colors such as white, pink, orange or yellow. You’ll commonly see them in a dark shade of pink. Thanksgiving cactus flower once a year only. This cactus typically blooms mid-November or early December – that was where it derived its name. The flowers stay for as long as seven to eight weeks.

Related article: Can Christmas Cactus Survive Outside?

Easter Cactus 

Another type of Christmas cactus is the Easter Cactus. It was also discovered in the forests of Brazil in 1832 and found growing on trees and rocks. The flowering season falls from March to May or right around Easter – where its name originated. Most people confuse this one with the Thanksgiving cactus, but they’re two completely different types. So how does this type of Christmas cactus differ from the other types?

Easter Cactus
Easter Cactus

Key Characteristics of the Easter Cactus

Leaves – Unlike the Thanksgiving cactus with crab-like edges in its leaves, the Easter cactus has rounded scallops on its flattened leaves. The presence of bristles and round margins found at the tip of the leaves make this distinct from the other types of Christmas cactus. The segments of the stem usually measure from 2 to 3 inches. The mature stems change from flattened to triangular in shape. 

Flower – As mentioned, the Easter cactus blooms from March to May. The flower appears to be bell-shaped with a diameter that measures between 1.5 to 3 inches. The flower comes in a range of colors, such as pink, orange and red. Unlike the Thanksgiving cactus and Christmas cactus flowers, the Easter cactus flowers open during the day and close at night. These flowers last for as long as two weeks and reopen once the morning comes and closes again at night.

Christmas Cactus

The third type of Christmas cactus that we’re going to discuss is the Christmas cactus. You read it right – the Christmas cactus. To clarify your confusion, the Christmas cactus is just a general term given to a group of cacti that were discovered in the forest of southeastern Brazil. This group of cacti belongs to the genus of Schlumbergera – scientifically speaking. The Thanksgiving cactus is known as Schlumbergera truncata while the Easter cactus is Schlumbergera gaertneri. 

The third type of cactus that we’re currently discussing is scientifically known as Schlumbergera x buckleyi or commonly known as the true Christmas cactus. As mentioned earlier, this type resulted from the crossbreed of the Thanksgiving cactus and the Easter cactus in 1852. 

Christmas Cactus
Christmas Cactus

Key Characteristics of the Christmas Cactus

Leaves – True Christmas cactus consists of flattened segments with edges that are wider at the base and narrower at the tip – like a tear-drop shape. These edges have a series of small sharp teeth that makes it distinct from the other types. The tip of these leaves have areoles where flowers would appear.

Flower – Christmas cactus blooms from November to February. The flowers are asymmetrical and come in different colors such as purple to red. They have a tube-like appearance and droop downwards. This type of Christmas cactus blooms lasts for four to six weeks. 

Caring for Christmas Cacti

Caring for these three types of holiday cacti is pretty much the same. In the next section, we will discuss the general care requirements for the following types. 


The temperature requirement for your Christmas cactus ranges between 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Although they are called cacti, they are not similar to the cactus in the desert that can tolerate intense drought. Christmas cacti thrive well in partially shaded locations. 


The Christmas cacti prefer bright but indirect light. Indoors, the ideal place to put the Christmas cactus is in front of the windows facing the east, north or west direction. Avoid the south windows because it’s too bright for the plant. 

During winter months when there’s a scarcity of natural light, you can use artificial lights that emit full-spectrum lights. The light coming from full-spectrum lights will provide our Christmas cactus with the strong lighting it needs to grow and bloom. You can check this Full-Spectrum Light for plants indoors with great features such as dimmable levels, auto on and off timer and adjustable stand. 


The best way to water your Christmas cactus is to soak the soil until the water runs out of the pot drains. After that, allow the soil to completely dry before the next watering. During winter months, slightly water your Christmas cactus. A good interval would be from four to six weeks. 

Related article: Best Pot for Christmas Cactus

Expert Tip: 

Do not use cold water for your Christmas cactus because it can cause shock to the plant. Use lukewarm water. If you live in a humid climate, you may need to frequently water your Christmas cactus. 


Overfertilizing the Christmas cactus can be more harmful than underfertlizing it. If you apply fertilizer to your Christmas cactus, consider your plant’s size. Large Christmas cactus require stronger fertilizer than smaller ones. The interval of applying the fertilizer ranges between six to eight weeks. Don’t forget to water your plant after applying fertilizer. 

Expert Tip:

Do not fertilize your Christmas cactus during winter months because they are dormant. When a plant is dormant, its growth halts. Applying fertilizer could lead to damage. Fertilizers contain nitrogen which leads to nitrogen toxicity. When a plant is in its dormant period, it slowly absorbs or stops absorbing nutrients and water. Symptoms include leaves turning yellow until they drop.


The best time to prune Christmas cactus is after its blooming season – usually during summer or spring. Pruning plays an important part in your plant’s growth because it encourages new growth and flowering. It also promotes healthy plants as it is a good way to remove damaged or dead leaves.

Expert Tip:

In pruning your Christmas cactus, use a sterilized knife to avoid the spread of disease. I’d recommend the OTTO 4 Pack Professional Bypass Pruning Shears. They can help you with indoor and outdoor planting, and the handle design reduces the stress on your wrists making them perfect for older individuals who like plants. 

Pests and Diseases

Christmas cactus is prone to pests and diseases that include:

  • Root rot caused by fungi
  • Spider mites
  • Mealybugs
  • Scale

Isolate your Christmas cactus when infected by any of these pests and diseases. The next step is to remove these pests from the infected parts of the plant. You can use insecticide or fungicide to treat your Christmas cactus. After treating your plant, make sure to take care of it well.
Related article: Ultimate Guide: Christmas Cactus Root Rot


Christmas cactus has three main types that include Thanksgiving cactus, Easter Cactus and Christmas Cactus. Each type acquires key characteristics that make them distinct from each other. The Thanksgiving cactus has crab-like leaves and flower colors that range from white to orange. Easter cactus has leaves with round and smooth edges with golden hair at the tip. The flowers usually appear in different colors such as pink and red. Lastly, the Christmas cactus possess leaves that have tear-drop shape edges and flowers that come in colors of red to purple. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I Know What Kind of Christmas Cactus I Have?

The easiest way to identify what kind of Christmas cactus you have is by looking at the leaves’ shape. The Thanksgiving cactus has leaves that look like a crab’s claw. The Christmas cactus has tear-drop shaped leaves. Easter Cactus has rounded leaves that have golden bristles at the tip. 

What color is a healthy Christmas cactus?

A healthy Christmas cactus has vibrant dark green leaves that are firm when touched. The leaves are not yellow or wilted. If the leaves are yellowish, the Christmas cactus may be underwatered or overwatered. If the plant is wilted, it is underwatered.

What Is the Original Christmas Cactus?

The original Christmas cactus was recorded in 1854 and is a hybrid of the Thanksgiving cactus and the Easter cactus. It’s called the true Christmas cactus or scientifically known as Schlumbergera x buckleyi. This hybrid blooms in December and January. 

Most Common Christmas Cactus Problems [+How to Solve Them]

Over the years, I’ve kept several Christmas cactus in the home, and I’ve encountered many of the common Christmas cactus problems. Generally speaking, I love the Christmas cactus because they require less work than other plants to keep healthy, and they can live for decades—my mom had one over 50 years old! While they can live for a long time, you can run into problems with them. Stay tuned because I’ll highlight the issues, the causes and how to solve each one. 

Problem #1: Pale or Red Plant Leaves 


You put the Christmas cactus over in the south-facing window, but you check it one day to notice how the leaves on it turned red, purple or pale. In fact, this issue commonly happens with other cactus, too, where too much direct sunlight can turn the plant leaves red. Incidentally, the Christmas cactus leaves turn red for the same reason. It means that your Christmas cactus is getting too much direct sunlight. 

Now, in some cases, people even do this purposely to bring out the pretty colors of the plant, but you must keep a close eye on it. Too much sunlight will kill a Christmas cactus. Now, I said that red leaves are a problem, but if it only has a light red tint, the plant may do fine. 


Move the Christmas out of the south window if you put it there. Otherwise, check to see if it receives direct sunlight in the area you placed it. Most Christmas cactus prefer eight hours of indirect sunlight. If you use artificial light, they prefer 10 hours. Too much sunlight can damage the stem region beyond repair. 

To get indirect sunlight, you should search for a type of filter to the sunlight. For example, the tree canopy can act as a filter if it lets in enough indirect sunlight. Furniture or curtains could play the same role. Look for what will shield the plant from the sun’s rays. 

Especially if you will put the Christmas Cactus outside, you will want to put it in an area with indirect sunlight. 

Problem #2: Limp or Droopy Christmas Cactus Leaves


Check your Christmas cactus because in some cases, this happens because you overwatered it. Wilted or shriveled leaves indicate the same problem—overwatering. You can especially tell that you overwatered it if the Christmas cactus produces no flowers during the blooming season. It blooms from November to December. 

Feel the flat stems and if they feel soft or mushy, you may need to cut back on watering. In the most severe cases, the Christmas cactus emits a foul odor because of the rot in the plant or rot in its roots


You should water your Christmas cactus on average of once every one to two weeks. I would err on the side of every two weeks because you already overwatered it. Overwatering a Christmas cactus will always do more harm than underwatering it. It recovers more easily. You can tell if you underwatered it because the soil will feel bone dry, and you may see wilting at the stem. 

After the blooming season, stave off watering it for four to six weeks because the Christmas cactus enters a rest period during this time. You need to give it a rest period so that it will bloom for the next season.

Check the soil, too, because Christmas cactus soil should drain easily. Similar to other cacti, it needs soil with good drainage, or it will hold in the water. You may not overwater it at all, and instead, you simply don’t have good drainage. 

Problem #3: Shriveled or Wilted Christmas Cactus Leaves


Most commonly, your Christmas cactus will shrivel or wilt when too dry. In some cases, direct sunlight dries out the soil too much. Your plant soil may dry out quickly because of: 

  • Loose soil
  • Invasive fungi
  • Low humidity
  • Internal water channels 
  • Too much sunlight


You do require some dryness with Christmas cactus soil or it can lead to worse problems. Figuring out when your Christmas cactus needs water can prove a guessing game, but you usually want moisture at least 2 inches down into the soil. 

Now, you can either guess when it needs water, which you can still be wrong about and kill the plant, or you can buy the XLUX Soil Moisture Meter. What I like about the moisture meter is that it eliminates the guesswork, doesn’t require any batteries (so you don’t need to keep investing in batteries), and you will find that your Christmas cactus is in a healthier condition, not stinking up the house because of root rot from overwatering It also doesn’t cost that much, so what’s the risk? Give it a try from the link above!

Problem #4: Christmas Cactus Misses the Blooming Season 


Especially when I first started with the Christmas cactus, I would often find that the plant kept growing, but it wouldn’t bloom. What gives? The blooming season for the Christmas cactus happens from November to December. In some cases, it may happen in early January, but this isn’t as common. If it fails to bloom during that time, you missed the blooming season. 

Now, a Christmas cactus not producing flowers won’t put your plant in danger of dying, but you’ll miss the beautiful buds and flowers. The blooming season is one of the most satisfying times to own a Christmas cactus, so it can make you feel disappointed if it doesn’t blossom—I’ve been there.

In some cases, artificial light can cause it to not bloom properly or if the temperatures rise above 70° F during the day and 60° F to 65° F at night. Beware of a lack of water as well because it often uses water as energy to produce blossoms.


The Christmas cactus originates in the rainforests of Brazil, and the change in the climate during the winter triggers the flowering process. For that reason, you want to create the same conditions as in the Amazon rainforests to trigger the flowering process. 

Be aware that this process begins in September, so you want to put the Christmas cactus in a less-used room during this time. Make sure that the temperature drops down to 60° F to 65° F. Don’t turn on the lights at night in that room since this can hurt the blossoming. The plant needs at least 14 hours of darkness and eight hours of indirect sunlight. 

Beware of street lights from outside that can trigger an incorrect light cycle. 

Afterward, you don’t need to follow the same rigorous light schedule. If you mess up, don’t worry too much since it may take practice to get it right. 

Let’s say that you must enter the room at night. My mom would cover the Christmas cactus with a thick black plastic garbage bag, but you could use a black cloth as well. You can enter the room but only do it if you must. And don’t do it at all if you can help it. Go in the room during the day instead. 

Also, don’t leave the light on for too long, and turn it out as quickly as possible. Usually, you put on the black garbage bag at 8 pm and remove it in the morning to mimic about 8 hours of sunlight—the same as in its natural habitat during the winter season. 

Problem #5: Christmas Cactus Leaves Keep Falling Off


Watch the watering of your cactus closely because leaves fall off due to overwatering or underwatering. When it happens because of overwatering, your roots may suffer from root rot. The longer the roots stay wet, the higher the risk of root rot. As the roots weaken, they can’t perform the same function as they once did. 

Because of the weakened state of your roots, they never transfer the water to the leaves. When this happens, the leaves will fall off. The leaves often feel mushy and soft after falling off because of a lack of water. It basically happens for the same reason with underwatering. 

In some cases, this may cause the leaves to fall off because of issues with the pot. Christmas cactus can grow up to 2 feet within a few years. If you keep the same pot as what you originally had, you risk losing leaves from that as well. 

The reason behind it is that the plant will drop off leaves as a way to conserve energy. The dropping of the leaves happen because of nutrient deficiency. The plant, as the pot becomes too crowded, sheds the leaves as a way to survive through the conservation of its energy. 


If the issue relates to overwatering, you need to cut back on watering. For example, if you water once a week, cut it back to every two weeks. You do more damage from overwatering than you do from underwatering, so you may want to keep it lighter. 

Now, on the other hand, we talked about the Christmas cactus and how they outgrow their pots. You may need to buy a new Christmas cactus pot. I’d recommend this terracotta pot because it has a great style that will make your home look even better. 

Terracotta is also a great pot because of how it lets the soil of Christmas cactus breathe due to its porous material. This prevents root rot. 

Related article: Best Pot for Christmas Cactus

Problem #6: Gray Mold on Christmas Cactus


You can spot this problem when you look at the Christmas cactus to see a whitish-gray mold growing on the leaves of your plant. They call this Botrytis blight, and it most often forms on the plant because of overwatering. You may start to see black spots, also known as necrotic spots, forming on your Christmas cactus. It may happen if the humidity in the room reaches excess levels that let the bacteria form in the leaves of the plant. When it happens because of too much humidity in the room, it will attack the stems of the plant. In some cases, you may see it forming on the blossoms of your plant. 


Don’t try to spray fungicides on it because it’s hard on you, your family and your pets, and this bacteria acts fast, and it will kill your plant quickly. It flourishes in dead plant tissue. In fact, once the Botrytis blight becomes visible on the plant, it means that the fungus had already been culminating for the last two to three weeks. 

You need to isolate your plant away from all the others and pay close attention to the other plants because this fungus starts out small, but it can go on to infect an entire space and kill off all of your plants. The fungus spreads from a breeze or from water that splashes over into the next plant. 

If the fungus starts before the blooming season, it can prevent the flowers from opening. To save the plant, you need to isolate the infected plants and remove all diseased flowers and leaves. Disinfect your pruning tools as well with a 10 percent bleach solution or a 70 percent alcohol solution. If you’d rather buy it, I’d recommend the Grower’s Ally Fungicide Spray for Plants.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this shows you some of the most common Christmas cactus problems and how to solve them. Compared to other plants, Christmas cactus grow easily, but you need to understand some of the problems you may encounter. Unlike most other types of cactus, Christmas cactus inhabit the tropical climate, rather than desert climates. You want to understand that a failure to understand their natural habitat can lead to problems.

Over time, I became better and better at handling the Christmas cactus as my knowledge of this wonderful plant grew. 

Best Pot for Christmas Cactus

Christmas cacti have been around since the 1800s. It emerged as the hybrid of the “Thanksgiving cactus” and the “Easter cactus”. The first hybrids bore cherry-red flowers that bloom from around November to January. Today, the Christmas cactus became a popular houseplant and a great gift for the holiday. 

One common misconception about the Christmas cactus is that it thrives like other cacti. Christmas cacti is actually not a true cactus so it’s not right to assume it requires the same care as the other true cacti. With proper care, it can live for up to 40 to 50 years. How do we properly care for this plant? Let’s start with the right pot.

Factors to Consider in Choosing the Best Pot for Christmas Cactus

In this article, we’ll give you three factors to consider in choosing the best pot for your Christmas cactus.

Choose the Best Pot Size

First, you must consider the size of your Christmas cactus. Choose a pot that would accommodate the natural growth of your plant. If your Christmas cactus plant currently measures 2 inches in diameter, choose a pot that measures 4 inches. The pot size should be 2 inches wider. Christmas cactus thrives well with moderately crowded roots so don’t choose a pot that’s too big either. 

Choose a Pot With Proper Drainage

Drainage is super important in choosing the best pot for your Christmas cactus. It drains excess water that causes root rot. Roots need oxygen as any living organism does. When the soil doesn’t drain the water quickly, the stagnant water blocks the roots from absorbing oxygen. Plant roots in general require respiration that allows the conversion of glucose into cellular energy. This cellular energy is then utilized for metabolic processes such as taking up water and nutrients your Christmas cactus require. 

Choose the Best Pot Material

Terra cotta or unglazed clay makes the best material for a pot. Its porous characteristic allows water to freely drain water to avoid the problem of root rot. The terra-cotta pot also promotes good aeration around the Christmas cactus’ roots. When it comes to aesthetics, terra cotta pots vary in styles and sizes suitable for your needs. Check out this stunning terra cotta pot perfect for your Christmas cactus. 

Terra Cotta Pots

Terra cotta pots are heavier than other types of pots. When using terra cotta pots for your Christmas cactus plant, it requires gentle handling as it is prone to breaking. The freeze and thaw cycles can also break the pot. To prevent this problem, use things such as stones or bricks to elevate the pot. It’s not a problem for Christmas cactus as it usually stays indoors.

Related article: Can Christmas Survive Outside?

Best Alternative Pots for Christmas Cactus

As mentioned, terra cotta pots are the recommended pot for Christmas cacti. However, you can also use other pots such as plastic pots and ceramic pots as good alternatives for terra cotta pots. Keep on reading as we will dive deep into each material.

Plastic Pots

Unlike terra cotta pots, it’s easier to move plastic pots around without worrying about breaking them easily. The plastic material is more durable compared to the terra cottas’. However, plastic materials can be easily knocked down so make sure to place these pots with Christmas cactus in a safe location.

Durable Plastic Pot

If you use plastic pots for your Christmas cactus, water it more frequently as it doesn’t allow air circulation as much as the terra cotta pots provide. As mentioned earlier, aeration plays a crucial part in the plant’s water and nutrients absorption. Be sure to water your Christmas cactus as needed but allow the soil to dry out slightly between waterings. 

In terms of appearance, plastic pots come in a variety of styles, colors and sizes. Though terra cotta pots offer more aesthetics, plastic pots cover a wide range of colors that can match any decor you have at home like these Joojeers Extra Thick Heavy Duty Plastic Plant Pots.

Ceramic Pots

Ceramic pots are the best alternative for terra cotta pots. It allows water to drain compared to plastic pots. Thanks to their porous material, it allows good aeration for your Christmas cactus roots. This helps prevent root rot and other problems caused by poor drainage. Ceramic pots also offer more aesthetics. They come in a wide range of styles and colors. 

The aesthetic of this ceramic Embossed Leaves Stoneware Pot will suit well for your Christmas cactus at home. Take note that ceramic pots are not as porous as terra cotta pots. Unlike terra cotta pots, ceramic pots do not allow quick water drainage. When you use ceramic pots for your Christmas cactus, make sure that you allow the soil to get slightly dry out between waterings. 

Fiberglass Pots

Have you heard about fiberglass pots before because I didn’t. This type of material is relatively new and provides significant benefits over conventional pots. Fiberglass pots are durable, lightweight and resistant to fading and cracking regardless of the weather and temperature. They also allow a good amount of air circulation in the plant’s roots. 

Fiberglass pots usually come in bigger sizes. They’re perfect if your Christmas cactus reaches its full length like this Fiberstone Matte White Planter. These types of pots are a bit pricey compared to traditional pots. However, they offer impressive durability and they last long while looking great. If you’d like to invest in long-term pots, fiberglass pots make a good option.

Additional Pot Tips

As mentioned earlier, choosing the right size for a pot is crucial. A pot that is too large for your Christmas cactus holds too much water that would cause root rot problems. On the other hand, choosing a pot that is too small for your plant prevents the roots from spreading out. It will impede the growth of your Christmas cactus because it restricts the plant’s water and nutrient absorption.

Once you see that the soil is dry, water your Christmas cactus. Ceramic pots slowly dry out compared to terra cotta or clay pots so you don’t have to water your plant more often. Ceramic and terra cotta pots are prone to cracks during winter. To prevent this, wrap your pot using a burlap sack or by keeping your pot indoors. 

Always empty the saucer to prevent stagnant water around your pot. Christmas cacti belong to the succulent group that’s why they can’t tolerate a mushy environment. Remember also that Christmas cactus doesn’t thrive in extreme drought like the true cacti. Water it once the soil feels dry. 

Related article: Cactus Root System: 6 Things That Will Surprise You!

When to Repot Christmas Cactus

The best time to repot your Christmas cactus is when you see its root bounds. Root bounds usually happen every three to four years. It exhibits similar signs when your plant is underwatered. Your Christmas cactus is ready for repotting if you see the following root bound signs:

  • Roots start to come out of the drainage holes
  • Stem becomes yellow or brown
  • Soil turns hard or the top layer turns dry

You can’t just transfer your Christmas cactus to a new pot any time of the year. It’s best to do this after the plant finishes its blooming season because the buds would fall off if we insist on repotting it. February and March are the best months to repot your Christmas cactus.

How to Repot Christmas Cactus

We need to repot Christmas cactus to replenish the nutrients the soil lost over time. Usually, potting soil loses its nutrients after two years. Adding organic matter like compost helps the soil to retain nutrients. How do we repot Christmas cactus?

  1. Choose a slightly larger pot than your current pot. Make sure the pot is two inches larger in diameter than your Christmas cactus.
  2. Make sure that the pot has proper drainage.
  3. To improve the drainage, add a layer of pebbles or gravel to the bottom of the pot,
  4. Use a potting mix that is specifically made for cacti and succulents and fill the pot with it.
  5. Remove the Christmas cactus from its pot gently. Be careful not to damage the roots of your Christmas cactus.
  6. Using your finger, loosen the roots of your plant.
  7. Gently place the Christmas cactus in the new pot and fill it with the appropriate potting mix.
  8. Thoroughly water the Christmas cactus and place it in a location with shade, not with direct sunlight. The ideal temperature for Christmas cactus is from 70 degrees to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  9. Fertilize your Christmas cactus once a month. Compared with other plants, a Christmas cactus requires a high amount of magnesium.  


Do Christmas Cactus Like Clay or Plastic Pots?

Christmas cactus prefers clay pots. Clay pots offer better air circulation to your plant’s roots than plastic pots. Plastic pots retain more moisture than clay pots. Clay pots also help regulate soil temperature. 

How do I Know if My Cactus Needs a Bigger Pot?

When you see roots coming out from your pot’s draining holes, that’s the time you’ll know it needs a bigger pot. This means that the roots have filled up the pot and the plant is no longer able to grow properly. 


In choosing the best pot for Christmas cactus, you need to consider three things. First, the pot should be the right size. It should be two inches bigger than your Christmas cactus diameter. Second, the pot material should allow good air circulation for your Christmas cactus’ roots. Terra cotta or clay pots are recommended. Most importantly, the best pot should have draining holes to prevent root rot.

Can Christmas Cactus Survive Outside? [Get the Answer]

Maybe you’ve thought to take your Christmas cactus outside, but you worry that the weather might kill it. Especially if you grew it from seed, you may feel attached and don’t want to risk harm to your Christmas cactus. Can Christmas cactus survive outside? 

Christmas cacti can survive outside, but you must think about climate and soil conditions if you will plant them. In colder regions, you may want to put them in a planter to take them outside and bring them back in during cold weather. Frost will kill a Christmas cactus. 

In truth, whether a Christmas cactus will survive outside depends on where you live because some areas will be better suited to the outdoors than others. If you’d like to learn more about whether you should put it outside, keep reading. This is a deep and tricky question that may require more depth. 

What to Know About the Outside Christmas Cactus

Christmas cacti originate from shady tropical and subtropical forests, and they do well in regions with that same type of weather. However, anywhere where there’s frost, they can’t tolerate it and will die fast. Christmas cacti even require colder temperatures to create blooms (60 – 65 degrees Fahrenheit), but it must not be too cold, or it will kill your cactus. 

This plant can’t tolerate temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit for long periods. It will suffer permanent damage. 

If you’d like to bring your Christmas cactus outside, they will only do well in the USDA zones 10 to 12. You can only do this in a frost-free region. 

The following states fall into the USDA zones from 10 to 12 and may be able to have the Christmas cactus planted into the ground:

State/RegionsUSDA Zone
South FloridaZone 10
Southeast CaliforniaZone 10
Southernmost Tip of TexasZone 10
Most of HawaiiZone 10
Some Parts of HawaiiZone 11
Southernmost FloridaZone 11
Nevada Zone 11
Puerto RicoZone 12
Parts of HawaiiZone 12

Hopefully, that gives you an idea. Zone 10 sees some of the hottest temperatures in the United States, and it tends to be the more tropical areas like southern California and South Florida. This is good because it most closely mimicks the same climates as in its native habitat. Zone 11 is generally the most tropical zone in the US. 

Finally, Zone 12 is characterized as a hot tropical climate, and the lowest temperatures are usually 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. This is, in fact, the perfect temperatures for the Christmas cactus to be planted outside and survive there, but there are few places in the US that are Zone 12.

What if you don’t live any one of those USDA zones? Don’t worry because we’re going to cover that. 

How to Take Your Christmas Cactus Outside Even in Colder Climates

Just because you can’t plant the Christmas cactus outside in the soil doesn’t mean that you can’t bring it outdoors. My mom will often have me move her Christmas cactus outside over the summer season in Minnesota (a cold state if ever there was one), and she’ll have me move it back in before the first frost from the fall season arrives. 

You need to get the Christmas cactus inside before the first frost, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t take it outside. Just leave it in the planter and pay close attention to when the first frost of the year will arrive and bring it in. 

When is the First Frost Coming?

One of the ways that you can tell when that first frost is coming is to pay attention to the nights because clear and cool nights are often a sign of a cold front moving in. They’re signs of an impending frost. 

Here’s the general rule: If you think one might be moving in, bring your Christmas cactus indoors. Even if you’re wrong, you won’t lose your Christmas cactus, which is the point. 

Another way to tell is to pay attention to the night-time temperatures. You usually get a light frost at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything below 28 degrees Fahrenheit brings you a hard freeze. Many plants can survive a brief period of a light frost—the Christmas cactus isn’t one of them. Even a light frost will kill it. It’d be best to bring it in at any temperature below 60 degrees Fahrenheit anything much lower than this can damage the Christmas cactus. Hard freezes will kill most plants, including your Christmas cactus. 

Still, the Christmas cactus loves to be outside, and it can be rewarding to bring it outside for a period of time. Just get it back indoors before that first frost. Think of it like that first date as a kid when you had a curfew. 

How to Put Your Christmas Cactus Outside 

Now, I’ve said that you can put your Christmas cactus outside but that doesn’t mean that you can put it just anywhere. Even if you can put it outside, you should still pay close attention to where you put it because putting it in the wrong area could cause damage to it. 

If you will plant it outside, you want to plant it in humus-rich soil with a sharp and gritty texture. The soil needs good drainage or it can cause root rot. I wrote about that here

The soil should be slightly acidic between 5.5 to 6.2 pH. You want to put the Christmas cactus in an area with light shade to where it still receives sunlight, but it won’t receive so much that it will burn the leaves. Keep it away from intense sun or direct sunlight for the best results. 

What to Beware of with Your Christmas Cactus and the Outdoors

Putting your Christmas cactus outside may expose it to more potentially damaging insects and pests looking to take up residence. Grab a spray bottle because in most cases, you can remove them with a gentle spray of water. 

Especially when you bring it outdoors, you need to watch out for mealybugs. These are small pests that will appear as sapsuckers on your Christmas cactus as fluffy white bits of cotton. You can get rid of them with a cotton swab that you dipped in rubbing alcohol. 

For other pests like scales, mites and aphids, you will want to use neem oil or insecticidal soap. Many times, the pests will be more attracted to your Christmas cactus if it doesn’t have good draining soil. This is because it creates a more favorable condition for them. 

The one advantage of an outside Christmas cactus is that if your plant does get pests on it, you can eliminate them with stronger outdoor insecticides. With some insecticides, they’re too strong to use indoors, but with an outdoor Christmas cactus, it never becomes a problem. 

Related article: Cactus Root System: 6 Things That Will Surprise You


Even in colder climates, the Christmas cactus can survive outside—you just need to be mindful of when the first frost will come. It especially matters with this plant. In general, anything under 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and it would be best if you would bring your Christmas cactus indoors to prevent damage to the plant. Christmas cacti like to be outside, but you just need to create the right conditions for them. 

Ultimate Guide: Christmas Cactus Root Rot

You go to check your Christmas cactus only to learn that it might be experiencing root rot. Whenever a Christmas cactus starts to have this form in its root, you must act fast, or you will lose your plant. Once root rot progresses past a certain point where all the roots have it, you can’t save it. You will need to start fresh and throw out the plant. Granted, you can propagate a new Christmas cactus with a leaf, but it’s not ideal to have to start all over.  

Signs of Root Rot in a Christmas Cactus

First, let’s cover the signs of root rot so that you will know if you’re dealing with it in your Christmas cactus. Once you know this, I will cover how to respond to it. 

Signs of root rot in a cactus plant include:

  • Wilted or limp despite watering
  • Sagging growth despite watering
  • Blackened tips at the roots
  • Musty or sour odor in the soil 
  • Signs of fungus
  • Mushy plant
  • Pink or reddish discolorations on the leaves

The Christmas cactus is a relatively hardy plant that can withstand most diseases, but it is highly susceptible to root rot like most other cacti. If your plant displays some of the signs mentioned above, keep reading as I cover what causes it and how to address it. 

What Causes Root Rot in a Christmas Cactus?

The most common reason a Christmas cactus experiences root rot is because of overwatering it. Christmas cactus only require you to water them every two to three weeks. Watering them any more than that may cause root rot. 

One of the signs that you should water your Christmas cactus is whenever you feel the soil and it feels dry to the touch. Another way to look at this is that you should water the plant whenever the top third of your plant is dry. Other factors that can influence how often to water it include whether it’s indoors or outdoors and the time of the year. 

In the outdoors with high temperatures, you may need to water it more frequently, depending on the climate. During the fall and winter, water your Christmas cactus less frequently, which will encourage it to bloom more. 

The other thing that can cause root rot is soil with poor drainage. When you pot a Christmas cactus, you want soil with good organic matter but good drainage. Most plant experts recommend one part pumice, one part fine grit, one part bark and one part horticultural sand. 

Whenever root rot occurs, it usually happens because of poor drainage, overwatering or a combination of those two things. 

Related article: 10 Stunning Cactus with Pink Flowers

What Do You Do if Your Plant Has Root Rot?

To save your plant, it’s critical that you take immediate action. Don’t wait because root rot can and will kill your plant otherwise. Once this progresses past a certain point, you can’t save your Christmas cactus. 

Take the following steps if you wish to save your Christmas cactus from root rot:

Step #1: Remove the Christmas Cactus from the Pot

First, you need to remove the plant from the pot. To do this, gently place your hand at the base of the Christmas cactus underneath the leaves. You will gently lift up on the plant and its root ball from the container. Some of the soil may come with the plant when you do this. Rinse away any old dirt from the plant with water. 

Step #2: Cut Away Rotten Rots

This is the point where you can tell how far gone your Christmas cactus is. If it isn’t good, the rotting will have progressed far and throughout the root system making it hard to save. You can spot the root rot because it will feel mushy and rotten. Cut away with a knife any rotten roots. 

Related article: Cactus Root System: 6 Things That Will Surprise You!

Step #3: Repot the Plant

Next, you will want to repot your Christmas cactus in soil with good drainage. Now, before you repot the plant, if you will use the same pot, you need to wash the pot very well with soap and water. This prevents the pot from carrying the same bacteria over into your new pot. Once you’ve done that, you will take your Christmas cactus and put it back in barely moist soil. In general, it’s better to give it a completely new pot. 

Don’t water your Christmas cactus again until after it has dried out completely. 

What to Keep in Mind

When you take the steps outlined above, the soil must have good drainage, and the pot should have a couple of holes at the bottom of it for good drainage. After you do this, keep the watering frequency in mind as well. In general, you can recover more easily from underwatering a Christmas cactus better than what you can with overwatering it. 

Should You Use Fungicide on Root Rot?

You may hear people say that root rot is a fungus. This is true, which may make you think to use a fungicide on it but should you? I would recommend against using fungicides for multiple reasons. First, you need to know the specific type of fungus to treat it with a fungicide successfully. 

Second, root rot for Christmas cactus usually happens because of poor drainage or overwatering. When you treat those problems, you will eliminate the root rot in most cases. It makes more sense to treat what caused the problem. 

Can You Save a Christmas Cactus with Rotted Roots?

In many cases, as long as you treat it quickly, you can save your Christmas cactus. You just need to respond to it as early as possible to keep the rot from spreading because once it progresses to a point where most of the roots are rotten, your Christmas cactus will die as a result. Take care of it early before it has the chance to spread. 

Related article: Can Rabbits Eat Christmas Cactus?

What to Do if Root Rot Has Progressed Past the Point of Redemption?

Once most of your roots get root rot, you can’t save the plant. The Christmas cactus will still die even if you follow the steps above. Instead, you can take the following steps to propagate your Christmas cactus. 

Step #1: Take a Short Y-Shaped Cutting from the Stem Tip

To begin, you will want to make a cutting with two or three segments of the plant. Whenever you try to propagate a plant, always take your cuttings from the healthy foliage of the plant. 

Step #2: Let the Cutting Dry Out

For the second step, you will want to let the cutting dry out for a couple of hours before you attempt to propagate it. The reason that you do this is because your Christmas cactus has a higher chance of rotting if you just try to propagate it. Give it a couple of hours to form a callus that will be hard and dry at the base. This could take a few hours in some cases. 

Don’t wait longer than three days because once the cutting starts to wither, you lower the chances that it will take root.  

Step #3: Put It in the Pot for Rooting

Next, put the Christmas cactus cutting in the pot for rooting. Most of the time, it takes about two to three weeks for your new Christmas cactus to take root. When you put it in the soil, you want lightly moist soil. Be careful because excessive moisture can lead to rotting of your cutting before it takes root. 

Now, you can increase your chances of it taking root with a product known as RootBoost Rooting Hormone Feeder. It doesn’t cost much, and it will help you to root hundreds of cuttings as needed. Especially if you propagate plants often, this is a great investment.


Christmas cactus root rot is no fun, but you can save your Christmas cactus if you act fast. Don’t wait to take action. You need to respond to it as soon as it happens and switch it over to either a new pot or plant it in new soil with good drainage. The biggest causes of root rot in a Christmas cactus are overwatering and soil with poor drainage. Keeping the things mentioned above in mind, you can save your cactus from experiencing root rot or save it from dying of root rot.

Cactus Root System: 6 Things That Will Surprise You!

The cactus root system differs from the root systems of other plants, and if you want a lush and thriving group of cacti, it’s important to understand how they differ. Without this knowledge, you could accidentally kill your cactus plant because what works with other plants will lead to root rot with a cactus. Let’s take a look at the surprising things you don’t know about the cactus and its roots.  

#1: Cactus Roots Grow Horizontally

When you look at the date palm, its roots grow downward. When you look at legumes, their roots grow downward and sideways. How cactus roots differ is that they don’t go down very deep, and they grow sideways compared to downward. 

The reason behind this is a brilliant intelligence on the plant’s part. Roots don’t grow where there is no moisture. When in the desert, you experience brief and infrequent showers. They only wet a few inches of the soil and roots right below the surface allow it to get the maximum intake of water because it covers a larger area. 

To put this into perspective, their roots can grow up to 15 feet out near the surface, but they will collect water whenever it rains. How deep are cactus roots? Normally, cactus roots will only go down 5 to 10 inches. 

Out in the wild, they might go down 3 feet, but that doesn’t compare to a willow tree, which can go down over 100 feet in search of water. All plant roots follow the path of water in their natural habitat. 

How deep the cactus roots grow and even how they grow will depend on the cactus species. 

Related article: Why is My Cactus Turning Purple?

#2: Collecting the Essentials through the Roots and Stealing from Rivals!

Cactus roots might be shallow, but don’t think for a second this makes them ineffective! In fact, this becomes its competitive advantage out in the wild where it will collect water and other essential nutrients from the soil. Their shallow and expansive root systems will take in water before it can reach the deeper roots of other desert plants. This is, in fact, a common tactic of the Saguaro cactus. 

Many times, you will see the Saguaro sprout from the seeds in the protective cover of a palo verde bush. The cactus will use this bush as cover, but once it reaches about 4 feet in height, it sends out roots in all four directions at up to several feet outward to collect the water right at the surface. 

Effectively, it steals water from plants that would have otherwise received the water, but their roots went too deep down. The cactus begins to grow faster and soon, the bush dies because of the lack of water. Once this happens, the cactus will take all the water for itself. 

Many don’t realize the competitive intelligence and the wonder behind nature. If you’d like to learn more about this topic in a fascinating way that will leave you truly awestruck as it did me, I invite you to check out the book, The Hidden Life of Trees. You will learn just how competitive and intelligent actually are. I loved how this book covers the true intelligence of mother nature. 

#3: Fully Dried the Plant Cycle for Cactus Roots

Most plants when you leave them unwatered, will die or reach a sickly state. Cactus roots differ in that they need to dry out before they receive more water, or it will cause root rot. The roots of the cactus are used to having little water, and they need it as part of a cycle. When the roots dry out, they will start to wither, but this is necessary for them to follow the usual cycle. 

When the water comes in the desert, it often comes heavy, and it will take in as much water during that time as possible before going back to another dry season. 

As a side note, since I mentioned root rot, you can tell that your cactus has root rot when the plant has a soft and brown tissue. Never use regular soil for a cactus. Your cactus needs soil that will dry the water fast to prevent root rot from happening. 

Related article: Why are My Cactus Spines Turning Brown?

#4: Cactus Roots Store How Much Water?

You won’t believe this! How much they can store depends on the cactus species, but cactus roots can store up to 200 gallons of water in their root systems. In fact, the Saguaro cactus stores up to 1,000 gallons of water. 

Even during extreme dry spells out in the Sonoran desert, it can still pull from its stores of water to grow and produce flowers and seeds. When it has been fully loaded with water, this cactus may not need to absorb anymore water for up to a year. Compare that with other plants that need water constantly, and you can appreciate how hardy this plant is. 

Just keep in mind, the indoor variety of cacti usually require a slightly more frequent watering than that since their root systems aren’t nearly as advanced. An indoor variety, depending on the species, might survive for six months without water, but most will need water even more than that because they don’t store as much water as those out in the wild. 

Cacti will store water in their stems and the enlarged roots called the taproot. 

#5: The Different Types of Roots and What You Don’t Know

When it comes to cacti, there are four main types of roots that you will encounter that include:

  • Taproots
  • Fibrous roots
  • Napiform roots
  • Tuberous roots


You can spot a taproot because it’s straight and thick. Most of the time, taproots will grow straight down to absorb the water deeper down. On a cactus, the taproot usually serves as an anchor to keep the plant from washing away during heavy storms. 

It depends on the species because some cacti won’t have a taproot. Examples of cacti that will have a taproot include the Saguaro and the Mexican Cereus. 

Fibrous Roots

Fibrous root systems on the cactus are very common. The fibrous root systems won’t delve deep into the ground. Their root systems will often spread out far sideways to collect as much water as possible over a large surface area. How these roots are will depend on the species of cactus. For example, the ball cactus collects the morning dew with its shorter waters. 

With a fibrous root system, you have two types: First, you have primary roots and second you have lateral roots. The primary root usually starts at seeding, and during its growth, it will form secondary branches. 

Lateral roots are the other root system. This is also known as the secondary root system, and these roots often grow in unusual places. 

Napiform Roots

You can spot a napiform root because it looks like a turnip. They’re large and round at the top, but they will be slender at the bottom. Napiform roots do not penetrate into the earth deeply, and their purpose is to absorb water as fast as possible. Many times, the roots will absorb water in as little as a few seconds. 

One example of a cactus that has this root system is known as the Anhalonium leuchtenbergii.

Tuberous Roots

Tuberous roots are thick and fleshy, and they act as a storage system for the cactus. This root will have fine hairs on it that absorb water. You know you have a tuberous root system when the roots like like tubers, but they’re swollen. They absorb the nutrients at the thick and fleshy part of the roots. 

To put everything into perspective, over 235 cactus species have a tuberous root system, so it’s a fairly common root system. 

#6: The Roots Can Tell You the Health of Your Cactus

Did you know that you can tell the health of your cactus based on the root system. Generally speaking, when your cactus has white roots, you have a healthy plant. You can tell when your cactus is not in good condition if the roots look brown or black. They may even have this mushy texture to it that indicates your roots are rotting. 

Another sign is to look at the plant itself. Whenever it has root rot, the plant will start to turn yellow or brown at the base. 

You need to correct root rot as early as possible because if uncorrected, it will kill your plant. Usually, as long as it hasn’t attracted pests, fixing root rot in a cactus is as simple as putting it into new soil that has good drainage. 

Most often when root rot occurs, it happens because of poor drainage that holds in the water. A cactus cannot handle being in water for too long, which will kill it from root rot. 

Related article: Why is My Cactus Turning Red?


Hopefully, you learned something interesting about the cactus root system that will help you with growing your cacti. Just keep in mind that when I speak about cactus roots in this way, I’m speaking on a general level. You want to study your own species of cactus carefully to know its unique personality. Most cactus, however, (I can’t think of a single one) won’t like to be left in water for too long.

Do Ants Eat Cactus? [A Fascinating Relationship]

You look out one morning at your cactus to find a swarm of ants on your plant and wonder to yourself if they will pose a danger to it. While you think that ants will dislike the cactus like most animals, now you wonder if you may need to protect your cactus. Do ants eat cacti?

Ants do love the cactus because they secrete a sugary nectar at the spine, but they don’t eat the cactus itself—they have more of a symbiotic relationship. The cactus secretes this nectar to attract the ants and control the aphids, mealybugs and scales that can kill a cactus. 

If you’d like to learn more about ants and their fascinating relationship with this plant, keep reading as we explore it further in depth. 

Ants and Cactus: Relationship of Mutual Benefit

What is a symbiotic relationship? It means that both in the relationship benefit. The cactus benefits from the ants killing the aphids, mealybugs and scales that could kill it. At the same time, the ants benefit from this sugary nectar secreted from the cactus to attract the ants.

Anything that will threaten the ants and their access to this nectar fountain will receive a proper lashing from the ants. Without the ants, the cactus may prove vulnerable because it can’t defend itself, so it uses the ants as a barrier of protection. 

As a side note, plant experts say that ants also improve the soil as well, which will help the cactus in its growth. They also kill pests in the soil. 

Can Ants Kill a Cactus?

Ants pose little danger to the cactus compared to other pests like mealybugs, scales and aphids. This is one of the reasons that the cactus will produce a nectar to bring in the ants to kill some of the other pests more dangerous to it. 

When ants depend on a food source for their colony, they will grow aggressive in defending it, especially some species of ants. Ants are after one thing when it comes to the cactus—sugar. Not only will they take it from the nectar of the cactus, but they can target the scale and mealybugs, which produce sugar. Don’t let them do this, however. 

What Cactus Do Ants Love?

Let’s take a look at some of the cactus that ants will go after because of the sweet nectar that they produce:

  • Ferocactus (infamous for doing this)
  • Opuntia
  • Coryphantha 
  • Thelocactus
  • Echinocactus
  • Sclerocactus
  • Cylindropuntia

Think of the cacti that have extrafloral nectaries in their patches, and these cacti tend to attract the ants. 

Expert Tip: Your cactus will even lose water in an effort to attract the ants. For that reason, you may want to give it a bit of extra water to keep it safe from drying out. 

How to Get Rid of Ants on a Cactus

While they don’t usually pose a direct danger, they can introduce mealybugs or aphids to the cactus, which can indirectly cause problems. If you happen to see a few ants around the cactus, it won’t cause much for problems. Many times, this will indicate that they went there because of pests on the cactus, which can pose an actual threat to the cactus. 

Should an ant infestation start to seem out of control, it would be best if you were to remove the cactus from the potting soil. Be aware of where they receive their food source as well and remove what attracted them to begin with since it won’t do any good otherwise. 

Related Article: Can Rabbits Eat Christmas Cactus?

Are Ants Bad for Cactus?

I would give a definite no on this that ants don’t pose a threat to your cactus. In fact, they’re mostly beneficial unless in huge numbers. Ants will clean away the microbes like fungi and bacteria that can harm your cactus, and they will keep the pests away. Ants will attack other insect larvae in the soil that might threaten your cactus. 

For that reason, I wouldn’t recommend using ant insecticide for your cactus since it will do more harm than good. In many cases, the cactus purposely attracts the ants to it as a way to eliminate other pests that would kill it off. 

Ant-Cactus Mutualism in the Sonora Desert

Let’s take another excellent example of ants and their relationship with cactus in the desert. Most cactus experts believe that the cacti benefit as much as the ants from an ant nest nearby. Many of the ants in the Sonora Desert are believed to have even evolved with the cactus. Especially during a drought in the Sonora Desert, they would take up refuge in the cactus and defend it as a food source aggressively. 

Whenever ants sense they may have hurt their food source, they will peel out of the cactus quickly to prevent damage to this food source. In other words, they have an interest in keeping the cactus healthy. 

Some studies showed how the ants would use the cactus as a source of carbohydrates, and they would even become aggressive against other colonies fighting for the same cactus. 

You even have an ant named for a cactus that it commonly defends called the crematogaster opuntiae. This ant often takes up residence in the opuntia plants out in the Sonora and the Chihuahuan deserts. 

Backfired: When Ants Prove Harmful

Ants are often a sign of other pests in the plants that could kill your cactus since the cactus lure them there with sweet nectar. You do have one time when ants can prove harmful to your cactus. Never let ants farm the mealybugs, aphids or scales for their sugar. This may sound hilarious—it does to me—yes, ants will sometimes domesticate and protect the mealybugs, aphids and scales for their sugar. 

The issue with it is that they don’t kill the harmful pests in your cactus, and if you have a collection of cactus with ants and mealybugs, it becomes the perfect storm as ants will move them around and milk them for their sugar. This can hasten the death of your entire cactus collection, which explains why some gardeners choose to kill ants on sight. 

However, it can serve as a barrier of protection when the ants defend the plant itself from pests, but you must keep a close eye on it. 

Final Thoughts

In general, you don’t need to worry too much about ants eating your cactus because it serves as more of an indirect food source to them. They don’t want to destroy that by killing your cactus. They will even protect it. The only time where you need to worry in a big way is if you see tons and tons of ants surrounding your cactus because it may cause problems for your plant in some of those cases. 

Also, beware of when the ants start to protect the pests for their sugar since this can also end badly. 

Ants and cactus even evolved together over time, and this symbiotic relationship has continued to this day. You may even begin to think that your cactus attracts the ants, and you may not be far off the mark with that thought. 

Did this all sound fascinating how cactus will attract ants purposely to handle their pests? It certainly did to me, but I had learned of this practice and the incredible intelligence of plants in the book, The Hidden Life of Trees. I would especially recommend this book for anyone who wants to feel wonder at the wondrous mysteries and beauties of nature.