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Christmas cactus is a type of cactus that grows in the jungle. Unlike most cactus, it likes a humid and moist environment.
These fast-growing plants will need a new pot at some point. Repotting a Christmas cactus isn’t hard, but it’s important to know when and how to do it.
When to Repot Christmas Cactus
Most plants should be repotted when they have new growth in the spring, but Christmas cacti should be repotted in late winter or early spring after the flowers have died.
Don’t try to move the plant while it is in full bloom.
Don’t rush to repot a Christmas cactus because this hardy succulent does best when its roots are a little crowded. Putting the plant in a new pot too often can hurt it.
Most Christmas cacti don’t need to be repotted more often than every three to four years, but you may want to wait until the plant looks tired or you see roots growing through the drainage hole. Often, a plant can be happy for years in the same pot.
How to Repot a Christmas Cactus
Here are some Christmas cactus potting tips that will help you find success:
- Take your time, because repotting a Christmas cactus can be tricky. A lightweight, well-drained potting mixture is critical, so look for a commercial mix for bromeliads or succulents. You can also use a mixture of two-thirds regular potting soil and one-third sand.
- Repot Christmas cactus into a pot only slightly larger than the current container. Be sure the container has a drainage hole in the bottom. Although the Christmas cactus likes moisture, it will soon rot if the roots are deprived of air.
- Remove the plant from its pot, along with the surrounding soil ball, and gently loosen the roots. If the potting mix is compacted, gently wash it away from the roots with a little water.
- Replant the Christmas cactus in the new pot so the top of the root ball is about an inch (2.5 cm.) below the rim of the pot. Fill in around the roots with fresh potting mix and pat the soil lightly to remove air pockets. Water it moderately.
- Put the plant in a shady location for two or three days, then resume the plant’s normal care routine.
How to Get Holiday Cactus to Bloom
Under the best conditions, plants bloom about 18 months after sowing from seed.
Each flower will remain open for at least six days, and the plant should continue to bloom for four to six weeks.
The holiday cactus colors are showy but the flowers are scentless.
The best way to ensure that your holiday cactus remains in bloom throughout the winter is by removing the faded flowers or deadheading.
For your holiday cactus to bloom during the holiday season, you might need to force it into dormancy, then coax it out. Here’s how:
- In mid-October, reduce watering (probably once every week or two). Only water when the soil feels dry about an inch below the surface. Stop fertilizing.
- Keep your holiday cactus cool between 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit and make sure to limit the amount of light it gets for about six to eight weeks.
- During the day, the plant can receive indirect light, but it needs 12 to 14 hours of total darkness at night. If the room is warmer than 55 degrees Fahrenheit, give your plant an extra couple of hours of darkness each day. If light can reach the plant anytime during its 12 hours of “night,” cover the plant with a dark cloth.
- Once flower buds form, move the plant to a bright, draft-free window. Flowers should start opening within a couple of weeks.
Common Problems With Holiday Cactus
Holiday cacti are long-lived plants that are sensitive to temperature and humidity.
They are hardy when kept above freezing temperatures; however, they will require ideal temperatures and conditions for lush flowering during the holidays.
Stunted Appearance or Growth Distortion
If you notice that your holiday cactus has stunted or distorted growth, inspect it closely for a mealybug infestation.
Mealybugs look like tiny white cotton dots about 1/8 to 1/4 inches long.
They move slowly and often appear first low on the leaf surface in the dark, warm, moist areas near the center stem of the cactus.
The insects feed on plant sap and leave a sticky honeydew substance behind, which causes mold to form on the plant.
Yellowed, Spotted, or Wilting Leaves or Stems
If your plant has yellowing leaves or stems, leaf spotting, or plant wilting, inspect them closely for thrips.
Thrips are an insect that looks like thin black slivers or tiny lobster-like insects.
The leaf and stem damage is not caused directly by thrips but by a virus they commonly transmit, impatiens necrotic spot virus.
Treat the thrip infestation with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.
The plant might rebound if you also remove it from its old container and into a sterilized container with fresh potting mix.
Wilting can also be caused by too little light, insufficient water, or if the plant is rootbound.
Correct those conditions and monitor closely for improvements.
Leaves Turning Red or Pink
If the leaves of your holiday cactus turn red or pink, it might either be receiving too much sun or too little water.
If your plant is located in a window with direct sun, move it back to indirect light. If the soil is dried up to 1 inch deep, water it more frequently.
The rule of thumb is to water a holiday cactus when the top of the soil feels dry.