Christmas Cactus Blooms Just in Time for the Holiday
The Christmas cactus is perfect for a tall pot or a hanging basket which allows the long, bright green stems terminating in pink flowers to rain down in the fall and winter.

The Christmas cactus is a long lived plant with flat, segmented stems. Most of the year its appearance is fairly unassuming. Some potted green in the corner of the living room or parked under a tree in the back yard.

Around Christmas, however, something magical happens.

With care, this plain looking plant will blossom with flowers of red, white, pink, purple or orange. Because of this festive seasonal bloom, the Christmas cactus is a tradition in many European and North American homes during the holidays.

But the beauty of the hardy Christmas cactus isn’t limited to just the holiday season. Jeanne Dombcik, an Ohio transplant living in Raleigh, NC, tells the tale of her fifty-year-old Christmas cactus and the family ties it symbolizes.

“So it’s 1985 and I’m staying with my grandmother Gladys Browngardt in Sag Harbor, New York, working on my cousin Hank’s farm stand,” Jeanne recalls. “She had this Christmas cactus that sat outside under the pine trees when I was there and I took care of it all summer.”

Gorgeous Holiday Houseplants 15 photos

Jeanne’s grandmother passed away that summer.

“After my grandmother died, all of my 24 first cousins came to the house to help clear it out. When it came my turn to decide what to take, I thought about it. I decided that what I really wanted was that Christmas cactus I had been keeping alive all summer.”

“I got a cardboard box, my dad helped me pack the Christmas cactus up and I drove it from Sag Harbor to Cleveland, Ohio, where I took cuttings of it and rooted them.  I sent them back to Sag Harbor to live with all of my cousins and aunts and uncles.  Now whenever I go to visit their houses, I see a piece of my grandmother’s original Christmas cactus.”

Jeanne still passes along cuttings from her grandmother’s plant, which continues to thrive today.

The Christmas catcus that Jeanne Dombcik keeps in memory of her grandmother Gladys Browngardt.

Caring for Christmas Cactus

Christmas cactus thrives in bright, but indirect sunlight. Keep it near a window when indoors or shaded by trees if kept outdoors in warmer months.

Despite its name, the Christmas cactus is not a desert plant, but rather has its origins in the tropical rain forests of South America. If you live in a dry climate, make sure a source of humidity like a shallow tray of water is kept nearby. The plant will not tolerate dry soil and requires regular watering (done at the base of the plant).

Conversely, too much water will cause leaves to spot and fall off. Allow the top layer of soil to dry completely before watering.

Ensuring a Christmas Bloom

In fall, night temperatures around 50-55 degrees will trigger Christmas cactus to form flower buds. A carefully monitored balance of darkness and sunlight will give you beautiful blooms in time for the holidays. Six to eight weeks before Christmas, place the plant in a completely dark space where the temperature is 60 degrees (such as a closet or garage) for 12 hours each night. Be sure to bring the plant out to a sunny spot for the other 12 hours each day. Water only when the top inch or so of the soil feels dry, and you should get flowers for the holiday.

A few weeks after the flowers have faded, prune stems back to encourage new growth.


Start your own tradition by sharing your own Christmas cactus. By transplanting a cutting of at least three stem segments into a small pot of soil (preferably taken from the pot of the parent plant). Bury at least one segment. Care for the cutting as a mature plant and it should take root in 4 to 6 weeks.

The day after sharing her story with me, Jeanne dropped by my office bearing a gift. A small cutting from her grandmother’s Christmas cactus.

My own little piece of a holiday tradition that lives on all year long.

7 Comments About this Article

  • walkingbetty
    I am 78 years old and have my Mother's Christmas cactus that is the same age as I am. Mom passed away at age 87 in Nov. and that year the cactus was loaded with blooms! That was 20 years ago and it is still providing pleasure every year. A friend gave hers to me when she had to move and it blooms twice a year. I recently branched out and have several colors now. It's now April and one I've had a year and a half is in full bloom and beautiful. Could it be an Easter cactus? Betty

    Posted 1 year ago

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  • HGTV Mallory
    How wonderful! What a treat to get an extra dose of blooms from these resilient guys. The stories that come attached to these plants are what make them so fun and interesting. Thanks for sharing yours. :)

    Posted 1 year ago

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  • Luther Sturtevant
    Generally referred to as "holiday cactus" now, since the flowering time depends on the treatment the plant receives. "Thanksgiving" and "Christmas" cacti generally are the same plant (Schlumbergera). "Easter" cacti, on the other hand, are a totally different genus and species: Hatiora or Rhipsalidopsis [synonyms].

    Posted 10 months ago

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  • anonymous
    We inherited my grandmother-in-law's Christmas cactus in 2006. After Grandma died in 1974, my mother-in-law took it and it lived in Moorestown, NJ and Redding, PA until they retired to Paris TX. There it lived on the sunporch with very little attention except occasional watering. It bloomed like clockwork every Christmas. It then came to Dallas to an assisted living apartment. Mom passed away in 2006 and it became ours. While transplanting it out of its broken pot,we were surprised to find it living in regular dirt from the yard. It must have gone into shock because the 1st several years it didn't bloom until Valentines Day. The last 2 years however, it puts on a grand show right on time at Christmas! The Mother plant now has several babies and they are equally showy plants. What a treasure to have this old plant! Shirley Rex, Plano TX

    Posted 10 months ago

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  • anonymous
    Is this the plant that only blooms at night?? It looks like the one that someone gave my wife but she didn't know the name of it. They told her that it only blooms at night. Also, will it survive being left outside for one night and getting frost on it?? It looks kind of brownish and I don't know if it will live.

    Posted 10 months ago

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  • HGTVPaul
    My mother kept a Christmas cactus for a long time. Its blooming was among those events that helped create that special holiday mood in the house.

    Posted 9 months ago

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  • anonymous
    My Christmas cactus is my 1st ever, I am really pleased with my plant, Ti has bloomed 3 times already it it norman for them to bloom so much. They are so beautiful

    Posted 6 months ago

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