The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera) is a succulent houseplant native to Brazil with bell-shaped blooms in red, pink, or white. It is called the holiday cactus because it blooms from November to December. Christmas cacti are typically grown indoors, but they can also be grown outdoors. Unlike a desert cactus, the Christmas cactus grows best in a humid environment and does not tolerate direct sunlight.
In contrast to its typical cactus siblings, which demand a warm, arid climate, the Christmas cactus is a jungle cactus that enjoys humidity and moisture. Christmas cactus is a winter bloomer that produces flowers in red, rose, lavender, purple, white, peach, cream, and orange, depending on the variety. These prolific growers will eventually require transplanting. Transplanting a Christmas cactus isn’t difficult, but knowing when and how to do it is key.
Christmas Cactus Varieties
Christmas cactus cultivars are divided into two groups: Truncata and Buckleyi. The Truncata cultivar has yellow pollen and blooms in November, whereas the Buckleyi group has pink pollen and blooms in December.
Although the two groups do not have their official common names, the Truncata cultivar is commonly referred to as a Thanksgiving cactus, while the Buckleyi group is the Christmas cactus. The Thanksgiving Cactus has little spine-like notches coming off its leaves (just like a crab claw hence that common name), whereas the Christmas Cactus leaves are smoother.
How To Transplant a Christmas Cactus
Take care when transplanting your Christmas cactus because its limbs and leaves are delicate. If you have a large, heavy plant, trim it back and take cuttings before transplanting it. Get everything ready so you can transplant your cactus quickly and easily without fuss.
1. Water Before Planting
Water your plant one or two days before transplanting it for the Christmas season. When the planting mixture is moist and clings to the roots, pot-bound plants are easier to transplant.
2. Selecting and Preparing a Container
Prepare a container with a drainage hole that is 1 or 2 inches larger than the current container.
Select a flower pot that is only slightly larger than the previous one. Surprisingly, Christmas cacti don’t mind being a little confined. Avoid using a smaller pot because the volume of the planting mix holds too much moisture, causing the roots to rot. To prevent planting mix from escaping through the hole, place a mesh or a paper coffee filter over it.
Good drainage is essential. Christmas cactus, like most epiphytes, enjoys moisture but cannot survive in water. Use the soak-and-dry watering method, which involves pouring water through light, airy soil and allowing it to dry almost completely before watering again. Root rot will develop if the soil remains too wet.
Clay pots with enough draining holes are the best for your Christmas cactus since they provide better air circulation for your roots.
3. Take Out the Plant
Remove the plant from its original pot with care. Take care not to yank it from the ground. Instead, attempt to keep the root ball intact. Place your palm over the surface of the planting soil to support the plant, then tip the plant upside-down and carefully guide the plant out of the container. Tap the bottom of the container gently against a table or counter to loosen the roots if the plant is tightly pot-bound.
4. Fill the Container with Planting Mix.
Fill the container about one-third with well-draining planting soil for Christmas cacti, such as a succulent mix. You can use your soil mix as long as it drains well and is lightweight. Christmas cacti grow on rocks and other plants under trees and shrubs in their natural habitat.
It means they thrive on the nutrients provided by organic leaf matter that falls from trees above them. When it comes to soil, these plants are extremely conscientious, and you can never go wrong with the standard porous bromeliad mix.
It is advised to add soil amendments such as perlite or coarse sand. These components provide rapid drainage while retaining the moist soil that your Christmas cactus prefers. A mixture of 2/3 regular planting soil and 1/3 sand works well.
I recommend a Christmas cactus planting medium with 60% to 80% planting mix and 20% to 40% perlite. Place the plant in the container and, if necessary, adjust the soil level to bring the top of the rootball about 1/2 inch below the rim.
5. Set Planting Mix Around the Roots
Fill the space around the roots with planting mix, gently shaking to settle the soil, and firm the mix around the roots. Pat the soil surface lightly to help it settle and remove any air pockets. Replace any settling planting mix with more mix.
6. After Transplanting, Water Sparingly.
After transplanting, water the Christmas cactus lightly for two or three weeks to keep the planting mix slightly moist. This gives the new roots time to develop and become anchored in the planting mix. After that, return to the plant’s regular watering schedule.
Additionally, give the transplanted Christmas cactus a few days in a shaded or semi-dark area so it has time to adjust to its new container without being stressed by outside elements. A patio with indirect but bright light is ideal. Return the plant to its original location and care for it as you did before transplanting the Christmas cactus.
After a week, at most, you can resume caring for your newly transplanted Christmas cactus as usual. Wait until the soil is dry before watering your Christmas Cactus. Because your plant craves moisture, mist it frequently to keep it evenly moist.
Christmas cactus grows best in natural, bright light with medium exposure. Direct sunlight may cause leaf burn on your plant.
Furthermore, Christmas cacti thrive in temperatures ranging from 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, if your home is dry, increase the humidity.
Finally, your Christmas cactus does not require fertilization. However, using a half-strength water-soluble formula like 20-20-20 during its growing season would be detrimental. You can also mix worm compost into your planting soil.
When Is the Best Time to Transplant Christmas Cactus?
Most plants should be transplanted when they show new growth in the spring, but Christmas cactus transplanting should be done after blooming has ended and the flowers have wilted, which should be done in late winter or early spring. Never try to transplant a plant that is actively blooming.
The best time is soon after your Christmas Cactus blooms. Mine bloomed until the end of December. When the weather warmed up at the end of March, I replanted the plants.
They begin to set buds in September or early October, so transplant yours by early August. This way, the plant will be settled in before the process begins.
How Often Should I Transplant My Christmas Cactus?
The Christmas cactus only requires transplanting every three or four years. If the plant appears tired or the roots begin to grow out of the bottom of the current container, it is time to transplant.
Although some owners avoid root-bound plants because they are difficult to transplant once they are, your Christmas cactus prefers to be bound to its pot. Transplanting them too frequently may cause more harm than good, and they may grow more slowly if transplanted more frequently.
You’d be surprised how much more a root-bound Christmas cactus blooms. It’s because this plant prefers to have its roots crowded. It could be different for younger, smaller plants or cuttings. These tiny babies will thrive if transplanted once a year for the first few years, but only until they are fully established.
You can transplant Christmas cacti once they are mature every four years or more.
I hope transplanting a Christmas cactus is quick and easy for you now that you know how! Transplanting Christmas cacti once every three to four years is a little price to pay for such a beautiful return.
The lush greenery and beautiful flowers are enough to keep your Christmas cactus in good health. Add in the ease of care and propagation, and you won’t find a better beginner houseplant, in my opinion.
Transplanting your Christmas Cactus is simple, and I’m sure yours will benefit from some new soil. My plant is putting out a lot of new growth just a few weeks after being transplanted, and I can’t wait to see the blooms it produces in the fall.