5 ‘Common’ mistakes that cause a Christmas cactus to ‘never bloom’

Christmas Cactus: RHS advises on looking after plant

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When it comes to houseplants, plant pawners have a habit of being fixers and doers. If a plant isn’t growing the way an owner wants it to, their initial response always seems to be – to do something. Unfortunately, this usually can make the issue worse. Mistakes are made, and suddenly a plant that’s easy to care for gets the reputation of being fussy – this can be the case for Christmas cacti. Gardening experts at Rural Sprout explained: “A little too much love ends in a Christmas cactus means that it will never bloom, dumps its buds, won’t grow or drops leaf segments.

“Believe it or not, Christmas cactuses are pretty laid-back plants that don’t need a whole lot from you. And getting them to set blooms each year is easy once you know the trick.”

The gardening pros have shared several mistakes gardeners should avoid when caring for their Christmas cactus.

1. Overwatering the houseplant

When gardeners love their plants, it’s easy to go overboard with watering and general care. The experts noted that this is the “most common mistake” out there.

Overwatering applies to all houseplants, not just Christmas cacti. The pros said: “It’s the number one killer of houseplants, not disease, pests or forgetting to water them.”

Christmas cacti, despite their names, are succulents. Those fleshy leaves help the plant store water, allowing them to go longer without it. 

These plants are also epiphytes, which means they naturally have smaller root systems for grabbing onto the plant they’re growing from. 

As their root structures are smaller and usually exposed, the plant has become adept at taking in and storing water from the air, not just the soil. The root system doesn’t do well in constant moisture.

The experts shared that “the best way” to tell when a Christmas cactus needs water is to stick your finger in the soil. The first two inches should be dry before you water it again. Once the plant has had a few minutes for excess water to drain, tip out any remaining water from the saucer the pot is sitting in.

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2. Using the wrong potting mix

Perhaps plant owners have repotted their Christmas cactus and used generic soil that’s meant for gardens or other houseplants, which is easily done. However, this can actually be a fatal mistake and even lead to root rot. 

The gardening gurus explained: “These plants were never made to sit in a pot with heavy potting soil. Using a general-purpose potting mix can damage the root system, causing stunted growth, poor nutrient uptake, and a dead plant.”

It is suggested that gardeners buy soil marked specifically for cacti, or create their own pebbly and/or sandy cacti mix. The more drainage it provides, the better. Gardeners can add substrates like perlite, pumice, rock or sand to potting soil to create a great mix.

3. Repotting plant unnecessarily 

While on the subject of repotting a Christmas cactus gardeners should know that this is one plant that can go ages before it needs to be repotted. In fact, according to the pros, they prefer to be root-bound and will keep growing bushier and longer.

They said: “When you do your annual repotting of houseplants, skip the Christmas cactus, and it will reward you with new growth. All it needs is a little extra soil added to the top layer to replenish any that’s washed out through the drainage hole.”

Eventually, owners will need to repot the plant (once every five to 10 years) but only size up by one inch, and expect the plant to take a year to “move in” below the soil before results can be visible.

4. Not fertilising during the growth period

Each year, once the blooming period has finished, the plant will need to recover nutrients to grow and produce next year’s buds. 

Gardeners should check their plant regularly after the blooming cycle and look for new growth. As soon as they see tiny new segments, the experts said: “Begin fertilising the plant regularly. I have the best results fertilising at half strength every other week.

“Stop fertilising when the plant enters its dormant period before blooming. You can begin fertilising again once it starts blooming, but it’s unnecessary.”

5. Not pruning your Christmas cactus

For those who have a plant started from cuttings, chances are it’s a bit on the sparse side.

If gardeners keep letting it grow as is, they’ll have “a lanky-looking plant”. The experts advised: “The only way to encourage it to branch out and grow fuller and bushier is with good pruning.

“It only takes a few minutes to do and the best part is you’ll end up with segments that can easily be propagated into new plants.”

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