How to Trim a Christmas Cactus

A Christmas Cactus plant can grow quickly with the right nutrition and care, especially if you’re growing one in the USA. Sometimes, it even outgrows the container. To keep your Christmas Cactus plant at a manageable size, learning how to prune it is the best thing to do.

Ways to Trim a Christmas Cactus

Because of its unique stem structure, pruning or trimming a Christmas Cactus is actually quite simple. First, separate the stem from the plant. You can do so with your fingers or with a pair of scissors.

Take the stem away from its natural point of breakage, leaving a thin area between the two. Be gentle, as you don’t want to damage the rest of the plant.

Avoid removing more than one-third of the foliage when pruning a Christmas Cactus. One-third of the foliage is just the right size to trim, as more would damage the plant and prevent it from blooming.

The Knives and Clippers Should Be Sharp and Sterilized

It would be best if you sharpened the pruning knife beforehand. A blunt knife can damage delicate plant tissues. Furthermore, it would be best if you sterilized knives and clippers for gardening tools in a commercial cleaning product.

An unsterilized cutting tool can cause infection to your Christmas Cactus. You can also use a homemade solution containing nine parts water and one part bleach.

Washing your hand thoroughly with antibacterial soap is the best way to prevent plant disease. Wear gardening gloves to protect your hands from the sharp cactus spines.   

When Is the Right Time to Prune a Christmas Cactus?

When it comes to pruning a Christmas Cactus plant, timing is key. It helps compensate for foliage loss, allowing the plant to bloom impressively.

Mid-January is the perfect time to prune the Christmas Cactus. After flowering, you can trim the tips or the stems at the base of your Christmas Cactus.

After they have bloomed, Christmas Cacti start saving energy for their growth period. By pruning your cactus in the growth period, you can encourage the growth of fresh new stems, which results in a healthy Christmas Cactus instead of a shriveled house plant.

Reasons for Pruning a Christmas Cactus

As discussed above, a Christmas Cactus grows at a fast pace in the USA. If left to grow, it looks leggy and resembles a stack of old stems, which completely blemishes its look, and defeats the purpose of keeping it as a houseplant.

Christmas Cacti should be pruned every few years to give them a bush-like shape and promote fresh new growth.

Also, don’t throw away the pruned parts of the plant. These pruned parts can be propagated into new flowering pots and gifted to your friends and loved ones during Christmas.

Moreover, as the Christmas Cactus ages, the cladodes in the soil from which the plant grows get hard and woody. This is a good thing and a bad thing. The hardened cladodes help the Christmas Cactus balance its weight.

However, these cladodes are prone to breaking and cracking. The cracks and breaking can pave the way for pests, which can cause root rot. Therefore, pruning becomes necessary.

Air and circulation are extremely important for a Christmas Cactus plant, especially if it is a big and mature plant.

By pruning it occasionally, you will enhance circulation within the plant. Moreover, the plant will also take in more nutrients and water through its segments.

Regular pruning also ensures improved light penetration. Access to light is beneficial for fresh flower growth in your Christmas Cactus.

What Happens If You Over-Prune a Christmas Cactus?

The good news is it is impossible to over-prune the Christmas Cacti. The only way to do that is to remove every stem on the plant.

While that is unlikely to happen, an over-pruned Christmas Cactus is one with half of its stems removed. Such a plant will look droopy for a while before it regains the strength to grow new stems.

You can use some fertilizer to make the stems grow quickly. To be safe, don’t remove more than one-third of the plant when trimming.

Regarding fertilizers, a fertilizer with high phosphorus content and lesser nitrogen is perfect for a Christmas Cactus.

Refrain from over-fertilizing the plant as it stresses the plant and also results in burned roots.

Is Deadheading a Christmas Cactus a Good Idea?

Yes! It is indeed a good idea to deadhead a Christmas Cactus after the Christmas holidays after the plant is done blooming.

Deadheading promotes fresh growth. The flowers on a Christmas Cactus start to die out as the blooming period ends. However, make sure not to touch the flowers that are still in the blooming process.

Ensuring Safety When Pruning a Christmas Cactus Plant

We have already discussed the safety aspect of pruning a Christmas Cactus. Trimming a Christmas Cactus with sharp spines is risky and can hurt you. Therefore, special arrangements are necessary.

Start with clothing. Wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, secure boots, and leather gloves. If the plant is extra prickly, wearing a pair of glasses for eye protection is better. The glochids can loosen up and blow into your eyes with the wind.

If you don’t have leather gloves, opt for any water-proof gloves. Not only will gloves protect your hands against spines, but they will also protect your hands against the milky sap, which can cause severe irritation and inflammation of the skin. Lastly, use a water-based marker to mark the sections requiring pruning.

9GreenBox - Red Christmas Cactus Plant - Zygocactus - 4" Pot

Final Word

Christmas Cactus is a beautiful plant capable of producing the prettiest flowers. They require minimal maintenance, but excessive growth becomes extremely problematic with time. Therefore, you must prune them once every few years.

Pruning protects the Christmas Cactus’s structural integrity, prevents rotting, and ensures the plant receives the right amount of light and nutrition. As a responsible plant owner, you should keep an eye on signs that your Christmas Cactus needs pruning. Pests infestation, top-bottom rotting, dead stalks, and oversizing are some of the most common signs.