What Soil Does a Christmas Cactus Need

The flowering, pink blooms of the Christmas Cactus can be a lovely pop of color in any room. You can enjoy this plant for years to come since they are quite durable and stable plants. It blooms from November to January, but you have to take care of the soil properly to make sure that it flowers.

We have a full care guide that can help you with the soil needs of the Christmas Cactus plant.

What Soil Does a Christmas Cactus Need?

Christmas Cactus usually grow along tree trunks since it is an epiphyte plant. These plants are known to grow on others but aren’t parasitic. Rather, they take advantage of the plant debris and fallen leaves.

So, you need to keep this in your mind when you are growing this plant in a pot. It needs to be aerated and drained properly so that the roots of the plant have room to breathe properly.

The potting or garden soil is curated in a way that keeps all the moisture in, which can actually suffocate the Christmas Cactus plant. Hence, you should stay away from those, or else the flowers will die. Plus, it can result in the dreaded root rot that will result in the entire plant’s death.

We recommend making your own mixture of potting soil for the Christmas Cactus. This will ensure that you can create a great medium for the plant. First, choose garden loam or sterile compost. You should mix in equal parts of milled peat and perlite.

They will help bring air into the soil and provide room for the roots. Plus, they also help in draining out excess water. The loam and compost are key to retaining the essential nutrients and retaining enough moisture to support the cactus’s roots. However, make sure that you use sterilized materials since that can stop diseases and pests from invading the mixture.

Some experts also recommend going for ready-made soil mixtures, but you have to be careful in what you pick. You might have to make some amendments to the commercial standard potting mix you get from a local nursery.

We recommend selecting a mixture with a balanced pH between 6-7 pH levels. This will ensure it isn’t too alkaline or acidic for the Christmas Cactus.

If you are able to find it, a potting mix with 60-80% soil and 20-40% perlite can be the best option; it doesn’t need changes. If you can’t find the mix, then use three parts of potting soil and two parts perlite.

There are also some potting mixtures that are specially designed for Christmas Cactus plants. This type of soil has additional drainage materials to help the plant.

Do You Need to Add Fertilizer to the Soil?

The soil can definitely benefit from fertilizers for Christmas Cactuses. Experts suggest that the best fertilizer to use is the 20-20-20 or a 20-10-20 fertilizer but make sure to dilute it to about half its strength before using it. You can use it during the growing season to help the plant bloom. Don’t use it more than once a month, though.

We have found that Christmas Cactuses flourish when you give them some extra magnesium. This means that you will also need to fertilize the plant’s soil with a mix of magnesium sulfate.

Just add a teaspoon to a gallon of water and add it to the soil once a month. Beware! Using it in the same week as regular fertilizer might burn the plant.

Can The Christmas Cactus Thrive Without Soil?

Some people just don’t want soil in the house. You can actually keep the Christmas Cactus without soil too. However, you will need to make a lightweight mixture of substrate ingredients that can drain well, nourishes the plant, and give plenty of space for the roots to get air.

We recommend using mediums that are rich, like worm castings, peat, and compost. They might be too dense, but they have the nutrients needed to keep the cactus alive. You can add sphagnum moss, vermiculite, and perlite to reduce the density.

It can add the needed air pockets to ensure that it can retain the water the plant needs but drains any excess amounts.

We have also found that coconut coir can be a great option too. Husks of the coconut are chopped up and added to create some gaps in the “soil” to aid in drainage and airflow. They are known to absorb a significant amount of water to support the plant too.

Lastly, pine and fir bark can also help. While it doesn’t retain much water, it can aid in drainage and airflow. These are perfect for epiphyte plants like Christmas Cactuses that are used in a pot that is always wet.

In addition to these organically-rich materials, you might have to add ingredients like sand, fine gravel, horticultural pumice, or charcoal to further drain, aerate, and loosen up the “soil.”

Limestone can also supplement the substrate materials since it can help balance the pH levels of more acidic materials like bark and peat. As we said above, a pH level of 6-7 needs to be maintained for the plant.

You will be able to find soil-less options for cacti, orchids, and succulents online or at a local nursery. You might naturally want the options for succulents or cacti, but this might be a mistake.

The Christmas Cactus isn’t a cactus of the desert; it is an epiphyte that thrives in the rainforest, which is distinctly wetter. Hence, don’t use these since they will mostly consist of vermiculite or perlite that can absorb all the water, leaving none for the plant.

If you are going for ready-made mixes, we recommend going for ones designed for orchids. Orchids are usually epiphytes, and their mixtures often contain bark chops and coconut coir, which can be better for the cactus.

Bark can dry out and absorb the water in the plants while both disintegrate over time, providing nutrients and moisture to the plant. But they still need to be combined with other materials.

So, we recommend mixing the best features of both. It might be a little bit more work, but the new combination will offer the best of both worlds.

Here is a tip when creating soil-less mixes that are perfect for the Christmas Cactus. You can mix in the following ingredients to create the most suitable mixture:

  • 1-part orchid mixture
  • 1-part succulent and cactus mixture
  • 1-part fine gravel, sand, or horticultural pumice

Make sure to mix them all thoroughly before filling a container for the Christmas Cactus. But make sure that the container has enough drainage holes. The potting mixture is lightweight, airy, and rich in texture. It will give the Christmas Cactus plenty of air to breathe in and drain away any access water too.

How to Plant the Christmas Cactus Outside?

Christmas cactuses can be planted outdoors, but only if you live in a warmer climate. It also needs a special mix of soil, of course. The soil you need should drain well and contain a combination of orchid bark, perlite, and potting soil.

When you keep the Christmas Cactus outdoors, you need to ensure that the soil should be on the dryer side when you are watering it. But it should never be bone dry. If you overwater it, it might result in root rot or fungal diseases, which can be fatal.

You should take special care of this during winters when the water might freeze around the roots and cause shock to the plant.

The plant is not cold hard since it prefers warmer climates. If you live in a USDA hardiness Zone 9 or above, you can do it. However, if you live in a cooler climate, we recommend planting the cactus in a hanging basket or container so that you can bring it indoors if the temperature falls below 10 C or 50 F.

When selecting a spot for the plant, you should pick one in light shade or where early morning sunlight is available. During winter and fall, a sunnier place is best. Intense light, however, can result in a Christmas cactus with bleached leaves.

We recommend temperatures of 21-27 C or 70-80 F. Any sudden changes in the temperature and light will cause the buds to start drooping or even fall off.

Do You Need to Repot Christmas Cactuses?

Strangely enough, Christmas Cactuses should be repotted after the blooming season ends and flowers have already wilted by late winter. In contrast, most plants actually should be repotted when they are growing during spring.

You should avoid changing its potting when it is in bloom. You should also know that you should never rush into changing its pots since it loves a slightly crowded space. If you do it too frequently, you might damage the plant.

We recommend repotting after three to four years. But you can wait until the plant begins to look tired and you can see some roots growing out of the pot’s drainage holes.

Until then, you should know that the plant can bloom in the same container for quite a few years.

Diseases and Pests: What Role Does Soil Play?

Fungus gnats, aphids, flower thrips, mealybugs, and spider mites are the most frequent pests that attack holiday cacti. Avoid overwatering the plant since these pests are often attracted to wet soil. Insecticidal soap and horticultural oil are often useful in suppressing an infestation.

Another method for getting rid of the small insects is to wipe them with a cotton ball dipped in alcohol. If there are additional plants around, a Christmas cactus may not sustain a severe infestation and must be thrown away.

If they are overwatered, fungus infections are often present. Don’t overwater plants to avoid fungus infestations. Phytophthora and Fusarium are two typical fungi that may cause stem rot in Christmas cacti. Brown patches appear on the stem near the soil line due to fusarium stem rot.

The stems at the soil level look moist or water-soaked when it has stem rot called Phytophthora, which may be fatal. A Christmas cactus may recover from Fusarium if detected early enough, although it is sometimes difficult to preserve.

If the soil around the plant is too damp, let it dry out before applying a fungicide, following the directions on the label.

Zygocactus Yellow (Golden Dancer) Christmas Cactus - 4'' from California Tropicals

In Conclusion

The Christmas Cactus is a wonderful plant to have in the house since it can bloom beautifully and is a hardy plant. As long as you take care of its soil needs, it can have a long life of up to 20 years.