Propagating Christmas Cactus: Easy Holiday Gifts

Propagating Christmas cactus is simple with our step-by-step guide. Make multiple for yourself or give them as holiday gifts next year!

Propagating Christmas cactus

Festive and full, Christmas cactus is a pleasure to have any time of year. It’s popular for its unique stem design and brightly colored flowers. We’ve already covered that in our extensive Schlumbergera care guide in the past. The fun doesn’t stop there, though. Propagating Christmas cactus is incredibly easy to do!

Propagation is my favorite way to expand my garden. It’s such a great way to learn about and observe plant growth. You also get free plants out of it, which is perfect for frugal gardening.

In this article, we’ll teach you everything you need to know about Christmas Cactus propagation. And did you know that you can use the same process for all holiday cactus types — Easter and Thanksgiving cactus too? The rest is up to you!

Helpful Products For Christmas Cactus Propagation:

What is Propagation?

Propagating Christmas cactus
Propagating Christmas cactus isn’t difficult to do! Source: nstohlma

Propagation is essentially the process of turning one plant into two or more. Its complexity depends on the plant. Christmas cacti and the Thanksgiving cactus are some of the best propagators, so they are the perfect choice for first-timers.

There are many methods of propagation out there – leaf cuttings, stem cuttings, offsets from a parent plant, division, or by seed. Most of these aren’t viable options for this plant. It doesn’t produce offsets or viable seeds, and can’t be divided.

But the method that’s easiest is also perfect for propagating this cactus. It grows wonderfully from stem cuttings, so that’s the method we’ll be using.

Necessary Materials

Before beginning, make sure you have the right supplies:

  • A mature and vigorous Christmas cactus (or other holiday cactus types you have, like Thanksgiving cactus or Easter cactus)
  • A clean container with drainage holes
  • Well-draining soil
  • A spray bottle
  • An adventurous spirit!

Optional but useful:

The Propagation Method

Christmas cactus in bud
This huge Christmas cactus is in bud. The larger pads can be propagated singly. Source: Starr

When it comes to propagating Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus, the process is simple: prep, cut, dry, plant, repot. Let’s go over each step in detail.

Step 1: Prep

Preparing for to propagate Christmas cactus starts with choosing the right time. You’ll have the most success in late spring. This is when the growing season is just getting started, so your Christmas cactus is ready for some action.

Choose the stems you want to take Christmas cactus cuttings from. They need to be mature and healthy. You can select a stem that’s growing crooked and doesn’t fit in with the rest of the plant. Or, if your Christmas cactus is showing its age, choose the stems that are unaffected by root rot or disease. As long as your selection is healthy, it should grow.

Step 2: Cut

You’ll be taking your holiday cactus cuttings by pads. If you have a long enough segment, remove 2-4 pads for your cutting. If your plant is younger, you can propagate Christmas cactus by single pads. These should all be removed from the top of the stem.

Separate your plant cuttings at a node on the stem where two pads meet. You can cut them apart, but most gardeners just remove it by hand. Gently twist the pads and they’ll snap off. If they don’t break easily, give the node a snip with sterilized pruning shears.

The most important part of this step – and the whole process – is to make sure the entire base of the bottom pad remains intact. This section contains the apical meristem cells, which are responsible for growing roots. Without it, your cutting won’t grow Christmas cactus babies!

Step 3: Dry

The wound on your cutting needs to dry out before planting. This can take anywhere from a few hours to a couple days. When the cut is scabbed over, it’s ready to plant.

Step 4: Plant

Fill your cutting’s new home with moistened, well-draining cactus mix. Stick the cutting upright in the soil so that it stands on its own (about an inch deep). Be sure not to plant it upside down! The cut end should be underground. Gently tamp down the soil, just enough to provide some support. It may be tempting to give your cutting some fertilizer, but hold off on that for now.

Place your cutting out of direct sunlight, in bright yet indirect sunlight. The temperature needs to be warm, but not too hot – 65-75 is a good range. You’ll need to keep the soil damp the whole time your cutting is taking root. For best results, mist it with a plant mister, which will prevent overwatering.

Your Christmas cactus cutting will grow best if you pump up the humidity. Fill a dish with pebbles or gravel and water. Then, place your cutting’s container on top and let evaporation do its magic. Replenish the water as needed.

Step 5: Repot

It may be a while before your new plants are ready to be transplanted. It takes about 6-8 weeks to grow roots and another 2-3 for stem growth. New growth will appear at the tip of the stem. 

When you see that your new Christmas cactus or Thanksgiving cacti are actively growing, you can repot them in potting mix if you want. Select a pot which suits the size of your young plant and offers what support it needs. As it gets older and larger, you can repot it to a larger pot later.

After repotting, your holiday cacti may wilt. This is common as the plant settles in. It should perk back up after adjusting to its new home. Whether you repot or not, you’ll need to start a normal watering schedule once your Christmas cactus is actively growing. Instead of keeping the soil moist, water your plant deeply only when the soil dries out.

An Alternative Method: Water Plant Propagation

Stem and flower of Christmas cactus
In this photo, you can see the nodes between pads extremely well. Source: Hans J E

Want to skip the potting mix? Propagating Christmas cactus in water is easier than you think. It’s also a fun visual since you’ll be able to see the roots growing. When learning how to propagate a Christmas cactus in water, you only need to modify one part of the process.

Step 4: Plant. Before getting started, you’ll need the following supplies:

  • A clean jar
  • Small rocks or pebbles – you can also use Hydroton pebbles
  • Water

Prepare your jar by filling the base with pebbles. Fill it with water just to the top of the pebble line. Place your Christmas cactus cutting in the jar so the cut end is sitting on the rocks. It should barely be touching the water. If too much is submerged, your cutting may begin to rot. Monitor the water level and replenish as needed.

If your cutting has a hard time staying in place on its own, provide some support. Take some bamboo barbecue skewers and push them down into the pebbles on either side of the cutting. This should support the cactus cutting and keep it from tipping over. Don’t push them through the cutting itself, just into the pebbles!

Once the roots have sprouted, continue to Step 5 and plant your cutting in moistened soil. Be careful not to damage the young root system.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can you root a Christmas cactus in water?

A: Yes. Both rooting cuttings in water and soil are effective means of propagating Christmas cacti — and all holiday cactus types, for that matter.

Q: How long does it take a Christmas cactus to root from a cutting?

A: It takes about 3 to 4 weeks to root Christmas cactus cuttings (both leaf and stem cuttings).

Q: Where do you cut Christmas cactus to root?

A: You want to take stem cuttings with a stem segment that has at least a few leaf segments. Then make a y-shaped incision at the base of your cutting before propagating in water or soil.

Q: Why are the leaves on my Christmas cactus limp?

A: There are a couple of reasons this could happen (and they can compound onto one another). If you do not give your Christmas cactus plant enough indirect light, or you overwater, you may notice limp leaf segments.

Q: When should you put a Christmas cactus in the dark?

A: To help your Christmas cactus plant bloom, place it in at least 12 hours of darkness per day during the months of September to October. Once it starts blooming, you can resume its normal light schedule.

Q: How often do you water a Christmas cactus?

A: You want to water every couple of weeks, ensuring the top 1/3 of the soil is dry before applying water.

Q: Can you replant a broken stem of a Christmas cactus?

A: Yes! To propagate Christmas cactus from a broken stem, take a y-shaped incision at the base of the broken stem, and then try propagating in water or soil.

Q: Is regular potting soil OK for Christmas cactus?

A: Yes. When you’re growing Christmas cactus plants, your Christmas cacti may appreciate succulent soil or cactus soil most, rather than regular potting mix. Both work! It is a tropical plant rather than a desert cactus after all.