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How to Prune a Christmas Cactus (No Green Thumb Required)

The Christmas cactus is a wonderful, hardy succulent with beautifully colored (red, pink, white, and even yellow), tubular blooms. They are very easy plants to care for as they can tolerate poor care and irregular watering. However, if your plant is taking over your kitchen window, it’s time to prune! In this post, you’ll learn how to prune a Christmas cactus to keep your plant happy and healthy.

Beautiful red Christmas cactus cascading on a white table.

Did you know the Christmas cactus (schlumbergera bridgesii or schlumbergera x buckleyi) is named for the time of year when it blooms? These holiday cacti are relatives of the crab cactus, which also includes the popular Thanksgiving cactus and Easter cactus.

In their native habitat, they grow on tree branches in Brazilian rainforests. They absorb water and nutrients all year long, thriving in indirect sunlight. The plant blooms only after receiving over half a day of darkness. In the Northern Hemisphere, that’s usually late winter right around Christmas.

These epiphytic succulents are great indoor plants even for the most inexperienced growers. They are very hard to kill and produce gorgeous blooms during the holiday season. They’re also non-toxic to pets and very easy to trim. How nice is that?

How to Prune a Christmas Cactus The Easy Way

Arrow pointing where to separate Christmas cactus segments.

It’s incredibly easy to prune a Christmas cactus. The most important thing is to do it at the right time. If you are going to prune your plant, do so just after the Christmas cactus blooms in late winter or as late as late spring.

Christmas cactus plants can be pruned by separating the plant between the segments at the ends of the stems. There are little gaps between the segments that make them easy to separate.

For healthy plants, you can do this with a sharp, clean pair of scissors or by simply twisting the segment with your fingers.

Remove stem segments as desired until you are happy with the shape of the plant.

If you hope to propagate your plant to grow new plants, be sure to cut pieces that are 2-4 segments long.

After blooming, you may notice some old flowers. Feel free to deadhead those to keep your plant clean and healthy.

When is the best time to prune a Christmas cactus?

White Christmas cactus bloom.

If you prune your Christmas cactus at the wrong time of the plant’s life cycle, it can be overly stressed. This may cause the plant to die or struggle to grow.

Christmas cacti typically bloom in late winter when they receive sufficient darkness (12-16 hours per day).

The best time to prune a Christmas cactus is right after it blooms. You can usually trim into late spring or early summer (May or June at the latest). Pruning later than that can pose a problem.

Curious about how to take proper care of your plant? Learn everything you need to know in our guide for Proper Christmas Cactus Care

How far back can I trim a Christmas cactus?

This depends on the size of your plant. To avoid stressing your plant, trim your Christmas cactus back by no more than one-third of its segments.

If you are cautious to trim sections that are 2-4 segments in length, you can propagate them to grow new plants following the instructions below.

When do I need to trim a Christmas cactus?

There are several reasons to trim a Christmas Cactus:

  • It is spindly or leggy
  • You’d like a bushier plant
  • It isn’t producing as well as you’d like
  • It is overgrowing your display space

If your plant is not looking very lush or well-defined, a good trim will help the plant direct energy into new growth.

How to grow Christmas cactus cuttings

Christmas cactus cutting ready to propagate.
In order to grow Christmas cactus from cuttings, you need at least 2 segments from the old plant.

Did you know you can make new cactus plants when you give yours a trim? Place your stem cuttings in a cool, dark room for a few days.

To form cuttings in soil, place the cut side down into good soil and water sparingly until new roots form in a few weeks. Transplant into new containers with good drainage.

If you’d prefer to propagate the plants in water, place 1/3 of the bottom leaf segments in water with the cut side down. Allow the plants to form new roots before planting them in small pots.

How can I make my Christmas cactus bloom?

If you’re waiting patiently to trim your holiday cactus and it just isn’t getting there, you can force your plant to form flower buds.

If your cactus hasn’t bloomed yet and it’s late fall or winter, cover it or place it in a cool, dark room overnight every night until you see buds form. When you bring it back to a spot with indirect bright light, its tubular flowers should begin to bloom.

The Christmas cactus is truly one of the easiest plants for inexperienced growers. They are so easy to care for and they repay your attention so well with gorgeous blooms to brighten your home in the darkest time of the year.

Be brave with your Christmas cactus! Give your plant a good trim and you’ll be thrilled by its growth next year.

How to prune a Christmas cactus.
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Adriana Copaceanu is a passionate nature lover living in the country on her dream property where she grows vegetables, lavender, and wildflowers that she shares with the wildlife they attract. When she's not in the garden, she loves spending time with her chickens and planning her next nature project. Check out her books below:

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