I have a long-running affinity for Christmas cactuses. They’ve been in my life pretty much since the day I was born. When I was young, my mom had a Christmas cactus that she got from her mom (and still has) that to this day still erupts in bright pink flowers every December. I feel lucky to be the third generation in my family to have a cutting of the same Christmas cactus. But part of caring for this plant is knowing when and how to repot a Christmas cactus.
Christmas cactuses aren’t like most of the cactuses you’re familiar with. They actually hail from jungle climates where it’s damp and humid. When kept in good conditions, your cactus will bloom in a variety of colors, depending on its type. It can produce orange, white, peach, rose, purple, red, and lavender flowers. My cactus makes pink flowers.
When should you repot a Christmas cactus?
Repotting a Christmas cactus has a handful of benefits for the plant. Repotting your cactus gives it additional room to grow and provides it with a much-needed infusion of nutrients in the form of healthy, fresh potting soil.
There are a few indications the plant will give you if it needs to be repotted. Generally, the biggest sign that it’s ready is if it’s looking droopy and unhealthy. If you can, gingerly lift the cactus out of its pot. If it looks rootbound, meaning the roots have twisted and bent around the shape of the pot, it is probably time to repot it.
In general, a Christmas cactus should be repotted every 3-4 years for optimal growth and health. The best time to repot a Christmas cactus is after its bloom period in winter. But don’t rush it! Let the blooms fully run their course and die off before you attempt to repot it.
How to repot a Christmas cactus
You can repot a Christmas cactus pretty easily. It’s a straightforward practice, but keep in mind that the plants themselves are fragile. Branches can very easily fall off during the repotting process. Be very careful during the process.
- First, select the right type of soil for your Christmas cactus. The best type of soil to use is one specially made for succulents or bromeliads. This will provide your cactus with the right set of nutrients for continued growth and beautiful flowers.
- Select a pot that it approximately two inches wider and deeper than the pot your cactus is in currently. You don’t need to go big! The roots of Christmas cactuses grow very slowly and will take years to expand 2 inches. Always use a pot that has a drainage hole. Your Christmas cactus is liable to die if it’s left in soggy soil.
- In the new pot, put down a two-inch layer of new potting soil. Very gently lift your Christmas cactus out of its current pot and loosen up its root ball. You don’t want to knock all of the soil out of the root ball, but if it’s very compacted, you do want to loosen it up just a little bit.
- Set the root ball of the cactus in the new pot on top of the layer of soil you placed in the pot. Gently fill in around the sides of the root ball using the same bromeliad or succulent potting soil. Carefully pat the soil to help remove any air bubbles that may have snuck into the soil during the repotting process.
- If any roots are visible on the soil’s surface, add a thin layer of soil to the top, just barely covering the roots.
After repotting your Christmas cactus, you should expect it to go through a period of shock. Repotting can be a damaging and traumatizing process for any plant. You can help it along by placing it in a shady location out of direct sunlight for 3-7 days. After this period, you can return it to its normal location.
Splitting your Christmas cactus
Christmas cactuses will pretty much continue to grow and grow indefinitely if you keep giving it a larger pot to grow into. In the case of my mother’s cactus, it has become a massive, 40 pound plant that needs to be moved indoors and outdoors each winter and summer, respectively. If you aren’t trying to grow an enormous cactus, there’s good news: you can split it up.
The splitting process is easy, but you do have to be careful with the plant. Remove the plant from its pot and carefully lay it on its side. Take a sharp knife and cut the roots of the plant in half, all the way up to the base of the cactus. When you’re done, you should have two equal-sized lobes of roots and plant. If it’s a very large plant, you can quarter it and create four new plants. If it’s more medium-sized, you should only split it the one time. Smaller Christmas cactuses should not be split up.