How to grow cacti indoors (step-by-step guide)

The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera spp.) is a popular houseplant known for its stunning, colorful blooms that typically appear during the holiday season. Contrary to its name, this plant is not a true cactus but rather a member of the cactus family, Cactaceae.
With proper care and attention, you can enjoy its vibrant flowers and lush green foliage indoors all year round. In this step-by-step guide, we will walk you through the essential care requirements for growing a healthy and beautiful Christmas cactus indoors.
Step 1: Selecting the Right Christmas Cactus
Choosing a healthy Christmas cactus is the first step toward successful indoor cultivation. Here's what to look for when selecting a plant:
1.1. Check for healthy stems: Inspect the stems for any signs of damage, discoloration, or rot. The stems should be green and firm.
1.2. Examine the leaves: The leaves should be plump, glossy, and evenly spaced along the stems. Avoid plants with wrinkled or discolored leaves.
1.3. Inspect the roots: If possible, gently remove the plant from its pot and examine the roots. Healthy roots should be white or light tan and free from mold or rot.
1.4. Choose the right size pot: Opt for a pot that is slightly larger than the current one, as Christmas cacti prefer slightly snug containers.
Step 2: Potting Mix and Container
2.1. Potting mix: Christmas cacti thrive in a well-draining, slightly acidic potting mix. A mix containing equal parts of potting soil, perlite, and peat moss is ideal.
2.2. Container: Select a pot with drainage holes to prevent overwatering and root rot. Ensure that the chosen pot is just big enough to accommodate the root ball comfortably.
Step 3: Planting Your Christmas Cactus
3.1. Fill the pot: Add a layer of potting mix to the bottom of the container, ensuring it covers the drainage holes.
3.2. Place the plant: Gently remove your Christmas cactus from its nursery pot and place it in the center of the new container.
3.3. Add more mix: Surround the plant with the potting mix, leaving about an inch of space between the soil surface and the rim of the pot.
3.4. Water sparingly: Water the newly potted Christmas cactus lightly to settle the soil but avoid soaking it.
Step 4: Lighting
4.1. Indirect sunlight: Christmas cacti thrive in bright, indirect light. Place your plant near a window with filtered sunlight or use sheer curtains to diffuse direct sunlight.
4.2. Avoid hot, direct sun: Protect your Christmas cactus from intense, direct sunlight, which can scorch the leaves.
Step 5: Temperature and Humidity
5.1. Temperature: Maintain a consistent indoor temperature between 60-70°F (15-24°C) during the day and slightly cooler at night. Avoid sudden temperature fluctuations.
5.2. Humidity: Christmas cacti prefer higher humidity levels. You can increase humidity by placing a tray of water and pebbles near the plant or using a humidifier.
Step 6: Watering
6.1. Keep soil evenly moist: Water your Christmas cactus when the top inch of the soil feels dry to the touch. Use room-temperature water and ensure it drains through the pot's holes.
6.2. Drain excess water: Empty the saucer under the pot after watering to prevent the roots from sitting in standing water.
Step 7: Fertilization
7.1. Feed during the growing season: From late winter to early autumn, fertilize your Christmas cactus every 4-6 weeks with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer diluted to half strength.
7.2. Reduce fertilization in winter: During the dormant period (late autumn and early winter), reduce or stop fertilizing.
Step 8: Pruning
8.1. Prune for shape and size: To maintain a bushy appearance and control the size of your Christmas cactus, pinch back the stems or remove sections using clean, sharp scissors or pruning shears.
Step 9: Blooming
9.1. Induce blooming: To encourage your Christmas cactus to bloom, it needs a period of reduced light and cooler temperatures (around 50-55°F or 10-13°C) for about 6-8 weeks. Reduce watering during this time.
9.2. Return to normal care: After the cool treatment, return your plant to its normal care routine. You should start to see flower buds forming within a few weeks.
Growing a Christmas cactus indoors can be a rewarding experience, allowing you to enjoy its vibrant blooms and unique foliage year-round. By following this step-by-step guide and providing the right care, you can ensure your Christmas cactus thrives and becomes a cherished addition to your indoor plant collection. Remember to be patient, as these plants can take a few years to reach their full blooming potential, but the wait is well worth it for the stunning holiday displays they can provide.