Schlumbergera (shlum-BER-ger-uh) AKA holiday cacti are so named because they tend to bloom around specific holidays.
Perhaps the most famous of these is the Christmas cactus, the name given mainly to the species Schlumbergera bridgessii and its buckleyi hybrids.
Christmas cactus mainly differs from its sibling, the Thanksgiving cactus, but the two can overlap due to its prime blooming time.
But what’s better than having a Christmas cactus providing wonderful flowers when most of your other plants are hibernating?
How about several specimens spread around the house?
The Christmas cactus is surprisingly easy to propagate, meaning you can have as many as you want after a few years of work.
How to Propagate Christmas Cactus
As with any plant, there are some rules to propagating successfully.
The good news is that these rules are pretty simple compared to a lot of other plants.
When to Propagate
The best time to start (propagate) Christmas cactus is in spring, when the plant develops new growth.
Never propagate from a plant that’s currently blooming, as the plant will be putting its energy into the flowers, thus retarding any root growth.
Choosing the Best Clippings
You’ll want to look for stems with at least 3 leaf segments (known as phylloclades).
Examine your chosen stems for any sign of disease or infestation.
Once they have a clean bill of health, take hold of the lowest segment you want to remove, twist it 180° degrees, and then pull upwards.
This ensures a clean break without damaging the segment below.
Try to avoid cutting when possible, as the segments are designed to break this way.
Preparing the Cuttings
Before you can plant the cuttings, you will have to let them dry in a darker area.
As these are succulents, this drying period will allow the cuttings to form a protective callous over the wound.
The callouses will help reduce the risk of rot and other complications once you transplant.
Your cuttings will be ready to plant in 3 to 7 days, but the exact time can vary.
Use your best judgment on whether the callous on a particular cutting is strong enough.
Preparing the Soil
While the cuttings are healing, you can begin mixing your potting soil.
The soil should have some degree of aggregate to ensure it’s well-draining.
A blend of 60% percent tropical potting mix with 40% percent coarse sand or perlite is a good choice.
You can also create a mix of equal parts organic matter (such as compost or peat) and aggregate (coarse sand, gravel, or perlite).
When buying a commercial mix, avoid cheap products, as these are often unsterilized and may contain dormant pests or spores.
You should also aim for a soil pH somewhere between 5.5 and 6.5.
Can You Propagate in Water?
Technically, Christmas cactus can root in water, but only if the callous is well-formed.
You should transplant to soil as soon as the roots begin forming to avoid the risk of root rot.
Planting the Cuttings
Evenly moisten the soil when you’re about to plant, but avoid making it too wet.
Although this is optional, dip the cutting into rooting hormone to ensure faster, healthier root growth.
Plant the cutting to approximately ¼ of its length deep.
Place the potting cuttings in a location with bright, indirect light and an ambient temperature between 70° and 85° degrees Fahrenheit.
Keep the soil moist while the plant takes root, but be careful not to overwater.
It will take approximately 3 weeks for the cutting to begin forming new growth.
Note that the plant won’t produce its first blooms for approximately 2 years.
Final Note: Getting More Shoots
You’ll probably notice the new plant rarely produces more than one or two new shoots.
There is a way to improve the spread that’s similar to pruning many other plants.
Approximately 6 to 8 weeks after planting the cutting, the new segments should be about ½” inch long.
Twist off the new segments once they reach this length, and the plant will respond like a hydra and produce multiple shoots where the one was removed.