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How to propagate Christmas cactus

Most succulents are known to be pretty easy to multiply using their leaves. So what about a succulent that’s basically only leaves? Yup, Christmas cactus propagation is a total breeze. 

Whether you want to grow a bunch of new plants to give away, fill up the existing planter or just have some pretty cuttings around, this guide on propagating Christmas cactus contains everything you need to know for success.

Note: Don’t have a Christmas cactus yet? Keep an eye out for them in stores during the holiday season, which is when they bloom. Alternatively, you can also get one online year round.

Most Christmas cacti sold online and in stores are not actually true Christmas cacti but another subspecies from the Schlumbergera genus usually known as Thanksgiving cactus. Does that matter? Not at all. Care and propagation is pretty much the same, it’s just a naming issue.

Pink flower of Schlumbergera (Christmas cactus), a popular succulent houseplant, on white background | Full Christmas cactus propagation guide

Christmas cactus cutting 

Taking a Christmas cactus cutting is not a very challenging task. Because this plant has a segmented growth habit, all you have to do is select a piece that looks good to you and very gently twist it off the mother plant. You don’t need a lot: even just a single segment has a good chance of being viable and turn into a new plant. Just to be safe though, I tend to go for three or more.

To get a full looking pot quickly, it’s advisable to take a few cuttings at a time, such as five or so. You can plant them all together, as planting only one cutting just looks a bit sparse.

After you’ve taken your cuttings, put them away to dry for a day or two to lower the chances of rot. After that, you can safely move on to the next step of the propagation process!

Tip: try to avoid taking cuttings when the plant is budding or in bloom. It’s best to leave it alone as much as possible during this time, since any buds or flowers you pick off are just going to wilt, which is a waste with how beautiful they are.

Cuttings of Schlumbergera truncata (Thanksgiving cactus), a popular succulent houseplant, on white background
Cuttings of Schlumbergera truncata (‘false’ Christmas cactus) ready to go!
© Anastasiia Malinich on Adobe Stock.

Rooting Christmas cactus in soil

The most common and really the most straightforward way to go about things after you’ve obtained your cuttings is rooting Christmas cactus in soil. Propagating in water is popular with other houseplants but succulents root so vigorously that there’s really no need for this, though of course you can still do Christmas cactus propagation in water if you just like the look of it.

To start rooting your Christmas cactus in soil, first prepare a soil mixture that works for this jungle cactus. As it’s not used to the arid climates that many other succulents originate from, the mix doesn’t have to dry out as quickly. Still, it’ll need to drain well for things to work.

To achieve this balance we’ll use two components: perlite, which is light and improves drainage, and coco coir. The latter is a more sustainable alternative to peat and will help the soil mixture stay lightly moist after watering.

Once you’re ready to pot up the cuttings, do so as follows:

  • Find a suitable planter. Normal plastic nursery planters are a favorite here, but if you’re rooting lots of cuttings (to give away, for example), you might want to use a tray instead. As long as it’s got proper drainage at the bottom your cuttings should be fine!
  • Fill the planter with 50% coco coir and 50% perlite, or whichever mix you’re using. You might want to pick out some of the larger pieces to prevent your cuttings from constantly falling over.
  • Stick the cuttings into the soil. The first segment can be buried halfway or even completely depending on the size and stability of the cutting. Roots sprout from the point where segments connect.
  • Place the planter in a spot that receives bright light but no direct sun. Nice warm temperatures are preferable and will speed up the process.
  • Check the cuttings’ soil humidity level daily. They don’t have roots yet so watering deeply is not very useful and can lead to standing water and rot. Instead, what you can do instead is spray so the top of the mix is nice and moist and keep doing so whenever the soil is almost dry. Don’t wait too long; Christmas cacti aren’t as tolerant to drought as other succulents.

After a few weeks have passed you should hopefully start seeing new growth on the cuttings. This comes in the form of a tiny segment forming on top of the previous segment, or maybe at the connection point between two segments indicating that your cutting is making a side shoot.

Tip: Not seeing new growth and not sure if things are going well? Plants like to focus on roots first and leaves after, so there might be a lot going on under the soil that you can’t see. To check if the cutting is rooting, give it a very light tug. If you feel any resistance, that means that roots are forming and it won’t be long now before new segments appear!

Christmas cactus propagation in water

I personally love the look of houseplant cuttings rooting in glass vases, so I can’t blame anyone for preferring Christmas cactus propagation in water. If you’d like to root your cuttings in water really all you’ll need is a container you like and a nice light and warm location. I like to use shot glasses for small cuttings.

Place the cutting(s) in the vase or glass and fill it with water until the first segment is about halfway submerged. In case of a glass that’s too big, some just poke a toothpick through a segment and suspend that so the first segment is in the water. Succulents are pretty hardy, so a leaf being skewered is really not that much of a concern.

Once your cutting is ready to go, place it in its designated spot and lean back. Check regularly and top off any water that might have evaporated. It can also help to change the water once in a while to prevent bacterial/algae growth. 

Roots should appear fast in water, within about a week. You can leave the cuttings in their vase indefinitely if you like how it looks or pot them up. This can be done once the roots are of a good size and you’ve seen a new leaf or two pop up. 

Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera) cactus cuttings in soil.
As mentioned earlier, all these instructions also apply to the very similar Thanksgiving cactus.

Christmas cactus care

Christmas cactus care is not too challenging as long as you make sure not to treat this plant like a normal cactus. As mentioned before this species is a forest cactus (originally found in Brazil) and it likes a lot more moisture as well as less sun than its desert cousins.

Your Christmas cactus should receive bright indirect light and its soil should be kept lightly moist during the growing season. If you don’t water enough, you’ll notice the plant going wrinkly and not budding once the holiday season rolls around.

If you’d like to know more about general Christmas cactus care, head over to the Christmas cactus caresheet to find out everything you need to know.

Reddish pink flower of Schlumbergera (Christmas cactus), a popular succulent houseplant