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Houseplant Repotting: Christmas Cactus (Thanksgiving, Holiday)

Christmas Cactus (Thanksgiving, Holiday) are long lasting, attractive succulents. Here's what you need to know about repotting Christmas Cactus including when & how to do it along with the best soil mix to use.

nell foster holds a christmas cactus in a green plastic grow pot

Christmas Cactus, although lovely when blooming, are not only for the holidays. They’re attractive, long-lasting succulent houseplants. I love the foliage and the weeping form they grow into over time. The soil mine was planted in was pulling away from the sides of the grow pot and just looked old.

This is all about repotting Christmas Cactus including how and when to do it, and the best soil mix to use.

First off, let’s get a bit technical for those of you who geek out on all things plant like me. The Christmas Cacti that you see here and in the video are actually Thanksgiving (or Crab) Cactus. They were labeled as a CC when I bought it and that’s how they’re commonly sold in the trade. Now days you may see them labeled as Holiday Cactus. Regardless of which one you have, you repot these epiphytic cacti in the same manner.

What’s the difference between Christmas Cactus and Thanksgiving Cactus?

Both the Thanksgiving and the Christmas Cactus fall under the genus Schlumbergera which I learned as Schlumbergia years ago. The Thanksgiving Cactus has little spine-like notches coming off it’s leaves (just like a crab claw hence that common name) whereas the leaves of the Christmas Cactus are smoother. The Thanksgiving Cactus is timed to flower in November/December whereas it’s December/January for the Christmas Cactus.

Two Christmas cacti, 1 tall & thin & the other shorter & fuller, sit in grow pots on a table

I planted these into 1 pot. Mine on the left got “pruned” by the pack rats so only 1/3 of it remained. I decided to add the 1 on the right in to fill out the pot. Besides, Bach’s Cactus Nursery was having a sale on them so how could I say no!

Close up of a Christmas Cactus with nubs caused by chewing pack rats

Here’s a closer look so you can see the nubs. My Christmas (Thanksgiving) Cactus grows outdoors year-round on my side patio & the pack rats devoured it in Jan.

Best time for repotting Christmas Cactus

Soon after your Christmas Cactus blooms is the best time. Mine stopped blooming at the end of December. I did the repotting at the end of March when the weather warmed.

They start to set their buds in September or early October so you want to transplant yours by early August. This way the plant is settled in before that process starts.

a freshly repotted christmas cactus sits next to a bowl of compost a florist knife a a pair of floral nippers

Repotting done. I ended up snipping off some of the nubs to make it look a little better.

Soil mix for repotting Christmas Cactus

These succulents are epiphytic cacti and differ from the desert cacti that I’m surrounded by here in Tucson. In their natural rainforest habits, Christmas Cacti grow on other plants and rocks; not in the soil.

They are sheltered by the canopies of trees and shrubs and thrive when protected from full, direct sun. They get their nourishment from organic matter leaf matter & debris falling from the plants growing above them. This means they like a very porous mix that also has a lot of richness to it, just like their fellow epiphytes bromeliads & orchids.

I like to do this blend because it’s rich yet drains well. These are organic ingredients I always have on hand because my collection of plants is always growing. You’ll find some alternative mixes listed a few paragraphs below.

1/3 succulent & cactus mix

I’ve been buying a mix from a local source but have just started making my own. Here’s the recipe for DIY succulent & cactus mix in case you want to make your own too: Succulent & Cactus Soil Mix For Pots

Here are online options for succulent & cactus mix: Bonsai Jack (this 1 is very gritty; great for those prone to overwatering!), Hoffman’s (this is more cost effective if you have a lot of succulents but you might have to add pumice or perlite), or Superfly Bonsai (another fast draining 1 like Bonsai Jack which is great for indoor succulents).

1/3 potting soil

I’m partial to Ocean Forest because of its high-quality ingredients. It’s a soilless mix & is enriched with lots of good stuff but also drains well.

1/3 coco coir chips & fiber

I buy mine locally here in Tucson. Here’s a similar product.

A few handfuls of compost

A few handfuls of worm compost

This is my favorite amendment, which I use sparingly because it’s rich.  I’m currently using Worm Gold Plus. Here’s why I like it so much.

A few handfuls of charcoal

Charcoal improves the drainage & absorbs impurities & odors. Pumice or perlite up the ante on the drainage factor too. This is optional, like the composts, but I always have them on hand.

You can read how I feed my houseplants with worm compost & compost here: How I Feed My Houseplants Naturally With Worm Compost & Compost

Mix alternatives:

1/2 potting soil & 1/2 orchid bark.

all cymbidium orchid mix.

1/2 succulent & cactus mix & 1/2 cymbidium orchid mix.

1/2 potting soil & 1/2 orchid bark.

1/2 potting soil & 1/2 coco coir chips.

close up of a Red Christmas Cactus with open blooms & lots of buds

This is what mine in bloom early last Dec. The new one I got is “Exotic Dancer” which is red also.

Pot size

Christmas Cactus bloom best when slightly potbound. Mine was in a 6″ grow pot & I planted it into an 8″ pot. I’ve seen older Christmas Cacti planted in relatively small pots & they’re doing just fine. Make sure the pot has at least 1 drain hole.

Steps to Christmas Cactus repotting

My Christmas Cactus got severely pruned by the pack rats so I combined it with a new 4″ plant as well as a cutting. So, my repotting process was a bit more detailed than yours will most likely be.

You can watch the video to see how I did it.

I’ll simplify the process here:

Remove the plant by squeezing the pot &/or cutting around the sides with a dull knife. I loosen the root ball a bit if it’s tight with a gentle massaging.

Place desired mix in the bottom of the pot so that the root ball is even with the top.

Fill in around the sides with the mix adding in compost if you have it.

I topped mine with succulent & cactus mix, compost & worm compost.

How often should you repot Christmas Cactus?

I’ll repot mine in 3-5 years depending on how it’s doing. Remember, they like to grow slightly tight in their pots so only go up 1 pot size.

a christmas cactus in a green grow pot sits on a teal patio table

After a few weeks, mine is settling in just fine. The older plant is starting to plump back up & both plants feel firmly rooted in.

After care

I moved mine to the covered side patio where it gets indirect yet bright light. I let it settle in for a few days & then gave it a couple of thorough waterings to make sure the mix was moist. It’s warm here in Tucson now (80’s into 90’s) so I’m watering mine every 5-7 days now.

These are epiphytic cacti & differ from the desert cacti that I’m surrounded by here. In their natural rainforest habits, they grow on other plants & rocks; not in soil. Their roots need to breathe.

Give yours a good drink of water, let it all thoroughly drain out of the pot, & let it go dry before you water it again. You don’t want to keep the roots constantly moist or they’ll eventually rot out.

How often should you water your Christmas Cactus?

How often you water depends on your temps, the exposure it’s in & the pot size. Houseplant watering 101 gives you a general idea. I watered my Christmas Cactus growing outdoors in Santa Barbara every week (yes, they do grow outdoors year round in temperate climates) in the warmer weather & sometimes not at all in the winter, depending on if we had rain or not. Indoors I watered every 2-4 weeks in the cooler months.

close up of new growth on a christmas cactus

There’s lots of new growth appearing on the older plant as well as the new plant (below).

lots of new growth appearing on a christmas cactus
close up of new growth appearing on the chewed nubs of a christmas cactus

There’s even new growth appearing on the nubs.

Repotting your Christmas Cactus (Thanksgiving, Holiday) is easy to do and I’m sure yours will appreciate some fresh mix. Mine is putting out so much new growth just a few weeks after its repotting. Can’t wait to see the blooms it puts out in fall!

Happy gardening,

Nell-Foster-Joy-Us-Garden

You can find more houseplant info in my simple and easy to digest houseplant care guide: Keep Your Houseplants Alive.

More on Christmas Cactus:

How to Grow Christmas Cactus

How To Propagate Christmas Cactus

How To Get Your Christmas Cactus To Flower Again

What Causes Christmas Cactus Leaves To Turn Orange?

Much more on houseplants here, as well as repotting here!

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