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My Surprising Fertilizer For A Super Blooming Christmas Cactus Every Year

The most important thing you can do to get your Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera) to bloom each year is to ensure it goes through a proper dormant phase with shorter days and cooler nights.

I talk about that more in my guide for caring for your Christmas cactus here.

However, closely behind that in importance is making sure your Christmas cactus has the right nutrients available. That means fertilizing at the right time and with the right fertilizer.

But with so many different fertilizers on the market, which one do you use?

A good rule of thumb for fertilizing houseplants is to choose a balanced NPK fertilizer in a 1:1:1 ratio. For chemical fertilizers, you should also dilute them and use them at half-strength.

Of course, anyone who owns a Christmas or other holiday cactus can tell you these aren’t your average houseplants. Far too often, frustrated Christmas cactus owners find that their basic houseplant fertilizer isn’t cutting it.

Woman's hand holding a bottle of liquid plant food

Lucky for you, I’ve found the perfect fertilizer for Christmas cactuses.

After years of trying different fertilizers formulated for houseplants, mostly choosing what happened to be in stock at the garden center each time I ran out, I stumbled across a great fertilizing solution for my Christmas cactus quite by accident. I have my obsession with African violets to thank for it.

What Do African Violets Have to Do With Fertilizing Your Christmas Cactus?

African violets in full bloom

I grew up in a house that had lots of “grandma” houseplants, not the plants that are so popular today, such as monstera or pothos. We had Christmas cactuses and African violets — all the plants everyone’s grandmother grew.

Naturally, I have an affinity for both of these plants, but over the years, I have acquired quite a collection of African violets. I got pretty good at getting them to bloom continuously.

Part of that is using Schultz African Violet liquid plant food to feed my violets. Seven drops in a quart of water, and you’re good to go.

Woman's hand using a dropper to add fertilizer to watering can.

I remember it’s what my Papa Link used when I was growing up, and it works. Beautifully.

So, I decided to try using it on my holiday cactus a couple of years ago and see what happened.

I had the most prolific blooms on my cactus that I’ve ever had; that’s what happened.

Two Schlumbergera in full bloom
I used the Schultz on my Thanksgiving and Christmas cactuses, and both were covered in blooms.

From that point on, it became my go-to fertilizer for blooming houseplants. So far, it’s never let me down. Now that you know my secret, let’s take a look at why it works so well and when and how to fertilize with it.

Why It Works So Well – It’s the ‘P’

Bottle of Schultz African Violet food amidst holiday cactus blooms.

When it comes to fertilizer, it’s all about the NPK, and Schultz African Violet liquid plant food has more phosphorus. Phosphorus is an incredibly important nutrient for flowering and fruit-bearing plants. It’s essential during the flowering phase of the plant’s life cycle.

It’s such an important nutrient for so many different processes: cell division and growth (which increase during the blooming phase), sturdy root growth, energy storage and transfer, and even respiration – all of these plant processes require phosphorus.

But too often, we get the timing wrong and fertilize our Christmas cactus long after it’s needed. If you start fertilizing when you see buds, you’ve already missed the boat. The flowering cycle starts long before you see the visible results.

When To Fertilize Your Christmas Cactus

Holiday cactus after it has bloomed for the season

Once your Christmas cactus has bloomed, let it take a nice relaxing vacation throughout January. Simply water it and let it chill and do its own thing. Around February or March, as the days begin to grow longer again, you’ll notice the plant will start its annual growth period.

You’ll start to see tiny new segments, cladodes, growing at the tips of older segments and at the nodes where two segments join together.

Hand holding new cladode

Now is the time to reach for the fertilizer.

Don’t Follow the Directions

If you’re going to use Schultz to feed your holiday cactus, I recommend not following the directions on the bottle. What can I say, I’m a rebel. I feed my plants a little differently than the directions say to. The directions on the package say to feed your plants with it each time you water. I choose to use it at the full seven-drop strength every other time I water.

Skipping a feeding each time I water prevents salt build-up in my plant’s soil. I’ve also found we, as houseplant owners, tend to over-fertilize our plants, which can be more damaging than not fertilizing at all.

Following this schedule, you’ll fertilize every 2-4 weeks throughout the active growing season.

Christmas cactus covered in pink buds

When to Stop Fertilizing Your Christmas Cactus

Reduce or stop fertilizing in late fall or early winter when the plant enters its dormancy period. During this time, the Christmas cactus benefits from a rest period of about six to eight weeks before it puts out buds.

The shorter days and cooler nights mimic the conditions the plant would experience in the wild, which trigger bud formation. Many people find it easiest to put their Christmas cactus in a room of their home that receives less daylight and is cooler than the rest of the house.

During this time, you’ll want to reduce how often you water the plant as well. Let it dry out between waterings. You may only need to water it once every three to four weeks during dormancy.  

If you have a larger plant that can’t be moved without damaging the plant, purchase a black bed sheet to cover it within the afternoons to mimic the shorter days.

You can also close off heating vents near your plant if need be.

Remember, the key to successful flowering is the right fertilizer and the right environmental conditions.

Thanksgiving cactus with lots of blooms

Once you get those two factors right, you’ll enjoy beautiful Christmas cactus blooms year after year. Grab yourself a bottle of Schultz African Violet liquid plant food and give it a try. Next Christmas could be your Schlumbergera’s best year yet!

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Tracey Besemer

Hey there, my name is Tracey. I’m the editor-in-chief here at Rural Sprout.

Many of our readers already know me from our popular Sunday newsletters. (You are signed up for our newsletters, right?) Each Sunday, I send a friendly missive from my neck of the woods in Pennsylvania. It’s a bit like sitting on the front porch with a friend, discussing our gardens over a cup of tea.

Originally from upstate NY, I’m now an honorary Pennsylvanian, having lived here for the past 18 years.

I grew up spending weekends on my dad’s off-the-grid homestead, where I spent much of my childhood roaming the woods and getting my hands dirty.

I learned how to do things most little kids haven’t done in over a century.

Whether it was pressing apples in the fall for homemade cider, trudging through the early spring snows of upstate NY to tap trees for maple syrup, or canning everything that grew in the garden in the summer - there were always new adventures with each season.

As an adult, I continue to draw on the skills I learned as a kid. I love my Wi-Fi and knowing pizza is only a phone call away. And I’m okay with never revisiting the adventure that is using an outhouse in the middle of January.

These days, I tend to be almost a homesteader.

I take an eclectic approach to homesteading, utilizing modern convenience where I want and choosing the rustic ways of my childhood as they suit me.

I’m a firm believer in self-sufficiency, no matter where you live, and the power and pride that comes from doing something for yourself.

I’ve always had a garden, even when the only space available was the roof of my apartment building. I’ve been knitting since age seven, and I spin and dye my own wool as well. If you can ferment it, it’s probably in my pantry or on my kitchen counter. And I can’t go more than a few days without a trip into the woods looking for mushrooms, edible plants, or the sound of the wind in the trees.

You can follow my personal (crazy) homesteading adventures on Almost a Homesteader and Instagram as @aahomesteader.

Peace, love, and dirt under your nails,