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How to Prune a Christmas Cactus: 3 Tips & Tricks

propagated Christmas cactus plant

Part of taking good care of your Christmas Cactus is pruning it. Otherwise, these cacti can become overgrown, which makes them more difficult to take care of. Plus, trimming your cactus will create a bushier plant that is often more aesthetically pleasing.

Luckily, pruning is pretty easy. However, it is vital not to over- or under-prune. Otherwise, you may run into issues with plant growth.

Still, with some simple steps, it isn’t terribly difficult to prune these cacti.

garden flower dividerThe 3 Steps to Prune a Christmas Cactus

1. Decide Why You’re Pruning

propagating Christmas cactus plant
Image Credit: Bilalstock, Shutterstock

There are two reasons you may want to prune your Christmas Cactus. Firstly, you may decide to prune the cacti because you want them to grow more fully. In this case, you’ll want to prune back one to two segments per stem. This will encourage the plant to branch out and become full instead of long and lanky.

However, you can also propagate Christmas Cacti. However, this requires longer pieces. In this case, you’ll want to prune back before a divide, which usually translates to four to five segments. As you might imagine, this will make your cactus much smaller. However, you’ll be able to grow new cacti with the pieces.

Generally, cuttings larger than two sections can grow a new plant. However, the larger, the better. You want to strike a balance between getting a large enough clipping to grow a new plant while also not damaging your current plant too much.


2. Wait Until the Cactus Has Bloomed

Christmas Cacti go through multiple growth phases. Basically, this means that the plant will go through periods of blooming and periods of growth. All extra energy will be put towards either blooming or growing, depending on the phase.

Therefore, you don’t want to prune your cactus when it is trying to bloom. If you do this, then you’ll simply end up with fewer blooms, and your cactus won’t grow that much in the meantime.

Instead, it is best to prune the cactus right after it blooms. Right after blooming, the cactus will start trying to grow. Therefore, by pruning right before this period of growth, you encourage the plant to branch and should see new growth rather quickly.


3. Twist Each Segment Off

exposed roots of Christmas cactus plant
Image Credit: Bilalstock, Shutterstock

When you’re ready to prune your cactus, you should break each stem at the section between segments. Each segment will be larger and rectangular. In between each segment, there will be a small piece of stem. Once you know how many segments back to prune, simply move the last between pieces and twist gently. The stem should break easily here and it will encourage the cactus to branch.

Don’t worry about being overly gentle. You want to twist quickly and efficiently to avoid causing damage to other parts of the plant. You can also use your thumbnail to separate the stem at the junction, though twisting is often better, as it doesn’t do as much damage.

Some very old and thick plants will require the use of shears for pruning. These plants should be pruned in the same place.

divider 4Will Trimming a Christmas Cactus Kill It?

If you trim a plant too much, it will die. Cacti store water in their leaves. Therefore, if you remove too many leaves, the plant will lose too much water. Instead, you should preferably only trim it back up to four segments away. This should reduce the plant’s size significantly, but it should also prevent the plant from dying.

Pruning the plant at the correct time is important, too. You want the cactus to immediately start branching out after pruning. For this to occur, you need to prune it shortly after it blooms.

close up christmas cactus leaves
Image Credit: Hans, Pixabay

How Do You Rejuvenate an Old Christmas Cactus?

Christmas Cacti that are not regularly trimmed will get leggy and become wooden. Typically, this isn’t good for the plant, as it limits the number of blooms it will produce. If you have an older cactus, you can rejuvenate it to encourage new growth and more blooms. However, you have to do this carefully, as this process can also kill it.

If the plant has turned woody, then you will need to cut it back all the way to the woody section (as long as this wouldn’t cause the plant to be trimmed back by more than 1/3 of its overall size). New, green growths should grow from the woody parts, which are also the parts that should produce flowers.

You should trim back the cactus every year after it blooms. In this way, you will help ensure that the cactus doesn’t become unrejuvenated and continues to grow.

How Do You Fix a Leggy Christmas Cactus?

If your Christmas cactus is nothing but legs, you should trim it back to encourage branching. Many Christmas cacti will not branch out unless they are trimmed regularly. If you haven’t pruned your cactus in a long time, you should trim it back by three to four sections after it blooms. This is the maximum that each stem should be cut back, and you should not trim back this much on a regular basis.

After this first, major pruning, you should trim it back by one to two sections each year. Once again, this will prevent your cactus from becoming overgrown and encourage extra branching each year.

garden flower divider

Conclusion

We highly recommend that you trim back your Christmas cactus regularly. This helps your cactus branch out and prevents it from becoming overgrown. If allowed to grow without pruning, many cacti will become woody and reduce their overall growth. In some cases, the cacti may not bloom as much, either.

Therefore, while it may seem counterintuitive, pruning back a cactus is vital for its growth.


Featured Image Credit: Bilalstock, Shutterstock

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