Christmas Cactus Problems and How to Fix Them

The Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii or Schlumbergera x buckleyi) is a very popular houseplant because of its beautiful flowers. It is also the most well-known holiday cactus.

The two other holiday cacti are the:

  • Thanksgiving Cactus(Schlumbergera truncata)
  • Easter Cactus(Schlumbergera gaertneri)

While they may look a little different, they require similar care. So, you can use the solutions for the Christmas Cactus problems below to fix issues with your Thanksgiving Cactus or Easter Cactus as well.

Of course, like all plants, there may come a time that your Christmas Cactus encounters problems.

In this article, we’ll go through how to fix each of these issues.

What are the common Christmas Cactus problems? The plant can experience droopy or wilted leaves. It can also turn red, pink or purples in color. Similarly, its leaves can become brown or yellow.

In some instances you may see its leaves drop off. Of course, Christmas cactus can stop growing as well.

Since each of these problems has varying causes, their solutions are different.

Christmas Cactus Problems and How to Fix Them

Like all plants, Christmas Cactus can run into problems depending on its living conditions and care. In addition to Christmas Cacti, other holiday cacti also have similar kind of care.

Therefore, you can use same fixes and solutions below to take care of other holiday cactus problems including those for Easter cactus and Thanksgiving cactus.

 

Why Is My Christmas Cactus Limp and Droopy?

If your Christmas cactus is droopy or limp, it can mean one of 3 possible things.

  • There’s a watering problem
  • It is currently blooming / flowering
  • It needs repotting

Let’s take the watering problem first.

Christmas cactus can droop or become limp when there’s a watering issue. So, to confirm what the actual problem is, stick your finger into the soil about 2 inches in.

If it feels very dry, then the plant lacks water.

In this case, the cactus is droopy and can shrivel as well. Here, the solution is to water the plant.

However, don’t just dump water all over your Christmas Cactus. Instead, introduce water gradually for several days. And it will begin recover.

On the hand, if the soil feels wet or soggy, then the plant is overwatered.

The easiest (and safest) fix here is to just repot the plant in fresh, dry soil. This will allow the plant to start recovery from overwatering.

Make sure you adjust your watering schedule to avoid repeating the problem.

If your Christmas Cactus is not over- or underwatered, it may be blooming.

When it flowers, the plant will channel some of its resources to the blooming process. As such, the leaves won’t get as much energy or resource focused on them.

Luckily, there’s no fix needed here.

Instead, just allow the plant to flower and after it does, You’ll see its leaves start to recover as they receive more energy.

Finally, your Christmas Cactus may be limp because it needs repotting.

If it has outgrown its container and it has been left in a very tight pot for a while, it will become limp. Therefore, move the plant to a container that is once size larger.

Christmas Cactus generally need repotting every 2 to 3 years.

 

Your Christmas Cactus’ Leaves are Shriveled or Wilted

If your Christmas Cactus leaves are wilting or shriveled, check for watering problems.

The most common cause of a wilting or shriveled Christmas Cactus is lack of water. However, it can also be from overwatering.

Of the two, the latter is a more serious problem. Therefore, it is important to verify what is the exact cause.

To check, stick your finger into the soil down to your second knuckle.

If the soil is very dry, it means your Christmas Cactus is underwatered.

Therefore, slowly add water to get the soil moist. Avoid soaking the entire soil immediately since the cactus has been dehydrated for a while. You don’t want to overwhelm it all of a sudden.

In a few days the plant should start perking up.

If the soil feels wet and soggy, then overwatering is the cause for your wilted Christmas Cactus.

Unfortunately, in this case, there’s a high likelihood that root rot or damage has occurred. Therefore, unpot the plant and check the roots.

Wilting happens from overwatering because the roots have been damaged.

As such, they are not able to absorb moisture and nutrients like they used to from the soil. This is what causes the wilting and shriveling.

You can easily tell rotten roots from healthy roots just by looking at them. Also, there’s a stench to rotten roots.

Rotten roots are black, soft and mushy. In contrast, healthy roots are white, firm and flexible.

If there is root rot, the goal is to prune the rotten roots. Then disinfect the pot and the entire root system with hydrogen peroxide.

Also, throw away the soil. Remove as much soil as you can from the roots.

The reason for this is that root rot can be caused by suffocation due to excess water. But it can also be caused by fungal disease that developed in the wet, damp conditions.

If it is the latter, you want to disinfect the root system and the pot. Then replace all the soil with new, fresh soil.

Once you have all these things ready, repot the plant in fresh, dry soil.

The hope is that this can save the plant. However, the problem with root rot is that you don’t always get to save the plant or it may not recover.

 

Why are My Christmas Cactus Leaves Turning Red, Pink or Purple?

If your Christmas Cactus’ leaves are turning red, pink or purple it is usually a sign that the plant is getting too much light.

While cacti enjoy plenty of light, there’s such a thing as too much light.

Instead, the plant prefers bright indirect light indoors and partial shade outdoors. And it cannot tolerate long periods of direct sunlight or full sun.

So, if you leave it in strong, intense light for long periods of time, it will turn red, pink or purple.

This condition can be hastened if it is underwatered.

Water helps the plant stay hydrated and regulates it internal temperature as well. So, an underwatered plant more easily succumbs to excess light and heat.

To fix this, check how much sun the plant receives at different times of the day. Pay attention to the hottest times of the day which is between 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

If it stays under the rays of the sun during this time, move the plant away so the sun’s rays don’t come into contact with the plant.

 

Why Is My Christmas Cactus Turning Brown?

If your Christmas Cactus is turning brown, immediate check the soil.

In all likelihood, it is overwatered. More importantly, there’s a good chance that root rot has set in.

Root rot occurs due to overwatering or poot drainage.

In general, Christmas Cactus don’t like excess water. As such, the best way to water it is to wait until the top 2-3 inches of soil has dried before adding more water.

If you water while the soil is still wet or moist, there’s a chance, sooner or later, that the roots will eventually end up sitting in too much water.

Another problem can be poor drainage soil.

So, even if you water properly, if the soil retains too much moisture, you end up with waterlogged soil. Again, the roots end up sitting in water.

Either way, excess water will drown the roots. And it will prevent them from getting enough oxygen.

After a while without oxygen, they will suffocate and die.

This is how root rot occurs.

The problem is roots are the only way the plant can absorb water and nutrients from the soil. So, if they cease functioning, they plant will eventually get dehydrated and malnourished.

And the leaves will turn yellow or brown then fall off after a while.

Eventually, the plant will die.

Since the roots are hidden under the soil, you can’t tell there’s a problem until the symptom reach the leaves.

By this time, there’s already damage to the root system.

Therefore, avoid overwatering. And you can do so by knowing when to water your Christmas Cactus.

Additionally, feeling the soil every week or so will give you an idea if there’s overwatering or waterlogging. If the soil stays wet and it has been a few days since you watered, something’s not right.

To try and save your Christmas Cactus from root rot, unpot the plant and check for rotten roots.

Prune the rotten roots then repot the plant in fresh, dry potting mix.

Then remove the brown leaves on your cactus.

 

Related

 

Why Is My Christmas Cactus Turning Yellow?

Yellow leaves are more difficult to diagnose because there are many possible reasons.

Overwatering, excess light, under fertilizing and a rootbound plant can all cause this. As such always start with the most serious potential issue.

In this case, it is root rot from overwatering.

Here, check the soil. If it is wet or soggy, then unpot the plant can take a look at the roots.

If there is no root rot, then you have two options.

  • Pot up the plant and allow the soil to dry before you water it again.
  • Repot the plant is fresh, dry soil so it can get out of the wet soil immediately.

The second option is safer in terms of preventing overwatering and any further problems.

If there is root rot, prune the rotten roots.

Then repot the plant in fresh, dry potting mix. Also, remove the yellow leaves.

Don’t water the plant for about a week to try and help your Christmas Cactus recover.

Then slowly add water and use a new scaled-back watering schedule to avoid overwatering in the future.

If the soil does not feel wet, then you can rule out overwatering.

Instead, check for nutrient deficiencies.

If you don’t fertilize your plant or have forgotten to recently, then this can be the cause. Christmas Cactus need the both macro and micronutrients to stay healthy.

Often, yellow leaves means inadequate magnesium. So, you can use an Epsom salt solution alongside fertilizer to replenish the plant.

Finally, check if the plant is root bound.

If it has been more than 3 years since you last repotted the plant, it may be time to repot. Just move he plant to a container that is once size larger.

Also, replace the potting soil with fresh soil mix.

 

Why Are My Christmas Cactus Leaves Falling Off?

If your Christmas Cactus is dropping leaves, there are a few possible reasons. These include:

Overwatering, poor drainage, excess light and temperature issues.

As always, check of watering issues first. This always gets priority since root rot can eventually destroy your plant. Also, once it progresses past a certain point, there’s no saving the plant anymore.

So, the goal is to try to address it first so you can treat it sooner than later if there is in fact rotting roots.

To check for watering problems, feel the soil.

Wet, soggy soil means overwatering. Very dry soil means underwatering.

If the latter is the case, gradually water the plant and it should start to perk back in a few days. On the other hand, if the plant is overwatered, check for root rot.

Repot the plant and prune the roots if there is root rot. Similarly, I like to repot the plant in fresh, dry soil even if there is no root rot. This allows the plant to immediately recover from excess moisture.

If watering is not the issue, check for excess light.

This is easier. But you need to check how much exposure the plant gets during different times of the day. Pay special attention to noon to mid-afternoon since this is when the sun is most intense.

If the plant is getting hit by the sun’s rays during this time, move it away.

Keep the plant in bright, indirect light or partial shade instead.

Last but not least, check for temperature issues.

Christmas Cactus prefer temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

It also needs consistently warm environments. And it does not like the cold. Therefore, avoid temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit as much as possible.

If the environment is too cold, the plant not only turns yellow but it can eventually drop leaves as well.

Cold conditions also increase the risk of overwatering and root rot because it takes much longer for soil to dry in cold weather.

This puts the roots at more risk of sitting in water for longer periods of time.

 

Why Is My Christmas Cactus Not Growing?

If your Christmas Cactus is not growing, there are usually 2 main causes.

  • Lack of light
  • Lack of nutrients

Insufficient light will cause any plant to grow slower. As such, it is always important to know each plant’s lighting needs.

Some need full sun, others only need shade. At the same time some plants need more than 10 hours of sunlight a day while others only need 3 to 4 hours to do well.

As such, always check per plant.

Giving a plant too much or too little light will result in sunburn or lack of growth.

In the case of the Christmas Cactus, it needs medium to bright, indirect light indoors and partial shade outdoors.

From above, you already know that excess light can damage the plant. So, avoid direct sunlight and full sun.

But don’t keep your Christmas Cactus in a dark corner or dim area as well. This will slow or even stunt its growth.

Ideally, the plant needs 10-12 hours of indirect sunlight per day.

If your Christmas Cactus is getting enough light (both quality and quantity), then make sure it is getting enough nutrients.

In addition to proper lighting, the plant needs fertilizer to grow efficiently.

Lack of nutrients can lead to deficiencies. But don’t over fertilize the plant either since this is will damage it.

Here’s how to fertilize your Christmas Cactus.

Use a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer. You can go with a 20-20-20 or 10-10-10 blend. Feed the plant once a month from late winter to late summer. Then stop.

Don’t fertilize the plant after summer through winter.

You can also use a slow-release fertilizer instead. This will cut down the frequency of application.

In addition to fertilizer, it is a good idea to give the plant an extra boost of magnesium. Christmas Cactus have high magnesium requirement needs.

Therefore, add an Epsom Salt solution. Just mix 1 teaspoon per gallon of water.

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