If your Christmas cactus is shriveling, wilting, or showing other signs of dying, here is a detailed guide on how to revive a Christmas cactus and some common Christmas cactus problems.
The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) is a popular houseplant that blooms around the holidays.
While it’s relatively low-maintenance, over time you may notice that your plant starts to wither and turn brown.
If this happens, don’t toss your plant just yet! It’s likely that your Christmas cactus needs some TLC and can be revived.
It is especially prone to over-watering, which can cause the plant to rot. A Christmas cactus with rotting roots will show signs of drooping leaves or yellowing leaves.
You may also notice that the plant is not blooming or the flowers have fallen off.
Several things can cause the Christmas cactus to die. we’ve addressed some of the common causes and included tips on how to revive a Christmas cactus below.
Common Problems And How To Revive A Christmas Cactus
Just like people, plants need water but too much water can kill them. Christmas cactus-like soil drains well because its roots are prone to rot.
Allow the top few inches of soil to dry before watering again and make sure there’s a drainage hole at the bottom of the pot.
If you’re seeing brown spots on leaves, your plant isn’t getting enough water.
Make sure you’re watering properly and repot if necessary using a well-draining soil mix.
If you’ve tried everything else and your plant still isn’t thriving, it might be time to start over with fresh soil and a new pot. Just don’t forget — once you have a healthy Christmas cactus, it’ll need six weeks of darkness every day to bloom properly in December!
Rot Diseases & Remedy:
Overwatering your Christmas cactus may cause its leaves to turn brown and rot.
If the plant is left in standing water for too long, it may develop root rot or crown rot.
Root rot occurs when the roots are overwatered for an extended period, causing them to turn brown, soggy, and slimy.
Crown rot develops when the base of the plant sits in water, causing it to turn brown and mushy.
Both types of rot can cause damage to your Christmas cactus that may result in its death if left untreated.
A proper watering schedule will eliminate this issue and revive your plant.
Water the plant once a week in the wintertime, springtime, and autumn or twice a week in the summertime.
Don’t water at all between October and February, as this is its natural dormancy period.
Water once a week from May until September, when actively growing. Increase the frequency to twice weekly during periods of intense heat.
The rot can sometimes be treated by trimming away damaged roots and repotting in fresh soil with proper drainage.
Pests Infestations and Treatment:
Several pests can cause problems with your Christmas cactus as well as other houseplants in your home.
These include mealybugs, scale insects, spider mites, and thrips. Mealybugs are small insects that feed on the sap of the plant and damage it.
They appear as white cottony masses on the leaves, stems, or flowers and secrete honeydew. The honeydew attracts ants and causes sooty mold to develop on the plant.
Mealybugs can be controlled with insecticides, but they often hide in crevices where they are very difficult to control.
Scale insects are also small insects that cause damage by sucking out the sap of the plant.
They are usually found on the stems of plants and can be controlled by washing them off with water or removing them one by one with a toothpick.
Repeated applications may be necessary for heavy infestations.
Spider mites are tiny mites and often go unnoticed because they are so small, but under magnification, you can see their bodies and webs between leaves or branches.
They feed on both sides of leaves and suck out the leaf contents from small holes in the leaf surface. Damage appears as white speckling or yellow stippling over large areas.
Keep an eye out for these pests by inspecting your Christmas cactus regularly for signs of problems.
If you notice spider mites or scale insects on a few leaves or stems, prune them away and treat the rest of the plant with an insecticidal soap spray every seven to 14 days until signs clear off.
Dry soil and remedy:
If the plant is wilting, the soil may be dry. Stick your finger into the soil at the base of the plant to check the moisture level. If it’s dry, try watering it.
Make sure you’re using a good potting mix. Use a rich, well-drained potting mix for Christmas cacti; one that doesn’t contain too much pine bark or other coarse materials.
These mixes tend to hold water too long and cause root rot in Christmas cacti. You can also use a potting mix that has been blended especially for African violets and epiphyllum cacti (Christmas cacti).
Transplant Shock and solution:
Christmas cactus plants can die for many reasons, including improper care and transplant shock.
If you’ve recently repotted your Christmas cactus and it’s drooping, it may have suffered from transplant shock.
Repotting plants can stress them out, causing them to drop leaves or flowers and stop growing until they recover.
Place your Christmas cactus in a cool, dark room or closet that has a temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 to 14 hours per day beginning in September or October.
Check your plant daily and remove it from the darkroom as soon as new buds form, usually in 2 to 4 weeks.
Keep your Christmas cactus in an area with bright light during the day and a temperature of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Water your plant when its soil feels dry; keep it moist but not wet.
Sunlight issues and solution:
These plants are native to shady forests in Brazil, but they’re happiest when grown in bright light or even full sun. You can even set them outdoors during summer (place them where they won’t get rained on).
Plants can die when they get too much or too little light. If your plant is in direct sunlight, the leaves will start to turn yellow and fall off.
Too little light can also cause this problem. Move your plant around until you find the perfect spot for it.
Direct sunlight can scorch the leaves, however, so if you notice yellowing leaves or spots on older leaves, move it to a location with dappled shade or morning sun followed by afternoon shade.
Place your Christmas cactus in a sunny spot with indirect light for most of the year, except when it’s in bloom or about to begin blooming.
You want to make sure it gets plenty of bright light but avoid direct sun which will burn the leaves or give them brown spots.
A north or east-facing window is ideal for most of the year; a south-facing window is fine as long as you protect it from direct sunlight which can scorch its leaves.
Christmas cactuses are not heavy feeders, but they do benefit from monthly fertilization during the growing season (April through September).
Use an all-purpose houseplant fertilizer applied according to package instructions. Stop feeding the plant in October when it goes into dormancy again, and do not resume feeding until spring arrives.
Follow the directions on the label for how much to use and how often to fertilize.
Over-fertilizing will cause a Christmas cactus to grow lots of leaves and stems, but it won’t bloom. Fertilize every 2–3 weeks during spring and summer with a water-soluble fertilizer at half strength once a month during fall and winter.
Routine maintenance flaw (Pruning and Staking the plant)
If you notice stems on your Christmas cactus drooping, consider staking them up to prevent them from breaking off.
Your Christmas cactus should be cut back right after blooming, before the end of April. Remove any stems that appear old or damaged and cut back the length of each stem by 1/3 to 1/2 its length.
This will encourage new growth and blooms next season.
Cut off the cactus flower stems after they have bloomed. Cut off all but one of the flowers on each stem if you wish to encourage more flowers.
If you cut the stems at the first bud and allow only one flower per stem, more Christmas cactus flowers will bloom next season.
Trim off any dead or dying stems from your Christmas cactus in April or May, using a sterile pair of scissors. Trimming the plant back will encourage new growth and better blooming the following season.
Holiday cacti are relatively low maintenance and easy to keep alive year after year, but they do need some special care.
If you’ve been neglecting your plant or if you’ve inherited one from a friend or relative, there are some simple steps you can take to get it back in shape.
To revive a Christmas cactus with rotting roots, it’s important to repot it in fresh potting soil, ensuring that you use a well-draining potting medium.
Separate the root ball into sections and trim away any damaged or rotted portions. Move each section into a pot of its own and water sparingly for about three weeks until the plants are well established.