Infestations on your beloved Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera) are a horrible thought and if you think you may have them, you’ll want to work on eliminating the pests immediately. Although you may be panicked at first, try to stay calm as there is always a solution! This article aims to guide you through the common types of Christmas cactus bugs and how to be rid of them forever.
Not what you’re after? Read more on Christmas cactus care.
There are a number of different common Christmas cactus pests that we will be discussing including the causes and treatments. First off, it is important to know the names of the four most common types of bugs you are likely to find rooted in your houseplants and these are:
- Spider Mites
- Scale Insects
- Fungus Gnats
Each pest has its own characteristics and will need a different type of treatment. We will talk you through chemical and natural remedies, as well as tell-tale signs in determining which of these annoying pests you have!
Help! I have Christmas Cactus Bugs
A Christmas cactus is a wonderful type of cacti and you will want it to come into bloom properly, ready for the holiday season. If you have been a bit negligent with your plant, then you can also learn how to revive a Christmas cactus.
The houseplant can be grown both outdoors (reliable through U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 9 through 11) and indoors (all zones) and will bloom into beautiful shades of pinks and reds. However, you will not want this to come with an outbreak in pests. So, what are the most common types of Christmas cactus bugs?
‘What are Mealybugs?’ I hear you ask. Well, they are in fact one of the most common pests that infect succulents and cactuses. Mealybugs are tiny insects that like to suck the sap from the leaves and grow as they mature! The most common and notable appearance in Mealybugs is a white cotton look, however, they may also appear brown or cream-colored.
The annoying thing about Mealybugs is that due to their cotton appearance, you might not even think it’s a pest at all and may mistake them for fungus or mildew. Mealybugs are, however, like the plague! They spread from houseplant to houseplant like wildfire, so once you notice the little pests, you will want to eliminate them quickly and thoroughly. If left untreated they will eventually damage the functioning of the roots, which could lead to issues such as root rot.
The tiny creatures also like to hang out in all the nooks and crannies, especially where the leaves join the stem and under the leaves, so again, you might not know you have Mealybugs for a short while. You should be inspecting your cactus collection on the regular to ensure you don’t have an infestation.
What causes Mealybugs?
No one really knows for certain what causes Mealybugs on a Christmas cactus but overwatering a Christmas cactus and over-fertilizing have been known to be an element and they have a tendency to show up on indoor plants due to the temperature being less moderate.
If Mealybugs are left untreated, then they will stunt the growth of your plant and leave you asking ‘why is my Christmas cactus not blooming?’. Which, of course, we don’t want!
There are lots of pesticides that will get rid of your infestation but one of the best fixes is a 70% or less solution of isopropyl (rubbing alcohol). Follow the instructions carefully, but if you dilute the alcohol in water to ensure you don’t get leaf burn (Phytotoxicity) and use a cotton pad or spray bottle to dab/spray your Christmas cactus, this will usually do the trick!
Remember to move your Christmas cactus away from your other indoor plants before treating it as you won’t want any of the alcohol mix on perfectly healthy succulents and cactuses. You also need to remember to check all the ‘hard to spot’ places. When you spray the rubbing alcohol directly onto the cottony, web-like substance you will notice it disappear almost immediately.
In general, if you have caught your Mealybug infestation early, then one lot of treatment should do the trick. If not you will notice the pests return within a day or two. Continue treating the Mealybugs until they don’t come back.
If you are after a natural remedy, then add some dish soap to water and spray this over your Christmas cactus instead, however rubbing alcohol is the quickest and easiest solution.
The next most common Christmas cactus bug is Spider Mites. These annoying little creatures are common in North America and can wreak havoc on your indoor plants. They are classed as an arachnid, relatives of spiders, ticks and scorpions. YUCK!
Spider mites are tiny, tiny bugs that are of a reddish/brown color. Similar to Mealybugs, you might not even know you have Spider Mites to begin with. They live in colonies and at first, might mistake them as some dirt or dust.
The annoying pests mostly live under the leaves and enjoy sucking all the juices out of your Christmas cactus plant. As they continue to feed, you will notice the leaves of your cactus turn a yellowish color, before they drop off and die. If ignored, Spider Mites will continue to colonize and will eventually kill your Christmas cactus.
What causes Spider Mites?
Spider Mites thrive off of hot, dry conditions – similar to succulents and Christmas cactus! Since the two species thrive off of such similar conditions, Spider Mites are a common Christmas cactus bug and it is not an unusual problem at all.
You should be keeping an eye out for Spider Mites and their brown webs to ensure you don’t have an eruption of colonies on your hand. If left untreated, your plant will eventually die due to lack of nutrients.
Treating Spider Mites
Unfortunately, if you have an infestation of Spider Mites, then you are in it for the long run. The bugs are stubborn and it will take a lot of effort to be rid of them once and for all.
Neem oil is the most common solution for Spider Mites on a Christmas cactus however the process can be awkward and sticky. As the pests enjoy living in hard to reach places (underneath the leaves), you need to make sure you do a thorough job when applying the oil. Ideally, you’ll get a plastic covering to wrap around the soil and turn your plant upside down. This way you can spray the neem oil directly under the leaves and onto the Spider Mites. You should reapply this every 2-3 days until the infestation is gone.
If you are struggling with the neem oil, then another solution is insecticide soap. It’s mild enough as to not harm the plant, yet strong enough to kill Spider Mites and its eggs. Make sure you get real soap as often hand and dish soap is actually detergent, which will harm the plant. The method for this is similar to the neem oil application – simply add a few drops to water and spray over your plant. This is a weaker solution and will not work as well as the neem oil.
Scale is another Christmas cactus bug that can drain the juices dry in a hurry. Scale is a broad category that actually contains Mealybugs, but we are going to talk about the hard and armored scale you often think about when you hear the word.
Hard Scale are pretty small creatures and tend to be oval in shape. They are mostly brown and of dark colour. If your Christmas cactus has scale, then the plant will look underwatered. This is because of the straw-like mouth of the Scale that is inserted into the plant to suck out the nutritious liquids within.
The first problem you will notice when you have Scale is the waxy outer coating. This can usually be found under the leaves and around by the stems.
What causes Scale?
There are over 25 species of Scale so giving an exact reason of what causes them is tricky. A common cause is overwatering and over-fertilizing, as well as temperature. However, you should look out for honeydew, as some species of Scale will excrete this.
You should also look out for white waxy fibers on your plant as this will be their eggs and will usually be deposited in early summer.
Treating Scale insects
Unfortunately, the hard waxy shell Scale has to protect themselves from predators means that they are a bugger to get rid of. These annoying Christmas cactus bugs will need more than one treatment, in fact they’ll need treating every few days for a couple of weeks!
If you are after a natural remedy, then you can always remove Scale insects by hand. Although this sounds tedious, and we certainly wouldn’t advise this for any other type of pest, Scale actually doesn’t move, is relatively easy to see and simple to pull off from your Christmas cactus. Scale bugs don’t usually infest in large colonies either, so you won’t be manually removing hundreds. You can carefully use your fingernail or knife to scrape the bugs away.
If manual removal isn’t appealing to you, then isopropyl (rubbing alcohol) and neem oil will work as a fantastic treatment as well. You can scroll up to Spider Mites to learn how to treat pests with neem oil and Mealybugs to discover how to treat pests with isopropyl.
Our final common Christmas cactus insect we want to discuss is fungus gnats. These little creatures feed off of fungus when your Christmas cactus gets overly wet – a rare occurrence in its natural climate but overwatering will cause this.
The thing about fungus gnats is that they love wet soil! It’s what they thrive off of so if you don’t have well-draining soil, or don’t let the soil completely dry out between watering, then you’ll create a lovely little breeding ground for the pests. Read more on the best soil for Christmas cactus here.
If your Christmas cactus has fungus gnats, then ensure that you are letting the soil dry out before watering as this will kill any larvae in your soil. To get rid of the gnats flying around your plant, set up a trap! Simply drop some apple cider vinegar into a cup with some dish soap and cover with plastic but ensure you poke holes in the top. The sweet smell of the vinegar will lure them in and the dish soap will mean they can’t escape.
Common Christmas cactus bugs recap
Throughout this blog we have discussed the 4 most common types of Christmas cactus bugs you will likely find on your houseplant. We hope that you have learned something new and are now ready to tackle those pests once and for all! To quickly recap, the most common types of Christmas cactus bugs are:
- Spider Mites
- Fungus Gnats
If you think that you may have another pest on your cactus or succulent that you would like us to identify, then leave a comment and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. At Succulent Care Guide, we aim to give you the most accurate information on everything plant care!
We discuss a large range of questions and try to answer the most popular topics on everything succulent such as putting coffee grounds on a Christmas cactus!
Browse our Christmas cactus category page, where you’ll find answers to all the common problems you may encounter, such as Christmas cactus leaves turning purple or wilting Christmas cactus leaves. For now though, we hope you have learned something interesting from this article and can finally be rid of those annoying pests!