The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera) is a wonderful seasonal houseplant and works well as both an indoor and outdoor plant. Unlike your traditional desert cacti, the Christmas cactus displays vibrant pink and red flowers and has an incredible life span of up to 50 years. So it’s only natural to be concerned when you notice your Christmas cactus leaves falling off. This article aims to guide you through the most common reasons on why Christmas cactus leaves fall off or droop.
If you’ve been a bit negligent of your plant, then read our top tips on how to revive a Christmas cactus.
Why are the leaves falling off my Christmas cactus?
Christmas cactus is a tropical plant from Brazil and as a perennial in the U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10b through 11, is typically very easy to grow and maintain. However, if certain growing conditions aren’t met then you will start to notice the Christmas cactus leaves falling off. So, why do Christmas cactus leaves fall off?
Both underwatering and overwatering can be a cause of your Christmas cactus leaves falling off, although too much water is more likely. You should be watering your houseplant sparingly and never flood the soil with water. Although Christmas cactus is a tropical plant, it is still part of the cacti family so doesn’t need constant watering. It needs more water than the desert cactus, however too much will cause the roots to rot which in turn causes the leaves to droop or drop off. Overwatering can also cause other health problems such as wilting leaves and attract Christmas cactus bugs.
If you are unsure of how often you should water a Christmas cactus then as a rule of thumb water once a week and make sure the top inch of the soil is dry before rewatering. If you have an indoor Christmas cactus then ensure you are using a pot with drainage holes. Water thoroughly, until water begins to drain out of the bottom. Make sure you let the water drain properly before you place back onto a saucer to avoid your plant sitting in water at the roots.
Reduce watering in the fall and winter but don’t let the soil completely dry out.
Another reason your Christmas cactus leaves are falling off may be due to the wrong temperature. Generally, the houseplant likes to be kept in conditions between 70 to 80°F (21 to 27°C) during spring and summer, and between 60 to 68°F (15 to 20°C) during fall and winter. Christmas cactus is cold-hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 to 12.
You may also find that moving your plant indoors from its outdoor summer spot will cause the Christmas cactus leaves falling off. This is due to the sudden temperature change but you should only see a few leaves drop. This is natural and there is not much you can do about this. Once the houseplant has adapted to its new environment, the issue should resolve itself. You should also keep the plant away from heat sources such as vents and fireplaces and also drafty windows! Anything that may cause a sudden temperature change should be avoided.
As well as needing the correct temperature, lighting also has a big role to play in keeping your Christmas cactus healthy and happy. Like any houseplant, the Christmas cactus needs bright light to thrive. However, direct sunlight in the summer months will cause it’s beautiful leaves to fall off, droop, get sunburn, or even turn purple! Too much sunlight to any cactus or succulent will in fact cause burns. Ouch!
If you have an indoor Christmas cactus, then ideally you’ll want to be placing it in a north-facing window. You should also be mindful that the plant will need to be kept in a dark room from September for 12 hours a day to encourage bloom. Keeping it in bright lighting during these months will mean your beautiful plant won’t blossom and you’ll be left asking ‘why is my Christmas cactus not blooming?’.
Once the buds begin to appear, you can move your plant from a dark room to your chosen display area (as long as it is out of direct sunlight, anywhere around the home will be fine). We’re used to reading about how the desert cactus loves direct sunlight, but remember that the Christmas cactus is a tropical plant, and too much direct sunlight will cause your Christmas cactus leaves to fall off.
Compacted soils will cause the roots of your Christmas cactus to take more water than the leaves can handle and can lead to Oedema. You’ll notice signs of drooping, brown leaves as well as dry spots. Eventually, this condition will cause the leaves to completely fall off.
When looking for the best soil for Christmas cactus, the main thing to remember is that you will want a well-draining soil. We recommend using one part potting soil with two parts peat moss and one part perlite or sand. You should also make sure your pot has drainage holes. This will ensure that any unneeded water will drain out the bottom. You should tip the drainage water away before you place your plant back on a saucer so that the roots aren’t sitting in soil.
This house plant also likes slightly acidic soil, so you should try putting coffee grounds on a Christmas cactus.
The good thing about Christmas cactus is that you rarely need to repot or change the soil. Once every three years will be fine.
Christmas cactus leaves falling off recap
So, we have gone into detail in regards to the four main reasons your Christmas cactus leaves are falling off. This list is not extensive and there could be other reasons, however, in our experience nine times out of ten, one of the above-outlined reasons will be the cause. To quickly recap, Christmas cactus leaves falling off is often due to:
- Watering problems
- Temperature trauma
- Wrong lighting
- Soil conditions
If you are certain it is none of the above, leave us a comment and we’ll do our best to get back to you with advice. We hope you have enjoyed this article and you can now go away with a better understanding of why your Christmas cactus leaves are falling off.
At Succulent Care Guide, we have loads of great content aimed to help you take care of your plants and succulents. You can read one of our related posts below, or some of our other great blog topics are; Christmas cactus care and are coffee grounds good for succulents.