christmas cactus problems

Common Christmas Cactus Problems

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Christmas cacti are wonderful houseplants that spring to life during the festive season. They make a wonderful centerpiece, with their leaves bursting with vibrant pinks and reds. However, there are some problems with Christmas cactus that you might encounter. This article aims to guide you through the most common Christmas cactus problems and how to fix them!

The Schlumbergera Truncata blooms in the early winter but if you have noticed little to no growth in the months leading up to the flowering season or are worried that your holiday cactus isn’t blooming then you may have a Christmas cactus problem that needs addressing. 

Common problems with Christmas cactus

Below are the most common Christmas cactus problems I have been asked about and what you can do to fix it. 

Problem 1: White cotton appearance on Christmas cactus

One of the most frequent and common Christmas cactus problems is a white cottony appearance on your houseplant. Unfortunately, this may mean that you have mealybugs

Christmas cactus bugs are an annoyance for sure and if you have an infestation you’ll want to get the problem sorted as soon as possible. They are the most common pest among succulents and cactuses. Mealybugs suck the sap out of your Christmas cactus and the more they continue to do so, the more they will grow. The main appearance is a white cottony substance, however, they can be brown or cream. 

Mealybugs also spread like wildfire so if you think your Christmas cactus has an infestation it’s important to move the plant away from any other houseplants. If left untreated then Mealybugs will eventually damage the functioning of the roots, leading to more severe Christmas cactus problems such as root rot. 

What’s the solution? 

There are lots of pesticides that will eliminate a Mealybug infestation, but one of the best fixes is using a 70% or less solution of rubbing alcohol. It’s always best to follow the instructions, but you should dilute the solution with water to avoid leaf burn. 

Once diluted use a cotton pad or spray bottle to cover your Christmas cactus with the solution and remember – Mealybugs love to hide in all the small nooks and crannies so make sure no leaf or stem is left unturned!

If you have caught the Mealybug infestation early, then one treatment will be enough, however, if you notice the pests return in a few days, repeat the process until they are gone for good.

Problem 2: Christmas cactus leaves turning purple

Another common Christmas cactus problem is its leaves turning purple. If you notice your Christmas cactus leaves turning purple, then it could be one of three issues; nutrition, location or crowded roots. 

So the first reason Christmas caucus leaves turn purple could be due to nutrition. No matter the variety, cacti require fertilizer. While in bloom, Christmas cacti don’t require fertilization, but from April to October, you should treat them every two to four weeks using an all-purpose indoor fertilizer. Since Schultz Cactus Plus 2-7-7 liquid Plant Food is inexpensive, simple to apply, and effective, I constantly buy it. 

It is important to note that you should never fertilize when the cactus flowers, as this will cause the leaves to drop.

The second Christmas cactus problem causing purple leaves is crowded roots. Although this caucus plant enjoys having cozy roots, if it has been in the same pot for 3 – 4 years, it may be time to repot. When repotting it is important to replenish the soil with a fast draining cactus soil. You can find this at your local garden center but my go-to soil for my Christmas cactus is this Organic Succulent and Cactus Soil Mix or Hoffman 10410 Organic Cactus and Succulent Soil Mix. Both use perlite, which makes it fast-draining and both have a good pH level for a Christmas cactus.

Lastly, your plant requires bright light to thrive in the fall and winter. In the summer, however, too much direct sunlight will cause your Christmas cactus leaves to turn purple. In the summer, excessive amounts of direct sunlight will cause sunburn on most succulents and cacti, as well as leaves falling off so you may want to move your houseplant to a more shaded area.

signs of christmas cactus root rot

Problem 3: Christmas cactus leaves falling off

Another common problem with Christmas cactus is that the leaves can begin to fall off if neglected. There are four main reasons a Christmas cactus leaves fall off and these are; watering problems, temperature trauma, wrong lighting, and soil conditions. 

Underwatering and overwatering can both cause your Christmas cactus leaves to fall off, though overwatering is more likely. Water your houseplants sparingly and never flood the soil with water. Although the Christmas cactus is a tropical plant, it is still a member of the cacti family and thus does not require constant watering. 

In general, the Christmas cactus prefers temperatures ranging from 70 to 80°F (21 to 27°C) in the spring and summer, and 60 to 68°F (15 to 20°C) in the fall and winter. Christmas cactus can withstand cold temperatures in USDA plant hardiness zones 10 to 12.

Aside from the proper temperature, lighting also plays an important role in keeping your Christmas cactus healthy and happy. The Christmas cactus, like any other houseplant, requires bright light to thrive. Direct sunlight, on the other hand, will cause its beautiful leaves to fall off, droop, get sunburned, or even turn purple during the summer months! 

The main thing to remember when looking for the best soil for Christmas cactus is that you will want a well-draining soil. One part potting soil, two parts peat moss, and one part perlite or sand are recommended. Make sure your pot has drainage holes as well. This ensures that any excess water drains to the bottom. To prevent the roots from sitting in soil, tip the drainage water away before placing your plant back on a saucer.

Problem 4: Wilting Christmas cactus

The final Christmas cactus problem is a wilting Christmas cactus. This is usually due to soggy soil, which can lead to root rot

Check your holiday plants’ soil, if it is wet and soggy then chances are you have overwatered your plant or are using the wrong type of soil. Remember, a Christmas cactus needs fast-draining soil, so a standard houseplant soil is likely to be too dense. 

Soggy soil will lead to root rot so you will need to lift your Christmas cactus out of its pot to properly take a look at the roots. If you have root rot on your holiday plant, then the roots will be blackened and often have a slimy consistency. 

If this is what’s causing your wilted Christmas cactus then it is important to act fast as root rot is deadly for your festive plant and once it has progressed then it’s impossible to fix and the only option will be to use a cutting to propagate.

You may be able to treat a Christmas cactus with root rot, but only if you catch the disease early. There are some simple steps you should follow when trying to save your Christmas cactus from root rot:

  • Remove from the pot immediately. Cutaway the rotten roots and gently wash the remaining roots to get rid of the fungus/slime
  • Leave out overnight in a warm, light, well-ventilated room to let the roots dry
  • When the roots are dry, place into a new pot with drainage holes. You will want to pot with a fast-drying and airy soil mix (as discussed above)
  • Wait a few days before you water your newly potted Christmas cactus

Once you have followed the above steps you can then begin watering your festive plant as normal. Remember that you will want to thoroughly water your plant until water drips out of the drainage holes. Avoid placing your Christmas cactus onto the saucer until all the water has drained out. You don’t want your Christmas cactus to sit in the extra water as this is what will have caused the root rot in the first place!

Christmas Cactus Problems Recap

I hope this has given you guidance on what the issue is affecting your Christmas cactus. I have linked to more in depth blogs for each problem so hopefully, you fully understand the solution to each but if not, leave a comment and I will answer back. As a quick recap, the four most common problems with Christmas cactus are: 

  • Mealybugs
  • Leaves turning purple
  • Leaves falling off
  • Wilting 

These are the main issues I have experienced over the years so hopefully, this article helps. 

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