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Christmas cactus root rot doesn’t have to mean the death of a beloved holiday plant! In this article I’ll be talking you through Christmas cactus stem rot, what causes root rot, signs of root rot in a Christmas cactus, and how to treat a Christmas cactus with root rot.
Christmas cactus (Schlumberger) is a vibrant, bright house plant that blooms during the holiday season. Similar species are the Easter cactus and the Thanksgiving cactus. They are a very popular plant across the globe due to their bright blossoms of pink and red.
Native to Brazil, a Christmas cactus is a tropical cactus and also an Epiphyte. This means that in its natural environment, the plant will grow on the trunks of larger trees and gain most of its moisture from the air.
Like most cactus types, the Christmas cactus is fairly low maintenance and is hardy towards a little neglect. However, this doesn’t mean that it isn’t susceptible to root rot. This fungal disease is caused by a number of reasons that I will discuss below, but first, let’s understand exactly what Christmas cactus root rot is.
What is Christmas cactus root rot?
It is what it says on the tin. Christmas cactus root rot, or simply root rot in general, is a fungal disease in which the roots of a plant rot and decay. It is a fairly common Christmas cactus problem amongst plant lovers and has many causes.
The best way to fix a Christmas cactus with root or stem rot is to propagate, but we’ll get onto that in a bit!
What causes Christmas cactus root rot?
So, what causes Christmas cactus root rot? There are 3 main causes of root rot in a Christmas cactus and these are; overwatering, using the wrong type of soil, and pests.
The most common cause of Christmas cactus root rot is overwatering. Christmas cactus is a succulent which means that it can go without water. However, it does need a bit more TLC than desert cacti.
When watering a Christmas cactus, there is no rigorous schedule you should be sticking to. Watering schedules can be dangerous as they can often lead to watering your plant even when it isn’t needed.
How often a Christmas cactus needs to be watered depends on a number of different factors such as time of year, temperature, and location. As a general rule of thumb, you should be waiting until the top inch of soil is completely dry before you even think about rewatering. Remember that it is easier to save an underwatered Christmas cactus than an overwatered Christmas cactus!
Once you are certain that your holiday cactus is thirsty, then you should give it a good soaking, until the water pours out of the drainage holes. Remove any excess water immediately.
A common cause of Christmas cactus root rot is that people don’t throw away the excess water that pours out of the drainage holes, instead they let the plant sit in the water. This will encourage rotting roots.
A Christmas cactus also enjoys humidity and the best way to achieve this type of environment is by placing a tray of water next to the plant.
Christmas cactus is derived from the succulent species so needs well-draining soil. If you have soil that soaks up too much of the water, then you’ll end up with an overwatered Christmas cactus, and as we have discussed above is the main cause of Christmas cactus root rot!
So what is the best soil for Christmas cactus? There are a number of go-to soils that I buy for my Christmas cactus. These all meet a list of specific requirements such as having a balanced pH level, are well-draining, and contain both organic and inorganic material.
I know a lot of people that prefer making their own soil but in all honesty, I find it quicker and easier just to buy a ready mix. You should do what works for you but to help you out, there is a link below to my preferred Christmas cactus soil:
Ingredients: 75% substrate, 25% perlite, low fertilizer
The organic blend is optimized for a pH of 5.5, which is slightly more acidic than regular potting soil for houseplants. It is also extremely lightweight, well-draining, and contains 25% perlite.
This will need no adjustments and you can tell just by looking at the consistency of this Christmas cactus soil that it is mixed well.
I do have other soils that I use and recommend, but the above is the one I am currently using and my Christmas cactus is healthy, happy, and getting ready for the holiday bloom season.
Using the right type of soil is vital in ensuring you don’t get Christmas cactus root rot!
The final main cause for Christmas cactus root rot is pests! Although not a direct cause, pests will damage the roots, making the holiday plant have a poorly functioning root system. What this means is that your cactus may not be able to absorb as many nutrients as it needs and will also be more susceptible to overwatering.
The most common pest you will find on a Christmas cactus is mealybugs! These annoying creatures can often be mistaken as dust due to their white cottony appearance, and microscopic size.
If you think you have a mealybug infestation or any pest at all then I have written an article called Christmas cactus bugs, where you can learn about the most common pests and how to treat them.
Signs of Christmas cactus root rot
If you think that you may have Christmas cactus root rot then there are some typical signs you should be looking out for. Usually, there are two signs of root rot and these are wilting and the leaves falling off.
Wilting Christmas cactus
The first sign of root rot will be a wilting Christmas cactus. What I mean by this is that the leaves will look wrinkled, limp, saggy, and wilted.
If you have shriveled up leaves, then you should do some further inspection to see if you have Christmas cactus root rot. Gently lift the plant out of its container to do a thorough inspection of the roots.
If your Christmas cactus is wilting due to root rot then the roots will be covered in a black/brown slime.
Christmas cactus leaves falling off
A wilting Christmas cactus will often lead to the leaves then falling off. This is a common sign of Christmas cactus root rot.
However, if your Christmas cactus leaves are falling off, you will need to do some proper research into why, as root rot isn’t the only reason.
There are a number of reasons the leaves might be dropping off such as watering, temperature, lighting, and soil conditions. If your Christmas cactus leaves start rapidly falling off then this often means that your plant has been exposed to some sort of stress.
Again, you should be lifting the plant out of its container to be doing a full inspection of the roots!
Treating Christmas cactus root rot
If you have rotting roots then I’m sure you’ll want to start fixing the issue straight away. If left untreated, then you will be left with a dying holiday plant.
If your Christmas cactus is at the beginning stages of root rot, then you should be able to save the plant by following 4 simple steps:
- Gently lift your Christmas cactus out of its container and remove any soil surrounding the roots. Do a good inspection to see what parts of the roots look healthy (these will be white and firm), and what parts a brown, black, mushy, and slimy
- If there are still a reasonable amount of healthy roots left on the plant, then the next is to cut away any roots that are infected. Cut right up to the white healthy parts of the roots because if you leave any of the infected parts, it will continue to spread across the remaining roots. Make sure you snip away ALL of the brown roots and keep in mind a rough estimate of the percentage of roots you are cutting away
- Next, you need to cut off some of the leaves and branches. This is because your plant now won’t be able to support as much plant matter as it used to. Cutaway a similar percentage to black roots. Start with the wilted, or dead areas of the plant and then prune the rest
- Once you have completed the above steps, then repot your Christmas cactus with fresh soil
If however, most of your roots are infected, then the only way to save your Christmas cactus will be to propagate it! Propagation is simply where you take a cutting from one plant to make more. Luckily a Christmas cactus is fairly easy to propagate through cuttings.
- Find some of the healthy foliage of the plant. Take a Y-shaped cutting from the stem tip and make sure this consists of at least 2 or 3 joined segments
- Put the cutting in a warm area and allow it to dry out overnight – this will avoid potential stem rot from too much moisture
- Next, you need to root the propagated stem. Place the cutting into a container with fresh soil. You should be placing the cutting about a quarter of its length below the soil surface
- Place the pot in a well-lit area, avoiding sunlight and water sparingly at first to ensure you don’t overwater
2 – 3 weeks after rooting, you should notice signs of new life! The cutting should start showing growth at the tips of the leaves which is usually a reddish color.
Christmas cactus root rot, the last word!
I hope you have found this article on root rot helpful and are now well equipped with information. Root rot is a common problem amongst houseplants but it is particularly common in succulents This is because succulents and cacti are desert or tropical plants that can go long periods of time without water. This makes them more susceptible to overwatering which leads to root rot.
As a quick recap, in the Christmas cactus root rot article, we have discussed the causes of root rot; overwatering, using the wrong soil and pests; the signs of root rot; wilting, and leaves falling off; and finally, treating root rot; repotting or propagation.
If you have any questions, then feel free to leave a comment and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
Other articles I think you will enjoy are: Christmas cactus care, are coffee grounds good for Christmas cactus?, why is my Christmas cactus not blooming? And why is my Christmas cactus turning purple?