Christmas cacti aren't without their Christmas cactus problems, despite their reputation for being low maintenance.
From brown leaves to a lack of blooming, knowing how to care for a Christmas cactus will help to ensure the greatest success for this favourite houseplant.
'Christmas cacti are cheerful succulents with vibrant, festive blooms that make the perfect addition to any festive interior. They are not only pretty decorations but are also relatively easy to care for and propagate. Their distinctive appearance, air-purifying qualities, and low maintenance tendencies make them an excellent choice for both beginners and experienced plant lovers,' says Elizabeth Marshall, Buyer at Hillier Garden Centres
Common Christmas cactus problems
One of our favourite houseplant ideas, knowing how to spot potential Christmas cactus problems will ensure that your plant has the best chance of blooming and flourishing.
Cacti have a reputation for being unkillable houseplants, but this doesn't mean that they aren't susceptible to problems when not cared for correctly.
The most common Christmas cactus problems – namely drooping, lack of growth, mushy leaves – are the results of overwatering. Knowing how to water a Christmas cactus will help you avoid these issues – plus it will result in a Christmas cactus that thrives year-round.
Schlumbergera 'Purple Dancer' Christmas cactus | £12.99 at Crocus
This lush plant has a glossy green foliage with a display of marshmallow-pink flowers flushed with a silvery-white throat, which are often in bloom from November to the end of January.
Christmas cactus not blooming
Not blooming is one of the most disappointing Christmas cactus problems. There are many reasons why your cactus isn't blooming, and these range from over or underwatering to non-optimum temperatures, but thankfully, most are easy to solve. The best step for how to get a Christmas cactus to bloom is to repot it. This will increase the amount of nutrients in the soil which can kick-start the blooming.
Evie Brownlee, plant expert at Grow Urban, recommends maintaining the nutrients throughout the year by feeding with cacti and succulent feed. Once your Christmas cactus has started to form its bud, you should start to feed with a 'high potassium feed which can encourage longer-lasting blooms,' adds experts from the RHS.
Christmas cactus has red leaves
However, some may appear to have a mix of green and red or pink. This is one of the most common Christmas cactus issues and means that your plant is receiving too much sunlight. 'If the leaves of your Christmas cactus are turning red or pink, it may be getting too much sun so move to a more sheltered spot in the house,' says Julian Palphramand, head of plants at British Garden Centres.
Once the plant has been moved, its leaves will return to their beautiful green hue within a few weeks.
Christmas cactus wilting
There are two reasons for a wilting cactus, either over or under watering and it is easy to find out which. Insert your finger into the soil, if it feels dry, then it is caused by underwatering, if it feels wet (or sodden), then the cause is overwatering.
Underwatering is a simple fix. Submerge the pot in water for around a few minutes and wait until all the bubbles have stopped. Then let the plant drink its fill. Remove and let the plant stand in an empty saucer. Increase the frequency of your waterings, however, it is vital that you check that the soil is dry before you water to prevent overwatering. If you find that your soil is drying out very quickly (every day or two) then you need to repot into a larger pot.
Overwatering is more complicated to solve but knowing how to save an overwatered plant will give you a great starting point. Ultimately it requires you to remove the damage and let the plant dry out. Overwatering can cause many Christmas cactus problems including mushy leaves or root rot.
Christmas cactus leaves and stems are mushy
Mushy Christmas cactus leaves and stems are a clear sign of severe overwatering. The cactus must be allowed to dry out in order to prevent more serious Christmas cactus problems. Start by removing the cactus from its pot and inspecting the damage under the surface. Remove the soil – you can wash it off if needed – and look for signs of root rot. Root rot means the roots will be squishy and are likely to smell bad.
'Once set in root rot can be nigh on impossible to recover from, so it's best to keep a keen eye out for any signs of overwatering. If you’re worried the roots have already begun to rot, then we recommend repotting your plant and snipping off any damaged roots,' says Jo Lambell, founder of Beards & Daisies. You should also remove any affected leaves.
Once you've removed any affected areas, repot in dry well-draining compost (cactus compost is a good choice) and a pot with good drainage holes. You should then reduce your watering frequency and quantity, only when the soil is dry to the touch.
Lack of growth
Christmas cacti are fast-growing plants, so a lack of growth is a sign of Christmas cactus problems. Start by repotting your Christmas cactus, it could be due to a lack of nutrients or that it's in the wrong pot. Opt for a pot with good drainage but that is a snug fit for the plant – Christmas cacti don't like spacious pots or planters.
Christmas cactus has brown wrinkled leaves
Brown and wrinkled leaves are another sign of a problem with your watering. 'If your cactus has wilting brown leaves, it is likely it has been overwatered. We recommend if this happens immediately remove the cactus from its pot, rinse the soil off the roots, and cut off any chunks of roots that have gone rotten and replant in fresh soil,' says Julian Palphramand, head of plants at British Garden Centres.
Dropping buds can be very frustrating – you think you're going to get beautiful blooms, only to be quickly disappointed. Dropping buds is often caused by fluctuations in temperature. Once your cactus starts to bud, avoid moving it – keep the plant in a warm spot and it should be in full flower in no time.
What does an unhealthy Christmas cactus look like?
An unhealthy Christmas cactus will often have drooping leaves – that either feel mushy or very thin. It may also have a mushy base or be floppy. It will generally not look plump and green. Christmas cacti are very expressive and it's easy to tell if they aren't healthy.
What is the grey mould on my Christmas cactus?
The grey mould on your Christmas cactus is Botrytis blight and unfortunately, it is the death call for Christmas cacti. 'Any sign of Botrytis blight means that the plant needs to be disposed of,’ says Julian Palphramand, head of plants at British Garden Centres.
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Holly is one of Ideal Home’s content editors. Starting her career in 2018 as a feature writer and sub-editor for Period Living magazine, she has continued this role also adding regular features for Country Homes & Interiors and the Ideal Home website to her roster. Holly has a passion for traditional and country-inspired interiors – especially kitchen design – and is happiest when exploring the countryside and hills of the Lake District. A keen gardener, she is a strong believer that you can never have too many houseplants.
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