Christmas Cactus Troubleshooting

Christmas Cactus Problems and Concerns and Troubleshooting

A Christmas cactus is typically found in a tropical rainforest.  They actually aren’t even located on the ground, but up in the trees.  They natively grow without soil if you can believe it. Their grow medium is generally old decayed leaves and branches.  How cool is that? Since they grow up in the tree branches, not in the soil, the roots dry out quickly. The leaves and roots get lots of fresh water from the air and the continual moisture that rainforests receive.  

Because of this unique growing conditions, it can cause problems when we try to grow the plants as houseplants.  That isn’t to say it can’t be done, it can and very easily. We just need to keep in mind the plants’ natural tendencies in order to make it thrive in our homes.  

Root Rot in Christmas Cactus

The biggest problem one might face in growing their own Christmas cacti is root rot.  This happens when we either over water the plants, or there isn’t sufficient drainage and excess water gets trapped at the roots.  You might be able to catch this when the plant itself starts to look wilted. If you inspect the roots they may look soggy.

To prevent root rot, make sure that your Christmas cactus is planted in loose, well-draining soil.  Keep watering even, and don’t overwater. It is also helpful to choose a planter that has at least one drainage hole to allow the release of any excess water trapped near the roots.

If you suspect root rot, you can try to save the plant by removing it from the container it is in.  Try to get the extra, wet soil off of the roots. Now rinse the root ball to try to remove any disease and fungus.  You will also need to trim off any roots that look bad and diseased. You can save this plant if you catch this problem in a time when the cause is root rot.  

Stem Rot in Christmas Cactus

Another common problem that can occur with growing a Christmas cactus is stem rot.  To identify if you have stem rot, you can usually see brown spots near the base of the plant on the stem.  This will eventually move up the plant. If this occurs, your plant will become very brown and ugly, usually in sections at a time.

When stem rot happens, it is best to discard the plant and start from scratch with a new plant.  It is near impossible to save this plant at this point.  


Both stem rot and root rot are caused by fungus overgrowth.  Unfortunately, a fungicide will not help you in this situation.  That is because the underlying reason for a problem in the first place is generally overwater.  In this case, prevention is the cure.

Limp Leaves and Stems on Christmas Cactus

Limp leaves are sometimes caused by a lack of sunlight.  Try moving to a location that receives better indirect sunlight each day.

Further, limp leaves can also be an indication of neglect.  It happens, sometimes we forget to water our plants. Try to get on a watering schedule that works for your plant.  Setting a reminder in your phone to water your cactus isn’t a bad idea either.

With careful planning and watering, you generally won’t see too many problems when growing a Christmas cactus.  They are pretty resilient and they put on an absolutely beautiful show at Christmastime. It’s worth it to take a little extra care so you have a special plant in bloom.  For more tips on learning how to care for a Christmas cactus click here.

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