Christmas Cactus

Asked December 1, 2019, 10:23 PM EST

Have a Xmas Cactus that was my mothers and I am 74. It is dropping branches - a lot. Not sure it will survive. It is blooming. I have had this plant for years and have given branches to other people. It is almost bare of peddles. Thought it was dry so I soaked it and it stopped dropping branches, but it is dropping again. It is in a perfect spot - east window - downstairs where it is cool. Guess I will take some branches and stick them in dirt to start a new plant??? Was hoping it would survive til spring and put outside and see what happens BUT. Any ideas.

Stearns County Minnesota

1 Response

Thanks for the question.

I admire your concern about this plant, especially in light of your long history with it. The good news is that a Christmas Cactus is a very hardy plant. For this reason, I feel confident that you will be able to nurse it back to good health though a may take a few months.

In spite of its name, a Christmas Cactus is unlike other cactus that have succulent leaves that can store water for long periods of time. Typically cacti grow in arid environments. In contrast, Christmas Cacti grow best under moist and rather humid conditions They really are a tropical plant. They are not able to store large quantities of water. The wilting of the leaves and stems you are now observing indicates that the plant is most likely under some type of stress. The three most common stressors for a Christmas Cactus are a compacted root mass, improper watering, and insufficient light. Here are comments about each.

1). Consider repotting your Christmas Cactus in a larger pot. The type of soil you use is important. It should NOT be a soil mix designed for other cacti. Rather you need a mixture that will enable good water retention with suitable drainage. A mixture that I have used with good results consists of 1 part regular potting soil, 2 parts peat moss, and 1 part perlite or vermiculite. After repotting do not apply any fertilizer. Give your plant a month or so to adapt to its new home and grow additional roots. After this initial period, some fertilizer (e.g., Miracle-Gro) could be used.

2). With respect to watering, this should be done in a consistent manner. Watering should only be done when the soil feels dry to the touch when you put your finger in it down to a depth of an inch or so. When this occurs, place a dish under the pot and slowly water until water drains into the dish. Remove this water so that your plant does not sit in it (“wet feet” are not to their liking). Remembering that Christmas Cacti typically prefer humid conditions, mist your plant every two or three days. This is especially important during our Minnesota winters when indoor air has low humidity. I suspect that if you do this, you may see a rather rapid response.

3). It will be important that you expose your Christmas Cactus to as much light as possible during our winter months. Indirect light would be best as the leaves of your plant will brown under intense, direct sunlight.

Here are some publications dealing with these and other points, including propagation of the type you are contemplating:

.https://extension.umn.edu/house-plants/holiday-cacti

https://www.chicagobotanic.org/plantinfo/christmas_cactus

https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/cacti-succulents/christmas-cactus/advice-for-christmas-cactus-care.htm

This rejuvenation will take time and patience but as I said initially, your efforts should be rewarded.

Good Luck!!