The Christmas cactus is one of the best indoor plants for the winter holidays. Unlike its desert cousins, this plant prefers moist soil that is not waterlogged. Overwatering may cause root rot and, eventually, death of the plant.
Overwatered Christmas cactus can be saved if you quickly remove any standing water in the pot and let the soil dry out completely before watering again. If the cactus is severely affected, remove the damaged roots and repot it in a fresh soil mix.
Overwatered Christmas cactus – Signs
Christmas cacti are not drought-tolerant like the dessert varieties. They are adapted to constant rains and humid conditions. As houseplants, they will need a good drenching, but the soil should be allowed to almost dry out between the watering.
Watering a Christmas cactus before the soil gets completely dry results in overwatering. The excess water in the soil stops oxygen from reaching roots causing them to drown and rot. Moist soil condition also promotes the growth of bacteria and fungi that promotes root rot.
Overwatering problems can also be caused by poor drainage. Soil not draining well, or a pot without drainage holes will also encourage root rot. When plant roots decay, the uptake of water and nutrients stops, and the overall health of the plant starts declining.
Root rot is a silent plant killer, and you may not immediately know when it’s happening. Common symptoms of overwatered Christmas cactus include the following:
- Wilted plant and limp leaves
- Leaves falling off the plant
- Stems soften and get mushy
- Foul smell from the soil
- Christmas cactus not growing
How to save overwatered Christmas cactus
If you have overwatered your Christmas cactus, here are steps you can take to help your plant recover:
- Remove any standing water that is still in the pot. Gently tip the plant to one side to allow the excess water to drain out.
- Let the soil dry out completely after removing the standing water. This may take a few days, depending on how waterlogged the soil is.
- Monitor your plant over the next few weeks to ensure it is recovering. If it’s showing signs of distress, such as yellowing leaves or wilting, you may need to take further steps to save your plant.
- Remove the cactus from the pot and check the roots for any signs of decay. If the roots are mushy or brown, you may need to cut them off and repot the Christmas cactus in fresh, well-draining soil.
- To prevent overwatering your cactus in the future, adjust your watering schedule. Christmas cacti prefer to be watered deeply but infrequently. Always wait until the top inch of soil dries completely before watering the plant again.
It may not be possible to treat a severe Christmas cactus root rot. You may have to dispose of the whole plant and start fresh.
Christmas cactus care
For a Christmas cactus to thrive without any problems and diseases, here is what you need to provide:
Bright indirect light
Christmas cactus prefers bright indirect light. Direct sunlight scorches the cactus leaves and may result in cactus leaves turning red or getting unusual spots on the leaves. Place it on an east, or west-facing window or under grow lights.
The Christmas cactus needs frequent watering during the active growth season in spring and summer. However, you must allow the top inch of soil to dry out between the watering. Do not allow the plant to sit in water, which can cause root rot.
Christmas cacti prefer temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 50 to 60 percent humidity. Mist the plant when the air is dry or place a container with room temperature water beside the cactus to boost humidity levels.
Temperatures above 80°F and below 50°F may kill the plant. Keep the plant from heat vents, fireplaces, and cold drafts.
Like any other houseplant, a Christmas cactus need nutrients to thrive. To grow a bigger Christmas cactus, apply a well-balanced liquid houseplant fertilizer such as 10-10-10 once per month during spring and summer.
Additionally, a week after applying regular fertilizer, fertilize with magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts) mixed at 1 teaspoon per gallon of water a week.
Stop fertilizing and watering a Christmas cactus when fall begins. To encourage blooming, place the cactus in a cool place for 12 to 14 hours of darkness for six to eight weeks for flower buds to form.
Beware that any form of light, however small, will interfere with the darkness process, and your cactus will not bloom.
Overwatering is one of the main problems of a Christmas cactus. The condition leads to root rot and, eventually death of the plant. Overwatered Christmas cactus can be saved, especially when you act quickly. With proper care, your Christmas cactus should be able to recover and continue to thrive.
- The Pennsylvania State University: Christmas cactus Diseases
- North Dakota State University: Caring For Your Christmas Cactus
- University of New Hampshire: How often should I water a Christmas cactus
My name is Diane M Lewik, and I am the founder of this website. I am a degree holder in plant biology from the University of California – Berkeley. Over years, I have cultivated a vast collection of succulents and I have learned a great deal about how to grow and care for these unique plants.