Christmas cactus looks gorgeous all year round, and blooming during winters adds to their beauty.
They have segmented stems that are different from other plants, but if it starts dropping, it is a matter of concern. We need to find out why the Christmas cactus is dropping its leaves.
Dropping leaves is often caused due to overwatering or by keeping the soil soggy. Other reasons for dropping leaves could be poor draining soil, wrong pot size, temperature stress, and low humidity. Finding the underlying cause and treating it accordingly is the only way to fix it.
Sometimes leaves may drop naturally as they age to allow for new growth. If this is the matter, then you should not worry about it.
In this article, we shall discuss the reasons that can damage your plant and lead to the loss of leaves.
Why does the Christmas cactus keep losing leaves?
Christmas cactus prefer specific conditions to flourish, which they get in their native habitat. Sometimes the conditions may not be ideal, which can create a problem for your plant and lead to leaf drops.
You need to identify what is causing the dropping leaves in the Christmas cactus. When you have classified the problem, you are one step closer to fixing the problem.
Let us take a look at all potential causes first below:
- Pest infestation
- Low humidity
- Soggy soil
- Root rot
- Poor quality water
- Improper fertilization
- Unfavorable temperatures
- Low light
- Wrong pot
- Wrong soil mix
Do not panic by looking at the list. Keep these points in mind and examine the plant to conclude the root cause.
We will detail all the potential issues to make it easy for you to identify and treat the plant.
Overwatering can make a healthy plant defenseless to diseases. Christmas cactus likes to stay moist but not soggy at all times.
If the soil and roots keep sitting in water, the other parts suffer too. Roots and soil are suffocated and unable to supply water and nutrients to other parts of plants.
This condition further leads to root rot, making it difficult for the plant to absorb essential nutrients and water.
That makes the entire plant weak and vulnerable, leading to leaf drops.
At first, lower leaves drop, and if the conditions are not treated, new leaves drop too.
The poor drainage system, wrong pot size, and poorly draining soil mix can add to overwatering. You also need to consider all these problems while looking for reasons causing overwatering.
When you over-fertilize our Christmas cactus, at first, the plant absorbs more water than required, leading to edema of the tissues and causing damage to the plant.
As a result, the plant becomes weak and leaves drop.
You can fix such conditions by:
- Keep the plant in good light and well-ventilated areas that allow water to dry and kill bacteria.
- Taking the plant out of its pot to check its condition from within.
- Snipping off the damaged parts and damaged roots of the plant.
- Applying fungicide on the roots to kill bacteria.
- Repotting the plant in the fresh soil mix.
To avoid overwatering conditions, one simple formula you can apply is checking the soil by digging your finger in the soil and checking if the soil is dry.
Water only when the soil is dry. If something feels faulty, check the plant’s drainage system and soil mix.
Many planters sometimes mistake Christmas cactus for being drought tolerant. That is the biggest mistake a plant parent makes owing Christmas cactus.
Keeping your Christmas cactus under-watered for a long time leads to drought stress in the plant.
Due to dehydration, the plant starts losing leaves. If the condition persists, the plant may not be able to bloom also.
You must fix this situation by watering the plant thoroughly and letting excess water out through the drainage system.
If the soil is dry, scrape the soil on the top to ensure water is seeping it and reaching the roots.
You can also use a tray, put it under the pot, and fill it with water. Keep it under the plant for about 20 minutes, so the roots soak the moisture properly. This process is also called bottom watering.
Water the plant when the soil is dry, and as the sun gets strong, keep checking the soil and water it when needed.
During winters, you must water when the soil is dry and avoid underwatering. Also, ensure the excess water drains out of the drainage holes.
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Christmas cactus is a hardy plant that can resist pests, but sometimes they may get into the trap of the pests.
If the infestation keeps progressing, the plant gets severely damaged and drops leaves.
Bugs like spider mites, aphids, thrips, and mealybugs are tiny irritating bugs that stick to your plant and keep sucking the nutrients and moisture.
They thrive as long as you don’t treat them and in favorable conditions, i.e., moist conditions, poor air circulation, etc.
When you look for them, you have to examine all parts of the plant, from stems to the undersides of the stems.
To treat your pest-infested plant, do the following:
- The first step is isolating the infested plant away from other plants. Keep the plant in good air circulation to facilitate the process.
- For mild infestation, wash the plant with strong water flow to oust these pests. Another way is using neem oil or insecticidal soap on your plant to kill these pests.
- Dab alcohol-soaked cotton to blot these pests in contact. It will kill the high number of pests. You can also use chemical pesticides if the infestation is major.
- If the condition is not controlled, you may have to discard your Christmas cactus to save other plants from infestation.
Christmas cactus is different from other cactuses and enjoys average to high humidity to thrive. It will also do okay in low humidity, but not for a consistent period.
Leaves curl and further drop if the humidity stays low for a long time.
It often happens during winters as the air is arid, and planters keep the plant near heating systems to keep it warm.
It would be best to increase the humidity around your Christmas cactus to preserve the ideal humidity. You can use a humidifier to maintain a humid environment.
You can mist around the plant but not on the plant, which can lead to leaf spots.
Also, misting should not be done regularly, as it can increase the chances of pest invasions.
Christmas cactus grows well in well-draining, light soil and wants to stay evenly moist and not soggy. As the soil stays soggy, the other parts lack moisture resulting in leaf drops.
You should plant Christmas cactus in the right growing medium if you want smooth watering. Soggy soil further leads to root rot which can be deadly for the plant.
Fix this issue:
- The best and permanent solution is displacing the soil medium. It would be best to have a well-draining, light, organically rich soil mix for your Christmas cactus.
- Prepare soil mix by adding 1 part potting soil to 1 part perlite or buy cactus soil mix from the market. Repot the plant in the prepared soil mix.
- Check the drainage holes too; it could be the potential reason for soggy soil. The proper drainage system is vital to keep the soil free of excess water.
Root rot in the Christmas cactus is caused due to overwatering.
Due to overwatering, excess water is accumulated in the soil, which suffocates roots and soil.
The roots and soil cannot breathe, and the entire plant suffers due to a lack of moisture and nutrients. The leaves become weak, curl and drop.
Stop watering your plant till the soil is completely dry. Check the drainage system of the pot. Keep the plant in good lighting and good airflow.
Take the plant out of the pot to check the condition of the roots.
If the roots are damaged, cut the damaged parts. Repot the plant in fresh soil mix and water only when the soil is halfway dry.
Poor quality water
Using hard or poor-quality water to water your Christmas cactus will affect the plant’s health.
You might hardly notice because it is one of the most ignored care.
Using tap water is harmful to the plant as it contains harmful minerals such as chlorine, fluoride, and other minerals.
These minerals build up in the soil, making the plant dull, weak, and dropping leaves.
Switch to filtered water or rainwater, or keep tap water in a bucket overnight to allow the minerals to sit at the bottom.
You can use this water for your plant. Also, flush the soil with water to remove salt buildup.
Christmas cactus needs nutrients to grow and develop. If you do not fertilize the plant on time or keep them under fertilized for a long time, the plant lacks nutrients and becomes weak resulting in leaf drops.
Over-fertilizing is also not advised; it will damage the plant.
It Increases the nutrient content in the plant at first and then burns the roots, leading to salt buildup in the soil.
The roots and soil get dehydrated, leading to brown patches and leaf drops.
A little feeding at the right time is good enough for your plant. Check whether you have over-fertilized or under-fertilized your Christmas cactus.
For under-fertilized Christmas cactus, feed the plant with diluted houseplant food once every two months in the growing season. Do not fertilize in winters.
If you suspect over-fertilizing to be the cause of leaf drop, you can fix it by following any one solution the below:
Rinse the soil with a lot of water for a few minutes to dissolve salt buildup in the soil and drain it out. Avoid fertilizing till the plant seems healthy and happy.
Take the plant out of the pot and check the condition of the roots. Prune the damaged brown roots and wash the plant with water to wash off the excess salt. After that, repot the plant in the fresh soil mix.
When Christmas cactus suddenly looks dull and weak, the mind goes to the environmental factors.
If the environmental conditions around the plant are unfavorable, either too cold or too hot, then that induces leaf drops and other problems.
It may happen due to frequent changes in temperature, the leaf curl, and drop due to temperature shock. Also, keeping the plant outdoors during winters leads to cold stress.
You must ensure that your Christmas cactus is kept away from cold or hot vents from drafty windows to protect them from any temperature stress.
Keep the plant in the temperature range of 65°F to 85°F during summer and not below 50°F during winters.
When you move your plant to a better place with favorable conditions, the plant gradually adjusts to the new conditions and stops dropping leaves.
Christmas cacti desire a lot of light to grow and develop, and when they do not receive ample light, they suffer.
When the plant is kept in low light, it will go through various problems like yellowing, leaf drops, and curling, as it lacks the energy to keep its parts healthy and strong.
Even direct light is not recommended as the plant is not used to it, and direct exposure can lead to sunburn, curling, lead drop, etc.
To fix light-related issues:
- Move your plant to better lighting where it can receive indirect light for 5-6 hours at least.
- Use grow lights or any other artificial light source if there is a lack of natural lighting in your home.
- Do not expose them to direct sun.
- Cast a shade on the plant if you want to keep the plant outdoors.
- Choose a window where the plant may receive indirect light all day long.
One important factor that planters often overlook is the size of the plant they choose for their plant. The wrong pot size can hinder the plant’s growth and create several issues.
The wrong pot size will not facilitate proper drainage, which leads to overwatering. The excess water will not flow out, leading to root rot, leaf drop, etc.
You can fix this situation by:
- Take the plant out of the pot and make proper drainage holes in the pot. Place your Christmas cactus back again.
- Always use a pot with good drainage holes only.
- Do not use a container that is too large for your plant, as Christmas cactus prefers compact pot.
Wrong soil mix
Wrong soil mix means you are growing your plant in soil that does not serve it properly.
If the growing medium is not right, the plant can never grow its best and will always stay ill.
Since Christmas cactus likes well-draining, light soil mix, it cannot grow if the soil is heavy. Heavy soil will stay wet most of the time, facilitating root rot, fungal growth, etc.
Due to wet soil, the airflow also stops and restricts root growth. That makes the plant weak leading to the dropping of leaves.
Change the soil mix of your Christmas cactus. Repot the plant with a well-draining, porous soil mix. It will allow air and water to flow easily and prevent wet conditions.
How to prevent the dropping of leaves in the Christmas cactus?
Not providing the right care for your Christmas cactus leads to leaf drops. Unfavorable conditions may also cause leaf drops.
That can be prevented by the following:
- Water your Christmas cactus when the soil is dry. You can simply check the soil on the top few inches with your finger and decide.
- Ensure the drainage system is proper and the excess water drains out easily.
- Do not repot the plant frequently. Repot in 4-5 years as the plant likes to stay root-bound.
- Keep the plant in indirect light and protect it from direct sun, cold drafts, hot drafts, frost, etc.
- Fertilize it once every two months will all-purpose houseplant fertilizer by diluting it to half the prescribed strength.
- If you keep a tray under the plant, then empty it after it is filled with water.
Tip: If the leaves drop, but it looks healthy, plant them in a new pot to grow more Christmas cactuses.
Reference: NC State University, Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County, Researchgate, Texas A&M University, Chicago Botanic Garden.