Christmas cactus are easy-going plants; once you get their needs right, you will never lose them.
They are susceptible to root decay and diseases quite easily if not taken care of properly. Bugs are another most common problem; if ignored, you may lose them in a blink of an eye.
If you see your Christmas cactus facing several problems suddenly, then pest infestation could be the underlying problem.
But what bugs do Christmas cactus get, and how to eliminate them? Let’s find out.
Spider mites, aphids, mealy bugs, and scales are some common bugs that infest Christmas cactus. Overwatering, lack of airflow, and high humidity are the prime causes of these pests. You can use neem oil solution and miticides to treat and prevent pest infestation.
To avoid pest infestation, the primary rule of thumb is to keep healthy plants away from the infested plant.
Never group your newly bought plants with others as that could spread pests and diseases.
We will cover the bugs that disturb your Christmas cactus and the right way and methods to kill them.
What could be eating my Christmas cactus?
Several pets are stubborn and dangerous to your Christmas cactus. They keep munching them and stress them. Let us know what the common bugs that infest Christmas cactus are:
- Spider mites
- Fungus gnats
It is important to know about these bugs and the signs to identify that your plant is infested with them.
We will study them thoroughly and also treat the plant.
How do I get rid of mites on my Christmas cactus?
Spider mites feast on the plant’s cells and suck their nutrients, damaging the stems.
The plant becomes weak and susceptible to problems by consistently feeding on the Christmas cactus’s sap.
They lay hundreds of eggs and reproduce rapidly, causing severe damage to the plant.
- Tiny little dots like mites
- Green, yellow, brown, or red in color
- Webbing on the stems
- Holes in the leaves
- Clusters of eggs
- Feast on stems
- The motif of silver dots
- Discolored stippling
- Brown spots
- Tiny webbing
- Weak plant
- Curling leaves
How do I get rid of gnats on my Christmas cactus?
Fungus gnats do not bite the plant but create an utter nuisance around the plant.
They attack the plant primarily in moist conditions when the soil stays wet for a long time.
Though larval stages feed on organic matter, they damage the roots and dull the soil.
The soil loses its nutrition and cannot support the plant. This leads to several issues and sometimes the death of the plant.
- Delicate black flies
- Look like mosquitoes with transparent bodies
- Black, brown, and grey in color
- Feed on fungi, organic matter
- Long legs and antennae
- Clear wings
- Larvae have a whitish body with no legs
- Unhealthy and damaged roots
- Wilting leaves
- Stunted growth
- Damage young plants, seedlings
- Plant death
How do I get rid of mealybugs on my Christmas cactus?
Mealybugs will be found feeding on the protected areas of the Christmas cactus, such as stem joint, stems near the soil, crown part, etc.
Some species of mealy bugs feed on the soil and roots too.
They can reproduce without mating and produce hundreds of eggs within two weeks.
They keep looking for a comfortable spot and stick to the spot. They keep sucking the sap out of the plant, weakening it.
They may have entered your space due to newly bought plants and will flourish in warm areas.
- Covered with wax
- Oval shaped with soft body
- Adult females are wingless
- Adult males have a long tail with wings
- Newly born are yellow, pink, or orangish
- Decrease plant’s vigor
- Leaf drop
- Slow growth
- Yellowing of leaves
How do I get rid of aphids on my Christmas cactus?
Aphids are tiny insects with a soft body and usually do not harm the plant till the infestation is not severe.
They attack the new growth and make the new growth deformed. Aphids transmit viruses and diseases to other plants.
- Pear-shaped bugs
- Green, red, yellow, brown, black
- Adults do not have wings
- Appear waxy
- Yellow leaves
- Stunt shoots
- Curling leaves
- Molds on the plant
- Distorts growth
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How do I get rid of scales on my Christmas cactus?
Scales are tiny bugs that insert their mouthparts into the plant and suck the sap out.
Some species can damage the plant severely, and some do not do any significant damage even if the infestation is severe.
- Oval or circular
- Tiny white to yellow bugs
- Females are wingless
- Adults have wings
- Armored scales have a protective covering
- Unarmoured scales do not have coverings
- Weakens the plant
- Slow growth
- Yellow leaves
- Premature leaf drop
- Brown spots
Why do Christmas cacti get bugs?
There can be several reasons causing bugs to attack your Christmas cactus. We should first know the reason and then treat accordingly.
Overwatering is the prime reason for most of the problems in the Christmas cactus.
When they are watered without drying for longer periods, the result could be pest infestation. Standing water in and around the plant may also invite pests.
It also happens when you blindly follow a watering routine and don’t check the soil moisture before watering.
Another reason could be improper drainage, you might be watering right, but the excess water is not passing out.
That keeps the roots and soil moist, resulting in diseases and pest attacks.
The air and water flow have to compromise, and the roots suffocate due to waterlogged conditions. This also leads to root rot and other plant-related issues.
This should be taken as an alarming situation that, if not treated on time, can lead to the death of the plant.
Here are the steps to follow:
- Make certain that the drainage system is proper
- The soil mix should be well-draining and light
- Water the plant only when the top few inches of the soil is dry
- Provide the plant with sufficient sunlight
- Keep the area around the plant clean and dry
Christmas cactus is fine until the humidity is around 50% – 60%. High humidity can harm them as they support root rot, diseases, pest infestation, etc.
If you live in a highly humid area, the humidity level will stay high around your plant.
That may become a problem for them as they do not appreciate high humid conditions. Also, if you like misting them, it adds to the humidity.
Pests and diseases grow and get attracted to such conditions easily.
They sense such conditions, their bodies thrive in such areas, and plants keep themselves alive.
It would be best to keep humidity at moderate levels to keep pests at bay. Also, water adequately as excess water evaporates, increasing the humidity.
Lack of air circulation
Christmas cactus thrive the most in good airflow. Pests and diseases grow when they are kept in poor ventilation.
Also, the soil mix should be light and well-draining to allow easy water and flow.
Due to poor ventilation, Christmas cactus will live in moist conditions for a long time. That attracts and supports pests infestation.
They multiply easily in such conditions. Also, if you keep your plants closer to each other, it increases humidity.
How do you eliminate Christmas cactus bugs?
It would be best to treat bugs soon so your plant doesn’t get severely damaged.
We want to cover the method of eliminating bugs so that you get rid of the pests and save your plant.
Your infested plant will show signs of stress if not treated on time. It will wilt, turn yellow, weaken, and even die.
Take a breath and get the right information and resources to treat your ill plant without harming it. If you panic, then you might lose your plant forever.
Taking the right steps is very important at this stage. Let us see what you need to do and options for treating your Christmas cactus.
Inspect and isolate the plant
To begin with, isolate the pest-infested Christmas cactus as soon as you suspect they are pest infested.
That is especially done to save other plants from getting infected. Also, check for pests in other plants around.
Prune the damaged parts
After you have isolated the plant, prune the dead parts and stems and dispose of them.
Also, use gloves and sanitize your hands after pruning. Sanitize the area around the plant after getting rid of the damaged parts.
Use plant-based miticide
Miticide: Miticide prevents and kills pests. Using plant-based miticide is always preferred. Spray the organic miticide on a leaf to check if it suits it.
Apply it over the plant for a few weeks.
You can use the following options to treat your plant:
Neem oil: Neem oil is used as a pesticide and fungicide, safe for the plants as it is obtained from the neem seeds.
Use it in the morning or evening on all parts of the plant by mixing 2 tsp neem oil with 1-gallon water. It kills eggs and adults without harming the plant.
Rosemary oil: Rosemary oil works great as an insect repellent and even kills them. They have compounds that kill these bugs and do not harm the plant.
Use them on the plant every few days in the morning or evening to see faster results.
Cinnamate: Cinnamate is non-toxic and organic, killing bugs at all stages. Make a solution of cinnamate with water and apply it to the plant. Repeat every 4-5 days until the problem persists.
Household chemicals are equally effective.
We have other options too, in case you do not want to use the above miticides or don’t have them.
There are a few homemade insecticides you can choose from.
Rubbing alcohol: Add water to rubbing alcohol in a 1:1 ratio. Now use it on the plant and wash the plant with plain water. Repeat this every time you water your plant to see results.
Dish soap: Dish soap is considered the best and easiest way to treat pests when no other products are available.
Mix a tsp of dish soap into a liter of water. Use a spray bottle and spray on the plant, and then wash the plant with plain water regularly to treat bugs.
Herbal tea miticide is a fantastic homemade remedy.
Herbal tea is prepared by mixing several herbs and spices. Mix:
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- 1 tbsp cloves
- 1 cup water
- Boil it and let it cool.
- Add garlic and dish soap.
Now pour it into a container or spray bottle and apply it all over the plant. Repeat till the bugs are completely killed.
Commercial pesticides are loaded with chemicals that kill and paralyze the pests.
They are easily and readily available in the market. Use according to your need and severity of infestation.
Always read the label before buying and using it on your plant. Do a patch test to prevent any side effects on the plant.
Shower the plant
Shower your infested plant with a strong stream of water. That should be done even if you have other products.
It will largely kill and eliminate the bugs without harming the plant.
Wash every part of the plant, preferably in the morning, so the water dries out faster. The moist conditions for long hours will support pests.
Starting over means, you may have to get rid of your infested Christmas cactus and start all over fresh.
When these pests are still eating and damaging your plant severely, even after trying all the methods, you have to re-think keeping it.
Your plant is severely infected, and the problem has gone out of hand.
Sanitize the area where you kept your infested plant after disposing of the plant.
Tips to keep bugs away from Christmas cactus
- Always keep your Christmas cactus on the drier side rather than over-watering them. Check the soil moisture before watering them to avoid water-related issues.
- Use light, well-draining growing medium and porous pots to permit water and airflow.
- Check the drainage system, and the excess water should come out within 1 minute of watering.
- Keep Christmas cactus in good ventilation, at a good distance from other plants. Do not keep in groups and avoid misting them.
- Use preventive measures such as neem oil, miticides, dish soap, etc., to kill any eggs and keep away bugs from your plant.
- Clean your plant every week with a damp cloth.
Reference: NC State University, Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County, Researchgate, Texas A&M University, Chicago Botanic Garden.