It would be best to water Christmas cactus correctly, as they may bear under watering but not overwatering.
The wrong watering regime or amount may lead to issues such as droopy leaves, curling leaves, yellow leaves, brown spots on leaves, root rot, etc. These signs include both under-watering and overwatering.
You need to know how often you need to water them. So, Let’s find out.
As a general rule, the Christmas cactus needs to be watered once a week during summer and once in 3 to 4 weeks during winter. Water Christmas cactus once the soil is halfway dry, but do not let it dry out completely. Also, you should water them thoroughly and enable the excess water to drain out.
Though many planters assume overwatering is the only cause for the miserable condition of their Christmas cactus, underwatering is also detrimental to them if it is consistent. The plants almost suffer the same way in both conditions.
We have simplified the watering-related concerns and factors inducing them. It would be best to read the article thoroughly without missing any point.
When to water snake plants?
Season plays a vital role while watering the snake plant or any other houseplant.
During summers, the Christmas cactus demands more water because the sun is strong and the temperature is high during this time.
The soil will dry faster and need water once a week ideally. They do not like to stay wet, so avoid overwatering them in any case.
Check the soil up to 2-3 inches within to ensure the soil of the Christmas cactus is dry and needs water. Even during summer, if their soil remains wet for too long, they can suffer from root rot.
During winters, the sun is weak, and the temperature level is low, due to which the soil takes time to dry, and the water needs to go down.
This time of the year, the Christmas cactus takes a rest and needs lesser care relatively. They need water 1-2 times a month, depending on the conditions in your region.
How to tell if a Christmas cactus needs water?
Plants cannot speak but can surely speak their condition through their different parts, majorly through leaves. They indicate through leaves if they need something.
Whether it is a lack of water or nutrients or sun, they show through different visible signs if you pay attention.
The following signs reflect that your Christmas cactus needs something:
Christmas cactus will seem light in color when the soil is dry, and it becomes 95% grey when slightly dry, which is completely normal.
It would be best if you watered them at the time when the soil is dry completely and turns fully grey or light brown. This is a good sign that your plant is thirsty and needs water.
If you cannot determine the water needs through dry soil, you can use a moisture meter that will show numbers signaling soil moisture level. When it shows 3 or 4, the soil is dry.
Even if it shows lower than that, it is fine because Christmas cacti can stay dry but water them as soon as you see them.
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Soil pulling away from the edge on the top
When staying dry for too long, the Christmas cactus will pull away from the top edges of the soil. Due to staying dry, they look dehydrated and pull away from the sides.
In this condition, the roots are also dehydrated, and the leaves are also drying. This means the plant is dry both from within and without. The most common reason for such a condition is planters following a watering regime blindly.
As a result, they do not fulfill the plant’s water requirements by under-watering them. The plant may be getting too much light and less water leading to dehydrated Christmas cactus.
For instance: When you water the Christmas cactus plant once every week, ignoring whether they need water or not.
You follow a once-a-week routine blindly, without looking into the sun and temperature level your plant is receiving. They might need water more than once a week.
Water the Christmas cactus thoroughly or soak it in water for some time, and let the excess water drain out from the drainage holes.
Brown crisp foliage
Brown crisp foliage on Christmas cactus is the manifestation of under watering conditions. The leaves are losing their moisture, as a result turning brown.
When the soil bone is dry for extended periods, the lower leaves generally start turning brown and crisp.
You might not be watering them right, which may lead to dry pockets in the soil. This will become a problem in the future and lead to water deficiency in the entire plant.
If you continue watering wrong to the plant, the roots in the dry pockets of soil will die over time. This will lead to a bigger problem, and brown leaves are just initial signals.
If other conditions such as temperature, humidity, and light fluctuate or are unfavorable, the situation may worsen.
Keeping the plant in its favorable conditions or using resources to maintain the favorable conditions is important.
Give your plant water at the right time and make sure the excess water has drained. Also, do not expose them to direct light; choose a bright indirect lit spot.
Droopy, curling leaves
Droopy and curling leaves might be the result of a lack of water. Drought can be the cause as the roots are suffering. They may have dried out, and no water to supply to the leaves and stems.
Overwatering can also create a similar situation, as the roots are suffocated and cannot supply water to other parts of the plant.
This way, the leaves lack water and curl or droop. You need to check the soil as soon as you discover any such indications.
Even too much direct light on your Christmas cactus can cause a lack of water. The leaves due to too much direct light, can curl and shrivel.
Do mix the water needs of all the plants, whether of the same species. If the same Christmas cactus plant is kept in two different corners or locations of the same house, their water needs may still vary. Take out time to feel and understand the needs of your plant.
Following are different ways to check soil moisture levels:
Visual observation: By looking at the soil for some time, you can know the soil’s moistness. If the soil looks dry, light, and compacted together, this indicates the soil is dry and needs a drink.
Finger/skewer: Tick your finger/skewer in the soil up to 1-2 inches. If the finger/skewer comes out clean, the soil is dry. However, it will cling to the finger/skewer if the soil is damp.
Moisture meter: Insert the moisture meter in the soil up to 2-3 inches, do not damage the roots and check the meter every few days. When it sows 2-3, the soil is dry and needs water.
Wet pot: For terracotta pot users, you can check soil moisture by just touching the bottom of the pot. If you feel dampness, then the soil is still moist. If the bottom of the pot looks dark, then the soil is moist and vice versa.
Lifting pot: You can know if the soil is dry or moist by lifting the pot. If the pot is heavy when you lift it, the soil is moist.
Hold the soil: Take a handful of soil in your hand, close it tightly, and then open it. If the soil remains loose or slipping from between the fingers, then the soil is dry.
Factors affecting the need for water
Following are a few factors affecting the need for water for Christmas cactus:
Pot type is an important and ignorant factor while watering the plant. Christmas cactus likes to stay dry or evenly moist, which can be facilitated by using the right type of pot.
When using plastic pots, the soil will remain soggy for a long time as they are non-porous. Hence it is not advised for Christmas cactus.
When using ceramic, glass, or metal pots, they will retain more water than plastic pots and allow better airflow than plastic pots. The plant will need relatively less water.
Plants potted in terracotta, wooden, or concrete pots will need more water. The soil will dry out fast as these pots are porous and assimilate water rapidly.
Christmas cactus and any other plants need the right type of soil mix to grow. It may vary from plant to plant depending on their needs, but the wrong soil mix may create an adverse environment in the plant.
Christmas cactus requires a well-draining soil mix to allow easy air and water flow. They do not like to stay wet for too long, leading to root rot issues.
If the soil mix is heavy, the chances of root rot increase. By following a routine blindly, you can damage the plant.
Aerated soil supports better plant growth, preventing root rot conditions because it will dry out faster.
Water is essential for carrying out biological and chemical processes, and it helps the plant produce energy. The soil will need enough water to carry out its functions properly without any pause.
The easiest way to formulate soil mix for Christmas cactus is by mixing three parts regular potting soil with two parts perlite.
You can further add equal parts of compost, perlite, and milled peat if you want. This will make the soil light, well-draining, and nutrient-rich.
The temperature part for the Christmas cactus is quite tricky. They need high-temperature levels to thrive, and the ideal temperature ranges between 65°F to 80°F.
They can survive temperatures as low as 35°F and as high as 100°F. If the temperature levels go advanced, move them inside in safe conditions.
They need more water when the temperature level is high, as the soil dries out fast, and you don’t want to dry out the soil fully.
If the temperature level fluctuates, then slow down the watering. They can drop buds to show stress due to fluctuation.
If the temperature level is consistently low, water your plant less frequently, only when the soil is completely or more than halfway dry.
You need to keep observing the temperature levels and move them away from extreme conditions before damaging them.
We have explained earlier that season plays an important role in deciding the plant’s water requirement. Obviously, the weather is hot during summer and spring, and the plant will get thirsty more often.
No matter where you have placed your Christmas cactus, the hot sun will not spare any corner of your home. The plant will need water frequently and demands more care as well. Do not let the bone dry, as it can dehydrate the entire plant.
Winter and autumn are dormant seasons when the weather is cold, the sun is weak, and the air is dry, which keeps the plant’s soil moist for a long time. Also, cold drafts may harm them, especially the leaves.
It would be best to slow the water frequency and prefer watering them by checking the soil moistness. Also, keep them at a safe distance from heating systems during winters to keep them warm.
Humidity for Christmas cactus, unlike other succulents, is high. They need ample humid conditions around them, especially in heated environments during winters.
If the humidity level is high, the water requirement for your Christmas cactus decreases. At the same time, less humidity around them calls for more watering. Also, misting around them helps increase the humidity around them.
Though humidity is not essential for watering requirements, excessive fluctuations will harm the plant.
Keeping humidity levels above 50% is appreciable and most suited for your Christmas cactus plant. Keep watering them when they seem dry.
Light is one of the crucial factors affecting the need for water for your Christmas cactus. The main points you need to check are the intensity of the light, the amount of light, and the spectrum. These points are important to consider while deciding their water needs.
These factors need to be in balance to create the ideal conditions for the plant. If steady, then the Christmas cactus will need water once a week.
Though knowing the right balance for your Christmas cactus is very important. The light intensity should not be strong or harsh, which means indirect or diffused light is ideal.
The amount of light means the time for which the plant is getting light in a day. Ideally, 6-8 hours of indirect light is preferred; some direct light will not harm them.
The light can be natural or artificial, but it should be violet-blue light in the 400-520-nanometer range to encourage photosynthesis and other functions.
So, the more light, the more water cycle, and vice versa. Checking the soil before watering is always recommended.
Size of pot
The size of the pot also needs to be considered before coming to a watering routine for your Christmas cactus. If the plant grows in a giant pot, the water requirement is less, and this is because the pot will contain more soil which will hold water and stay moist for long durations.
The roots will be extensive and need more water if the pot is big. The soil will dry at a moderate speed, which means they may need water once a week.
The water needs will reduce for smaller pots as the soil is less in quantity. They are great for Christmas cactus as they like to be root bound.
Always follow the finger/skewer rule or any other method of checking soil moistness before watering your Christmas cactus. They can stay evenly moist but not soggy or bone dry.
How do you water a Christmas cactus?
There are many ways you can water your Christmas cactus, and you can opt for the way that suits you and your plant the most. There is no thumb rule to water them in a particular way.
You can water them thoroughly and enable the excess water to drain out from the drainage holes.
Ensure the pot has a proper drainage system. Avoid watering from the top, as the water may accumulate on the leaves and will develop molds and fungus.
You can water them using the bottom watering method, keep the plant on a saucer filled with water.
Leave it for an hour, and the plant will receive water through the capillary method. After that, please take out the pot from the saucer and keep it in its place.
Keep the soil moist to regulate its temperature and allow it to carry nutrients easily. Do not water them excessively to avoid drowning them.
Signs of overwatering Christmas cactus
Look for the following signs to identify overwatered Christmas cactus:
- Brown leaves and stems
- Black leaves and stems
- Root rot
- Base turning black
- Yellow leaves
- Mushy stems
- Pulpy and brown roots
- Foul odor from the soil
Signs of underwatering Christmas cactus
The following signs will help you identify under-watered Christmas cactus:
- Shriveled leaves
- Discolored leaves
- Dry and dull leaves
- Soil pulling away from the edges on the top
- Drooping leaves
- Stagnant growth
- Yellow and dry brown spots on leaves
Should I mist my Christmas cactus?
Yes, you should mist your Christmas cactus when the air and environment are dry. They like high humidity, and through misting, you can help increase the humidity around them.
Though misting can lead to water droplets sitting on the leaves, which can lead to molds and fungus on them. You can mist but try to clean the leaves with a damp cloth to allow the water to evaporate faster and avoid spots on the leaves.
Can you water the Christmas cactus with tap water?
It is suggested to avoid using tap water for watering the Christmas cactus as they are sensitive to fluoride and chlorine. The minerals can accumulate in the soil, burning the roots over time.
The best choice would be rainwater, distilled water, or reverse-osmosis filtered water. You can use tap water by keeping it in a tub overnight, and this will allow the minerals to dissipate in the water.
Reference: NC State University, Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County, Researchgate, Texas A&M University, Chicago Botanic Garden.