The Christmas cactus is a beautiful flowering cactus with stem segments. But if the stem segments become leggy, the plant surely indicates something is wrong. But why are the stems getting leggy? Let us check.
Low light and overfertilization are two primary causes of leggy Christmas cactus. When the plant is kept in low light, they elongate its stems to available light, making it leggy. On the other hand, overfertilization increases the nitrogen levels in the plant, making it grow leggy.
They need a lot of light, love, and attention from you to have healthy and bushier stems.
It would be best if you also watered them properly as and when required. Fertilizing adequately is very important as over-fertilization can lead to leggy growth.
Right care routine and conditions are essential to growing your Christmas cactus full.
You can correct your leggy plant by correcting your mistakes. With proper care and pruning, you can grow your leggy plant fuller again.
By reading the article, you can understand the reason for the leggy growth in your Christmas cactus. We will also discuss various methods to fix the same.
Why is my Christmas cactus leggy?
Christmas cactus has fleshy stem segments known as cladodes. If the stems are getting leggy, there are several reasons behind it.
The main reason you need to check is the lighting, and the plant is not getting enough light. The plant stays in low light for a long time, resulting in leggy growth.
If the plant does not receive enough light, it will stretch towards available light and get leggy.
The plant lack enough energy to maintain its stems; the stems get the thing and leggy. The plant stays leggy as they keep receiving low light.
The photosynthesis process slows down, and the stems become weak and drop gradually. The plant’s growth suffers. As a result, they are unable to grow new leaves.
Another cause could be fertilizing more than required. Either the dose is high, or the frequency is more than required.
Christmas cactus are light feeders that need light dose at the right time. If fertilizing goes wrong, the plant suffers from problems like a leggy plant.
Many planters over-fertilize, thinking it will give a nutrient boost to the plant.
The plant may get a nutrient boost at first but gradually weaken the plant, burn the roots and lead to leggy growth.
Apart from these, the plant also needs other conditions to be favorable to stay bushy and healthy.
You need to check all the conditions to ensure your plant has bushier stems.
How to fix leggy Christmas cactus?
You can fix your Christmas cactus with proper care and love. You cannot undo what you have done, but you can correct your mistakes and never repeat them.
If you do the required, you will soon fix your leggy Christmas cactus. To fix your leggy plant, you can fix the following:
- Maintain temperature
- Proper fertilization
- Propagating the plant
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Fix the lighting
Start with checking the light your Christmas cactus is receiving.
It is the essential factor to fix you to maintain healthy, thick stems and bushier plants. Due to lack of light, the plant becomes spindly.
The leaves lose their color due to a lack of light, indicating that your plant needs more light.
Fix the light that is providing sufficient light to the plant. They need 5-6 hours of indirect bright light in a day.
Giving them as much indirect light as you can stimulate their growth and bushier plant.
Keep Christmas cactus away from direct light as it can lead to sunburn and other issues.
If it is kept outdoors, cast a shade over it to protect it from the harsh sun.
Proper lighting encourages growth and a fuller plant.
Rotate the plant every few days to make sure all parts of the plant are receiving light equally.
Generally, south, west, or east-facing windows are a good option to keep your plant.
You must still observe the lighting and the plant’s growth to decide the direction and spot.
If you lack light in your home, you can use an artificial light source around your plant.
Grow lights are a great artificial light source that can easily fulfill your plant’s light needs.
Also, move your plant indoors during freezing temperatures, as the sun is weak and the temperature is freezing.
They need enough warmth to survive winters which can be fulfilled using artificial light or heating systems.
Also, keep the plant in humidity around 50%; you can use a humidifier.
The air is arid during winter, and artificial light sources also increase the warmth around them, so a humidifier is required to maintain the humidity level around the plant.
Also read: How Much Light Does My Christmas Cactus Need?
Maintaining the temperature
Christmas cactus thrives between 65°F and 85°F during summer. During winter, they can survive at temperatures below 50°F.
If the temperature level goes beyond its ideal requirements, the plant is deemed to suffer.
If the temperature is below 50°F for a long period, then you need to consider a place with a high temperature or make arrangements for the same.
It would be best to fix low-temperature levels by moving your Christmas cactus to a warmer area.
You can use artificial light to increase the warmth and temperature level around the plant.
Place the plant at a safe distance from heating systems like radiators and fireplaces, so the plant feels the warmth but not heat.
The heat can burn the leaves or lead to problems like yellowing, drooping, etc.
Ensure your plant is protected from hot drafts, cold drafts, and direct air from air conditioning, as it will damage the plant internally and externally.
Christmas cacti are light feeders, so for the less is more.
If you fertilize them at the right time in the right dosage, the plant will have new growth and grow bushier.
Though they can even survive without fertilizers in their native environment, they need a nutrient boost as houseplants.
Fertilizer is needed to ensure the plant does not lack enough nutrients.
But the same can become a disaster for your Christmas cactus if the planter feeds the plant.
The nutrient boost can become a danger to the plant’s health. It may initially stimulate the plant’s growth but later lead to salt buildup, root burn, and leggy growth.
If you skip fertilizing and find your Christmas cactus suffering, then it means that the plant needs nutrients to grow and develop.
Ideally, fertilize your Christmas cactus with balanced houseplant food. Dilute the recommended dosage to half the strength. Feed the plant in the growing season, i.e., from spring through summer.
The right dosage of fertilizer will also help the plant form buds and bloom beautifully in the holiday season.
Also, avoid fertilizing them while the plant starts blooming and when it is blooming, it may cause the buds to fall, and blooming will also suffer.
For fuller growth, fertilize your Christmas cactus in the recommended dosage at the right time of the year.
Propagating the plant
If your Christmas cactus has leggy stems, you can use those leggy stems to create a fuller Christmas cactus.
How? You can grow bushier plants by propagating the leggy Christmas cactus stem segments instead of disposing of them.
Yes, it is also advised to use a healthy part for propagating any cutting, but leggy growth lacks proper conditions which can be fulfilled to grow a bushier plant.
Just pinch the stem segments from the top that are leggy. It should be 2-6 segments long. Place the cutting in a ventilated area to let it dry.
Now place the cutting in a jar filled with water and wait a few weeks for the cutting to root.
After the roots have come out, plant the cuttings in the soil. Choose a well-draining soil mix and pot with the proper drainage system.
If you take proper care of your newly planted cuttings, you will notice thick and fuller stems growing rapidly. Be patient and do your part.
The best time to propagate is in the spring. It is the best time to repot and propagate. Water the cuttings sparingly and provide the plant with bright indirect light to grow and develop.
Pruning is like giving the plant more energy to grow and support its roots. It decreases the pressure on the roots and soil to maintain heavy stems.
It helps to get rid of the plant’s leggy growth and removes any unhealthy growth with the stems.
If you do not prune on time, the plant may grow leggy or messy. It would be best if you pruned the leggy stems on time to allow the roots to grow healthy.
Pruning helps to check the plant’s condition. If there are any damaged parts, you can immediately get rid of them.
While pruning, use sterilized scissors and prune about 20% of the plant at a time as more than that may shock the plant.
Proper pruning helps improve the overall functioning of the plant. Avoid pruning during winter as it will shock the plant and stunt its growth.
How to prune a leggy Christmas cactus?
Pruning helps the plant get bushier and healthier. It is important to prune the plant properly to get the best results. To prune your Christmas cactus, you need:
- Hand towel
You need to prune the plant to encourage plant growth for a bushier plant.
Christmas cactus have stem segments, which may become leggy and dull due to several reasons we have discussed earlier.
Use scissors or hands to pinch the stem segments. Pinch or cut one or more sections from the top of the stems. You will find new growth from the ends in a few months.
You can also use the cuttings if they are disease, and infection-free to propagate them. You can simply plant the cuttings on the sides of the existing plant.
Water your plant after pruning adequately to keep the soil evenly moist. Never stress them with overwatering; it is the easiest way to kill your plant.
Fertilize the plant in the growing season once the cuttings have grown enough. Feed with diluted houseplant food in the growing season only.
Wear gloves while pruning to avoid any infection. Also, sterilize the used scissors and gloves after you are done pruning.
How to keep the Christmas cactus from getting leggy?
You can prevent Christmas cactus from getting leggy by pruning in regular seasons. Though, pruning should be done only during spring through summer.
Prune the long stems to reduce the stress on the roots and soil to encourage new growth.
They need bright light to thrive and grow. Place them in such a spot to receive at least 5-6 hours of light.
Water the plant when the soil is dry. Check the soil by digging your finger in the soil and check if the soil is dry from within.
Repot only when the plant is root bound, which may take 3-5 years.
Reference: NC State University, Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County, Researchgate, Texas A&M University, Chicago Botanic Garden.