Learn how to repot a Christmas cactus here (luckily, it’s easy!).
With gorgeous green clades and bright flower buds, Christmas cacti are irresistible tropical plants that can thrive indoors. Though easy to grow, sometimes you must discard old soil or give your Christmas cactus plants room to stretch their roots in a bigger pot.
Damp and soggy soil will cause problems for your plant, like root and stem rot. Root rot can even kill your plant, so you’ll want to act fast to repot cacti growing in poor soil.
I recently had to repot a Thanksgiving cactus with soggy soil that also needed more room for its roots. As an expert on holiday cacti, I’m here to walk you through transplanting a Christmas cactus so you can be confident when giving your plant a new home!
Psst.. Though they are separate species, the care for a Thanksgiving cactus is the same as our Christmas plants (genus Schlumbergera). So, you can use this tutorial for both of your plants.
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How To Tell If A Christmas Cactus Needs Repotted
There are several reasons why you may need to transplant your cactus:
- Root rot: If you suspect your plant has root rot, you must take it out of the current pot, inspect the roots, and give it the right soil and a pot with drainage holes.
- Plant growth: If the plant has outgrown its current container, you must upgrade it to a larger home. Roots peeking out of the drainage holes or growing over the side are a good clue.
- Soggy, thick soil: Soggy soil can kill your plant. Take your plant out of its pot and give it a new container with the right soil mix (the soil should not hold much water and needs to be loose and well-draining).
- Timing: All plants eventually grow out of their pots and use up all the nutrients availability in the potting soil. Though they like to be root bound, you’ll want to upgrade your cactus to a new planter about every three years to support new growth.
- New plants: When propagated in air, water, or soil a plant eventually needs transplanted into a larger container.
I purchased this Thanksgiving cactus from a local supermarket this fall. The soil provided was very thick and did not drain well. I knew I needed to repot it with proper soil, or the plant’s health would suffer. I waited until the blooms had faded and the plant had rested for a few weeks.
When To Repot
The best months to transplant are February or March, when the cacti are dormant.
In mid winter the plant is no longer blooming and goes into dormancy. This cactus is resting after its blooming season and gathering its energy for new growth in the spring.
Mid-winter to early spring is the ideal time to transplant, and giving your little beauty fresh soil can benefit its health.
The soil in my Thanksgiving cacti, shown above, was thick and provided very little drainage. This is a recipe for disaster!
You may need the following supplies when transplanting your cacti:
- Regular potting soil for indoor plants
- Perlite to blend with soil
- Small chip orchid bark
- A terra-cotta, plastic or ceramic container with drainage holes in the bottom of the pot
- Small pruners
Natively found in tropical rainforests, all holiday cacti grow on decaying plant matter like tree branches and rock crevices. These natural areas have well-drained soil, and so must your plant!
What Kind Of Pots Do CC like?
Holiday plants can thrive in plastic, ceramic, or clay pots. The size is important (don’t go too big!) and the container must have adequate drainage holes.
Generally speaking, add about two inches of area on either side of your cactus when repotting.
Christmas Cactus Repotting Process Step By Step
Here is an easy step by step process for transplanting your holiday plants:
1. Pick Your Pot + Prepare Soil
The right pot will be just a size up from the one your plant is growing in. I typically measure (or eyeball) across the pot’s diameter and go two inches larger.
You will also want to ensure you give your plant fresh potting soil mix specific to holiday cactus. I can’t stress this enough- these plants have speedy drainage in their natural environment and must have a lightweight soil.
2. Gently Remove The Cacti From It’s Container
Now, you’ll need to remove your cacti from its current container. This can be pretty easy for small plants- lay the pot on its side and gently slide it out by pulling the container while supporting the base.
Do not tug or yank your plant, of course!
Removing larger, more established cacti poses a challenge. Depending on the size, you should enlist help. Have one person support the plant while the other works to remove the container. You may need to cut or break the container to remove the plant.
3. Inspect The Roots
It’s time to inspect the roots. A healthy plant will have roots free of slime and dark spots. Dark, slimy roots are a sign of root rot and disease.
Plants growing in thick soil are prone to rot, so carefully examine the roots. Cut off any roots that show signs of disease. Dark, slimy or smelly roots should be cut away and discarded.
Since the previous soil my Thanksgiving cacti was growing in was so heavy, I removed as much of it as possible, careful not to damage the roots. Luckily, I repotted my cacti in time and the roots were healthy.
4. Add Fresh Soil To The New Pot
Add your potting mix to the new container, leaving room for your plant. Eyeball the placement of your cacti and remove or add soil to get the level right.
5. Place Cacti Into Container
Gently shake apart the plant’s roots, then set the cactus on the fresh soil. You’ll want to ensure the top of the root ball is about an inch lower than the top of the pot so that you have room to water without displacing the soil.
Fill in around the edges of the cactus and gently pat down soil to remove any air pockets. Do not compact the soil.
6. Water Well
Finally, you’ll want to water your plant well once it is in its new home. Use a gentle stream of chemical-free water and work your way around the base of the plant. I like to water until I see some liquid draining out of the bottom of the pot.
Transplanting Christmas Cactus Cuttings
Transplanting a Christmas or Thanksgiving cactus cutting that has established roots is easy.
At this stage the roots are fresh and free of disease. When propagated in water, I wait for the roots to be about an inch long before transplanting.
I like using the same custom potting soil as mentioned above, but make sure you use small chip orchid bark.
(You can quickly propagate new plants from the leaves of the Christmas cactus as shown here).
You can buy small chips or break apart the orchid bark so that only small pieces are in the soil. Use a small container, as shown below, and root your cacti in, then gently water.
General Care Needs
In addition to great soil and the right-sized pot, you’ll need to give your holiday cactus proper care. Here are a few tips, and be sure to visit our complete care guides for more help.
- These tropical plants crave bright, indirect light. Do not let harsh rays of direct sunlight hit their leaves. Look for an area with a lot of bright ambient light.
- Water when the top two inches of soil are dry (see our complete watering guide here).
- A balanced liquid fertilizer in the growing season can encourage blooms.
Thank you so much for stopping by and reading! As a fellow plant lover, it delights me to see people taking good care of their holiday houseplants, including transplanting them when necessary.
Please leave any questions or comments below- I read and respond to each one and appreciate you being here!