This guide to overwatered Christmas cactus care will help you rescue your plant from soggy soil and rotting roots!
Christmas cacti are festive holiday plants that bloom in vibrant flowers right around Christmas time. These gorgeous cacti are fairly easy to care for, but it can be easy to give them too much hydration!
When combined with poor soil, overwatering these holiday plants can cause problems like bacterial overgrowth, fungal disease, and eventual plant death.
Problems With Overwatering
The most common problems associated with an overwatered holiday plant are flower buds dropping off (heartbreaking for any plant owner!), drooping + mushy leaves, and rot on the stem of the plant.
Too much water can eventually kill the plant!
When treating an overwatered cacti, you must investigate the plant’s soil, the local humidity and temperature, and how often the plant is being watered. The growing environment and soil affect how fast excess water drains.
In ideal conditions, these holiday plants will have proper drainage, bright indirect light, and drainage holes in the bottom of the pot.
Combined with a proper watering schedule these growing conditions help prevent problems associated with excess water.
But, what can you do if your plant has received too much water and has soggy roots or is dropping it’s flowers? We’re here to help you investigate your plant’s over-watered root system and see if your soggy cactus can be saved.
Thanksgiving cactus is similar in appearance and growth habit as Christmas cactus, though they are a separate plant from the same Schlumbergera genus. (Read about their differences here!).
Overwatering can occur with both types of holiday cactus, and you can apply the tips in this post to both varieties!
Hi there! If we haven’t met, my name is Jamie. I have a background in environmental tech and a life long love affair with plants! I’ve been an avid house plant owner for over a decade and I’m excited to help you troubleshoot your Christmas cactus today.
Native Growing Conditions + Soil Drainage
To understand how to care for an over-watered Christmas cactus, let’s first take a quick look at the plant’s native growing conditions.
Christmas cacti are a popular houseplant that bloom in vibrant colors during the holiday season.
In their native environment these succulents grow in the humid jungles of Brazil, thriving in indirect sunlight and moderate temperatures. As epiphytes they grow on the detritus of tree branches and in rock nooks filled with debris.
The growing medium in their natural environment is very loose and well draining, and the plant is able to quickly gather moisture and nutrients from rain showers. Excess water quickly drains from the plant in this loose soil.
There would be very little to no moisture build up on the roots in the plant’s native environment.
These growing conditions need to be replicated to create perfect growing conditions for your indoor plants. (You can get our Christmas cactus soil recipe here.)
Having the right potting mix that drains very thoroughly and a watering schedule that allows gives time for water to drain is very important to the well being of your Christmas cactus. Hard, compacted soil will cause problems for your plant.
Tip: The easiest way to prevent over watering is to get started on a proper watering schedule and make sure your plant has well draining soil. Get the best care tips for your new plant here.
What Happens If You Water A Christmas Cactus Too Much?
If a holiday cacti receives too much water, the soil will grow overly moist and soggy. When combined with high humidity this soggy soil encourages fungal disease and pests.
Rot will also set in, decaying the plant’s roots. All of these conditions can lead to an unsightly plant with limp leaves and it can deter the blooms from forming and flowering.
Signs Of Overwatering
An overwatered holiday cactus will show several signs of distress. The
- Limp leaves (clades) that droop down and are not firm
- Yellowing leaves
- Mushy wilted, soft clades (leaves)
- Standing water in the plant soil that does not drain quickly
- Stem rot at the base of the plant near the root ball
- Dark black spots on the leaves
- Flower buds that drop off prior to blooming
- In extreme cases rot can occur leading to a foul smell
- Eventually, the plant may die
*Purple leaves can be caused by several problems: cold temperatures and poor soil are two examples.
Overwatered Christmas Cactus Care
If you have been overwatering your Christmas cactus, it’s best to take action to help your plant recover right away.
First, gently inspect the plant for signs of rot and fungus. Because of overly moist soil, you will first find rot on the roots of the plant.
Healthy roots will be white in appearance, while rotting roots will be brown and slimy.
If you suspect your plant has rotting roots, gently remove it from it’s container and inspect the roots, then cut away roots with any slime or rot. Cut away any clades that have any visible signs of rot.
Clean out the container with a light solution of bleach water to give your plant a clean pot to grow in. (You may choose to give your plant a new container altogether).
Next, you’ll want to completely replace the soil that the Christmas cactus was growing in, making sure to give the plant a soil medium that is nutrient dense but well draining.
We have an excellent Christmas cactus soil recipe here featuring the right ratios of orchid bark, perlite and potting soil ensure that the plant has plenty of drainage and the right pH.
Essential: Make sure the container that the plant is being potted in has drainage holes in the bottom of the container. If not, be sure to add some holes to your container before potting your cacti.
Underwatered Vs. Overwatered Cactus
How do you know if your cactus is in need of more water or less water?
Both conditions lead to limp, lifeless leaves, but overwatering tends to make the leaves mushier and softer, while underwating results in leaves that are shriveled.
How To Water Christmas Cactus To Keep Them Healthy
Holiday cactus need to be watered thoroughly until moisture drains out of the bottom of the container, then these succulents should be left alone until the soil dries out.
The best practice is to test the top two inches of soil for moisture before watering.
(Keep in mind that sometimes plants come in two containers- a functional inner container and a more decorative outer container. Remove your plant from the decorative container before watering.)
Here are step by step instructions for watering your plant:
- First, use a soil moisture meter or your fingers to test the top two inches for dry soil
- Remove any decorative outer container from your plant to ensure good drainage
- When the soil is dry, use a chemical free source of water (such as rain water) to water
- Use a houseplant watering can with a long spout to evenly water around your plant
- Water deeply until water seeps out of the bottom of the pot
- Let your cactus completely drain before setting it into another pot or container
Combined with the proper potting soil and good drainage in the bottom of your container, this watering technique will allow your plant to thrive!
How Often To Water
Generally speaking, a Christmas cactus needs to be watered every one to two weeks. Watering needs vary however in different environments and you must pay attention to your specific plant.
Watering frequency depends on the humidity and temperature levels in your home. Soil variations can also affect how often you need to water your plant.
During the growing season and in the warmth of summer, your plant may need more water. Cooler temperatures in the colder months may slow down water evaporation. All of these conditions vary greatly depending on where you live.
The type of container affects the watering schedule, as well. A terracotta pot will allow moisture to evaporate out of the container, while a plastic container will keep more moisture in.
The best way to approach watering is to pay attention to your plant and it’s soil, watering when the top few inches of soil is dry. This will ensure your plant is getting enough water based off of the micro climate it is living in!
Yes, a holiday cactus can recover from over watering if it is caught before heavy root rot sets in. First inspect the roots of the plant for rot, then re plant the cacti in the right soil. Make sure the pot has excellent drainage and water deeply (but gently) when the top inch of soil is dry.
Make sure the plant is receiving proper care: great soil, good drainage in the bottom of the pot, bright indirect light and moderately high humidity are essential.
With their vibrant flower blooms Christmas cactus are such a joy to grow! But like any plant, overwatering can cause major problems such as fungal disease and root rot.
If you’ve been overwatering your cacti, there’s a good chance that you can save your plant if you remove any rot, establish a good watering schedule and give the plant the right kind of soil with drainage in the bottom of the pot.
In severe cases a plant may die, but we genuinely hope you catch the problem before severe rot occurs!
As always, please feel free to comment below if we can help you with your Christmas cactus watering routine. I personally read every comment and am happy to help!