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Why Is My Christmas Cactus Dropping Leaves? Here’s Why!

If you are thinking, “Why is my Christmas cactus dropping leaves?” You landed on the right page. Today’s post includes all the possible reasons that can cause dropping leaves in the Christmas cactus plant.

Stay with me, as you will also be able to solve this issue as we dive further into the article.

Christmas cactus, scientifically Schlumbergera sp., is an epiphytic flowering ornamental succulent native to the rainforests of coastal regions of southeastern Brazil, South America.

“It is named Christmas cactus, or Thanksgiving cactus, because of its unique property of blooming in winter – near the time of thanksgiving. Although the genus comes from the Cactaceae family, it includes 6 to 9 species – different from other desert cacti.”

The vibrant flowers and gorgeous strands of crab-like appendages (leaves) in the form of modified branches (Cladodes) can effortlessly make this plant a center of attention.

Christmas cactus blooming again with pink flowers - Why is my Christmas cactus dropping leaves?
“My Christmas cactus is blooming again.” – Image via mxshr0xm.

But sometimes, these “leaves” can start dropping due to some common caring mistakes. So, why is my Christmas cactus dropping leaves, you say. Well… here’s why.

Why Is My Christmas Cactus Dropping Leaves? – The Most Common Reasons

The main reasons why your Christmas cactus is dropping leaves include:

  • Overwatering or underwatering.
  • Unhealthy potting mix that’s not well-draining.
  • Improper lighting conditions.
  • Extreme temperature ranges.
  • And over-fertilization.

Now that you know all the main reasons causing the issue. Let us now take a brief look at how we can fix dropping leaves in Christmas cactus so that our precious green buddy thrives back to life.

How To Fix Dropping Leaves in Christmas Cactus?

Here I mentioned the essential caring tips for your Christmas cactus to flourish at its maximum.

Overwatering & Underwatering

Overwatering is one of the most common blunders people make with succulents. The Christmas cactus is not originally a cactus, but it is still a succulent plant.

“And succulents love to be in semi-moist semi-dry medium.”

Overwatering your Christmas cactus can cause its leaves to wilt and drop. If you have your Christmas cactus rooted in a densely packed soil medium and, as an addition to this pain, you overwater your plant; it’s in serious trouble.

Combining the above conditions, your plant can get root rot.

Check this article out to know all about root rot and how you can treat it.

Putting overwatering aside, underwatering also causes the leaves in your Christmas cacti to start dropping. A sad and thirsty plant would never reflect fresh green foliage or vibrant flowers. The leaves would look relatively dry and limp due to underwatering.

How To Water Christmas Cactus Correctly?

“A general rule of thumb for watering succulents is only water when the top 1/3rd or 2/3rd of the soil gets dry.”

Now, how can you check the soil’s moisture? There are, in fact, two ways: You can use a moisture meter, or you can use a moisture probe. I personally recommend using a wooden probe because some moisture meters can show errors and are often inaccurate.

Another relatively easy way is to stick your finger into the soil and feel the moisture yourself.

“If the top few inches of the soil feel dry to touch, it’s the perfect time to give your Christmas cactus a sweet shot of hydration.”

It’s mostly just trial and error. You have to test your own plant’s water requirements as they vary for different plant parents. And with time, you’ll be able to make a perfect watering schedule for your Christmas cactus.

Heading towards the next one…

Unhealthy Potting Mix (Poorly-draining Soil)

An unhealthy and poorly-draining potting mix is the last thing you need for your Christmas cactus.

A soil that’s not well-draining and well-aerated causes the pot to become waterlogged. If you use such a sick and compact potting mixture, the roots of your Christmas cactus will remain sitting in a pool of water, causing them to become deprived of oxygen, and as a result, they die.

Most of the soil-dwelling bacteria and fungi thrive in soggy and wet conditions. That’s why a waterlogged and compact soil medium speeds up the process of root rot.

Dropped leaves of Christmas cactus propagated in a pot - Why is my Christmas cactus dropping leaves?
“Why is my Christmas cactus dropping leaves?” – Image via maineweaver.

Best Soil Mix for Christmas Cactus

You can use a commercial succulent potting mix, or you can make one yourself.

A good potting mix for succulents like Christmas cactus would require two main components.

“Using a good potting mix and a pot with lots of drainage holes will save your plants from overwatering and root rot.”

It would help if you went through this article to know how you can make a perfect potting mix for indoor succulents.

Improper Lighting Conditions

Most people mistake the Christmas cactus with “true” cacti and that they need 10-14 hours of daily sunlight.

On the one hand, direct and bright sunlight can damage the foliage causing it to drop. While on the other, insufficient light can also cause the dropping of leaves in the Christmas cactus plant.

Proper Lighting Conditions for Christmas Cactus

These epiphytic succulents actually grow under the shades of other plants and trees.

“Therefore, your Christmas cactus would thrive best in a partial shade. But don’t forget that it also needs bright indirect light for 4-6 hours a day.”

You can achieve these conditions by placing your plant a couple of feet away from the east or west-facing window. If you are keeping your Christmas cactus in front of a south-facing window, make sure to filter the midday harsh sun rays using sheer curtains.

During summer, when you have your plant outside, use a sunshade to protect the foliage from direct sun rays.

Moreover, during the flowering season, the Christmas cactus requires at least 14 hours of the nighttime (with no light) to bloom properly.

Extreme Temperature Ranges

As we know, the Christmas cactus is native to the southeast coast of Brazil. So, if we look at the temperature stats,

Brazil (Minas-Gerais) temperature graph.
Brazil (Minas-Gerais) temperature graph – Image via Climate-data.org.

We can see that the plant’s native region’s average temperature range remains between 68°F to 86°F.

Therefore, exposing your plant to temperatures outside this range can cause temperature stress to the plant. And as a result, your Christmas cactus would start dropping leaves.

Moreover, the temperature stress can also be caused if you just shipped your plant from a greenhouse due to a sudden temperature change.

How to Fix

If the dropping of leaves is due to sudden temperature change or due to transportation stress, your plant will heal on its own. It takes a little time for the plant to adapt to a new environment.

However, make sure to properly diagnose all other issues as explained above if you reach this conclusion.

“Cool down or heat up your plant as needed if the stress is due to an unsuitable temperature range. It is best to keep your Christmas cactus somewhere around an average room temperature of 25°C or 77°F.”

Try your best to prevent your plant from getting exposed to temperatures above 85°F or 30°C or temperatures below 50°F or 10°C.

Over-fertilization

And lastly, over-fertilization…

Over-fertilization means using too much fertilizer or frequent fertilization. Both are detrimental to the plant’s health.

Using large amounts of fertilizer or frequent fertilization can cause a toxic buildup of excess nutrients in your plants. The toxic buildup decreases soil’s pH levels and renders the soil acidic. This damages the roots, and as a result, they cannot absorb water or nutrients.

The main symptom associated with overfertilization is called “leaf burn.” Other symptoms include wilting, dropping, and discoloration of the leaves.

How Can We Treat Over-fertilization?

There are basically two methods to fix overfertilization.

  • Repotting your plant in a fresh potting mix.
  • Leaching the soil.

You are already familiar with the first one: Carefully take your Christmas cactus out of the pot, cut off the damaged or dead rootlets, wash the remaining roots under tap water, and pot your plant in a fresh potting mix.

Now, what’s Leaching?

“Soil leaching is a term used to describe the loss of water-soluble nutrients from the soil due to heavy rainfall, floods, etc.”

We can cheat the same process to treat our overfertilized soil.

  • Take your plant to a place where you can drain a lot of water.
  • Now constantly pour loads of water into the pot for at least 5 minutes and wait for the water to drain out from the bottom holes.
  • In this way, all the harmful toxins seep down along the water out of the pot.
  • Then keep your plant away from fertilizers for at least 5 to 6 months.

Christmas cactus only requires monthly fertilization during non-blooming seasons. Always use the fertilizer in a liquid form diluted to half strength.


Final Words

One more thing that I would like to highlight here is that you should constantly monitor your plants from different disease-causing pests.

Another potential cause of dropping leaves in Christmas cactus is the sap-sucking pests. These nasty pests include aphids, mealy bugs, and spider mites. You can get rid of these using horticultural sprays – Neem oil is the commonly used one.

Let’s conclude the talk here…

I hope that you found today’s article helpful. If so, consider sharing this valuable info with your friends and family.

Feel free to let us know your overwhelming queries in the comments below.

Regards,

Mahad Hussain.