Knowing how to revive a Christmas cactus is actually quite simple, and it can come in handy if you decide to keep one of these popular houseplants.
If you notice symptoms that your Christmas cactus is dying, start with the soil to check if it’s overwatered and saturated with water. If the soil is fine, look for signs of pests or diseases.
If everything looks fine it’s likely a problem with either temperature, humidity or the amount of sunlight that it receives.
An Easy Method For Reviving Christmas Cacti
I’ve owned a Christmas cactus for more than 4 years now, so I’ve managed to learn the easiest way to revive it when it starts to show symptoms of distress.
This was particularly useful in the first couple of years when I was still trying to get the conditions right to allow the plant to thrive. In fact, during these years my Christmas cactus didn’t flower at all.
Anyway, that’s enough about my own experience. I’ve split this guide into three steps to make it as easy as possible to follow; these are identifying the problem, how to fix the problem and how to monitor the health of your plant afterwards.
Quick note – Christmas cactus leaves are actually cladodes, which are leafless photosynthetic units, but for the purpose of this article, I’ll refer to them as leaves as they have a similar function and appearance.
Step #1 – Identifying The Problem
The first step to reviving a Christmas cactus is to figure out what the problem actually is.
Start With The Soil
Overwatering is the most common issue with Christmas cacti, so check the soil to see if it has been overwatered.
The top few inches of soil should be moist, but not saturated with water. If there is water visible on the surface of the soil it has been overwatered. You can also gently lift the plant out of its container to see if the soil is saturated with water.
Underwatering can also be a problem, and you may notice that the soil is completely dry rather than overwatered. Again, the top couple of inches should be moist but not completely dry.
Check For Symptoms Of Pests Or Diseases
Some pests such as aphids can be seen by the naked eye, while others will leave behind small yellow spots or cause the overall growth of the plant to be stunted.
Common diseases such as root rot are easy to identify if you examine the roots. If you notice that a part of your Christmas cactus is becoming discolored or the overall growth rate has suddenly changed then it could be due to diseases or pests.
Are You Providing The Right Conditions?
If the soil is watered properly and there aren’t any signs of pests or diseases then it’s likely a problem with the growing conditions.
Check the conditions with the ideal ranges below:
- Temperature – Aim for a temperature between 60°F and 80°F (roughly 15°C to 27°C).
- Humidity – Relatively high humidity between 50% and 60% is ideal for Christmas cacti.
- Sunlight – Christmas cacti prefer lots of bright, indirect sunlight. Between 8 to 10 hours per day is optimal, and you can promote bud growth by ensuring that your plant gets at least 14 hours of darkness a day between September and November. Too much direct sunlight can scorch the leaves.
Step #2 – Treating The Problem
Once you know what the issue is it’s time to deal with it.
Dealing with an overwatered Christmas cactus is quite a difficult task, and I’ve written a full article about the topic here.
Minor overwatering is much easier to deal with than severe overwatering, but it’s important that you deal with it right away or you run the risk of diseases such as root rot.
Underwatered soil is not a major issue.
To deal with it, make sure your pot has drainage holes and remove it from the container. Place the plant in a sink or bathtub and rinse the soil with water so that it starts to pour out through the holes.
Once the soil has taken on some moisture leave the excess to drain out from the drainage holes for about an hour and place it back in its container.
Christma cacti can be infected with quite a few pests, and the most common of these are aphids and fungus gnats:
- Aphids – Aphids feed on sap and come in a wide variety of colors. They can be treated initially by spraying the plant with water to remove as many aphids as possible. You can then treat the plant with an insecticide.
- Fungus Gnats – Fungus gnats are fairly common for Christmas cacti and the treatment usually involves treating the soil (where the larvae infest) with a solution to kill them instantly.
Christmas cacti can be susceptible to diseases such as root rot and stem rot.
Root rot is usually easy to spot, as the roots will turn mushy and change color. This is dealt with by removing affected roots, treating the remaining roots with a fungicide and changing the soil.
Stem rot is noticeable at the soil line with a brown spot which eventually becomes tan and falls away. Again, a fungicide can be used to protect the base of the stem and affected tissue needs to be removed.
Tips For Getting The Conditions Right
Providing the right amount of sunlight is easy, just move the plant to an area that receives bright, indirect sunlight rather than direct sunlight.
Boosting humidity can be trickier, and I recommend using a hygrometer before you decide to increase humidity as you may be surprised at what level the humidity is currently at.
Once you’ve measured the humidity and know that it needs to be increased, consider using a pebble tray or placing the plant next to another humidity-loving plant such as the anthurium. You can also use a humidifier, but this is the more expensive option and I would only recommend this if you have several houseplants with high humidity needs.
Lastly, there’s temperature. This one is a bit trickier as it depends greatly on where you live. If you need to increase the temperature choose a room that gets warmer during the day, either through lots of sunlight or heating.
To lower the temperature just do the exact opposite.
Step #3 – Monitoring The Plant Afterwards
Once you’ve dealt with the issue at hand your Christmas cactus will start to perk up and look healthier within a matter of weeks.
During this stage, all you need to do is just monitor it closely. Keep watering carefully to keep the soil moist and consider using a liquid fertilizer to give it a heavy dose of nutrients to promote growth.
If you’ve followed the steps closely you will have successfully revived your Christmas cactus.