Looking for a complete overwatered Christmas cactus care guide? You’ve come to the right place.
Taking care of an overwatered Christmas cactus plant involves confirming that the plant is overwatered and not suffering from a different issue such as too much fertilizer. Afterwards, the soil needs to be dried out and repotted in some cases, depending on how severe the overwatering problem is.
In this guide, I’ll walk you through how to identify overwatering, how to treat it and how to prevent it in the future so you can keep your Christmas cactus happy and healthy for many years to come.
A Quick Note
Christmas cacti are one of three holiday Cacti – the other two being Thanksgiving cacti (often confused for the Christmas cactus) and Easter Cacti.
All of these plants are cared for in the same way when it comes to overwatering, so you can apply all of the advice in this guide to each type. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll keep using the name Christmas cactus from here on.
Why Overwatering Is an Issue For Christmas Cacti
Christmas cacti are epiphytes, which means that they naturally grow on other plants.
This is important because it means that the roots are designed to absorb moisture from both the air and damp organic matter. If the roots become overwatered they will be unable to process the necessary nutrients for the rest of the plant to thrive.
This is also why choosing the right soil is important, but more on this later.
How To Diagnose An Overwatered Christmas Cactus
(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.)
Overwatered Christmas cacti share a lot of the same symptoms as other issues that might be affecting the plant. For example, yellowing leaves are one of the most common signs of overwatering but can also be caused by sun scorch or adding too much fertilizer.
It’s important to make sure that overwatering is the problem at hand before you treat the plant specifically for overwatering. Use the steps below to confirm that overwatering is the issue.
Check The Soil
Checking the soil is the best way to tell if your Christmas cactus is overwatered.
Use your fingers or a tool to gently check the top few inches of soil, if they are saturated with water then the plant has been overwatered. If you can see water on the surface of the soil then it has been heavily overwatered.
Look For Typical Overwatering Symptoms
Overwatered Christmas cacti will show a few key symptoms that are easy to identify.
- Wilting Leaves – Overwatering affects the amount of water that the roots are able to process from the soil. This causes the leaves to wilt.
- Yellowing Leaves – Yellowing leaves are another key symptom of overwatering, and are a result of the leaves not getting enough nutrients from the soil.
Remove From Container
If you’re still not certain that your plant has been overwatered, gently remove it from its container.
Firstly, check the soil to see if it is dripping water. Check the drainage pot as well, if overwatered there will be a build-up of water in the bottom from excess water that has drained out of the drainage holes.
Overwatered Christmas Cactus Care Guide – 2 Cases
Once you’ve made sure that the plant has been overwatered, it’s time to fix the problem.
I’ve laid out two different methods below; one for severe cases of overwatering and one for minor cases. Minor overwatering issues are those where the soil is quite saturated with water, but there isn’t an excess of moisture on the surface of the soil or a large amount collected in the bottom of the drainage holes.
1. Minor Overwatering
When a Christmas cactus has been overwatered slightly, it’s very easy to reverse. The first thing to do is to stop watering the plant entirely, as there is no need to add any more water for obvious reasons.
Move the plant to a more shaded area. This may sound counterintuitive, but overwatered plants struggle to process water to the leaves from the roots which means the upper leaves can dry out quickly if left in the sun.
In most scenarios, this is all you need to do. As long as you have sufficient drainage and the right type of soil your Christmas cactus should be able to process the excess water in a week or so. It’s important to keep checking the plant during this period – if the symptoms of overwatering are getting worse then move on to method 2 to treat severe overwatering.
2. Severe Overwatering
In cases of severe overwatering, you’ll need to remove the plant from its container.
Removing The Plant
To do this I recommend wearing a pair of gloves and gently lifting from the base of the plant to remove it.
This will create quite a mess, so you might want to do this outside or put some sheets on the floor if you’re planning to do this inside.
Inspect The Soil And Roots/Deal With Root Rot
Once the plant is released from the container use your hands to gently remove any soil that is saturated with water and falls off with ease. Overwatered Christmas cacti are at risk of root rot when overwatered, so at this stage, you should inspect the roots and use a pair of sterilized trimmers to remove any roots that look soft and mushy or different.
If it looks like root rot has affected a lot of the roots gently rinse the root ball with water so you can remove more soil and inspect the rest.
Leave To Dry Overnight
Once all the roots have been trimmed, leave the plant overnight somewhere where the water can drain.
For this, you can use a sink or a container with absorbent material lining the bottom, either will do. At this point, you can also treat the remaining roots with fungicide.
After leaving the plant overnight repot it in a different container with a few inches on either side to allow for new root growth. Make sure the potting soil is dry and suitable for Christmas cacti – I recommend using a succulent soil mix.
After repotting water the plant very lightly and continue to monitor its progress over the next few weeks. If the plant has suffered from severe root rot it might have been too late to bring it back to life, but in moderate cases, you should be able to restore it back to its usual health.
Preventing Overwatering In The Future
Overwatering can cause a lot of serious problems for a Christmas cactus, and I always recommend underwatering if you’re ever unsure about how much water your plant needs. Underwatering is not ideal, but it leads to less severe issues than those from overwatering such as root rot.
Preventing overwatering is pretty simple, here are a few tips that I use to keep my Christmas cactus happy with the right amount of water.
Always Check The Soil Before Watering
Before watering Christmas cacti you should always check the top few inches of soil and only water if it’s dry.
If you’re ever uncertain I would always water less than you think, rather than more.
Water Less In The Colder Months
During colder months pretty much every houseplant needs to be watered less, and Christmas cacti are no exception. Growth stagnates during colder months and plants generally require less water during this time.
This is especially important for Christmas cacti that require periods with less sunlight during the season between September and November.
Personally, I water about twice as less as I would in summer during the colder months.
Use The Right Type Of Soil
Light soils used for succulents tend to work well with Christmas cacti as they promote drainage while holding a good amount of moisture.
They also provide the necessary airflow within the soil that allows the epiphytal root system to thrive.
Make Sure Drainage Is In Place
Drainage holes are a must to allow for excess water to drain out from the soil.
This complements a well-draining soil and will make it difficult for you to overwater your Christmas cactus.