It can be tricky to identify a sunburnt Christmas cactus as this condition shares a lot of symptoms with other problems such as overwatering and even underwatering.
Dealing with a sunburnt Christmas cactus is super easy in most cases, however. All you need to do is remove the affected leaves and move the plant to an area with less direct sunlight.
If you want to learn how to identify and treat a sunburnt Christmas cactus then you’ve come to the right place.
How To Tell If Your Christmas Cactus Is Sunburnt
Before I get into the specifics, I’m going to refer to the cladodes of the plant as leaves in this article to keep things simple – yep, Christmas cacti technically don’t have leaves at all, but that’s a topic for another day.
When a Christmas cactus is sunburnt the leaves will start to turn yellow or white in the areas where the most sunlight is received. Over time, the edges of these leaves may turn brown and crispy just as they would if the plant was underwatered.
Difference Between Overwatered/Underwatered And Sunburnt
There’s a pretty easy trick to figure out whether your Christmas cactus is sunburnt or suffering from overwatering/underwatering.
All you need to do is check the leaves near the base of the plant that benefits from the shade of the leaves above. If these leaves are healthy while the leaves above show symptoms of being sunburnt then you can be pretty confident that your plant has been affected by sunburn rather than overwatering/underwatering problems.
Other Issues That Can Look Like Sunburn
There are several other issues that can look like sunburn such as over-fertilized soil or diseases like root rot.
As before, just check all of the leaves to see if they’re affected. If it’s only the leaves that receive a lot of sunlight then it’s more than likely sunburn.
How To Treat A Sunburnt Christmas Cactus
The first step to dealing with a sunburnt Christmas cactus is to confirm that it has actually been sunburnt by using the method above.
Once you’re sure that it’s sunburnt, take a pair of plant trimmers and remove the affected leaves. Once a leaf has been sunburnt it won’t be able to recover, so it’s best to remove the leaves right away.
Once the leaves are removed you’ll need to move your plant to a different location with less direct sunlight.
How Much Sunlight Does A Christmas Cactus Need?
Throughout the majority of the year, a Christmas cactus thrives with about 8 hours of bright, indirect sunlight per day.
This ensures that the plant will grow properly without suffering from sunburn from direct sunlight.
Sunlight Requirements During Bud Growth Season
Between September and November, you should provide at least 14 hours of darkness a day.
This period of reduced sunlight hours forces the buds to develop and will ensure that your Christmas cactus flowers during the festive season.
Why Do Christmas Cacti Prefer Indirect Light?
Christmas cacti are not true cacti in the sense of drought tolerance, and they are actually native to jungle areas in Brazil.
In their native environment, they enjoy growing beneath the jungle canopy where they are covered from intense, direct sunlight. This is the reason why they should be kept out of direct sunlight, as they are not adapted to survive in these conditions.
Can Christmas Cacti Recover From Sunburn?
I would say in most cases your Christmas cactus will be able to recover fine from sunburn.
This is because the leaves that get damaged the most provide cover for those below, so if you remove them you’ll usually find that the leaves below are still healthy.
In severe cases, sunburn can cause a Christmas cactus to die. This only happens in a few cases where all the leaves are affected and can happen if your plant receives direct sunlight from different angles throughout the day over a long period of time.
You should be able to notice the signs of sunburn before your Christmas cactus gets to a point where it would die.
Are Christmas Cacti More Susceptible To Sunburn When Kept Outside?
Christmas cacti can be kept outside as long as the conditions allow for it, and it doesn’t really have much effect on how vulnerable they are to sunburn.
If they are placed in direct sunlight for extended periods of time – either outdoors or indoors – they can suffer from sunburn.