Christmas Cactus - leaves get limp and fall off

ba1959nhNovember 2, 2006

I have trouble with my Christmas Cacti every winter.

I keep the plants outside all summer where they flourish. After bringing them in, they usually do well for a month or so, then I see leaves get limp and sometimes they appear to dry up and fall off. I water lightly ever couple weeks.

My house is very dry - I have a woodstove. I do not see any pests. It seems like I might be over or under watering.


I can get photos if that would help.



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rjj1(Norman OK Zone7)

Hi Bill

My guess is your treating it like cactus instead of a tropical plant. Don't be afraid to water it when it gets dry. Every two weeks sounds like a very long time for something you want to bloom shortly.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2006 at 6:07PM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

I tend to agree, the problem may be the "watering lightly", that doesn't really do much for these plants. They are jungle cacti (meaning tropical, they like humidity & moisture), not desert cacti.

It happens I grew up where these are native to (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). Often when it rains there, it POURS. Pls. know that in nature these grow up in the crotch of tree branches, catching whatever debris they fall into. So that translates into very fast draining, that's the key.

I'm in NYC, in an overheated, top floor apmt, also very dry. Generally I water these every week or so, a LONG drink when I do & they're just fine!

Hope this helps!

    Bookmark   November 2, 2006 at 11:59PM
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I certainly have been treating them like a cactus and with-holding the water.
I will try watering once a week.
Thanks for the great information.

1 more question....
Should I treat Orchid Cactus the same?

    Bookmark   November 3, 2006 at 9:30AM
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Bergit(nordic costal)

Since your house is very dry, mistspraying can be useful for your Christmas Cactus ! Mine love it !

    Bookmark   November 3, 2006 at 12:28PM
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Bill, try to let your cactus (and other plants as well) dry down to a point that you can stick your finger into the soil --down about an inch. If it feels damp...let it go another couple days. If it feels dry water...but water well to the drainage point.
Your plant must drain well.
Then let it dry down again.

Watering in spits and spats does nothing for the plant's roots. You think you are giving it water it can use...and that's all.
Ugh, ugh....its the roots that needs the water and only as much as they can use.
Overwatering causes how you describe your plant's limping.

C.C.'s are succulents; they store moisture in their leaves.
They can go for a time without water.
Mind you, you shouldn't let your cactus dry down too much...then water heavily to overcompensate.

Don't fertilize a blooming cactus....that just pushes bloom to expend faster and since the plant is not in a growing cycle, it cant use the fertilizer.
Feed only a growing plant.

Watering a plant according to your schedule is not doing the plant any good. You should water according to when the plant needs watering.
As the plant is not growing, it is requiring much less water....and since the sun's intensity is waning, it will need that much less water.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2006 at 6:29PM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

Hi Jeannie & Welcome,

I see you just signed on today. Pls. be careful, I'm trying not to confuse her here, am concerned you may be contradicting my advice just a bit.

Yes they're succulents, & cacti at that, but importantly they are JUNGLE cacti, so pls. perhaps let her start w/ a bit of a schedule just to get used to the fact that these are Jungle cacti, not desert cacti & parched (as in watered every couple of wks, as she stated at the beginning) is not what they're looking for.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2006 at 6:37PM
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I am confused now.
So the limp leaves indicate overwatering?
FYI: I am not fertilizing the plants.

I don't usually "schedule" my waterings for any of my plants. I guess the 2 week thing was more of an estimate to how long it usually took for me to decide the xmas cactus needed water.
These seem to be the only plants that I have problems with in winter. Perhaps the drainage is an issue, however these do fine outdoors all summer - where they get plenty of water from rain and hand watering.

what should the soil makeup be and is repotting at this time of year dangerous? I don't care so much about the flowering as much as keeping these plants alive and thriving.


    Bookmark   November 3, 2006 at 7:59PM
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Bergit(nordic costal)

Hello Bill !
In your first posting in this thread you wrote this :
"My house is very dry - I have a woodstove. I do not see any pests. It seems like I might be over or under watering."

And I thought it will be very difficult to say if someone is over- or under watering his plant without seeing the plant or knowing more about it's "environment".

ADVICE ON WATERING IS DIFFICULT because it's not only "how often", but also "how much", and "is the soil free-draining & surplus water removed" and of course there's "room temperature & dry or humid air & sun exposure".

Hmm ... I may be adding to your confusion here ...

But my point is ; I think you'll have to think what is the main difference between the plants environment outside in summer and the environment in your living room.

Is it dry air and high temperature ? In that case mistspray and water often ( but in "small quantities" ).
Or is it the amount of water it gets ? These plants are not supposed to be soaking wet and not stone dry !

As Pirate Girl says ; these plants are JUNGLE CACTI !
It was when I grasped what that implies, that I started to have sucess with these plants.

So your plants live a more "jungle-like life" in summer.
What can you do to make their life "more jungle-like" in your living room ?
I think only you yourself can answer this ! ;-)

About repotting : The ideal thing is of course to repot in spring when new growth starts , but if a plant is really doing bad , you can repot any time of year to save it !

    Bookmark   November 4, 2006 at 9:03AM
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GrowHappy(z7 MD)

Not to throw more yeast into the mix- BUT, when my CC leaves go limp or shrivel, it's because I haven't watered it enough. I'm notorious for letting them go dry for too long and they DO NOT like that. As PG has said, they are jungle cacti, not desert cacti. Here's how I grow mine:
In Spring/Summer- I keep them well watered and fertilized regularly(because they grow outside in the dead heat of summer! and dry very quickly). In Fall, I water only enough that they don't shrivel(uh, most of the time;). When they begin to show buds, I resume regular watering so the buds don't blast. Of course while they are in full fledged flower mode, I avoid letting them dry out. When they are all finished flowering, I go back to the Fall schedule(watering only enough that they don't shrivel) because now they want to rest(after all that grand flowering). Before you know it, Spring is here and it's time to start the cyle all over again.

As Bergit has said also, the "standard" can be different from one person to the next. It all depends on your conditions: 1.) soil make-up 2.) temperature AND humidity 3.) sun exposure.

I really do think you will be fine with your CC. Wishing you all the best-


    Bookmark   November 4, 2006 at 11:08AM
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thanks for all of the great info.

here is what I have surmised.....

I believe that with my cirmcumstance, the main difference between summer climate and winter climate is humidity.

The soil that I have it in is a mix of topsoil/potting mix and sand (which i added and typically have good luck with). It drains very well. I have kept an eye on things this week and after watering thouroughly 4 days ago, the soil is totally dry already.....I had it in a south facing window in my living room where the wood stove is. this room is super dry during autumn and winter.

First thing....
I will move it to a different room - like the upstairs bath which I believe is more humid - especially since daily showers occur there.

I am also thinking of changing to a heavier soil (less sand mixed in). this will be a last resort if the plant doesn't seem to improve in the bath.

I appreciate all of the advice.

- Bill

    Bookmark   November 4, 2006 at 12:34PM
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Bergit(nordic costal)

Just remember that LIGHT is also an important factor !

I hope you can give your plant a nice well-lit position in the bath.
- That is in the windowsill or otherwise close to the window.

And also ; when you drastically change the environment of a plant it is wise to watch closely how the plant reacts.

All the best wishes for your plant ! :-)


    Bookmark   November 4, 2006 at 4:06PM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

Hi Bill,

I would not put it in a heavier soil, that's likely to worsen rather than improve things (& might lead to rot, heavy soil can overwhelm these roots). If you're going to repot, or change the mix, I'd suggest you skip the sand completely, use something light, like an AV mix (equal parts peat, perlite & vermiculite) & add some extra perlite for drainage. I have access to pumice, so I use that too. Sand can really be a problem, personally I'd advise against it.

Limp, wilting leaves can be either under & overwatering, it's really hard to say which.

It doesn't necessarily need full humidity of a shower, or bathroom, a pebble tray can suffice.

Here's how I grow mine: Hangs in edge of west window, gets loads of bright indirect light, some direct sun too. Sits in a plastic pot on top of a saucer of pebbles, then in a decorative glazed ceramic pot.

Spring thru Fall I water once every 7-10 days when I think of it, I fertilize maybe once a month. I don't mist at all. Spring/Summer usually brings lots of leaf growth, new segments, etc, sometimes a purplish color to the segments if it's very sunny here. Actually, now that I think abt it, I water the same all year 'round, except one month AFTER bloom when I withhold water, to let it rest after blooming. I don't turn mine at all, so it grows lopsided, w/ blooms only on 1 side (the side in the window getting the most direct light).

I am experimenting w/ mine now, it usually blooms for New Years, so to try & bloom earlier, I have withheld water for a whole month, just to see if it will react earlier (it's lookin' pretty crappy). Also, in NYC, it just now became a bit chilly, so I'm going to water tomorrow for the first time in a while (the sun's out), I'll see what happens.

Last resort idea Bill, can it be the rootball is completely hardened & water can't actually penetrate it? I've had this happen where the water runs out quickly & it turned out the rootball was too hardened to absorb water (the plant had been a gift & I hadn't checked the mix or drainage). I had to soak the whole thing for days & then poke holes in the top of the mix & water in thru the holes to force the water into the rootball, then I had to cut the rootball a part ... a mess, the plant did not make it.

Could it be that the sand has compacted & made the whole thing too hard to drink? Maybe next time you water, use yr. fingers to see if you can actually move the soil around a bit, if it's loose or hard, that may help see what the problem is. Good luck w/ it.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2006 at 7:05PM
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NEVER repot unless one wishes the plant to be encouraged to grow. Since the Christmas Cactus is coming into a dormant stage, it would prove unwise to encourage the plant to grow ...when it is unable to.
The sun values are fast disappearing...C.C.'s respond to lower light values--that's why they bloom at this time of season.

I disagree with the shutting out of sand in any mix of soil.
Builder's sand....not beach or children's play sand...but builder's sand is a good part of any mix for C.C.'s...including vermiculite, perlite and peat moss.

Jungle cacti....desert cacti....
As I see any difference, the suggestion that Christmas Cactus live happily in the rain-forest only suggests they be given a higher humidity environment.

All plants that come in from the great outdoors can be expected to go through a change of environment.
How we meet those changes can mean the difference to the health of the plant.

A woodstove is a very dry heat...and for that reason alone, the plant should be given some way to give it moisture.
One of the easiest ways is to spritz it...mist the plant every day. A pebble tray can be rigged...the plant sits on pebbles that has the water not quite over the tops of them.
Each day, the water is replaced to keep it at such level.
A saucer of water can be placed near the plant.
A one used for a dog's waterbowl...can be placed near the plant.

Moving a plant to a less sunny room does nothing for the plant. At this time of season, it is hardly enough sun to give to plants when given a south or west exposure.
Giving a plant less than that is not doing well by the plant. I think it is much better to address the humidity problem where the plant is rather than changing its room.

Plants will often limp....wilt....when subjected to overwatering----which then is allowed to go extra dry to try to overcompensate, then given extra water again when it dries down. Plants can live through a few wilts....but sooner or later, if not corrected, will surely signal the

Bill, you mentioned the use of topsoil...that could be the reason why you are having the problems you have.
The sand....if it is the proper sand...builder's can buy it at building supply a coarse sand that allows plants to drain properly.
Peat moss gives the soil good consistency, holds moisture.
Vermiculite, like sand, allows for good drainage.
Potting soil is not expressly the best soil for Christmas Cactus. If you must change the soil, pay a visit to your local garden center and buy some "cactus" soil or "African Violet" soil.

If you re-pot, do go up one size only.
But I'd wait until the sun's values return in March before re-potting. This then will allow your plant to be encouraged to grow.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2006 at 8:43PM
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Is there anyone out there that can help me ? my christmas cactus leaves went limp and fallen off i only save few parts of my plant.I would to love re-plant the parts that i saved but i don't know how to re-plant.Does anyone have any information of how to re-plant a christmas cactus seedlings send an e-mail message at :
thanks for much..Please Help Me ?

    Bookmark   February 8, 2007 at 2:04PM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

Hi Geraldine,

You should pls. post this as a separate thread. I'm guessing you're new here, generally one posts for help & checks back to see the responses. It's on the poster to check back for responses. We don't usually privately EM people w/ the requested information.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2007 at 3:03PM
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Do I need to water my Christmas cactus more while it is flowering? The leaves look like they are wilting but the soil feels damp.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2007 at 11:49AM
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Mentha(9 CA)

Hi Bill,
I would follow the advise of GH and PG, Schlums need moisture, more so than other cactus. Their stems are so thin that any drought would cause complete set back. Keep the plant moist but not wet at all times.

A word of advise about misting, be sure you do not let any of the soil splash on the stems, this could cause fungus to set in. Watering should, for this reason, be done from the bottom, a pebble tray would help with the humidity as much as misting would and would be safer for your plant.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2007 at 2:44PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Thanks, Mentha, great tip!

    Bookmark   December 6, 2007 at 3:39PM
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