By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden
You’ve been caring for it all year and now that it’s time to expect winter blooms, you find the leathery leaves wilted and limp on your Christmas cactus. You may be wondering why is my Christmas cactus limp? Correct Christmas cactus problems, such as a limp Christmas cactus, with these simple tips.
Christmas Cactus Problems
Wilted or limp Christmas cactus is sometimes caused by a lack of water or too much direct sunlight. If you’ve neglected to water the limp Christmas cactus, begin by giving the plant a limited drink. Continue to water sparingly every few days until the soil is lightly moist.
Soil that is too wet causes Christmas cactus problems too. As an epiphyte in its native home on the tropical forest floor, the Christmas cactus absorbs water and nutrients from the air, and as such can’t handle soggy roots. Poor drainage and soggy roots can make Christmas cactus very limp.
If your wilted or limp Christmas cactus has leaves that appear to be parched or scorched, move it to an area with more shade, particularly in the afternoon.
Reviving a Limp Christmas Cactus
When the Christmas cactus is very limp and the soil is soggy, repot into fresh soil. Remove the limp Christmas cactus from the pot and gently remove as much soil as possible. Avoid future Christmas cactus problems by mixing your own soil for repotting. Use a good quality potting soil at two parts potting soil to one part sand or vermiculite, assuring sharp drainage.
Even if the soil is not soggy, repotting may be the solution to reviving a limp Christmas cactus. While the plant likes to be tight in the pot, moving it to a slightly larger container with fresh soil every few years helps avoid Christmas cactus problems.
Results of Christmas Cactus Problems
If you’re able to revive the plant, you may get winter blooms. The stress the plant has experienced may cause this year’s blooms to drop prematurely. When all your blooms drop at once, expect an outstanding show next year from what was once your limp Christmas cactus.
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Read more about Christmas Cactus
Why Christmas cactus wilting happens?
Like all succulents, the Christmas cactus accumulates water in its structure. This genus of plants, in particular, accumulates water in its stems, so when we talk about the leaves of the Christmas cactus being wrinkled, we are referring to its stems that look like this.
The most common when this occurs, and we see that the stems seem to deflate and wrinkle, or simply become limp in the early stages of plant discomfort, because it has lost or consumed much of the accumulated water, which gives that poor health look.
This bad watering of the Christmas cactus can be both by excess and by default. When it comes to the cactus being dehydrated, the leaves shrink because the plant does not have enough water to store in its reserves and, when it is forced to consume it, its stems shrink. Don’t forget that, although the Christmas cactus is a cactus and is adapted to drought conditions, it still needs a certain amount of water.
It can also happen that the leaves become wrinkled due to too frequent or excessive watering. Most cacti and succulents have roots that cannot tolerate excess moisture. This causes its roots to rot and, at first glance, it may seem that the plant needs just the opposite: more water. Take a good look at the stems and whether the leaves’ tips seem to blacken or rot: this is the sign that you are over-watering your Christmas cactus. If the soil seems wet to the touch, you can be sure that this is the reason.
Too much sun
Not all cacti are prepared to withstand direct sunlight in a hot climate. For example, the sun in some hot countries, especially in the summer months, can cause wrinkled leaves on a Christmas cactus. An excess of high-intensity sunlight will cause the cactus to lose water despite its retention mechanisms. Its stems will shrivel and dry out if it becomes dehydrated, especially if the plant does not receive enough water.
Plants age like other living things. Christmas cacti also notice the passage of time, and their older stems and leaves will wrinkle over time even if the plant is in good health.
Therefore, if you know that your plant is many years old, do not be surprised to see some wrinkled or somewhat withered parts. On the other hand, if you see that it is a large part of the plant, pay attention to the rest of the possible causes of this problem, since, leaving aside age, the rest of the issues discussed here can also affect it.
Inadequate fertilizers or water
Finally, the use of inappropriate fertilizers or water with too many additives can also affect the stems or leaves of this plant. The salts of some fertilizers rich in these or those that the tap water itself contains in some places can be the cause.
What to do if my Christmas cactus has wrinkled leaves
We tell you what to do if your Christmas cactus has wrinkled leaves, depending on the cause:
If it is an excess of watering, simply let the substrate of your Christmas cactus dry completely before watering again. Simultaneously, if it is a lack of watering, you gradually increase the water you provide to the plant, always being careful not to overdo it or flood it.
In the case of heatstroke, move your Christmas cactus to a location that is bright but protected from direct sunlight, at least during the noon hours.
If your plant is of a certain age, remove its stems and leaves once they have completely dried and see if it gives new shoots: if it does, everything is fine.
Finally, in the case of fertilizers, do not use fertilizers rich in sodium and, if possible, use specific ones for cacti. Use rainwater or low-sodium water for watering, and if you don’t have access to it, let it sit for at least 24 hours before watering with it.
Christmas cactus care
These are the basic care of Christmas cactus or Easter cactus:
Irrigation: abundant during the growing season, scarce after flowering. Pot with drainage holes.
Light: needs a lot. It can be direct in mild climates.
Location: put in a cool place after flowering and reduce watering to let the plant rest in a semi-shade summer. Keep it protected from drafts.
Substrate: special for succulents, very loose, light and well-draining.
Fertilizer: specific for cacti and succulents.
Most cactus plants are native to frost-free climates, so if temperatures drop below freezing for even a few hours, freeze damage can occur. Usually this shows as blackening of the exposed parts of the plant. Within a few weeks, the black area dries out and the cactus branches may droop. If the cold temperatures occurred for a short period, then the damage is likely cosmetic and your cactus will grow out of it, but this may take several years. Adequate sunlight, warmth and water will help it along. Cacti need to avoid cold drafts. If grown outdoors, they will do better in a location that receives radiated heat at night, such as from a patio or a wall. If temperatures drop, garden-grown cactus plants are covered with a cotton sheet for additional warmth and container plants should be moved indoors.
Renee Miller began writing professionally in 2008, contributing to websites and the "Community Press" newspaper. She is co-founder of On Fiction Writing, a website for writers. Miller holds a diploma in social services from Clarke College in Belleville, Ontario.
Here are some of the other non-disease related problems that holiday cactuses may have. These problems are usually easily solved by some adjustments to the environment or care for your Christmas cactuses.
LIMP OR WILTING CHRISTMAS CACTUS
If your Christmas cactus is wilting or seems very limp, it could be one of three issues. You'll want to identify and address the problem quickly, as it could potentially turn into root or stem rot if left alone.
The soil could be too wet, or too dry, or it may be too rootbound. Feel the soil with your finger, to about an inch deep, and use the process of elimination to determine the problem.
Solution: If the soil is just damp, let it dry before watering again. If the soil is saturated, it's best to immediately remove it from the saturated soil and repot it into dryer soil to prevent root or stem rot.
If the soil is dry, water it and watch it for a few days.
If there is no improvement after watering, the cactus may be very root-bound. Holiday cacti do like to be root bound, but eventually, they get too constricted to stay healthy. If your plant perks up and then wilts again within a few days, or if it doesn't perk up from watering, try repotting it into a new pot with a drainage hole one size bigger with cactus soil.
CHRISTMAS CACTUS LEAVES TURNING RED OR PINK
If the leaves of your Christmas cactus are turning red or pink, it may be getting too much sun, or it may not be getting watered enough.
Solution: If your Christmas cactus is right next to a window that gets direct sun during the day, move it back. They can take a bit of sun, but they prefer indirect light. Check the soil as well, and if it's dry to one inch deep, water it more frequently. When the soil feels dry to the touch, water your Christmas cactus.
CHRISTMAS CACTUS WON'T BLOOM
If your Christmas cactus won't bloom, there could be a few different factors affecting it. Christmas cactus like to be a little bit rootbound, they like consistent temperatures, they want to be left alone, and they need long periods of darkness in the fall to initiate their blooming sequence. The older a Christmas cactus is, the more likely and profusely it is to bloom, so if you've just brought a small plant home, be patient!
Here are a few steps you can take to encourage your Christmas cactus to bloom in time for Christmas .
Cut back on watering in mid-October only water when the soil is dry to about 1 inch deep.
Keep the temperature reasonably cool, between 50-60ºF.
Keep it in indirect light during the day, and give it 12-14 hours of darkness at night for 6-8 weeks.
If you have windows in the room, close the blinds at night. If there is still lots of ambient light, even with blinds/curtains closed, you can gently cover the plant itself with dark cloth or bag. If you're going to use a blanket or sheet, place some sort of a frame around the plant, even putting it between two kitchen chairs so the cover doesn't cause any breakage.
Once you start to see flower buds forming, you can stop covering it at night.
When the buds start to open, return to watering when the surface of the soil feels dry
CHRISTMAS CACTUS DROPPING FLOWER BUDS
Suppose your Christmas cactus creates flower buds, but they all fall off before it blooms. In that case, it could be caused by sudden changes in light, humidity, temperature, overwatering, or being relocated.
If you recently brought your Christmas cactus home, moved to a new home, or moved it to a new room, you'll just have to be patient. They don't like sudden changes in environment and prefer to be left alone, so eventually, it will create new buds and flowers again.
If your cactus has been overwatered, it may drop its buds. If the soil is damp, leave it to dry before watering. If the soil is saturated, immediately repot it into barely moist cactus soil, so it doesn't get root rot. It may still drop its buds, but it should get new buds again eventually.
If the humidity has suddenly changed in your home (like if you just turned the furnace on recently), your Christmas cactus may have dropped its buds because it needs more humidity. Run a humidifier in the room, or place your Christmas cactus on a pebble tray.
CHRISTMAS CACTUS PESTS
Christmas cactuses may get infestations of common houseplant pests just like any other houseplant. If you see signs of an infestation, isolate your plant and treat the infestation with your preferred product.