If you’re like most people who purchased a Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera truncate) last year, your holiday season was made brighter by its profusion of colorful blooms.
Although you’re undoubtedly looking forward to a repeat performance this year, you may have concerns if your plant seems to be languishing, and you may be wondering if it will even live long enough to put on its characteristic floral display.
Christmas Cactus is a relatively hardy plant that doesn’t succumb to many pests and pathogens and only needs minimal care in order to thrive, but it’s susceptible to root rot. Left untreated, root rot can destroy a plant.
Fortunately, there are ways to revive your Christmas Cactus if you suspect that it has fallen victim to root rot.
Here’s what you need to know:
Signs of Root and Rot
The major indication that your Christmas Cactus has developed root rot is that the plant is drooping and wilting even though it’s been watered. Because root rot is caused by fungal organisms that live in the soil, a musty odor may be part of the picture as well. There are several types of fungi that can cause root rot in Christmas Cactus. The reason this type of plant is so vulnerable to root rot is that they evolved as epiphytes, which are plants that grow on the surfaces of other plants and get their water and nutrients from the surrounding air.
You May Be Watering Too Much
If your Christmas Cactus has come down with a case of root rot, the most likely cause is that the plant is getting too much water.
With Christmas Cactus, it’s always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to watering. As a general rule, the top one-third of the soil in the pot should be dry to the touch.
The Plant May Lack Proper Drainage
Mild cases of root rot may be effectively treated by holding off on the watering for a couple of weeks, but it’s important to figure out whether improper drainage is playing a role in the problem.
Even if you’re providing your Christmas Cactus with just the right amount of water, the roots can still become waterlogged if good drainage isn’t present.
The most common reason this happens is that the pot doesn’t have any drainage holes, so make sure to check to see if these are present. If so, the problem could be that the potting soil is too heavy and dense for this type of plant.
How to Save Your Christmas Cactus From Root Rot
When root rot is detected early enough, it is often possible to save the plant. The first thing you need to do is to very carefully remove your Christmas Cactus from its pot and lay it gently on a clean, dry towel on a flat surface.
You’ll be able to tell if your Christmas Cactus has root rot if slimy, dark brown or black decay is present. If this isn’t present, gently shake as much potting soil as possible from the roots and re-pot your Christmas Cactus in a lightweight potting soil specifically formulated for succulents.
If the slime is present, carefully trim away all affected parts of the roots using a disinfected cutting tool. Rinse the roots gently but thoroughly before re-potting your Christmas Cactus.
However, if more than one-third of the roots are affected, it may not be possible to save the plant. If all else fails, you can salvage what’s left of your Christmas Cactus by taking cuttings of whatever healthy tissue is left and propagating them into new plants.