Native to the coastal mountains of Brazil, Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera truncate) is widely cultivated as a houseplant. As its name implies, Christmas Cactus blooms during the holiday season and is sometimes referred to as Thanksgiving Cactus.
Its tubular flowers range from white, pink, red, and purple, and the plant typically has a long bloom season that that provides welcome life and color to the gray days of winter.
The Christmas Cactus often joins Poinsettias in playing a starring role in adding visual holiday cheer to indoor environments, which is why it’s a disappointment when they fail to thrive. However, there’s no need to toss your Christmas Cactus in the trash if it wilts — you may be able to bring it back to life.
Here’s what you need to know:
The Soil May Be Too Wet
If your Christmas Cactus is planted in potting soil that tends to hold water a little too well, it’s possible that its roots have become waterlogged — and this can cause the plant to languish and eventually wilt.
Like many plants native to the humid floor of tropical rainforests, the Christmas Cactus absorbs its necessary nutrients and water from the air, and overly wet roots can overwhelm them. Too much water can also call flower buds to fail and drop off the plant.
If you suspect that the roots are waterlogged, the best plan of action is to very carefully remove the plant from its pot while being careful to disturb the root system as little as possible. You can either re-pot it in the same pot or use one that’s slightly larger.
Use a well-drained potting soil specifically formulated for succulents to ensure that roots won’t become waterlogged in the future, or use a mixture of two parts good quality potting soil and one part sand or vermiculite.
If you decide to re-pot your Christmas Cactus in a new pot, keep in mind that this plant tends to prefer close quarters, so choose a pot that’s only slightly larger than the one you’ve been using.
The Soil May Be Too Dry
Soil that is too dry can also have a negative impact on the health of Christmas Cactus plants. However, it’s never a good idea to add too much water at once if you suspect that under-watering is the culprit that’s causing your Christmas Cactus plant to languish.
Adding a small amount of water at a time will help ensure that the roots of the plant don’t become waterlogged.
Ideally, the soil should be fairly dry to the touch on the top and slightly moist starting at about an inch under the surface.
The Plant May Be Getting Too Much Sun
As a tropical rain forest plant, the Christmas Cactus evolved in forest-floor conditions where a dense overstory canopy limited intense direct sunlight.
If your wilted Christmas Cactus also has foliage that appears scorched, it could be that you’ve situated it too close to the window.
If your Christmas Cactus is positioned close to a window where it gets a lot of direct sunlight, try moving it back from the window.
If it’s a southern or western exposure, consider moving your Christmas Cactus to an area of your home with an eastern or northern exposure.
Christmas Cactus also performs better in cool nighttime temperatures, particularly during the weeks leading up to its bloom season, and flower production is enhanced by at least 13 hours of uninterrupted darkness.
After your Christmas Cactus has produced blooms, pinch the stems back and wait until new growth appears to resume watering and fertilizing.