Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera x Buckleyi) is one of the three holiday cacti, so named because they all bloom around different holidays.
Its stem segments, which are often referred to as its leaves, are succulent and attractive, while the flowers themselves add a bit of extra holiday magic.
This December bloomer is generally easy to take care of and resistant to a wide range of diseases and pests.
However, no plant is totally immune to problems, and there are still several potential health issues your Christmas cactus might face.
Here’s a quick and dirty guide to these problems, what causes them, and how to fix or prevent them.
What Problems and Diseases Does Christmas Cactus Plants Face?
Pretty much all of the problems your Christmas cactus can run into can be broken down into three categories: care-related issues, diseases, and infestations.
Proper care is the front line of defense, with diseases often being caused by poor care or as a side effect of infestation.
Care Related Problems
Almost all care issues involve water, but some may be due to sun, soil, or fertilizing issues.
This tends to happen when there are sudden changes in your Christmas cactus’s environment, such as sudden temperature or lighting changes due to being moved to a new part of the home.
In this case, just be patient and allow the plant a little time to adapt to the new setting.
Bud drop may also be caused by overwatering or a drop in humidity.
As most HVAC units and traditional furnaces are turned on for the winter, they can dry out the air, so be sure to check the room’s humidity or augment your Christmas cactus with a pebble tray or humidifier if you notice any drops in humidity levels.
Failure to Bloom
This is one of the most complicated issues you’ll face with a Christmas cactus.
First off, make sure it’s actually a Christmas cactus you have, as many nurseries and online sellers have been known to sell you the wrong holiday cactus.
A Christmas cactus will have round, symmetrical teeth along the leaf margins, whereas Thanksgiving cactus has more irregular teeth and Easter cactus is toothless and notched.
This houseplant needs some specific environmental conditions to bloom which aren’t difficult to replicate.
Make sure the plant is kept between 50 and 60° degrees Fahrenheit and has at least 12 to 14 hours of darkness per day.
Cut back on food and water during this period as well.
These combined changes will tell the cactus that winter is here and it will begin to bloom after a few weeks.
Christmas Cactus Leaves Drooping or Wilting
This seemingly minor problem can actually lead to something very serious (root rot).
Check the soil to make sure it’s not too wet.
If it feels damp, allow the potting soil to dry out and start practicing the soak-and-dry technique.
However, if the potting mix is soggy, you’ll need to repot immediately in fresh, slightly damp soil and check for signs of root rot.
Conversely, if you stick your finger in and the soil feels TOO dry, the plant probably needs water.
The problem may also arise when the plant becomes too rootbound.
While this plant actually thrives when space is little tight, 6you should repot if you see roots poking from the drainage holes, as severe root binding can prevent the plant from getting a proper drink.
Purple or Red Leaves
Chlorophyll is what gives plants their green color, and in the case of Christmas cactus, the actual color of the plant is deep red to burgundy.
When the plant becomes dehydrated, this natural color can come out, and it’s a good sign that your plant is thirsty.
Note that exposing the plant to too much sunlight can dry out the soil faster, resulting in the plant becoming thirsty more often, so you may need to shift the plant so it has slightly more shelter.
Diseases can be very serious, and some are incurable, so be sure to isolate your Christmas cactus the moment you suspect one of these problems.
This silvery grey fungus will infect Christmas cacti if the humidity is too high.
It will target the buds and stems and can be deadly.
Remove the infected parts of the plant as soon as you spot this fungus, being sure to cut below the infection line and you may be able to save the cactus.
Make sure your cactus has proper humidity levels to help prevent this infection.
Impatiens Necrotic Spot Virus (INSV)
This nasty disease is transmitted by thrips, and Christmas cactus can sometimes be asymptomatic carriers.
Symptoms include spotting, leaf yellowing, or wilting.
If you see this plant or any plant nearby exhibiting symptoms, be sure to isolate them and transplant all infected specimens to fresh, sterile soil and new pots.
This is usually enough to save the plant, but a recurrence means you may have to destroy the plant.
Perhaps the most common and dreaded disease, root rot can be either fungal or bacterial in nature and destroy the roots, leading to discoloration and wilting of the leaves.
This disease is caused almost exclusively by overwatering, but may also occur if you use contaminated soil.
When you suspect root rot, remove the plant and examine its roots, cutting away any blackened or sickly ones with a sharp, sterile knife.
Be sure to resterilize between each cut and repot the plant in fresh, sterile soil mixes afterwards.
This deadly disease starts off looking like a mushy brown spot at the base of the plant.
It soon forms lesions and begins working its way up the plant.
Since it targets the base of the stem, there’s no way to save the plant itself, although you can still take healthy cuttings to propagate while this disease is in its early stages.
Christmas cacti can be infested by all the usual suspects: aphids, fungus gnats, mealybugs, scale, spider mites, and thrips.
Many of these will appear due to improper watering or humidity issues.
You can prevent the risk of infestations by giving your cactus a regular neem soil soak, and neem foliar sprays can help combat an existing infestation.
While most of these pests aren’t deadly to your plant, they can be vectors for disease.
Thrips are especially dangerous, as they can transmit INSV.