Why is My Christmas Cactus Wilting?

Why is my Christmas cactus wilting

The reason for a wilting Christmas Cactus is because of underwatering, watering too lightly or the humidity is too low. Christmas cactus are native to rainforest and require more moisture then desert cacti to prevent wilting.

It should be noted that wilting is also a symptom of too much moisture around the roots which causes root rot and wilt as a sign of stress.

Keep reading to learn the best practices for preventing a wilting and how to revive a wilted Christmas cactus…

Under Watering Causes Wilting

Christmas cactus are native to tropical Brazilian rainforests where they thrive in humid conditions in partial shade with consistent rainfall.

This is in stark contrast to most cacti species which thrive in desert environments with little rainfall, often in direct sun, high temperatures and low humidity.

Therefore the associations word ‘cactus’ is often the reason why Christmas cactus is commonly underwatered in the home causing it to wilt when it really requires more moisture.

For that reason, to grow Christmas cactus in the home successfully and to prevent wilt or revive a wilted plant it is important to recreate some of the moisture conditions of its native environment with a more regular watering cycle then typical cactus species.

The solution

To revive a wilted Christmas cactus due to under watering you should increase how often you water the cactus so that the soil stays consistently moist (but not damp).

The surface of the soil should feel dry to the touch before watering to achieve the optimal moisture balance, meeting the requirements of the cactus without over watering.

Typically in most homes watering once per week with a really generous soak is most appropriate for Christmas cactus although this can depend on several variables such as humidity, air currents and indoor heat.

(To learn how to water Christmas cactus properly in different environments and for all the best practices to avoid drought and overwatering, read my article how to water Christmas cactus).

Keep the cactus out of the way of air con, or draughts whilst it is wilting to help it recover.

The correct watering frequency should be applied in conjunction with good well draining potting soil and a suitable humid micro-climate to help restore the cactus from its wilted appearance.

Typically the Christmas cactus should show signs of improvement from its wilted appearance after 4 weeks from a spell of underwatering.

Watering Too Lightly

Whilst watering frequency is important for avoid drought stress and subsequent wilting, it is also important to water with the right quantity.

Always water Christmas cactus with a generous soak so that water visibly trickles from the base after watering.

This ensures that the water has infiltrated the soil and reached the roots so they can uptake the moisture they require to keep the plant healthy.

Watering too lightly only moistens the top inch or so of the soil and does not drain down to the roots where the water is actually needed.

This causes drought stress similar to under watering and causing an overall wilting of the leaves and structure of the Christmas cactus.

Low Humidity Causes Wilting

As Christmas cactus is adapted to growing in rainforest conditions, it prefers some additional humidity when growing indoors.

The lower humidity, the more moisture is sapped from the leaves and the quicker the soil dries out which causes the Christmas cactus to wilt due to drought stress.

There are several factors that can exacerbate low humidity indoors such as:

  • Air currents from air con or forced air.
  • Sources of heat such as radiators.
  • Draught prone areas of the house, perhaps due to open windows.

Whilst you may be watering the Christmas cactus responsibly, too much air flow can sap moisture from the plant quicker then the roots can draw it up creating a moisture deficit and causing it to wilt.

The solution

Mist your Christmas cactus regularly to create a humid micro-climate. The resulting moist atmosphere helps to replicate the humid conditions of Brazil’s rainforest to which the cactus is accustomed.

The lower the natural humidity of your climate, the more frequently you should mist the plant.

In dry arid climates, mist you cactus as often as 3 or 4 times per during Summer, scaling back to once or twice a week in Winter.

It is also essential that you locate Christmas cactus in an room with a relatively still atmosphere rather then in the direct path of air flow to prevent it from drying out and wilting.

Christmas cactus can adapt well to growing in more humid rooms such as bathrooms or kitchen that can be problematic for some plants.

(Low humidity can also cause Christmas cactus to drop buds, read my article to learn more).

Too Much Sun Causes Leaves to turn Red and Wilting

Christmas cactus is an epiphytic plant that commonly grows on trees and is often under the shade of a tree canopy rather then in full sun.

In your home the cactus should be in bright indirect sunlight and not full sun.

Full sun is too intense and often too hot for Christmas cactus plants which causes it to turn red (to cope with sunburn) and dries out the plant and soil too quickly causing it to wilt.

Place your Christmas Cactus in an area of bright indirect light to avoid excessive drying, drought stress and to promote blooms.

Too Much Moisture Around the Roots

Damp soil is another potential cause of your Christmas Cactus wilting due to water stress and potentially root rot.

Whilst Christmas cactus do prefer more moisture then most cacti, too much moisture around the roots causes Christmas cactus to wilt as a sign of stress and also prevents flowering.

(There are several reasons for why your Christmas cactus may not be blooming so read my article for the solutions.

Too much moisture around the roots can be because of:

  • Overwatering (typically watering once per week is sufficient).
  • Slow Draining soils (Christmas cactus requires well draining porous soils for the optimal balance of moisture).
  • Pots without drainage holes in the base (pots with drainage holes prevent excess water escaping).
  • The use of saucers and trays underneath pots (causing water to pool around the roots).
  • Decorative outer pots without drainage holes (traps excess water after watering causing root rot).
Decorative pots prevents excess water from draining.
Decorative outer pots causes water to pool around the roots.

The solution

Check to see if the soil feels damp or saturated rather then evenly moist at the surface and underneath the pot through the drainage hole.

  • Scale back the watering to about once per week. Water once per week with a good soak is a far better method of watering for the development of healthy roots, rather then watering little and often.
  • Ensure that the cactus is planted in well draining soil. For Christmas Cacti 1 part horticultural sand or grit to 3 parts potting soil creates a porous soil with good drainage yet retain enough moisture to meet the requirements of the plant.
  • Transfer the cactus to a pot with drainage holes. This allows excess water to escape rather then pool around the roots and cause root rot. Check to see if any compacted soil or roots could be slowing down drainage.
  • Ensure that all saucers and trays and decorative pots are emptied regularly of excess water. Christmas cactus should not be in standing water or it wilts.

Once you have implement a more appropriate watering regime and created conditions that allow the soil to drain freely, the Christmas cactus has a chance to recover.

However if the roots have been in saturated soil for a long time then they can be difficult to revive.

Too Much Fertilizer

Another consideration is that applying too much fertilizer or in too high concentration the cactus can prevent flowering and cause the growth to droop as a result of excess Nitrogen.

Scale back the use of fertilizer to once a month with a well balanced liquid houseplant fertilizer to support flowering yet prevent wilting.

(Read my article, how to revive a dying Christmas cactus).

Key Takeaways:

  • Wilting Christmas cactus is due to a lack of water caused by not watering often enough, watering too lightly or low humidity. Christmas cactus are rainforest plants and require higher levels of moisture then most cacti to prevent wilting.
  • Christmas cactus requires higher levels of humidity to prevent wilting. Mist the cactus regularly to create a humid micro-climate to replicate the humidity of their rainforest environment.
  • Christmas cactus grow in the shade of the canopy so too much sun can cause them to dry out quickly and wilt.
  • Too much moisture around the roots caused by overwatering, slow draining soils and pots without drainage holes can prevent excess water escaping causing the cactus to wilt as a sign of stress. Ensure Christmas cactus is planted in well draining soil.

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