Christmas cactus, unlike other desert cacti, hails from the rainforests of Brazil. A flowering house plant favorite of many, the Christmas cactus displays flowers in shades of pink, red, purple, or peach.
Christmas cactus has a lifespan of more than 50 years and is a fairly easy plant to care for. Therefore, there is reason to be concerned when you have leaves falling off Christmas cactus. In fact, Christmas cactus dropping leaves (actually stems) and buds are common when growing conditions are less than ideal.
To prevent or fix the problem of leaves falling off Christmas cactus, you need to start by identifying the underlying cause. There are a few possible reasons why your otherwise healthy Christmas cactus is dropping leaves and falling apart.
Reasons for Christmas cactus leaves falling
1. Watering Issues
Both underwatering and overwatering can cause Christmas cactus leaves to drop, although the most common mistake made by Christmas cactus owners is overwatering. When it comes to caring for Christmas cactus, you need to avoid overwatering. Although Christmas cactus, being a tropical plant, requires more water than other desert cacti, too much water can cause the plant to rot – thereby causing leaf drops.
A less common but equally deadly mistake Christmas cactus owners make is providing too little water. The right way to water Christmas cactus is to water it sparingly, never allowing the soil to become flooded. A good rule of thumb is to water about once a week, or when the top inch of the soil feels dry to the touch.
When watering, make sure that the water flows out through the drainage hole, then allow the pot to drain completely before placing it on the saucer. If at any point the saucer under the pot fills with water, empty it to prevent the roots from sitting in water and potentially rotting.
During fall and winter, water sparingly but do not allow the soil to become bone dry.
2. Soil Problems
If you notice your Christmas cactus dropping leaves, one possible reason is soil that is too dense or compacted. When the soil is dense, water is not properly drained out of the pot. This results in flooding and may cause Christmas cactus to develop edema, which is characterized by leaf drop and brown, dry spots on leaves.
Like succulents, Christmas cactus requires porous, well-drained soil. If the existing soil is compacted or doesn’t drain well, it’s probably wise to repot in a clean pot with fresh potting soil.
The recommended potting mix for Christmas cactus is 1 part potting soil, 2 parts peat moss, and 1 part coarse sand or perlite for good drainage. Make sure to use a pot that has drainage holes. Repot with fresh potting mix once every three years.
3. Wrong Heat Conditions
When you see leaves falling off Christmas cactus, it can be due to the temperature that is too high or too low. As a general rule of thumb, Christmas cactus thrives in temperature between 70 to 80°F (21 to 27°C) during spring and summer, and between 60 to 68°F (15 to 20°C) during fall and winter.
Avoid letting the Christmas cactus be in temperatures above 90°F (32°C). During the winter and when setting buds, Christmas cactus prefers temperature around 50 to 55°F (10 to 13°C). Christmas cactus is cold-hardy in the U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 to 12.
If you’ve just purchased your Christmas cactus or just moved it in from its summer spot outdoors, the sudden temperature change can cause the Christmas cactus to drop some of its leaves. Not much can be done about this. However, it is only temporary and will resolve itself when the plant adapts to the new environment. One other thing is to keep the plant away from drafty windows and heat sources such as fireplaces or vents.
4. Improper Lighting
Christmas cactus prefers light shade throughout its growing season and bright light in the winter. The plant performs best in bright, indirect sunlight and may be damaged in intense light, especially during the summer. A sharp change in light intensity can also cause Christmas cactus leaves and buds to drop.
Christmas cactus requires an extended period of long nights to flower well. To promote blooming during the holiday season, provide 14 hours of darkness every day for six weeks, starting in mid-September.
Still Have Leaves Falling Off Christmas Cactus?
If the problem of Christmas cactus dropping leaves still persists, not all is lost. One nice thing about the Christmas cactus is that these plants are very easy to propagate. As long as the fallen Christmas cactus leaves (actually stems) are healthy looking and the cactus is not suffering from root rot, simply plant them in a new container – it might just take root and grow into a new plant!