Root Rot of the Christmas Cactus: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Root rot in Christmas cacti doesn’t have to be the end of a favorite festive plant! In this post, I’ll go through Christmas cactus stem rot, root rot, indicators of root rot in a Christmas cactus, and how to treat a Christmas cactus.

Root rot on a Christmas cactus.

The Christmas cactus (Schlumberger) is a colorful houseplant that blooms around the holidays. The Easter cactus and the Thanksgiving cactus are both related species. Because of their beautiful pink and red flowers, they are a highly popular plant all around the world.

A Christmas cactus is a tropical cactus that is also an Epiphyte that is native to Brazil. This implies that the plant will grow on the trunks of bigger trees in its native habitat and will get most of its moisture from the air.

The Christmas cactus, like other cactus varieties, requires little care and is tolerant to neglect. This does not, however, rule out the possibility of root rot. This fungal disease is caused by a variety of factors, which I will cover further below, but first, let’s define Christmas cactus root rot.

What is Christmas cactus root rot, and what causes it?

What it says on the tin is exactly what it is. Root rot, often known as Christmas cactus root rot or just root rot, is a fungal disease in which a plant’s roots rot and perish. It’s a rather prevalent condition among gardeners, and there are a variety of explanations.

Propagation is the greatest approach to treating a Christmas cactus with root or stem rot, but we’ll get to that in a minute!

What causes root rot in Christmas cacti?

Christmas cactus root rot causes

So, what causes root rot in Christmas cacti? Overwatering, using the improper type of soil, and pests are the three primary causes of root rot in Christmas cactus.


Overwatering is the most prevalent cause of Christmas cactus root rot. Because the Christmas cactus is a succulent, it can survive without water. It does, however, require a little more attention than desert cactus.

There is no need to follow a strict schedule while watering a Christmas cactus. Watering schedules can be problematic since they might lead to your plant being watered when it isn’t necessary.

Watering a Christmas cactus is dependent on a number of factors, including the time of year, temperature, and location. Wait until the top inch of soil is fully dry before rewatering, as a general rule of thumb. Remember that an underwatered Christmas cactus is simpler to save than an overwatered Christmas cactus!

Once you’ve determined that your Christmas cactus is thirsty, soak it well until the water drains out of the drainage holes. Remove any extra water as soon as possible.

People who don’t throw away the extra water that flows out of the drainage holes, instead allowing the plant to stay in the water, are a typical source of Christmas cactus root rot. This will promote the growth of rotten roots.

A Christmas cactus also thrives in humid conditions, which may be achieved by placing a tray of water next to the plant.

The soil is incorrect

Christmas cactus is a succulent plant that requires well-draining soil. You’ll end up with an overwatered Christmas cactus if your soil absorbs too much water, which, as we’ve already established, is the major cause of Christmas cactus root rot!

So, which soil is ideal for Christmas cactus? For my Christmas cactus, I buy a few different types of soil. These all meet a set of criteria, including a balanced pH level, good drainage, and the presence of both organic and inorganic materials.

I know a lot of individuals who like to make their own soil, but I find it much faster and easier to just buy a ready-made mix. You should do what works best for you, however, I’ve included a link to my favorite Christmas cactus soil below to assist you:

  • Organic Succulent & Cactus Soil Mix from The Next Gardener
  • 75 percent substrate, 25 percent perlite, and little fertilizer

The organic blend is designed to have a pH of 5.5, which is slightly more acidic than ordinary houseplant potting soil. It’s also quite light, drains nicely, and has a quarter-cup of perlite in it.

This will not require any changes, and the quality of this Christmas cactus soil indicates that it has been thoroughly blended.

Other soils that I use and suggest are available, but I am now using the one described above, and my Christmas cactus is healthy, happy, and ready for the holiday bloom season. It’s critical to use the proper sort of soil to avoid Christmas cactus root rot!


Pests are the final major cause of Christmas cactus root rot! Pests will harm the roots, resulting in a poorly functioning root system in the Christmas plant, while not being a direct cause. This means your cactus may be unable to absorb as many nutrients as it requires, as well as being more prone to overwatering.

Mealybugs are the most common pest you’ll find on a Christmas cactus! Because of their white cottony texture and minuscule size, these unpleasant organisms are sometimes mistaken for dust.

If you suspect a mealybug infestation or any other pest, I’ve produced an article called Christmas cactus bugs that explains the most common pests and how to cure them.

Christmas cactus root rot symptoms

If you suspect your Christmas cactus is suffering from root rot, there are a few telltale indicators to watch for. Root rot usually manifests itself in two ways: wilting and the loss of leaves.

Christmas cactus wilting

A withering Christmas cactus will be the first indicator of root disease. The leaves will seem wrinkled, droopy, sagging, and withered as a result of this.

Whether your leaves have become shriveled, you should investigate more to discover if you have Christmas cactus root rot. Lift the plant gently out of its container to check the roots thoroughly.

The roots of your Christmas cactus will be coated in black/brown sludge if it is withering due to root rot.

The leaves of the Christmas cactus are dropping off

The leaves of a fading Christmas cactus will frequently fall off. A frequent symptom of Christmas cactus root rot is this.

If the leaves of your Christmas cactus are dropping off, you’ll need to do some research to figure out why, as root rot isn’t the sole cause.

Watering, temperature, lighting, and soil conditions are all factors that might cause the leaves to fall off. When the leaves on your Christmas cactus start to fall off quickly, it’s usually a sign that your plant has been stressed.

Again, you should be removing the plant from its container to check the roots thoroughly!

Christmas cactus root rot treatment

If your roots are decaying, I’m sure you’ll want to address the problem right soon. You’ll end up with a dead Christmas plant if you don’t cure it.

If your Christmas cactus is suffering from root rot, you should be able to preserve it by following these four simple steps:

  • Remove any soil around the roots of your Christmas cactus by gently lifting it out of its container. Examine the roots thoroughly to determine which sections are healthy (white and solid) and which are brown, black, mushy, and slimy.
  • If the plant still has a good quantity of healthy roots left, the next step is to clip away any diseased roots. Because any contaminated sections of the roots that are left will continue to spread throughout the remaining roots, cut straight up to the white healthy parts of the roots. Get sure you snip away all of the brown roots and make an approximate estimate of how many roots you’ll be taking away.
  • The next step is to remove some of the leaves and branches. This is due to the fact that your plant will no longer be able to support as much plant matter as it once could. A comparable amount of black roots is cut away. Begin by pruning the wilted or dead parts of the plant, then move on to the remainder.
  • Repot your Christmas cactus with fresh soil once you’ve performed the aforementioned instructions.

If, on the other hand, the majority of your roots are contaminated, propagation will be your only option for saving your Christmas cactus! Simply said, propagation is the process of taking a cutting from one plant and multiplying it. Cuttings from a Christmas cactus are quite straightforward to reproduce.

Find some of the plant’s healthy leaves. Make a Y-shaped incision from the stem tip that has at least two or three linked segments.

Allow the cutting to dry out overnight in a warm spot to avoid potential stem rot caused by too much moisture.

The propagating stem must then be rooted. Fill a pot with new dirt and place the cutting in it. About a fourth of the length of the incision should be buried beneath the soil surface.

Place the pot in a brightly lit place, away from direct sunlight, and water carefully at first to avoid overwatering.

You should see evidence of new life 2–3 weeks after being rooted. The cutting should begin to develop at the tips of the leaves, which should be reddish in color.


I hope you found this essay about root rot informative and that you are now well-informed. Root rot is a frequent issue with houseplants, but it’s especially prevalent with succulents. Succulents and cacti are desert or tropical plants that can live without water for lengthy periods of time. This makes them more susceptible to root rot caused by overwatering.

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