Overwatered Christmas Cactus

Overwatered Christmas Cactus

Christmas cactus plants, with the scientific name Schlumbergera bridgessii, are also referred to as Thanksgiving cactus or Easter cactus plants. These plants, which originated in the coastal mountains of southeastern Brazil, are easy to care for and maintain. However, like most plants, they are susceptible to the negative effects of overwatering. 

Overwatered Christmas cactus: What are the symptoms?

The common symptoms of an overwatered Christmas cactus include:

  • Limp, wilted leaves 
  • Leaves dropping off 
  • Soft branches
  • A bad odor
  • Blackened, slimy roots 

How to save an overwatered Christmas cactus

If your plants are showing signs of overwatering, you can probably still save them if you act fast. Tip out any standing or stagnant water and carefully remove the affected plants from their containers. Remove any soft stems and rinse the roots to remove any fungus that may have started to grow. If there are any blackened roots, trim them off, as they are rotten.

Let the plants dry out for a day or two and then repot them in fresh soil. Wait a day after replanting before recommencing a regular watering regimen. Plants recover more easily if the symptoms are addressed promptly. 

Use a soil meter to check the condition of the soil and to avoid any future overwatering issues. Be sure to use a mixture of one part sand, one part potting mix and one part orchid bark for good drainage.  Unglazed pots are ideal, as they encourage evaporation of excess moisture.

Expose the plants to full sun for at least a few weeks before the blooming period. Provide darkness for at least 14 hours a day to encourage flowering, and suspend watering during that time. 

How often should you water a Christmas cactus?

The frequency with which you water your Christmas cacti will depend on the time of the year. The general rule to avoid overwatering is to make sure that the top inch of soil is dry before you water again. You should also take into account the climate and your location. If the weather is very hot, then the plants may need to be watered every two to three days. If the plants are grown indoors in a cool area, you may need to water them only once a week. 

Water less during the fall and winter, as this can help encourage the plants to bloom. 

These plants also enjoy a humid environment, and the best way to provide them with humidity is to place a tray of water next to them. The water will evaporate, increasing the humidity in the surrounding air. You can also mist your plants with a spray bottle.  

Christmas cactus plant care 

Christmas cacti adapt well to low light conditions, but will bloom more if exposed to brighter light. However, too much light can burn their leaves, so be sure to place them in an area where there is some shade.

These plants require frequent watering during the growing period in spring and summer to keep the soil slightly moist. Allow the top inch of soil to dry out between watering, and do not allow the plants to sit in water as this could lead to root and stem rot. A weekly application of fertilizer is appropriate. 

Christmas cacti prefer temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit and average to high humidity levels. Place a tray of pebbles filled with water near the containers to add humidity to their environment.  

Once the plants finish flowering, around six to eight weeks before reblooming, allow them to begin their dormancy cycle by reducing the light and the temperature. Cut back on watering and make sure the plants receive 14 hours of darkness daily, with average temperatures of 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure to keep them away from drafty areas. 


Christmas cacti are indoor succulents popular for their extended bloom time. Like most plants, they are also prone to overwatering. The most common signs of an overwatered Christmas cactus are limp, wilted leaves and soft branches. The leaves may also fall off more easily, there may be a bad odor, and the roots could turn dark and slimy due to root rot. 

Image: istockphoto.com / Olga_Anourina