Why is my Christmas Cactus Dropping Leaves?

Leaves falling from your Christmas cactus can be alarming! These steadfast plants are known for their ease of care, so it's distressing when they look unhealthy. In this article, gardening expert Jill Drago will list reasons why your Christmas cactus may be losing its leaves and how to remedy the problem.

Close-up of a non-blooming Christmas cactus with fallen leaves on a wooden table. The plant is in a large plastic terracotta pot. The plant has elongated, drooping, segmented green stems. These segments resemble flattened leaves with scalloped edges.

Contents

The Christmas cactus is a wonderful houseplant. Its foliage remains attractive year-round, but the plant shines in winter when it bursts with colorful flowers. This succulent has gained a reputation for being easy to care for. However, this makes it even more concerning when something goes wrong with your cactus. 

Leaf loss can be distressing! The best way to avoid it is to understand the ideal growing conditions so you can provide for the plant’s needs.

If you have leaves falling from your cactus or want to prevent it from happening, read on! The reasons your Christmas cactus is dropping leaves are common and often easy to remedy. 

The Short Answer

There are many reasons leaf drop may occur. Generally, it means that you have either neglected or (more likely) over-loved your cactus. Either way, there are steps you can take to right your wrongs.

The Long Answer

If your plant has begun dropping leaves, let’s consider what could be causing this to happen and what you can do to prevent or fix it. 

Poor Soil

Schlumbergera on the windowsill, close-up. This cacti plant boasts flattened, segmented stems that resemble leaves. These succulent stems are brightly cracked in color, with a glossy texture and scalloped edges.
Christmas cacti require well-draining soil like succulent potting mix to prevent root rot.

The most crucial factor in your success is the soil. Christmas cacti are succulents that need well-draining soil, such as a succulent potting mix

You can succeed with regular potting soil, but only if you practice perfect watering. Otherwise, this soil can compact the roots and lead to root rot. Rotting roots cannot support the healthy growth of foliage or flowers and will result in the dropping of leaves. 

Solution

Repotting Christmas cacti should not be taken lightly. These plants love to be confined. However, it may be necessary to remove the cactus from the pot it is growing in and refresh the soil.  Be sure to select a succulent soil. These often include perlite and peat moss mixed with a basic potting soil and sometimes include sand to improve drainage further. 

Improper Watering

Close-up of a woman spraying a blooming cactus on a light windowsill. The woman is wearing blue jeans and a white blouse with black patterns. This plant has long, cascading, flattened, segmented stems of green color. These segments resemble leaves and have scalloped edges. Bright pink tubular flowers bloom at the tips of the stems.
Leaf loss in Christmas cacti can result from improper watering.

Leaf loss with Christmas cacti likely indicates overwatering or underwatering. Improper watering combined with poor soil conditions can be a recipe for disaster in a houseplant. 

Journaling your watering or even using a plant care app on your phone is a great way to determine if you are watering too little or too much. 

Signs that your leaves are dropping due to overwatering include: Signs that your leaves are dropping due to underwatering include:
Weak or limp foliage
Rotting roots
Saturated soil
Wilted leaves
Dry roots
Dry soil

Solution 

Adjust to watering once a week to correct any watering mistakes you may have been making. If you have been overwatering, allow the soil to dry out before you begin watering again. 

If you have discovered that your cactus is suffering from root rot, remove the plant from the soil and trim away any rotting roots. Replant your cactus in fresh succulent soil and begin a proper watering regimen. 

While planting it, be sure that the container it will be living in has a drainage hole. This can help with a lot of drainage issues. 

Too Warm Temperatures

Close-up of a cactus flower against a blurred background of green segmented stems. These stems are succulent, thick, glossy green, and have scalloped edges. The flower is large, double, tubular in shape with star-shaped petals of bright pink color.
Provide cooler winter temperatures for Christmas cacti, avoiding sudden moves to prevent leaf and bud drop.

Provide cooler temperatures during the winter months. While these succulents are very tolerant of the warmth in the summer, they also need the cool weather they would experience in nature during fall and winter. 

It is also important not to shock your plants by moving them too suddenly. This alone can cause leaf drop as well as flower bud drop.

Generally, do not let your plant live in temperatures above 90 degrees or below 50 degrees. 

Solution

Provide cooler temperatures during the fall and winter months by moving the cactus into a cooler room of your home or perhaps near a drafty window. 

Improper Light 

Close-up of a blooming holiday cactus on a bright windowsill illuminated by sunlight. The plant produces vibrant, tubular flowers, displaying shades of pink.
Provide Christmas cacti with bright but indirect light, avoiding direct sunlight and shade.

Because Christmas cacti are succulents, it is a common misconception that these plants must be in full, bright, and direct light. This type of light, especially in hot summer, can damage your plant.

Of course, there is the issue of not enough light as well. Too much shade, and you’ll likely notice weak and shedding leaves. 

Christmas cacti thrive in bright yet indirect light. It may take some trial and error to find the perfect spot. If you are growing your plant indoors, place it in a bright room but away from the window. 

Solution

Move your plant! This is the easiest solution out there. Christmas cacti need bright yet indirect light throughout most of the year. Once the fall rolls around, however, it needs about 12 hours of darkness. This will help with flower production as well as healthy foliar growth. 

Final Thoughts

It can be disappointing when a beloved plant begins dropping leaves. Try not to be too alarmed. Christmas cacti are tough plants that will rebound if you give them a chance. The above reasons for dropping leaves are easy enough to remedy or prevent! Pay close attention to how you care for your plant and where it is growing. Once you have all that information, you can easily find out what could be causing your Christmas cactus to drop its leaves. 

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A Christmas cactus blossoms in full glory. Its slender petals, like delicate brushstrokes, unfold to reveal a mesmerizing dance of colors. Nestled within a terracotta pot, this botanical masterpiece rests upon a wooden table, its presence radiating warmth and elegance.

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