How to Revive an Overwatered Christmas Cactus in 5 Easy Steps

Is your Christmas Cactus looking a bit worse for wear? Is the soil soggy and your plant showing signs of being overwatered? These plants are resilient and can often be saved if they've been exposed to too much moisture. In this article, gardening expert Melissa Strauss shares how to save an overwatered Christmas Cactus in five easy steps!

Overwatered Christmas Cactus


Christmas Cactus, also known as Schlumbergera, is a wonderful, winter-blooming tropical succulent. These plants’ beautiful, colorful blooms can brighten up the greyest of winter days. They are low maintenance, needing little more than some bright, indirect sunlight and a bi-monthly watering. They are one of the few succulents that will reliably bloom indoors, year after year.

If you’ve found your way here, there is a good chance that you may have given your Christmas Cactus a bit more water than needed, and it has punished you by looking yellow and droopy. This can be a confusing response to overwatering, as the Schlumbergera will look like it needs more water, but the opposite is true.

When a Christmas Cactus is underwatered, it will have the appearance of shriveled leaves. Unfortunately, this can also happen when the plant is overwatered, making it difficult to diagnose. A good indication of your plant being overwatered will be the existence of soggy soil.

Underwatering is an easy issue to fix with these plants, but overwatering is more complicated. As with most succulent plants, the roots are sensitive to moisture. If left sitting in soggy soil, they will begin to deteriorate. This makes them more susceptible to fungus and can result in a bad case of root rot.

Let’s discuss what can be done to save your Christmas Cactus that has been overwatered and is showing signs of rotted roots.

Step 1: Empty Standing Water

Close-up of watering Christmas cactus from a yellow watering can on a gray background. Plant in a brown ceramic pot. The plant has flattened green stems, divided into leaf plates with serrated serifs along the edges. The flowers are large, double, white with bright purple edges.
First, pour the standing water out of the pot and let the soil dry out.

The most important immediate action is to empty any standing water from the pot housing the Schlumbergera. If water is pooling in the pot, the problem is twofold.

First, the container has inadequate drainage. If the water has no egress, the soil will stay wet for much longer, making it difficult to gauge when the right time is to water.

Secondly, the plant is probably being watered too often, and too much. Simply draining the standing water and allowing the soil to dry out may be enough to perk up your plant. If, however, the overwatering or poor drainage is an ongoing issue, it is probably best to take more definitive action, by way of re-potting.

Step 2: Treat the Roots

Close-up of schlumbergera cactus with roots in a male hand. The sprout has a flat, green stem, divided into oval plates with jagged edges and long roots with adhered soil.
Remove the plant from the container and inspect the roots for signs of root rot.

If you have tried giving the plant a water break, and the issue persists, it is time to take a close look at the roots to determine the best course of action going forward. To do this, you will need to remove the cactus from its container.

Although overwatering is what we want to rectify, in order to examine the roots, it’s a good idea to water the plant before removing it from its pot. If the soil is already damp, there is no need for this, but if it has been allowed to dry, watering it will make the roots more flexible which minimizes breakage when examining.

Remove the plant from its container and gently shake and work the soil out of the root system until you can see the condition of the roots. Healthy roots should be white and flexible. If you notice blackened tips on the roots, this is the beginning of root rot. As rot advances, larger portions of root tissue will turn brown or black and become soft and mushy.

Gently rinse the plant’s roots so that the condition is visible. This also serves to wash off any fungus that may have taken up residence. Using a clean, sharp tool, remove all portions of root tissue that have been compromised. It is important to use a clean, sharp tool for pruning because clean cuts heal fastest.

Lay the plant on a clean, dry surface and allow the roots to dry for 24 hours. The application of an anti-fungal agent such as etridiazole will help to eliminate any leftover fungus that may affect the future of the roots.

Step 3: Re-pot Your Plant

Close-up of a Christmas cactus ready to be transplanted on a wooden floor, next to other houseplants. Christmas cactus in a white pot, has many long, dense, flat, dark green stems, with oval segments with large serifs along the edges. There is also craft paper and gray garden gloves on the floor.
Transplant into a container with drainage holes using a cactus potting mix.

Once you have treated the roots and removed any damaged tissue, it is time to re-pot the plant. As a succulent, Schlumbergera needs to be planted in a container with proper drainage. If your cactus is potted in a container with no drainage, it will be much more difficult to create a healthy watering cycle, and much easier to overwater in the future.

Choose a container that has at least one drainage hole in the bottom, but preferably multiple holes. Choose a pot that is just slightly larger than the root ball, but not too large. Schlumbergera like to be a bit crowded in their container.

Terracotta pots are wonderful for succulents because they wick water away from the roots of the plant. Ceramic pots tend to be more decorative, but because they are glazed and non-porous, they also tend to hold more water. However, as long as it has good drainage holes in the bottom, a ceramic pot should be just fine.

When it comes to potting mix, avoid standard potting mix that can hold a lot of moisture in favor of a coarser mix. Potting mix with larger particles is best for succulent plants. Larger particles do not hold as much water.

Begin with a foundation of compost rich in organic. matter and add larger particles of sand, pumice, or gravel to aid in drainage. A pre-mixed cactus potting mix is a great option for these plants as well.

Step 4: Prune Damaged Leaves

Close-up of a Christmas cactus plant with damaged stems, in a gray metal pot, on a shelf indoors. The plant has long, hanging, flattened dark green stems with oval segments. Some stems are brown, some are shriveled, sluggish.
Also, inspect the foliage and cut off any that are discolored, soft, or damaged.

Once your Christmas Cactus’ roots are treated and the plant is repotted, take a moment to inspect the foliage. A serious effect of root rot is the reduced intake of nutrients through the roots, and therefore, a decrease in the nutrients made available to the foliage. This is probably the element that brought the issue to your attention.

Look toward the base of the stems, where they connect to the roots. It is here that you will see the first signs of damage from the root rot. Any stems that are badly discolored, or soft and mushy at the base, should be removed with a sterile tool.

Dusting the open wounds with cinnamon or sulfur will help to dry them more quickly. A cut that heals quickly is ideal, as there is less opportunity for another infection to take hold.

Removing all tissue that is affected by fungus is an important step in controlling the spread of the disease. In severe cases, if there is more diseased foliage than healthy foliage, you may be hard-pressed to bring the plant back from the brink.

However, if there is still some root tissue and some foliage unharmed, even if it is a small amount, it is worth attempting.

Step 5: Adjust Care and Watering Habits

Close-up of a woman spraying water on a Christmas cactus on a light windowsill. Plant in a large clay pot. The Christmas cactus is large, with many flattened, green, segmented stems, with oval leaf-like plates with slightly serrated edges. Beautiful large double flowers of bright pink color bloom at the tips of the stems.
Water Schlumbergera once every 2-3 weeks when the soil is dry to the touch.

Once your Christmas Cactus has been treated and re-potted, it is important to modify the care routine that brought on the problem, to begin with. The best practice is to water only when the soil is dry to the touch.

The exception to allowing the soil to dry completely is when the plant is in bloom. During the blooming season, provide more water and keep the soil moist, but not soggy. For the rest of the year, watering once every 2-3 weeks should be sufficient to keep your cactus happy.

It is a great idea to give your Schlumbergera some fertilizer after you have repotted and begun a new care routine, Because the nature of root rot inhibits nutrient uptake by the roots, giving some fertilizer will help rebalance and give the plant the nutrients it needs to start creating new growth.

Christmas Cactus’ like to be fertilized on a monthly basis. For every second watering, it’s a great idea to use a balanced fertilizer in addition to water.

A 10-10-10 formula diluted to ½ strength will do the trick. In between fertilizing, a solution of Epsom salt and water will give your cactus a boost. Schlumbergera has higher magnesium needs than many plants, so the added magnesium will give a great boost to the flowering ability of the plant.

Step 6: (Optional) As a Last Resort

Reproduction of a Christmas cactus in an egg box. Close-up of Christmas cactus cuttings in rounded cells filled with moist potting mix. The sprouts are short, green, flattened, with leaf-like segments with serrated serifs.
If your Schlumbergera cannot be saved, then take cuttings from healthy stems and propagate them.

It is not always possible to bring a plant back from a bad case of root rot. If the disease has progressed to the point where the foliage of the plant is affected, there is a good chance that the root system is too damaged to support and produce new growth.

If you have treated and re-potted the plant, yet it continues to decline in health, there is still one hope left for preserving some of your Christmas Cactus.

However, if all else fails, the best hope is to take cuttings of any healthy stems that remain and propagate them. Sometimes, starting over from scratch is the best way to preserve a favorite plant.

Propagation of Christmas Cacti by cuttings is not difficult and it is commonly successful, even with just a few stem segments of healthy growth. To propagate from cuttings, clip off a healthy piece of foliage and allow it to dry for 2-4 days.

Place one end into a pot with soil mixture and water sparingly. Once roots have formed, you can commence a regular watering schedule and enjoy your new plant.

Final Thoughts

Christmas Cacti are hardy and resilient plants. Give your plant the right drainage situation and a regular watering schedule, and you will be back in business before you know it. A little bit of water and fertilizer, and plenty of filtered sunlight will go a long way toward a healthy plant covered in spectacular flowers next winter.

Yellowing Christmas Cactus Sitting in pot on table

Plant Problems

11 Reasons Your Christmas Cactus is Turning Yellow

Is your Christmas Cactus turning yellow? There are a few different reasons this can happen, and the good news is that most of them are reversible. In this article, gardening expert Paige Foley looks at the most common reasons that your Christmas Cactus has yellowing leaves, and how to fix it.

Christmas Cactus Dying

Plant Problems

10 Reasons Your Christmas Cactus is Dying and How to Revive It

Is your Christmas cactus looking a bit on the rough side? If you think your beloved succulent is dying, there are actually several reasons this may be happening. The good news is, many of them are reversible. in this article, gardening expert Madison Moulton looks at ten different reasons your plant may be dying off, and how to revive it.

succulents dying

Plant Problems

15 Reasons Your Succulents Are Dying & How to Revive Them

Are your succulents struggling? There are many different problems that can cause succulents to die off when not properly cared for. In this article, gardening expert and houseplant enthusiast Madison Moulton walks through the most common reasons succulents die prematurely, and how you can revive them!

calathea leaf curl

Plant Problems

9 Reasons The Leaves on Your Calathea Plant are Curling

Leaf curl is a common problem amongst calathea plants. The key is figuring out why it's happening, and then correcting the problem. However, prevention is also the best defense with these popular houseplants. In this article, gardening expert and houseplant enthusiast Madison Moulton examines the primary reasons leaf curl could be happening to your calathea plants, and how to fix it.