Christmas Cactus Is Rotting: Tips On Treating Root Rot In Christmas Cactus

root rot christmas cactus
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By Mary H. Dyer, Master Naturalist and Master Gardener

Christmas cactus is a hardy tropical cactus that brightens the environment with gorgeous, red and pink blooms around the winter holidays. Although Christmas cactus is easy to get along with and requires minimal care, it is susceptible to root rot. Usually, this dreaded fungal disease is not caused by inattention, but is the result of improper watering.

Signs of Root Rot in Christmas Cactus

A holiday cactus with root rot displays wilted, limp, sagging growth, but an inspection of the roots will tell the tale.

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Remove the plant gently from its pot. If the cactus is affected by rot, the roots will display blackened tips. Depending on the severity of the disease, rotten Christmas cactus roots will be slimy with black or brown decay.

If you determine that your Christmas cactus is rotting, it’s critical to act fast. Rot is a deadly disease and once it progresses, the only option is to discard the plant and start fresh. If part of the plant is healthy, you can use a leaf to propagate a new plant.

Treating a Holiday Cactus with Root Rot

If you catch the disease early, you may be able to save it. Remove the Christmas cactus from the container immediately. Trim away affected roots and rinse the remaining roots gently to remove fungus. Place the plant on a paper towel and put it in a warm, well-ventilated location so the roots can dry overnight.

Place the Christmas cactus in a dry pot with fresh, lightweight potting soil the next day. Be sure the pot has a drainage hole so the soil can drain freely. Wait a couple of days before watering the newly potted Christmas cactus.

When you resume watering, be sure you understand the most effective way to irrigate your Christmas cactus. Always water thoroughly until water drips through the drainage hole, then let the plant drain before returning the pot to its drainage saucer. Never let the plant stand in water.

Be careful not to kill the plant with kindness; slightly underwatered conditions are healthiest. Don’t water until the top ½ inch of soil feels dry. Water sparingly during the winter months, but don’t allow the potting mix to become bone dry.

Place the plant in bright sunlight during fall and winter and in light shade during spring and summer.

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