Yellow Christmas Cactus Leaves: Why Do Christmas Cactus Leaves Turn Yellow

yellow christmas cactus
Image by Gail Frederick

By Mary H. Dyer, Master Naturalist and Master Gardener

Christmas cactus is a familiar plant that produces masses of colorful blooms to brighten the environment in the darkest days of winter. Although Christmas cactus is relatively easy to get along with, it isn’t uncommon to notice a Christmas cactus with yellow leaves. Why do Christmas cactus leaves turn yellow? There are several possible reasons for yellow Christmas cactus leaves. Read on to learn more about this frustrating problem.

Troubleshooting a Christmas Cactus with Yellow Leaves

If you notice your Christmas cactus leaves turning yellow, consider the following possibilities:

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Time to repot – If the container is packed tightly with roots, the Christmas cactus may be potbound. Move the Christmas cactus to a pot one size larger. Fill the pot with a mixture that drains well, such as two parts potting mix and one part coarse sand or perlite. Water well, then withhold fertilizer for a month after repotting a Christmas cactus.

However, don’t rush to repot because this plant actually thrives in a crowded pot. As a general rule, don’t repot unless it’s been at least two or three years since the last repotting.

Improper watering – Yellow Christmas cactus leaves may be a sign that the plant has a disease known as root rot, which is caused by excessive watering or poor drainage. To check for root rot, remove the plant from the pot and inspect the roots. Diseased roots will be brown or black, and they may have a mushy appearance or a musty odor.

If the plant has rot, it may be doomed; however, you can attempt to save the plant by trimming the rotted roots and moving the plant to a clean pot with fresh potting mix. To prevent root rot, water only when top 2 to 3 inches of soil feel dry to the touch, or if the leaves look flat and wrinkly. Decrease watering after blooming, and provide only enough moisture to prevent the plant from wilting.

Nutritional needs – Christmas cactus leaves turning yellow may be an indication that the plant is lacking necessary nutrients, especially if you don’t fertilize regularly. Feed the plant monthly from spring until mid-autumn using an all-purpose liquid fertilizer.

Additionally, Christmas cactus is said to have a high magnesium requirement. As such, some resources recommend a supplemental feeding of 1 teaspoon of Epsom salts mixed in one gallon of water applied once monthly throughout spring and summer. Stagger feedings and don’t apply the Epsom salt mixture the same week you apply regular plant fertilizer.

Too much direct light – Although Christmas cactus benefits from bright light during fall and winter, too much sunlight during the summer months can give the leaves a yellow, washed-out appearance.

Now that you know why leaves turn yellow on Christmas cactus, this problem need not be frustrating anymore.

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