Christmas cactus turning yellow

With the holidays quickly approaching, what better plant with which to decorate than the Christmas cactus? Its bright colors and perfectly-timed blooming schedule make it a popular choice for holiday decor. From a small display in your home to an ornate office scene, this plant is sure to delight.

When you think of a cactus, you probably think of a spiky green plant that lives in the desert and tolerates long periods of heat and limited rainfall. That is not the case with the Christmas cactus. Native to the rainforests of Brazil, the Christmas cactus, or Schlumbergera, is used to a great deal of water and shade. Outside of the rainforest, the Christmas cactus is often passed down through generations, as it can live for 20 to 30 years.

How to get the Christmas cactus to bloom

The Christmas cactus gets its name from its tendency to bloom right around the holiday. It is a part of the holiday cacti family, alongside the Thanksgiving cactus and Easter cactus (you can probably guess when these plants bloom).

The Christmas cactus blooms around Christmas because the conditions at this time of year are often conducive to its blooming requirements. That being said, sometimes it needs a little encouragement, especially if you’re attempting to get it to bloom at a different time of year.

Preparations for the big bloom should begin 6 to 8 weeks before the desired bloom time frame. Christmas cacti are short-day plants, meaning they bloom when the day is short, and consequently when the night is long. This just happens to be the state of days around the Christmas holiday.

During the dark period, even indoor lighting or artificial lighting from the outdoors can disrupt the blooming process. You may want to cover your cactus at night to block light from getting in. The Christmas cactus is relatively picky about the temperature of its environment when preparing to bloom. Do not expose the cactus to temperatures under 55℉ for an extended period of time. Moreover, the plant will not flower in temperatures warmer than 68℉.

Caring for the Christmas cactus during flowering

It is important not to let the Christmas cactus dry out during flowering. Its requirement for hydration is even higher than usual when flowers are present. When the top inch of soil is dry, water the plant thoroughly, but be cognizant of overwatering so it does not get root rot. The flowering period can last anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks, with each flower lasting approximately 6 to 9 days. Once the cactus has flowered, it can be kept in indirect light.

Caring for the Christmas cactus in the off-season

In the summer, the Christmas cactus should be placed in a shady spot, to avoid direct light that can burn and dehydrate it. Prune the plant in June to encourage growth. The Christmas cactus can be fertilized once a month from April to October.

Propagating and re-potting the Christmas cactus

Pieces removed from the cactus can be rooted for propagation. Pieces should have at least three stem segments. At least one segment should be buried in order for the piece to take root. This process usually takes about 4 to 6 weeks.

Whether you’re re-potting your cactus because it outgrew its prior pot, it contracted root rot, or you just got tired of the look of the old pot, make sure you’re using a light soil. Both gardening and potting soil have been known to work well for this plant, as long as the roots have space to “breathe.”

Is the Christmas cactus poisonous?

The Christmas cactus is not poisonous to humans or cats and dogs. That is not to say you should go feeding your dog Christmas cactus leaves, however. The fibrous plant material of the cactus can cause vomiting and diarrhea in mass quantities.

Christmas cactus problems

Like other plants, the Christmas cactus can fall victim to insect problems and disease. Mealybugs and soft brown scale are the most common pests, but luckily they are fairly easy to eliminate. Remove these pests with a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol.

Stem and root rot can also be a problem for Christmas cacti, caused by overwatering. Your plant may be experiencing this if it appears wilted and is dull/faded in color. To save the cactus, trim off the infected areas and repot in fresh soil.

If your Christmas cactus is dropping unopened flower buds, a number of things could be at the root of the problem. If the humidity is too low or soil is too dry, the buds may drop. Additionally, an abrupt change in temperature or light may cause this to happen.

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FAQFrequently Asked Questions

31. What should I do with the offsets at the base of my plant: leave them where they are or take them off?

It’s up to you.
It is not necessary to take off the offsets growing at the base of casti. You can leave them where they are without any problem. However, there might be some reasons to takle them off:

  • From an aesthetic point of view: if the offsets grow in an untidy manner, or if you prefer a solitary plant, you can take them off all or some of them.
  • Multiplication: growing the offsets as independent plants is a good way to multiply a plant. See the growing advice to learn how to do it.

The only possible risk of maintaining all the offsets on a plant might appear on very large sized clumps, with tens or hundreds of heads. In that case, after a watering, moisture may stay for a longer time around the collar of the plant, because its volume will slow down the evaporation. This risk is nonexistent with small plants (less than 20 cm in diameter).

32. How long will needs seeds to germinate?

That’s very variable according to the species. Under the best conditions (see growing advice and the articles), it may take some days, or even just some hours for the fastest (Astrophytum) up to some months or some years for the slowest (Opuntia, Thephrocactus). For most species, germination will start after 4 or 5 days. After 2 to 3 weeks, you may consider that everything that could germinate has really done so.


33. How can I prevent my cat eating my plants?

Easy: just powder some pepper around your plants, especially at their base. Your cat will no come near your plants after that!

34. Will all cactus flowers give a fruit?

All cactus flowers will turn into a fruit with seeds if they have been correctly pollinated.

  • Some, the auto-steriles, will need the pollen from another plant. This other plant must be from the same species, or from a near one in case of hybrid production. This other plant must not be a cutting from the first one.
  • Others, the auto-fertiles, do not need another plant to bring the pollen. They can accept their own pollen, however the pollen from another plant will ususally produce better seeds, and more.

In this last group, some species requires an external action (insect, human with brush, etc.). Some can produce the fruit by themselves, such as Setiechinospis or Frailea. Frailea flowers can even stay closed and produce a fruit!
For some plants, such as Echinopsis (broad view), Parodia (idem), Eriosyce (idem), Gymnocalycium, Astrophytum, Thelocactus… and others, it is easy to spott a fruit or not. Either the flower dries but the bottom part gets biggers and transforms into a fruit, or everything dries and falls off.
For others, such as Copiapoa, or some Mammillaria, … the fruit formation is not easily spotted.
For a last category, the fruit formation is so shy that it appears only when mature (Ariocarpus, Epithelantha, some Mammillaria…) or worse when the plant dies or when you cut it, the fruit being inside the plant body (Mammillaria theresae or pectinifera).

35. Which cactus can block the “harmful waves” from screens?

It is said that putting a very specific cactus (Cereus hildmannianus ssp. uruguayanus with 6 ribs, usually sold under the wrong name Cereus peruvianus) would block the “harmful waves” emitted by the computer or television screens. Obviously, this is false, like all that seems too beautiful to be true. If it is true that any matter blocks at least certain waves (and we are still wondering which “harmful waves” would need to be blocked), this matter must be placed between the object which emits the waves, and the object to protect. To place a wall of cacti between you and your screen will probably stop many things, in particular the light waves… so just turn off the screen as in any case you will not see anything anymore.

36. Why the areoles of my cactus are becoming black? What is this fungi developping there?

The fumagine come from fungi belonging to several species: Capnodium meridionale, Capnodium oleae, Ceratocarpia cactorum… etc. These fungi proliferates from the sugars contained in the honeydews of insects: Cicadelles, Aleurodes, Plant louses and other mealy bugs. In the case of Ferocactus, Thelocactus and some others, the plants themselves produce this honeydew by the glands on the areoles and sometimes confused with very young floral buttons. To develop, the fumagine needs favorable climatic conditions: soft temperatures and moisture.

The fumagine does not attack the plants, it does not penetrate inside its skin. But in great quantity it blocks the light, preventing photosynthesis and gaseous exchange. Moreover, it gives a disgusting aspect.

To remove it, There is no miracle solution and it will be necessary to start again the following year. One can clean the plant with a small brush and a deterging product containing a little bleach. Tke care to rinse a lot. To avoid such problems, one can treat his plants with a copper-based antifongique. They will not be black any more… but blue.


Author’s name is indicated for each faq, or Yann
Translation : Willy and Yann

Why Your Cactus is Turning Yellow

While cacti can thrive in the harsh world of the desert, they can still experience hardship when people are taking care of them. Pot cactuses show when they are stressed out by yellowing. Stress can come from numerous factors like improper watering, wrong sunlight exposure, etc.

While they can handle a bit of neglect, succulent plants like the cactus will need to be set in the proper conditions to thrive.

Why Your Cactus is Yellowing:

  • Placement
  • Watering Incorrectly
  • The Water Used
  • Environmental Shock
  • It’s a Yellow Cactus
  • The Pot is Too Small
  • Problem with Pests
  • Mineral Deficiency

The Possible Reasons Why Your Cactus is Turning Yellow

Colours can tell a lot about the health of the plant. While every case is unique in its complexity, there are some general reasons your cactus developed a yellowish tint. Luckily most of them are reversible/fixable.


While easy to look after, cacti require a very specific amount of direct light per day. Most online sources state that a full day of sunlight is around six to nine hours. While succulents like the cactus do require a full day of direct sunlight, putting it on the window can be overwhelming for the plant.

Instead, place the cacti behind a thin curtain. The amount of sunlight would be sufficient, and the plant won’t burn from the sunrays.

If you’re growing cacti in your backyard, you should plant them in places where they would get a sufficient amount of sunlight, but not burn. We do not recommend planting a cactus plant outside, as Australia can have rainy winters, which will drown the plant.

Watering Incorrectly

While cacti are considered desert plants, they still need to be watered properly. Whenever you’re watering your succulent, make sure water is draining from the drainage holes.

If you feel like you’ve poured enough water but nothing is getting through the holes on the bottom of the pot, remove any stones glued to the bottom. Most cacti are sold this way and often the stones block the drainage.


Watering your cactus too often can be a problem. If you keep the soil too wet you can see a yellow shade developing on your succulent. This is a sign of stress, and the plant can’t live in such moist conditions.

Your cactus should be watered only when the soil is fully dry. Invest in an inexpensive moisture meter, so you can precisely measure the level of moisture in the soil.


Not providing enough water can be a problem as well. If you’re watering your cactus once a month, it will turn yellow. Make sure to regularly water your plant, as the nutrients provided by the water are vital.

Use the calendar on your phone to set reminders. After monitoring your cactus for a month or so, you will understand what the perfect watering time interval is.

The Water Used

It’s possible the tap water you’re using is ruining the soil of your cactus. Examine the topsoil layer of your plant. If you see white stains, then you have softened tap water. It’s bad to water your cactus with it because it forms salt crystals.

If that’s your case, repot the plant in soil specifically made for cacti. It’s fairly inexpensive and it’s easily found in every botanic store.

Environmental Shock

If you’ve just purchased your succulent and the cactus is developing a yellowish tint, it may be because of the environmental change.

While this isn’t common, it may be the cause of the problem. Continue to water it appropriately and if the problem persists consider repotting the cactus in better soil.

It’s a Yellow Cactus

There are some cacti that start off as green but turn yellow over time. If you aren’t sure if that’s the case with yours, go to the place where you bought it from and ask them. You can also google the species of your cactus.

Wait and monitor the plant daily. If the cactus looks healthy and only the colour changes most likely everything is fine.

The Pot is Too Small

When growing a cactus often baby cacti will sprout from the soil. Because yellowing is a sign of stress in succulents, the problem may be that the pot is too small.

Get a bigger pot and move the main cactus in it. Invest in the proper soil as well. You can separate any smaller cactuses that are left (if multiple), and pot them separately.

Problem with Pests

While most cacti don’t have a significant problem with most pests, every species of cacti has its own pest nemesis. Depending on the type of succulent you’re growing, you should research which pest can cause a problem.

As yellowing is a sign of stress, the colour change may be the first sign that your cactus has a pest problem.

Mineral Deficiency

When minerals in the soil aren’t sufficient enough, the colour of your cactus will show it. While cactuses are pretty tough plants, they do need proper soil in order to thrive.

The soil should be regularly changed and fertilised, especially in the growing season (mid-spring to mid-autumn). This would allow for a healthy plant to develop.

Image source: /Foryoui3

  • Last update: January 27, 2020

Posted in Gardening Tips

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The secret to getting a Christmas cactus to bloom: temperature and light

During the holidays, the stores are filled with acres of blooming Christmas cacti. They flower brightly with blooms in red, pink, yellow, orange, white or purple. The average gardener can’t keep their hands from clasping one or more in exotic colors and rushing to the cash register.

But at some point, reality intrudes and you not only want to keep it alive, you would like to have it bloom in future years. Why, you might even be leaving a giant, magnificent Christmas cactus to your heirs.

Christmas cactus. Photo credit: Bodie Pennisi, Univ. of Georgia,

Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) is also known as Thanksgiving cactus, holiday cactus or crab cactus. The crab name refers to the leaf-shaped stem segments that have curved, pointed teeth or claws along the edges. The Easter cactus (Schlumbergera buckleyi) has rounded edges on its leaf segments. They all originated in southeast coastal Brazil in shady, humid forests. They are classified as epiphytes because they live above the ground in the trees, in areas where branches meet and decomposing fallen leaves and mosses collect.

Even though this plant bears the name of cactus, the care that it requires has nothing to do with its desert relatives. It is classified as a forest cactus. Its needs trace directly to its origins. Christmas cactus grows best when it is “pot bound.” That means leaving it in a small container for as long as possible and then moving up to just a slightly larger pot. They prefer a rich, organic potting mix and should not be allowed to dry out. Increase the amount of water when the plant is blooming. They prefer bright, indirect light. Full sun can cause the leaf segments to turn dark red as the plants begin to burn.

The “trick” to getting Christmas cactus to bloom in the following years after purchase comes down to two things: light and temperature. These two are the keys to the flower kingdom. Christmas cacti produce flowers in a cool, environment-short day cycle. To initiate the production of flower buds, there needs to be at least eight days of 16 hours of dark and eight hours of light each day. Wherever the plant is placed, do not turn on the lights at night, even for a short period of time. That breaks the dark cycle required. The temperature should be around 61 degrees. Avoid placing the plant where it receives either cold or hot air drafts.

Placing the Christmas cactus on the window sill in a cool room and not turning on the lights is all that’s needed. If the plant was in a lighted room, often the side to the window develops buds, but the lighted side of the plant does not. If the plant sets flower buds and then they fall off, it usually has to do with either receiving too much or not enough water or lack of air humidity. The good news is that Christmas cacti are considered relatively easy to get to bloom again if their temperature and light requirements are met.

A third type, Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri) looks quite similar to those already mentioned, but is distinguished by bristlelike spines, sometimes referred to as cat’s whiskers, on the tips of the leaves. Its flowering season is in spring in shades of rose, pink or red.

Plants purchased now will most likely have their flower buds formed. Take the plants home and keep them in bright light but not direct sunlight, which can burn the foliage. Most growers recommend that the plants be kept back a short distance from a south window. Eastern or western exposure with morning or afternoon sun is also desirable.

But direct sunlight could burn this tropical plant. Water them by soaking thoroughly to wet the root ball, then allow the soil to become moderately dry before watering again; that is, the earth should look dry and the pot feel lighter. If leaf tips start to turn purple, by all means water, because this coloration indicates that the plant has been kept dry too long.

Once flower buds form, the plants should not need fertilizer; in fact, too much fertilizer can burn them. Light fertilizing every third month at one-third strength is recommended when the plant is in active growth.

Those who have difficulty getting their Christmas cactus to flower, probably have not learned the essential quirk about this plant. It is thermo-photoperiodic; that is, it responds to day length and/or night temperatures to set flower buds.

The easiest way to encourage this cactus to form flower buds is to leave it outdoors until mid-October or at least until light frosts. Temperatures below 40 degreees would be damaging. This cold period at night causes a response in the plant that sets flower buds. Plants should be indoors now and most likely will have the small knobs at the ends of their leaves that are the flower buds.

If there is no opportuninty to put plants outside, then they can be forced to set flower buds by keeping them in a controlled short day of 12 hours. About mid-September, put the plants into a closet for the night only or cover them with a box in much the same manner as poinsettias. Take plants out again each morning and grow normally.

Continue this until the tiny swellings of flower buds form on the tips of leaves, then continue to grow normally until the plant blooms.

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

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:

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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