Ultimate Guide: Christmas Cactus Root Rot

You go to check your Christmas cactus only to learn that it might be experiencing root rot. Whenever a Christmas cactus starts to have this form in its root, you must act fast, or you will lose your plant. Once root rot progresses past a certain point where all the roots have it, you can’t save it. You will need to start fresh and throw out the plant. Granted, you can propagate a new Christmas cactus with a leaf, but it’s not ideal to have to start all over.  

Signs of Root Rot in a Christmas Cactus

First, let’s cover the signs of root rot so that you will know if you’re dealing with it in your Christmas cactus. Once you know this, I will cover how to respond to it. 

Signs of root rot in a cactus plant include:

  • Wilted or limp despite watering
  • Sagging growth despite watering
  • Blackened tips at the roots
  • Musty or sour odor in the soil 
  • Signs of fungus
  • Mushy plant
  • Pink or reddish discolorations on the leaves

The Christmas cactus is a relatively hardy plant that can withstand most diseases, but it is highly susceptible to root rot like most other cacti. If your plant displays some of the signs mentioned above, keep reading as I cover what causes it and how to address it. 

What Causes Root Rot in a Christmas Cactus?

The most common reason a Christmas cactus experiences root rot is because of overwatering it. Christmas cactus only require you to water them every two to three weeks. Watering them any more than that may cause root rot. 

One of the signs that you should water your Christmas cactus is whenever you feel the soil and it feels dry to the touch. Another way to look at this is that you should water the plant whenever the top third of your plant is dry. Other factors that can influence how often to water it include whether it’s indoors or outdoors and the time of the year. 

In the outdoors with high temperatures, you may need to water it more frequently, depending on the climate. During the fall and winter, water your Christmas cactus less frequently, which will encourage it to bloom more. 

The other thing that can cause root rot is soil with poor drainage. When you pot a Christmas cactus, you want soil with good organic matter but good drainage. Most plant experts recommend one part pumice, one part fine grit, one part bark and one part horticultural sand. 

Whenever root rot occurs, it usually happens because of poor drainage, overwatering or a combination of those two things. 

Related article: 10 Stunning Cactus with Pink Flowers

What Do You Do if Your Plant Has Root Rot?

To save your plant, it’s critical that you take immediate action. Don’t wait because root rot can and will kill your plant otherwise. Once this progresses past a certain point, you can’t save your Christmas cactus. 

Take the following steps if you wish to save your Christmas cactus from root rot:

Step #1: Remove the Christmas Cactus from the Pot

First, you need to remove the plant from the pot. To do this, gently place your hand at the base of the Christmas cactus underneath the leaves. You will gently lift up on the plant and its root ball from the container. Some of the soil may come with the plant when you do this. Rinse away any old dirt from the plant with water. 

Step #2: Cut Away Rotten Rots

This is the point where you can tell how far gone your Christmas cactus is. If it isn’t good, the rotting will have progressed far and throughout the root system making it hard to save. You can spot the root rot because it will feel mushy and rotten. Cut away with a knife any rotten roots. 

Related article: Cactus Root System: 6 Things That Will Surprise You!

Step #3: Repot the Plant

Next, you will want to repot your Christmas cactus in soil with good drainage. Now, before you repot the plant, if you will use the same pot, you need to wash the pot very well with soap and water. This prevents the pot from carrying the same bacteria over into your new pot. Once you’ve done that, you will take your Christmas cactus and put it back in barely moist soil. In general, it’s better to give it a completely new pot. 

Don’t water your Christmas cactus again until after it has dried out completely. 

What to Keep in Mind

When you take the steps outlined above, the soil must have good drainage, and the pot should have a couple of holes at the bottom of it for good drainage. After you do this, keep the watering frequency in mind as well. In general, you can recover more easily from underwatering a Christmas cactus better than what you can with overwatering it. 

Should You Use Fungicide on Root Rot?

You may hear people say that root rot is a fungus. This is true, which may make you think to use a fungicide on it but should you? I would recommend against using fungicides for multiple reasons. First, you need to know the specific type of fungus to treat it with a fungicide successfully. 

Second, root rot for Christmas cactus usually happens because of poor drainage or overwatering. When you treat those problems, you will eliminate the root rot in most cases. It makes more sense to treat what caused the problem. 

Can You Save a Christmas Cactus with Rotted Roots?

In many cases, as long as you treat it quickly, you can save your Christmas cactus. You just need to respond to it as early as possible to keep the rot from spreading because once it progresses to a point where most of the roots are rotten, your Christmas cactus will die as a result. Take care of it early before it has the chance to spread. 

Related article: Can Rabbits Eat Christmas Cactus?

What to Do if Root Rot Has Progressed Past the Point of Redemption?

Once most of your roots get root rot, you can’t save the plant. The Christmas cactus will still die even if you follow the steps above. Instead, you can take the following steps to propagate your Christmas cactus. 

Step #1: Take a Short Y-Shaped Cutting from the Stem Tip

To begin, you will want to make a cutting with two or three segments of the plant. Whenever you try to propagate a plant, always take your cuttings from the healthy foliage of the plant. 

Step #2: Let the Cutting Dry Out

For the second step, you will want to let the cutting dry out for a couple of hours before you attempt to propagate it. The reason that you do this is because your Christmas cactus has a higher chance of rotting if you just try to propagate it. Give it a couple of hours to form a callus that will be hard and dry at the base. This could take a few hours in some cases. 

Don’t wait longer than three days because once the cutting starts to wither, you lower the chances that it will take root.  

Step #3: Put It in the Pot for Rooting

Next, put the Christmas cactus cutting in the pot for rooting. Most of the time, it takes about two to three weeks for your new Christmas cactus to take root. When you put it in the soil, you want lightly moist soil. Be careful because excessive moisture can lead to rotting of your cutting before it takes root. 

Now, you can increase your chances of it taking root with a product known as RootBoost Rooting Hormone Feeder. It doesn’t cost much, and it will help you to root hundreds of cuttings as needed. Especially if you propagate plants often, this is a great investment.


Christmas cactus root rot is no fun, but you can save your Christmas cactus if you act fast. Don’t wait to take action. You need to respond to it as soon as it happens and switch it over to either a new pot or plant it in new soil with good drainage. The biggest causes of root rot in a Christmas cactus are overwatering and soil with poor drainage. Keeping the things mentioned above in mind, you can save your cactus from experiencing root rot or save it from dying of root rot.

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