Why Is My Christmas Cactus Turning Yellow?

Why Is My Christmas Cactus Turning Yellow

The Christmas cactus, also known as Schlumbergera, is a popular holiday plant known for its bright and colorful blooms. As the holiday season approaches, you may be puzzled and concerned as your Christmas cactus turns yellow. This sudden color change can be alarming and raise questions about your plant’s health.

A Christmas cactus can turn yellow due to various reasons. Common factors are overwatering or underwatering, poor drainage, excessive sunlight, temperature stress, nutrient deficiency, pests, and root issues.

But fear not, as this phenomenon is common and easily remedied. Let’s explore why a Christmas cactus turns yellow and provide tips on restoring its health and vibrant green color.

Want to learn more about cactus diseases:

Detailed Explanation: Causes of Yellowing in Christmas Cactus

Several potential causes exist for yellowing blooms in a Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii). Here are the most common reasons:


Christmas cacti thrive in moist soil, not waterlogged soil. Overwatering can lead to excessive moisture around the roots, causing root rot and preventing the roots from absorbing enough nutrients. Consequently, the plant has yellow leaves.


Conversely, underwatering can also lead to yellow-colored leaves. The plant’s leaves can dry out and turn yellow without sufficient water.

Poor Lighting

Insufficient light can result in diminished photosynthesis, hence leading to yellowed leaves. However, too much direct sunlight can cause yellow spots or burns.

Poor Drainage

If the pot doesn’t have proper drainage, excess water can accumulate at the bottom, leading to root problems and yellowing of the leaves.

Incorrect Soil

Christmas cacti thrive in well-draining, slightly acidic soil. Using the wrong soil type can hinder proper root development and nutrient uptake.

Temperature Fluctuations

Christmas cacti prefer stable temperatures. Significant temperature fluctuations will stress the plant, resulting in yellow leaves as a symptom of stress.

Aging Process

As part of the plant’s natural life cycle, leaves can turn yellow and drop off as the plant ages.

Nutrient Deficiencies

A lack of essential nutrients, especially nitrogen, can lead to yellowing. Fertilize your Christmas cactus with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer during the growing season (spring and summer).

Pests and Diseases

Pests like aphids, spider mites, or bacterial and fungal diseases can lead to discoloration of leaves.

Stress Factors

Repotting, moving the plant frequently, extreme temperature changes or over-fertilization can all create stress, with yellowing leaves being a common sign of a stressed plant.


If the Christmas cactus is too crowded in its pot, it may not receive adequate airflow, leading to mold, fungus, or leaf discoloration.

Signs of a Sick Christmas Cactus

A healthy Christmas cactus is a vibrant green with full, waxy leaves and colorful blooms during the winter months. So, if your Christmas cactus looks less than lush, there may be an underlying problem. Detecting early signs of illness is essential to keep your Christmas cactus healthy and blooming. Here are some things to look out for:

Leaf Discoloration

Christmas cacti should have fleshy, shiny, dark green pads. If the leaves begin to turn yellow, tan, or have some other discoloration, it’s a primary sign that the plant is sick. The cause of discoloration could be due to overwatering, insufficient light, nutrient deficiency, or disease.

Wilted or Shrivel Leaves

A healthy Christmas cactus is hydrated and full. If the leaf segments appear limp or wrinkled, this could be a sign that the plant is underwatered or overwatered. In both cases, the roots are unable to absorb the necessary water, resulting in wilted leaves.

Leaf Drop

If your cactus is losing leaves at a higher than normal rate, it may be a sign of stressing factors such as dramatic temperature changes, excessive watering, or lack of humidity.

Root Rot

This is often caused by overwatering and poor drainage. You may not notice root rot until the cactus begins to wilt or leaves become discolored. Sometimes, a foul smell may indicate a rotten root system.

Pest Infestation

Watch out for pests such as mealybugs, scale, or spider mites. These pests can cause damage to your Christmas cactus and stress it out, causing leaf drop or discoloration.

Lack of Blooming

If your Christmas cactus isn’t blooming come wintertime, it might indicate the plant is unhealthy. This could be because of poor lighting conditions extreme temperature change, or the plant may require a pre-blooming rest period.

Recovery Steps for Yellowing Christmas Cactus

It’s disheartening to see your traditionally vibrant and full-of-life Christmas cactus start to yellow. To prevent this from happening or to recover from it, take note of these steps. Please remember that it’s necessary to identify the reason behind this issue before starting the recovery process.

Identifying Causes

Yellowing of your Christmas cactus can be due to a few common reasons such as overwatering or underwatering, too much sunlight, inadequate draining system, and frost or cold damage.

Choosing the Right Soil and Pot

The Christmas cactus is a native of Brazil’s rainforests. It prefers a well-draining soil rich in organic matter – which mimics its natural environment. Many plant experts recommend using a soil mix designed specifically for cacti and succulents, as it usually contains the right portion of perlite, sand, and organic matter.

The choice of the pot also affects plant health as it contributes to soil drainage and root aeration. It is ideal to opt for pots with drainage holes to prevent waterlogging. Materials like clay, ceramic, or terracotta, which are porous and allow moisture to evaporate, can be beneficial.

Controlling Humidity

Although categorized as cacti, the Christmas cactus prefers a humid environment to desert-dwelling cacti. Ideally, the humidity levels should be between 40% to 60%. Yellow leaves may indicate that the plant is subjected to an overly dry atmosphere.

The pot may be placed on a tray filled with pebbles and a bit of water to increase humidity. Ensuring the plant is away from dry heat sources, such as heaters and fireplaces, can also help. However, be cautious of overdoing it – too much humidity can lead to fungal issues, another potential cause for yellowing leaves.

Inspect the Watering Routine

Overwatering is one of the main reasons behind any succulent deaths. It leads to root rot, which further leads to yellow leaves. A Christmas cactus prefers a moist, not soaked, environment.

Its soil should be allowed to almost dry out between watering. If the cactus’s leaves look wilted and flat and the soil is wet, you may be overwatering the plant.

Control the Light

While a Christmas cactus does need light to grow, too much direct sunlight can burn its leaves, turning them yellow. They prefer indirect, bright light. If your plant is near a window with a lot of direct sunlight, consider moving it.

Check the Temperature

Christmas cacti come from the rainforests of Brazil and they prefer a warmer climate. They can survive in a temperature range from 50 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Frost or very cold temperatures can cause the leaves to yellow and drop off.

Ensure Good Drainage

Ensure your plant pot has ideal soil (a succulent mix is perfect) and good drainage holes. This prevents the plant from sitting in water, which can lead to further yellowing and root rot.

Taking Care of an Aging Plant

The lifespan of a Christmas cactus can span several decades. As they age, it’s not uncommon for these plants to experience changes, like yellowing leaves. Regular care becomes even more vital for aging plants. With yellowing due to age, simply removing the yellowed segments can keep the plant healthy.


It can also benefit from a feed of fertilizer rich in potash just before its blooming period, as this will improve the health and color of the leaves.

Repot, if Necessary

If you’ve gone through all these steps and your cactus continues to struggle, consider repotting the plant. Sometimes, a simple refreshing of its environment can help a struggling plant. When repotting, ensure you’re using a well-draining soil specifically designed for cacti or succulents to prevent retaining too much moisture.

Yellowing Prevention and Control Measures in Christmas Cactus

Maintaining the vibrant health and appearance of your Christmas cactus requires adequate care and attention to ensure it doesn’t fall victim to yellowing. Here are some preventive and control measures to keep your Christmas cactus from yellowing:

Appropriate Watering Techniques

Over- or under-watering your Christmas cactus can cause yellowing. This plant prefers well-draining soil and doesn’t like to be kept too wet. A good rule of thumb is to water when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch.

Too much water can cause root rot, while too little can dehydrate the plant, both leading to yellowing of the plant.

Suitable Potting Mix

The potting soil for your Christmas cactus should be light, airy and ensure good drainage. A good mix to consider is one part potting soil, two parts peat moss and one part perlite or pumice.

Consistent Lighting

Christmas cacti prefer bright but indirect light. Too much direct sunshine can cause yellowing or even burning of the leaves. Choose a north or east-facing windowsill for it to thrive.

Ideal Humidity Levels

A moisture-controlled environment is essential to prevent yellowing due to dehydration. The Christmas cactus enjoys relative humidity levels of about 50-60%. You can create a humid environment by placing the pot on a tray filled with pebbles and water.

Dealing with the Aging Process

As the plant ages, some normal yellowing may occur. Regular pruning can help maintain the plant’s overall health and curb excessive yellowing.

Ideal Environment for Growth

Christmas cacti prefer cooler temperatures around 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit during growth periods and even cooler temperatures during dormancy.

Proper Temperature Setup

Maintaining the right temperature is crucial. These plants prefer cooler temperatures, so avoid placing them near heat sources like radiators or sunny windows.

Maintenance Schedule and Monitoring Routine

Lastly, regular monitoring and a consistent maintenance schedule are very helpful in preventing and handling yellowing. Monitor your plant daily, checking for yellowing leaves and adjusting care practices as necessary.

Final Words

If you notice your Christmas cactus turning yellow, don’t panic. This is a common issue that can be quickly resolved. By properly caring for your plant, including providing adequate light, moisture, and nutrients, you can help your Christmas cactus regain its vibrant green color and thrive.

Remember to check the amount of light, water, and temperature your plant receives and adjust accordingly. With proper care, your Christmas cactus will return to its beautiful, healthy self in no time. Happy gardening!


  • https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/cacti-succulents/christmas-cactus/yellow-christmas-cactus-leaves.htm#:~:text=Nutritional%20needs%20%E2%80%93%20Christmas%20cactus%20leaves,an%20all%2Dpurpose%20liquid%20fertilizer.
  • https://www.lowes.com/n/how-to/caring-for-a-christmas-cactus#:~:text=Step%207%3A%20Begin%20Feeding%20the%20Christmas%20Cactus&text=Feed%20a%20Christmas%20cactus%20with,with%20water%20to%2050%25%20strength.
  • https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/thanksgiving-christmas-cacti/#:~:text=Holiday%20cacti%20have%20a%20higher,week%20as%20the%20regular%20fertilizer.

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