11 Reasons Your Christmas Cactus is Turning Yellow

Is your Christmas Cactus turning yellow? There are a few different reasons this can happen, and the good news is that most of them are reversible. In this article, gardening expert Paige Foley looks at the most common reasons that your Christmas Cactus has yellowing leaves, and how to fix it.

Yellowing Christmas Cactus Sitting in pot on table

Christmas cactus are a popular gift or decoration around the holiday season. They are winter bloomers and produce beautiful red, pink, white, orange, and purple blooms. Christmas Cactus plants are low-maintenance, with simple growth requirements.

They are a popular holiday gift because you don’t have to have a green thumb to keep them alive. If you received a Christmas cactus as a gift or using as decor, there are a few simple care rules to follow for a healthy plant.

Christmas cactus are tropical ornamental succulent plants that prefer indirect sunlight and moist, well-draining soils. They are commonly grown as a houseplant because temperatures remain consistent indoors and you can keep an eye on soil moisture.

Occasionally, the they can start showing signs of stress through yellowing leaves. This is a warning sign, because something in its environment is off. If you are struggling with a yellowing Christmas cactus, keep reading to learn more about why it’s yellowing and how to fix it. Let’s get started!

Too Much Sunlight

Close-up of a blooming succulent in a hanging pot outdoors in the sun. The plant has long, leafless stems with jagged green segments at the edges. Some stems are yellowish due to excessive sun. Large, tubular, bright pink double flowers bloom at the ends of the stems.
Leaves growing in direct sunlight can become faded and yellow.

Christmas cacti naturally grow beneath the canopy in tropical regions. These plants grow in the dappled light that sneaks through the rainforest canopy. Placing your Christmas cactus in direct sunlight can cause the leaves to look pale and yellow. If sunlight is too intense, they will begin to turn purple and eventually die.

Avoid brightly lit areas such as these areas will cause damage. South-facing windows should be avoided when possible. Even in the winter, south-facing windows have sunlight that can be too intense. Choosing a location near the north or west-facing window is ideal.

Once you move your Christmas cactus to a bright, indirect sunny location, the leaf color should return to its natural green. If leaves continue to remain pale or start to turn purple or red, this is a sign that sunlight is still too intense. Finding the right location might take some time but well worth it.

Too Little Sunlight

A close-up of several stems of a Schlumbergera plant against a window illuminated by sunlight. The stems of the plant are leafless, divided into segments with notches at the edges. Oval bright pink buds of unopened flowers grow at the ends of the stems.
This succulent prefers to grow in bright, indirect sunlight to thrive.

Although this succulent can thrive in low levels of light, not enough light overall can cause problems to arise. The plant naturally grows on trees below the rainforest canopy. They receive dappled light and can become severely damaged if exposed to extremely bright sunlight.

They should see bright, indirect sunlight throughout the day to be happy and healthy. Choosing a location that is too dark can result in pale and yellowish leaves and stop bloom production. If you are noticing pale and yellow leaves, take a look at how much sunlight your plant is getting daily.

The solution is fairly simple, move the plant to a more well-lit location. If the new location has sufficient lighting, the plant will return to a vibrant green color. If your plant remains pale and yellow, sunlight is still insufficient.

Underwatering

Close-up of a succulent plant in a tall black flower pot on a windowsill. The plant blooms with many bright pink flowers. The flower has a unique tubular double flower with long pink stamens. The plant has long, fleshy stems that have oval segments with slightly serrated, rounded edges.
Underwatering is one of the causes of the yellowing leaves of this plant.

Christmas cactus aren’t like other arid-loving cacti, they prefer moist, organic-rich soils. Overwatering and underwatering display very similar symptoms. You will have to examine your plant and soils to determine if underwatering is causing the leaves to turn yellow.

Symptoms of underwatering are yellowing leaves and leaf segments dropping from the plant. If you are noticing these symptoms, it’s time to start watering. You should water once the first 1 to 2 inches of soil are dry. The good news is that underwatering is usually an easy fix and will rarely be the cause of death in an otherwise healthy plant.

Check your soils often to determine if they need to be watered or if you can wait a few days. Soils shouldn’t ever be allowed to dry out completely between waterings. Finding a good balance between too much and too little water is important for a happy and healthy plants.

If underwatering continues to be an issue, it may be time to change where the plant is located. Warmer areas of your home can cause soils to dry out very quickly. Being exposed to direct sunlight can also cause soils to dry out.

Overwatering

Close-up of a woman's hands watering a Schlumbergera plant from a blue watering can on a windowsill next to other indoor plants. The succulent has long, leafless dark green leaves with flattened segments. Some stems are yellowish due to over watering.
The Christmas cactus prefers moist soils with good drainage, but not waterlogged.

Overwatering is a common problem when caring for houseplants. It’s easy to do but can be costly. This succulent prefers evenly moist soils that are well-draining.

You may not think you are overwatering but poor draining soils can lead to this problem. Insure you are using a good quality potting mix and your container has proper drainage holes.

Soils should be moist but never soggy. Soggy soils can lead to root rot which can kill the plant if left untreated. It’s easy to overwater if you stick to a schedule instead of checking the soils to see when to water. Allow soils to dry out a bit between waterings.

If you allow the first inch or so to dry out, this will prevent overwatering and the development of pests and diseases. Inspect the roots for root rot if you believe overwatering is the cause of yellowing leaves. If root rot isn’t present, you should be on the road to recovery.

Overwatering can occur when these succulents are planted in less-than-ideal containers. Inspect the container for proper drainage holes. If no drainage hotels are present, consider repotting into a container that has drainage holes.

Nutrient Deficiency

Close-up of a succulent with brown, limp stems against a blurry background. Plant in an iron decorative pot. The cactus has long, dark green, slightly wrinkled stems divided into oval oblong segments with rounded edges. Some stems are dry and brown.
To prevent the yellowing of the leaves, add fertilizer to keep the plants healthy.

Starting with a good quality potting mix and a well-balanced slow-release fertilizer or liquid fertilizer will prevent leaves from turning yellow from nutrient deficiencies.

Many of these succulents come pre-planted in a container. If these containers have a low-quality potting mix this can result in the yellowing of the leaves.

If you purchase or receive a Christmas cactus during the holidays, it might be beneficial if you change the potting soil. Using good-quality soil and adding fertilizer will prevent the leaves from yellowing and support a healthy plant. It is also a good idea to add some sand to the soil to help increase drainage.

You can use a slow-release fertilizer or liquid fertilizer depending on your preference. Slow-release fertilizer can be added right away, or after transplanting. This type of fertilizer can last up to three months between applications. Liquid fertilizers can be used monthly or on a need base.

Improper Soil

Close-up of a flowering Schlumbergera plant. The flowers are large, bright pink, double, tubular, forming a double flower within a flower. The stems of the plant are pale green, slightly yellowed with irregular brown spots.
These popular succulents need well-drained, and nutrient-rich soil.

Christmas cactus are native to rainforests where the soils are rich, organic soils. Providing a well-draining, humus-rich soil is important for their growth. Choose a good quality potting soil and add in the sand to improve drainage. A great choice is a potting mix that’s made specifically for succulents and cacti.

Loose potting soil is best because dense soil can cause the roots to die due to a lack of oxygen. Densely packed soil doesn’t drain water away as well as loose soils. Choosing the proper soil will help prevent other problems such as poor drainage from overwatering and nutrient deficiency.

Most Christmas cactus come potted from the store or gifted in a pot. It is best to check these soils and determine if you should change the soil.

If roots are pot-bound and soils are packed and dense, consider changing the soil. Remove as much soil from the roots as possible and place it into the newly moistened soil.

Too Small Of A Container

Close-up of a Schlumbergera plant in a large clay green pot on a windowsill. The plant is large, has many long, leafless stems with fleshy segments and rounded serrated edges. The stems are pale green, turning yellow.
If your plant has compact roots, then it needs to be transplanted into a larger pot.

Most plants outgrow their containers at some point. Many containers that Christmas cactus plants start in are rather small. The roots will become tightly packed and may become potbound. If you pull the plant from the pot and notice compact roots, this is a sign to repot.

Compact roots will inhibit growth and prevent the plant from absorbing nutrients and water. Many problems associated with these succulents come from too small of a container. Many Christmas cactus come in small containers from the store. They will not survive long in these pots due to their size.

Choose a container that is a size or two larger than the original pot, This will allow for proper growth and prevent repotting again for some time. Fill the new container with fresh potting soil and water well. You can add fertilizer if needed a month after repotting.

Poor Drainage

Close-up of the bottom of an empty black round flowerpot with flower-shaped drainage holes. The pot is plastic, lies on the ground on a blurred background.
When choosing a container, make sure it has plenty of holes for drainage.

Christmas cactus prefer well-draining soils and can develop numerous problems if left in soils that can’t drain. There are endless options to choose from when purchasing houseplant containers. Be mindful that all containers aren’t created equal and may be missing key functions to successful plants.

When selecting a container, choose a container with a few drainage holes. With so many containers on the market, it may be tempting to choose one based on looks versus function. Always inspect a pot before purchasing for cracks and lack of drainage holes. Picking the proper container will help contribute to proper growth.

If you choose a container without drainage holes, you can drill a few holes which will allow for proper drainage. Be careful as some pots are fragile and may break or crack when adding drainage holes. Place a plastic tray beneath the container to catch excess water.

Diseases

Close-up of a diseased succulent plant in a pot. The plant has long, leafless, fleshy stems divided into segments with rounded notches. The stems have brown stripes and spots.
Both stem and root rot can cause yellowing leaves.

Diseases are common when growing houseplants and will most likely appear at some point. Certain diseases can be difficult to identify and treat. But, the sooner you identify the disease impacting your plant, the better. Many diseases will cause the leaves to turn yellow so you may need to do some troubleshooting to help remedy the situation.

One of the most common diseases these succulents will encounter is root and stem rot. This disease develops in soils that are kept too moist or for long periods. The disease is difficult to identify because it starts below the soil surface. If you believe root or stem rot is the cause of yellowing leaves, you will need to inspect the roots.

If you notice rot, you will need to take action immediately. The sooner you act, the better the chance of survival for the plant. Repotting is the best option for preventing the spread of root and stem rot. Once repotted in fresh soil, water lightly and try to avoid overwatering.

Pest

Close-up of several mealybugs on a green leaf. Mealybugs are small, oval-shaped insects covered in cottony white wax that suck the sap from plants.
Leaf discoloration and yellowing can be caused by sap-sucking insects such as mealybugs, aphids and thrips.

Discoloring can be a result of sap-sucking insects such as mealybugs, aphids, thrips, and whiteflies. If you believe bugs are causing your yellowing leaves, you need to take action immediately. Catching pests before the infestation becomes out of control is important to keeping your plant alive.

If you see any pests, it’s time to move your plant into quarantine. Bugs travel quickly from plant to plant but separating the infested plant will save other plants in your home. Identify the pest and treat it accordingly.

Once pests are gone, you can move the plant back home. Be sure to check all other plants for possible infestations. There are many home remedies and insecticides you can purchase online to combat pests. Follow all written directions for effective control of pests.

Keep in mind, that pests are more common on the already stressed plants. If your plant develops a disease, lack of nutrients, or has unfit growing conditions, pests are more likely to appear.

Temperatures

Close-up of a blooming succulent in a hanging pot outdoors under sunlight. The plant has leafless stems, which consist of compacted segments, along the edges of which there are rounded notches. The flowers are large, double, bright pink, tubular with protruding stamens.
If your Christmas cactus is kept below 50F for a long time, the plant will begin to turn yellow and die.

Christmas cactus prefer consistent temperatures and the ideal temperature is around 70F. If temperatures fall below 50F for extended periods, the plant will show signs of distress. The plant will begin to turn yellow and eventually die.

If you want your plant to flower, you need to keep temperatures consistent. If temperatures become too high the plant will not flower. One of the most difficult parts of their growth cycle is getting them to bloom. Finding a location in your home that has consistent temperatures might be tricky.

Avoid placing them on window sills during the winter. The cold draft will send the plant into shock. If you are struggling with yellowing leaves and you can’t seem to figure out the problem, it might be the temperature in your home. A draft can enter your home in another location besides a window.

Final Thoughts

A popular gift or decoration, Christmas cactus are a beautiful winter-blooming plant. Provide them with proper sunlight, water, and temperatures and they will reward you with their colorful succulent blooms. Yellowing leaves are bound to happen when caring for this succulent, but the condition is treatable. Catching problems early is the key to a successful and happy succulent this season, and beyond!

SHARE THIS POST
African Violet with small blooms sitting indoors up close

Information

7 Signs Your African Violets Aren’t Getting Enough Water

Are you worried that your African Violets may not be getting enough water? These popular houseplants can be picky about their moisture needs. In this article, gardening expert Liessa Bowen looks through the most common symptoms that your African Violets may show when they are lacking in moisture.

Aloe Vera plant with yellow leaves that have brown edges

Information

9 Reasons For Yellowing Aloe Vera Plants

Does your Aloe Vera plant have yellow leaves? From overwatering to underwatering and other problems, there are many different reasons this can happen. Most of these common issues are treatable if you identify them, and act quickly. In this article, gardening expert Emily Horn takes you through why this happens, and how to stop it!

White Mealybug Crawling on Succulent Plant with Red Stems

Information

How to Get Rid of Mealybugs on Succulent Plants

If you've found mealybugs on your succulents, you don't need to panic. While these pests can cause damage, they aren't untreatable. In this article, gardening expert and houseplant enthusiast Madison Moulton takes you through six simple steps to rid your succulents of their mealybug problem.

succulents dying

Information

15 Reasons Your Succulents Are Dying & How to Revive Them

Are your succulents struggling? There are many different problems that can cause succulents to die off when not properly cared for. In this article, gardening expert and houseplant enthusiast Madison Moulton walks through the most common reasons succulents die prematurely, and how you can revive them!