Christmas Cactus Buds Falling Off – Preventing Bud Drop On Christmas Cactus

Christmas Cactus Buds Falling Off – Preventing Bud Drop On Christmas Cactus

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

The question, “why is my Christmas cactus dropping buds,” is a common one here at Our site. Christmas cactus plants are succulents and hail from the tropical forests of Brazil. Most of these are sold straight from greenhouses where they have experienced strictly controlled lighting, moisture and temperature conditions. Just moving these lovely plants into your home can cause bud drop on Christmas cactus, but there may be other factors at work as well. Read on to prevent Christmas cactus buds falling off and preserve the incredible flower display.

Why is My Christmas Cactus Dropping Flower Buds?

Sometimes I feel like the world is conspiring against me and my plants. There are so many factors that can cause them to fall ill or fail to flower or produce fruit. In the case of Christmas cactus bud drop, the causes can range from cultural care, lighting, and even the fickleness of the plant to its situation. These plants need more water then true cactus and require a photoperiod of at least 14 hours of darkness to set buds. Other issues that may result in a Christmas cactus dropping flower buds are incorrect moisture, drafty conditions, hot or cold temperatures, and an excessive number of buds.

Outside of root rot, bud drop on Christmas cactus is the most common problem. It is often caused by a change in environment, as these are sensitive plants brought up in carefully controlled environments. Simply moving your plant to a new location in the home can induce bud drop but new plants are in for a whole set of shocks that may contribute to falling buds.

New temperatures, humidity levels, lighting, and care will confuse the plant and cause it to stop production on all those glorious flowers. Mimic the care from a greenhouse as closely as possible.

  • Water evenly but do not allow soil to get soggy.
  • Suspend fertilizing in late summer.
  • Keep temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees F. (15-26 C.). Anything above 90 F. (32 C.) can result in Christmas cactus bud drop.

Christmas cactus reside in the deeply vegetated tropical forests of Brazil. The dense tree canopy and other vegetation make a warm, shady womb in which these epiphytic plants develop. They require a period of time without much light to force bud formation. To ensure that there are no Christmas cactus buds falling off and production is dense, provide 14 hours of darkness in September until the end of November, but bright light the rest of the year.

These forced “long nights” are naturally experienced by the plant in its native region. During the day, the plant should be placed in bright light for the remaining 10 hours but avoid scorching sun from southern windows. Once buds have set and begun to open, the false lighting regimen can end.

Other Causes of Christmas Cactus Dropping Flower Buds

If photo period and care are all correctly followed, there may be other problems with the plant.

Incorrect fertilizer can cause the plant to push out so many blooms that it drops some off to make room for full development of the others. This abortive behavior is common in fruit plants, as well.

Keep the cactus away from drafty doors and blowing heaters. These can dry the plant out and cause ambient temperatures surrounding the plant to fluctuate too drastically. The shock of such variant temperatures may cause bud drop.

Indoor conditions in winter often reflect dry air, which is a condition Christmas cactus can’t tolerate. They are native to a region with rich, humid air and require some moisture in their atmosphere. This is easy to accomplish by placing a saucer filled with pebbles and water under the plant. Evaporation will moisten the air.

Simple changes like these are often the answer to bud drop, and can have you on your way to a fully blooming plant just in time for the holidays.

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Read more about Christmas Cactus

Flower buds keep falling off of the Christmas cactus: Gardening Q&A with George Weigel

An abrupt change in environment can cause Christmas cactus flowers to drop off.

Q: What is it that makes the buds fall off of my Christmas cactus before they open? I've had this plant several years, and it's healthy and full of buds when I bring it indoors, after sitting out in the shade all summer. I do get some flowers that open, but so many more fall off. I'm being careful not to over-water or under-water.

A: Sometimes it's the abrupt change in environment that stresses Christmas cactuses and causes them to drop flower buds. If you're seeing the drop happen within a few days of moving the plant back inside, that could explain it.

Christmas cactuses aren't true cactuses (cacti) and so they appreciate more water than people think – about the same as most other tropicals grown as houseplants.

Being native to tropical forests, they really don't like dry indoor air, which is one of the specific reasons plants drop buds when going either from a humidity-controlled greenhouse to a dry home or from the more humid outdoors into a house where the heat has been turned on for winter.

If the bud drop isn't happening soon after the move indoors, is it possible the plant is getting hit by drying air from a nearby heater vent or cold drafts from a nearby door? A slight move would correct that and is a quick and easy possible fix.

Christmas cactus benefits from a monthly houseplant fertilizer during the growing season but sets flowers better when the fertilizer is stopped around mid-September.

That's also the time when the plant needs darkness at night – ideally at least 14 hours of uninterrupted darkness a night. Is your plant in a room where the light stays on a long time? Or could the plant be getting hit with intermittent light so it's not getting the dark it needs?

One of the growers at Longwood Gardens once told me they were having trouble getting their greenhouse poinsettias to turn color in late fall when they realized the plants were getting hit by light from car headlights as people were heading to work early in the morning. It was enough dark-interruption that it affected the poinsettias (which also want that full night of interrupted darkness to color). When a cover was put up to block the headlights, the plants colored nicely.

During the day, Christmas cactus likes fairly bright light. So if yours is in a dark corner, that also could be affecting its flower power.

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Christmas Cactus Problems

Why Is My Christmas Cactus Limp?

When you notice that your Christmas Cactus has become limp, it can mean two things: The soil is too wet or your plant needs to be repotted. Whichever of these two are the case, you’ll need to replace the soil with fresh new soil.

Remove the limp plant from the planter and then gently remove the soil from the roots. Once you’ve done that you can then transplant your plant in the new soil and a slightly larger pot, if need be.

To avoid this problem from arising again in the future or in the first place, mix your own soil for repotting. You can prepare a good quality potting soil by mixing two parts potting soil to one part of vermiculite or sand.

Make sure to repot your plant every two to three years and that will help avoid the issue of them going limp.

Why Did My Christmas Cactus Leaves Turn Red (Or Pink)?

Your Christmas Cactus can turn red or pink when it’s stressed, specifically if it is exposed to direct sunlight or if it doesn’t get enough water.

Unlike a desert cactus, the Christmas Cactus cannot live in the heat and drought in which desert plants thrive. It performs best when it’s in partial shade in the warm seasons and full sunlight during the middle of the winter.

If the cactus develops red foliage, but it still looks healthy, check the light exposure and move it to a shadier spot if necessary. You can also adjust the moisture level of the soil. Do not allow the plant to dry out for long periods of time as this can also be a cause of the plant becoming stressed and turning pink or red.

Why Is My Christmas Cactus Turning Brown?

Once your Christmas Cactus turns brown, you should be on high alert. Turning brown means that it has developed a disease called root rot, which is caused by poor drainage or excessive watering.

Check the plant for any signs of the roots rotting. Remove the cactus from its pot then begin inspecting the roots. If the roots are brown or black and if they smell of a musty odor or they look musty in appearance, it more than likely means your plant has developed root rot.

You can try to revive the life of the plant by cutting the affected roots, being careful not to destroy the root system but to remove the affected areas. Then move the plant to a clean pot with fresh potting mix.

To prevent this from happening, water your Christmas Cactus until the top two to three inches are moist. Only water the plant when the soil feels dry or if the leaves start to look wrinkly and flat.

Why Do Christmas Cactus Leaves Fall Off?

When the leaves of your Christmas Cactus start to fall off, there are a few possible reasons behind it: Improper watering, poorly draining soil, bright and intense light, too much heat, or the temperature is too cold.

As a rule of thumb, water your Christmas Cactus about once a week or only when the soil feels dry in the top 1 inch of the soil, Use a well-draining soil also by preparing your own mix consisting of 75 percent good quality potting soil and 25 percent perlite.

Maintain the temperature in the spot where your cactus lives. Avoid placing it in an area in your house where it will get direct sunlight, especially during the summer.

Why Is My Christmas Cactus Not Growing?

If your cactus grows slowly or is not growing at all, you might need to stimulate the growth of its roots to encourage the plant’s vitality and health.

You can encourage its growth by repotting the Christmas Cactus in a pot which is at least two to three inches smaller than the current one you’re using. Make sure that the new pot has a number of drainage holes at the bottom and is large enough to hold the width and depth of the cactus roots.

The Christmas Cactus often does better when the pot is a little smaller than you’d think it needs. It flourishes when it’s a little root bound.

Fertilize your plants also by mixing in a gallon of water with a teaspoon of Epsom salt, between the months of early April to early September. This provides the plant much needed Magnesium and will help it add new foliage.

How Do I Know If My Christmas Cactus Is Dying?

If your Christmas Cactus appears limp or wilted, it might be a sign that it is dying.

There are a few reasons why your cactus might die: Too much water, too little water, or too much direct sunlight.

How Do You Revive A Dying Christmas Cactus?

Move your Christmas Cactus to an area that has more shade, instead of too much sunlight. You may also revive your limp cactus by repotting it in a pot filled with fresh potting soil.

Why Is My Christmas Cactus Not Blooming?

Your Christmas Cactus may stop blooming when it is subject to environmental stress. Once it develops red hues, it might mean that the plant is getting more sun than it needs or it doesn’t get enough water and humidity.

If you notice that it is not blooming, you can force it into dormancy and get it to flower by:

Placing it in an area with 12 to 14 hours of darkness every day. To allow it to bloom, you need to reduce the light that it gets for six to eight weeks.
Cut down on watering your Christmas Cactus to allow the soil to maintain its moisture. If you really need to water it, water the top most part only.
Maintain a temperature of 50 to 65 degrees for the plant at all times.

Taking care of your Christmas Cactus is rewarding once you see those gorgeous blooms. If you know how to deal with the problems that may arise, you can expect to have a healthy and fully blooming Christmas Cactus during the holidays.

Why do Christmas cactus buds fall off?

Q: My Christmas cactus had many buds, but lots of them fell off without opening up. What am I doing wrong? Mary Cannata, email

A: In my experience, there are three things that could cause Christmas cactus bud drop. If the plant is moved from a sunny window to a dimmer spot, the plant won't receive the energy it needs to fully develop its flowers. If the plant is subjected to drafts from cold air moving down the window pane or from a nearby furnace vent, bud drop is common. If the Christmas cactus is newly arrived from a nursery, there may simply be too many buds for the plant to completely support them all. It drops buds to match the new environment. I am reasonably sure one of these three explanations fits your situation.

Q: Is there a safe distance out from the base of a pine tree to cut extending roots? George Burford, email

A: I am sure there is one but I can't tell you how to determine it. Much depends on the height of the tree, the lean of the trunk, the distribution of limbs around the tree, and the type of soil the tree is growing in. Only a trained tree professional can give you good advice. Find one at www.georgiaarborist.org.

Q: Last year I had a bumper crop of acorns on my oak trees. This year I haven't seen a single one. Was there a crop failure? My squirrels would like to know. Noel Smith, Blairsville

A: That's funny … I got a different question a few days ago: "A bumper crop of large acorns have landed in my lawn. Why are there so many?"

The size of an acorn crop depends mostly on the environmental conditions of the current and previous year. If you have a lot of acorns, there was good rainfall, moderate temperatures and plenty of sunshine in the past. If your acorns are sparse, things were not so pleasant for the oak. Tell your squirrels to stick around and see what happens next year.

Q: I'd like to plant several Rainier cherry trees just to see what happens. I LOVE them. John Miller, Tucker

A: So, I see you are a gambler! Sweet cherry trees have a tough time bearing fruit in metro Atlanta. Temperature swings in winter usually cause them to flower out of season. The resulting cold damage leaves few flowers to develop into cherries. The trees themselves may survive for several years but you may only get enough cherries for one pie in that time. If you think peaches are prone to disease and insect damage, cherries are even worse! Leaf spot, fruit rot, trunk canker and Japanese beetles can do tremendous damage. If you decide to go ahead with your project, remember that 'Rainier' cherries require another cherry variety blooming nearby at the same time to provide pollen. Let me know how it goes!

Christmas Cactus buds not opening

Hello. I have a lovely Christmas Cactus that has flowered beautifully once already. It now has a new bunch of buds but these are just sitting there. Not getting any bigger and not opening. My plant is in a south window that has a semi-sheer curtain. I am not over-watering and do mist almost everyday (Last year all the buds fell off since I was too lazy to mist). Is there anything I can do to encourage these new buds to open? In the past this plant has flowered into March.


I've never misted Christmas cactus in over 40 years, but I suppose it doesn't hurt to mist them. I do know that if the plant is in bud and it's location is changed or a big change in temperature they will drop their buds. Mine are always kept in a cooler part of the house and when in bud are never moved.

Holiday Cactus has Limp Leaves

Holiday cactus plants wilting and turning limp is another common problem.

This is often caused by a lack of water or too much direct sunlight.

Usually its the lack of water. You may be watering either too little or not often enough. Thin and shriveled stem segments appear when your plant is dehydrated.

I’ve seen some bad cases of limp and neglected holiday cacti. The good thing is, that with the right care, these strong plants can perk up rather quickly.

To fix and rescue your plant, begin by giving the plant a little bit of water. Don’t soak it straight away.

Continue to water sparingly every few days until the soil is lightly moist. Your plant should soon look a lot better!

Red or Purple Leaves on your Holiday Cactus. Why is this happening?

Christmas cactus leaves falling off recap

So, we have gone into detail in regards to the four main reasons your Christmas cactus leaves are falling off. This list is not extensive and there could be other reasons, however, in our experience nine times out of ten, one of the above-outlined reasons will be the cause. To quickly recap, Christmas cactus leaves falling off is often due to:

  • Watering problems
  • Temperature trauma
  • Wrong lighting
  • Soil conditions

If you are certain it is none of the above, leave us a comment and we’ll do our best to get back to you with advice. We hope you have enjoyed this article and you can now go away with a better understanding of why your Christmas cactus leaves are falling off.

At Succulent Care Guide , we have loads of great content aimed to help you take care of your plants and succulents. You can read one of our related posts below, or some of our other great blog topics are Christmas cactus care and are coffee grounds good for succulents.

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