Overwatered vs Underwatered Christmas Cactus?

The holiday season brings with it the enchanting presence of Christmas cactus, their vibrant blooms captivating us. These remarkable plants not only add a touch of natural beauty to our homes but also require our care and attention. 

Overwatering and underwatering are common problems. Overwatering can lead to root rot, a condition where the plant’s roots become suffocated and ultimately compromise the overall health of the cactus. 

As well as underwatering poses an equal threat to the well-being of Christmas cactus. Neglecting to provide sufficient hydration can have detrimental consequences.

When deprived of water, these resilient plants struggle to thrive and may exhibit signs of stress, such as shriveled or wilted stems, pale or drooping leaves, and lack of new growth.

Water Requirements of Christmas Cactus

Overwatered vs underwatered Christmas cactus

Caring for your Christmas cactus involves understanding its watering needs. Every plant has its own preferences when it comes to water. It’s essential to balance the watering schedules and avoid extremes of overwatering or underwatering.

Observation is key to understanding your Christmas cactus’s watering needs. Pay attention to the soil’s moisture level. Avoid sticking to a rigid watering schedule. Factors like room temperature, humidity, and pot size can affect how quickly the soil dries out.

When it’s time to water your Christmas cactus, make sure to do it thoroughly. Water the soil until it starts to drain out from the bottom of the pot. This ensures that the entire root system receives adequate moisture. After watering, be sure to remove any excess water from the saucer to prevent waterlogging, which can harm the roots.

One crucial aspect of watering your Christmas cactus is finding the right frequency. During the active growth period, which typically occurs in spring and summer, the plant may need more frequent watering. As the days grow shorter and the plant enters its rest period, usually in fall and early winter, reduces its watering.

Remember, it’s better to slightly underwater than to overwater your Christmas cactus. Too much water can lead to root rot and other issues, while underwatering can cause the plant to become dehydrated and show signs of stress.

Overwatered Vs Underwatered Christmas Cactus

Overwatered Christmas Cactus

Sometimes, in our care for our plants, we can end up giving our Christmas cactus too much water. Overwatering can actually harm the plant. When we pour excess water, it can suffocate the roots and cause root rot, which leads to poor plant health. Additionally, too much moisture creates a breeding ground for fungi, making the plant more susceptible to diseases.

What is Overwatering?

Overwatering occurs when plants receive more water than they need or can absorb. It happens when we pour too much water into the soil or water the plant too frequently. The excess water accumulates around the roots and doesn’t have a chance to drain away properly.

When a plant is overwatered, the soil becomes overly soggy which can lead to a lack of oxygen in the root zone. This deprives the roots of the oxygen they need to function properly. As a result, the roots may start to rot, causing root damage or even death of the plant.

Check this: Can You Plant a Christmas Cactus Outside?

Signs of Overwatered Christmas Cactus

Yellowing or Wilted Leaves

One of the first signs of overwatering is when the leaves of your Christmas cactus start to turn yellow or become wilted. The excess water in the soil prevents the roots from getting the oxygen they need. The leaves lose their vibrant green colour and become dull.

Drooping or Mushy Stem

If you notice that the stem of your Christmas cactus appears droopy or feels soft and mushy to the touch, it’s a clear indication of overwatering. The excessive moisture in the soil leads to weakened stems, making them unable to support the weight of the plant.

Root Rot

Overwatering can cause the roots of your Christmas cactus to rot. If you gently remove the plant from its pot and examine the roots, you may notice a foul smell or a slimy texture. Healthy roots are usually firm and white, so any signs of discolouration or mushiness are indications of root rot.

Mould or Fungus Growth

Excess moisture creates a favourable environment for mould or fungus to thrive. If you observe fuzzy patches or mould growth on the soil surface or near the base of the plant, it’s a sign that your Christmas cactus is being overwatered.

Slow Growth or Lack of Blooms

When a Christmas cactus is overwatered, it can become stressed, leading to stunted growth and a lack of blooming. If you notice that your plant is not growing as it should or that it fails to produce its vibrant flowers, overwatering may be the culprit.

Read this: Where to put Christmas cactus in house?

How to Save Overwatered Christmas Cactus?

If you’ve accidentally overwatered your beloved Christmas cactus, don’t panic. There are ways to save it and bring it back to its vibrant and healthy self. Here are some points to follow s:

Stop Watering

The first and most crucial step is to stop watering your Christmas cactus immediately. Excess moisture is the main culprit behind the plant’s distress, so allowing the soil to dry out is essential. Be patient and don’t water it until the soil has partially dried.

Check the Drainage

Ensure that the pot your Christmas cactus is in has proper drainage holes. These holes allow excess water to escape, preventing waterlogging. If the pot doesn’t have drainage, consider repotting the plant into a container that has proper drainage.

Remove Excess Water

If there’s water pooled in the saucer or tray beneath the pot, remove it. Leaving the plant sitting in water can worsen the overwatering problem and lead to root rot.

Repot in Fresh Soil

Choose a well-draining soil mix specifically formulated for cacti and succulents. Place a layer of gravel or small stones at the bottom of the pot to improve drainage. Carefully repot your Christmas cactus, ensuring that the roots are spread out and covered with the new soil.

Provide Sunlight

Place your overwatered Christmas cactus in a location where it can receive bright, indirect sunlight. Exposing the plant to light can help with the recovery process. When the cactus is exposed to sunlight, a natural process called transpiration occurs. During transpiration, the excess moisture within the plant evaporates through its leaves, gradually restoring the plant to its normal state.

Adjust Watering Routine

Going forward, adjust your watering routine to prevent overwatering. It’s important to let the soil dry out a bit between watering sessions. Before watering, check the moisture level by feeling the top inch of the soil with your finger. Water your Christmas cactus only when the soil feels dry to the touch.

Using perlite with potting soil can avoid overwatering or underwatering issues.

Underwatered Christmas Cactus

On the other hand, neglecting to water our Christmas cactus enough can also be problematic. When the plant doesn’t receive sufficient hydration, it struggles to grow and thrive. Signs of underwatering include shrivelled stems, droopy or wilted leaves, and a lack of new growth. Without enough water, the plant may also struggle to produce its beautiful blooms.

To keep your Christmas cactus happy and healthy, finding the right balance is crucial. Instead of following a rigid watering schedule, pay attention to the soil’s moisture level.

However, be careful not to overwater. Allow the excess water to drain out of the pot, preventing waterlogging and ensuring the roots have access to oxygen.

What is underwatering?

Just as overwatering can harm plants, underwatering can also pose a risk to their health. Underwatering occurs when plants don’t receive sufficient water to meet their needs. This can happen when we forget to water them regularly or don’t provide them with an adequate amount of water. When a plant is underwatered, it struggles to access the necessary hydration to thrive and grow.

The signs of underwatering can be quite evident. One common indication is drooping or wilting leaves. The leaves may appear dry, crispy, or even curl up in an attempt to conserve moisture.

Signs of underwatered Christmas cactus

Ensuring your Christmas cactus receives the right amount of water is required for its well-being. Sometimes, though, we may unintentionally underwater our plant, leaving it thirsty and in need of attention. Here are some signs to check for – 

Droopy or Wilted Appearance

When a Christmas cactus is underwatered, its leaves may start to droop or wilt. The lack of water causes the plant to lose its firmness and become limp. You may notice that the normally plump and turgid leaves appear less lively and begin to sag.

Dry and Brittle Soil

If you touch the soil surrounding your Christmas cactus and find it dry and crumbly, it’s a sign of underwatering. The lack of water in the soil makes it lose moisture, leaving it parched and brittle to the touch.

Shrivelled or Wrinkled Stems

When a Christmas cactus is not receiving enough water, its stems may start to shrivel or develop wrinkles. This is the plant’s way of conserving moisture and energy during periods of drought.

Slow Growth and Lack of Blooms

An underwatered Christmas cactus may exhibit slow growth and a lack of blooming. Without adequate water, the plant struggles to carry out essential growth processes, resulting in stunted development. It may also have difficulty producing its expected colourful flowers.

Leaf Drop

In severe cases of underwatering, the Christmas cactus may shed its leaves. The plant prioritizes preserving moisture for survival, and shedding leaves helps reduce water loss through transpiration.

To address underwatering, it’s important to adjust your watering routine. Ensure that you water the soil thoroughly, allowing the water to penetrate the root zone. Prevent root rot by ensuring that your Christmas cactus doesn’t sit in standing water.

How to Save Underwatered Christmas Cactus?

Here are some signs to know about underwatering of Christmas cactus – 

Watering Correctly

The first step in saving your underwatered Christmas cactus is to water it properly. Give it a thorough watering, confirming that the soil is evenly moist. Allow any excess water to drain out of the pot to avoid waterlogging, which can harm the roots.

Improve Humidity

Increase the humidity around your Christmas cactus to create a more favourable environment. To achieve this, you can place the plant on a tray filled with water. As the water evaporates, it creates a humid environment around the plant, helping it retain moisture.

Adjust Lighting

Provide your Christmas cactus with bright, indirect light. A spot near a north or east-facing window is often ideal. 

Monitor Soil Moisture

Look for the moisture level of the soil. Check the top inch of the soil with your finger and water only when it feels slightly dry. Be cautious not to overwater, as this can lead to other issues.

Prune if Necessary

If your Christmas cactus has become leggy or sparse due to underwatering, you can trim it back to encourage new growth. Use sharp pruning shears to remove any unhealthy or damaged parts of the plant.

Reviving an underwatered Christmas cactus takes time and patience. Continue to provide it with the proper care, including regular watering, appropriate lighting, and a humid environment. With consistent attention, your plant should start to recover and regain its vitality again.

Do Christmas cactus need lots of water?

Christmas cactus are native to rainforest environments, where they grow as epiphytes, attached to trees and receive moisture from the air and occasional rainfall. However, as potted plants, their watering needs differ slightly.

During the active growing season, which typically occurs in spring and summer, Christmas cactus appreciate slightly more frequent watering. As a general rule, check the soil with your finger and when it feels dry, it’s time to water them. This ensures that the roots have access to moisture without sitting in soggy soil.

During the dormant period in fall and winter, Christmas cactus requires less water. Reduce the frequency of watering, allowing the soil to dry out more between waterings. 

Do you water a Christmas cactus from the top or bottom?

When it comes to watering your Christmas cactus, experts suggest using the bottom watering method instead of watering from the top. This ensures that your plant receives an ample amount of water each time, as it allows the water to soak into the roots and reach every part of the plant.

Watering from the top, also known as top watering, can sometimes result in the soil not being thoroughly saturated. As the water trickles down from the top, only small amounts may reach the roots, leaving the rest of the soil relatively dry. This can give you a false impression that you’ve watered your plant adequately when, in reality, it might still be lacking sufficient hydration.

Furthermore, by doing bottom watering, you can be confident that the water will be absorbed by the roots and distributed throughout the entire plant. This helps ensure that each part of your Christmas cactus receives the moisture it needs to stay healthy and vibrant.

To do this, simply place your potted Christmas cactus in a tray or saucer filled with water. Allow the plant to be watered for about 15 – 25 minutes, or until you observe the soil becoming moist at the top.

What does an underwatered Christmas cactus look like?

Here you can know what underwatered Christmas cactus look like –  

1. Shrivelled or Wrinkled Leaves

One of the most noticeable signs of an underwatered Christmas cactus is its leaves appearing shrivelled or wrinkled. When a Christmas cactus doesn’t get enough water, you’ll notice that its usually plump and firm leaves become deflated and droopy. They lose their usual full appearance and appear wilted. This is a clear sign that the plant is not receiving the hydration it needs.

2. Dry Soil

When you touch the soil surrounding your Christmas cactus, it feels excessively dry. The soil may even pull away from the edges of the pot. This is a clear indication that the plant is not receiving enough water.

3. Slow Growth or Stunted Appearance

An underwatered Christmas cactus may exhibit slow growth or appear stunted compared to a well-hydrated plant. The lack of water affects its ability to develop and expand, resulting in a smaller and less vibrant appearance.

4. Drooping or Wilting

As the plant becomes dehydrated, its stems may start to droop or wilt. You may notice a downward curling of the leaves in the plant. This is a distress signal indicating that your Christmas cactus is thirsty.

5. Brown or Yellowing Leaves

Underwatering can cause the leaves of your Christmas cactus to turn brown or yellow. This discolouration usually starts at the tips and edges of the leaves and gradually spreads inward if the plant remains thirsty.

6. Lack of Blooms

An underwatered Christmas cactus may struggle to produce its characteristic vibrant blooms. Insufficient water can disrupt the plant’s natural blooming cycle, resulting in fewer or no flowers.

How to Avoid Overwatering and Underwatering Christmas Cactus Plant?

To avoid overwatering and underwatering, it’s important to understand the water requirements of your Christmas cactus. These unique plants, native to tropical rainforests, have adapted to receive regular but moderate amounts of moisture.

Finding the Right Balance

Regularly assess the moisture level of the soil by touching it. Look out the soil moisture by sticking your finger into it, if feels dry then it’s time to water the plant.

Instead of watering on a fixed schedule, focus on providing the right amount of water when needed. 

Avoiding Overwatering

Ensure your Christmas cactus is planted in a well-draining pot with drainage holes at the bottom. Excess water should be able to escape, preventing waterlogged roots.

When watering, give your Christmas cactus a thorough soak, allowing the water to penetrate the soil. Afterwards, discard any excess water that accumulates in the saucer or pot.

Preventing Underwatering

Aim for a consistent watering routine, taking into account the plant’s growth stage and environmental conditions. During the active growth phase, the plant may require more frequent watering.

Help the soil retain moisture by using organic mulch or adding a layer of sphagnum moss on top. This can help prevent rapid drying of the soil.

Tips to follow

  • Temperature and Humidity – Consider the ambient temperature and humidity levels in your home. Adjust your watering frequency accordingly, as higher temperatures and lower humidity can lead to faster evaporation and increased water needs.
  • Room for Growth – Repot your Christmas cactus into a slightly larger container when it outgrows its current pot. This ensures enough space for the roots to develop and absorb water.

Also Read: Do Christmas Cactus like Coffee Grounds?


Taking care of your Christmas cactus requires understanding its unique water requirements and finding the perfect balance between overwatering and underwatering. By observing the plant’s needs and adjusting your watering routine accordingly, you can ensure its optimal health and growth.

Avoiding overwatering is crucial to prevent root rot and other water-related issues. Providing proper drainage and discarding excess water helps maintain a healthy root system. Similarly, preventing underwatering is essential to avoid wilting and stunted growth. Consistency in watering and creating favourable moisture retention conditions can help your Christmas cactus thrive.