When to water a Christmas cactus

Learn when to water a Christmas cactus, and what to do if you overwater, for a thriving festive plant

A close up of a Christmas cactus plant leaves with developing bud
(Image credit: Alamy)

Christmas cacti make for wonderful pops of festive color, and make even better gifts – so long as they are beautifully blooming, that is. One of the main ways to ensure this is by knowing when to water a Christmas cactus, and what to do if you overwater.

Whether it is your first time learning about Christmas cactus care or you are a seasoned pro, watering succulents is all about finding the right balance. 

‘With the festive season just around the corner, you might be tempted to treat yourself to a gorgeous, blooming Christmas cactus. Or maybe, you’ve received one as a gift. These flowering cacti make a beautiful addition to any room, and you’ll be pleased to hear that they’re incredibly easy to care for,' begins Jo Lambell, founder of Beards and Daisies and author of The Unkillables

Here, experts explain when to water a Christmas cactus, and what an overwatered plant looks like.

When to water a Christmas cactus

A close up of a white flower on a Christmas cactus plant

(Image credit: Alamy)

When it comes to making a Christmas cactus bloom, the right conditions are vital, and knowing when to water, and how much, is vital. That said, you can often get away with a little bit of neglect. Christmas cacti only require watering every two or three weeks as opposed to every week.

'The Christmas cactus, also known as Schlumbergera, only needs watering once its soil feels dry,' house plant expert Jo Lambell notes. 'We’d encourage you to perform the finger dip test – pop your finger into the soil and if it feels dry, then it’s time to give your plant a drink. Make sure you let any excess water drain from your Schlumbergera before you pop it back in its pot.'

To water a Christmas cactus, soak the soil in water until excess water pours from the pot's drainage holes, making sure to go back to your plant to check for any sitting water in the tray or outer pot. Clear excess water out to make sure the roots do not become oversaturated, leaving them susceptible to rot.

To keep your Christmas plants and flowers healthy, watering is often done in conjunction with fertilizing, so ensure you know when to fertilize a Christmas cactus too – as a general guide, this is from spring to fall, and not over the Christmas period, as you might expect.

What to do if you overwater a Christmas cactus 

A close up of red flowers on Christmas cactus plant

(Image credit: Alamy)

Even the best low-maintenance houseplants are at risk of suffering when overwatered, something that is easy to do with a Christmas cactus. 

'Your plant will be sure to tell you if it’s been overwatered, you might notice that its leaves suddenly feel soft and mushy – this is a sure sign you’ve been killing it with kindness!' explains Jo.

'If you notice your Christmas cactus is starting to look a bit sad, then act quickly! First, drain out any excess water from its pot, remove any soft stems, and rinse your plant's roots,' Jo explains. 'This can help wash away any fungus that might have started growing. Let your plant dry out and monitor it, to see if it recovers.’

Should I water my Christmas cactus while it’s blooming? 

When a Christmas cactus is blooming, it is best to keep the soil moist and the leaves regularly misted to keep it flowering for as long as possible.

How long can a Christmas cactus go without water?

A Christmas cactus can usually survive fine without water for two weeks before it starts to dry out. Like many succulents, a Christmas cactus has a wonderful ability to retain water, making it a plant that can actually thrive even with a little neglect.

Chiana Dickson
Content Editor

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for two years, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.