Why are the leaves on my Christmas cactus turning limp? Experts provide the answer

There are three main reasons for this. Once you've worked out why, it's easy to revive

flowering cactus Schlumbergera or Christmas Cactus
(Image credit: Leonid Shtandel / Alamy Stock Photo)

So you've spotted that your Christmas cactus leaves are turning limp. The treatment for the problem will depend on the diagnosis. I.e. what has caused your leaves to droop.

First off, you need to decide whether the leaves also have a shriveled appearance as well as a droop. Or are they just plain droopy? Once you've made this distinction you can work on fixing it. 

Though the name would suggest that they're cacti, these plants are actually succulents. A feature of this plant family is that they store water in their leaves. So leaf-health is an indication of whether your Christmas cacti is getting too much water, or not enough.

You'll be the judge of how much water you've been giving your Christmas cactus as you will have no doubt been responsible for its care.

Fine pink flower of Schlumbergera in a flowerpot

A healthy Christmas cactus will have firm glossy leaves

(Image credit: Alexander Matvienko / Alamy Stock Photo)

Here are 3 reasons the leaves on your Christmas cactus are turning limp

You may already be aware that the Christmas cactus is a demanding plant with very specific maintenance requirements. There are certain common Christmas cactus mistakes which it helps to be aware of, in order to avoid problems, such as droopy leaves, from occurring.

The case may be, that you're seemingly doing everything right, and yet the leaves are mocking you with limpness. If this is the case then your plant might be root bound - which has a different, slightly more complex, fix than adjusting the water levels.

Limp leaves caused by overwatering

bright pink Cacti Schlumbergera

Limp and turgid leaves are a sign of too much water

(Image credit: Derek Harris / Alamy Stock Photo)

Knowing when to water a Christmas cactus is a good preventative measure. If the soil is wet and you haven't just watered it, or if there's a pool of water around the base of the pot, these are telltale signs your plant is sitting in too much moisture. 

As well as being a limp, a more seriously overwatered Christmas cactus could have yellow leaves. Drain away any excess water and leave it to dry out properly before attempting to water again.

'Christmas Cactus are succulents so they tend to not need a lot of water,' says houseplant expert Autumn Hilliard Knapp.

Limp leaves caused by underwatering

Christmas cactus plant in a pot

Wrinkled leaves indicate dehydration

(Image credit: BIOSPHOTO / Alamy Stock Photo)

Plants that haven't received enough water will have a different look to them. Leaves will be more shriveled and dehydrated in appearance. If you have not watered your plant in over a month and the soil is completely dry to the touch this would indicate under watering.

The solution here is to of course, add water. But don't drown it, at no point should a Christmas cacti be left sitting in water. 

Autumn Hilliard-Knapp advises they need 'only be watered about every couple of weeks'. The top inch of the soil should be fully dried out before adding more water to your favorite Christmas plant.

Autumn Hilliard-Knapp
Autumn Hilliard-Knapp

Autumn is a horticulture specialist and marketing professional at Perfect Plants Nursery. With four years of experience in the horticulture industry, she has developed a passion for helping people create beautiful indoor and outdoor spaces to enjoy. Her expertise in horticulture encompasses a broad range of activities, including plant care and selection, landscape design, and maintenance.

Limp leaves caused by being root bound

Pink Christmas cactus flower

(Image credit: Scenics & Science / Alamy Stock Photo)

A plant which has become root or pot bound will struggle to take in water. Once thriving plants can suddenly turn limp when this happens.

If this is the case, you need to repot your Christmas cactus and fix the roots. Do this by gently teasing out the congested root system. When they are more spread out it allows them to take up nutrients and water.

This is also a good opportunity to check roots for pests. If your plant is clear of pests then cut away any dead roots and repot it in a larger container with a drainage hole at the base.

Ensure the compost you're using has adequate drainage too by choosing a mixture with plenty of grit. Try this Harris Succulent and Cacti Potting Mix at Walmart.


How do you fix a limp Christmas cactus?

This all depends on what's causing your Christmas cactus to become limp. An overwatered Christmas cactus can become droopy, so you must allow it to dry out. Or even repot it in a slightly larger container with plenty of drainage if it's become root bound.

Teasing out any pot-bound roots will help revitalize your plant by allowing it to take in moisture more effectively. If you're repotting an otherwise healthy plant, it's a good opportunity to propagate a Christmas cactus by dividing your plant.

Why is my Christmas cactus droopy and wrinkly?

A droopy Christmas cactus that is also wrinkly sounds like a dehydrated plant. If the leaves look dry and wrinkled, and may even be starting to go brown, then this is sure a sign of under watering.

Give your plant a drink, but don't give it too much. Your Christmas cactus won't thank you for over watering it either.

What does an overwatered Christmas cactus look like?

An overwatered Christmas cactus will suffer from limp leaves. You may also spot water pooling at the base of your plant and the compost will be too soggy in appearance.

Limp leaves without any other sign of excess water can indicate under watering too. However these leaves will be more wrinkled in appearance as well as being droopy.

Christmas cacti are fussy plants and will complain if you give them too much water - or not enough. Both of these things will cause your cactus to droop. The best option is to learn how often you should water a Christmas cactus as well as when to fertilize a Christmas cactus.

Keeping it in its favorable humidity and light conditions will also make a Christmas cactus bloom happily throughout the festive period.

Teresa Conway
Deputy Gardens Editor

Teresa was part of a team that launched Easy Gardens magazine two years ago and edited it for some time. Teresa has been a Gardens Editor at Homes & Gardens, Country Homes & Interiors and Living Etc magazine since 2020 and has developed close working relationships with top garden designers, and has been exposed to an array of rich garden content and expertise.