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House Plants/Problem with Christmas cactus


My Christmas cactus is about 40+ years old. It is currently living in a pot that is 12" in diameter and 11" high.  The main stems are looking brown and brittle.  There is still green further out on the stems.  
Do think there is still hope for it or should I try to propagate some new plants?
Thank you.


I'm going to assume you don't know about these plants, so if I say something which sounds obvious or that you already know, I ask in advance that you pls. excuse me.

Xmas cacti are jungle cacti, not desert cacti (as some folks mistake them), so they want & need water. They naturally grow in the branches of trees in the tropics, so in these branches or crotches of trees as they're called, they don't really have soil, just leaves, debris & animal droppings that collect there. Key is that any water runs right through this debris & doesn't stay in the roots long at all. The roots of these plants can look surprisingly small & insignificant.

You may have the old variety of Christmas cactus called Schlumbergera x buckleyi . These do get woody stems with age. It is not a problem. Woody growth can be normal, just a sign of older growth. They are beautiful highly desirable plants.

I suggest you take cuttings & start new ones; then repot the old, original plant as well. The leaves are referred to as segments or stems. It's recommended that a cutting should have 3-5 segments on each one cutting. I'd use small plastic pots, & place a number of cuttings around the outer edge of the pot & one or 2 in the center.

I just checked my reference book & confirmed that largish plants can be kept in smallish pots, say a plant 12" wide & maybe 8-10" high, could easily remain in a pot only 4-5" in diameter.

The mix should be something like African violet soil readily available at nurseries, box stores, etc. w/ added perlite, say 1/3 perlite to 2/3 AV soil. This will make for light & airy mix, fast draining which is what these plants need.

Only water the new cuttings lightly as without roots, they can't really take up the water. Give them bright, indirect light or place them at the edge of a window. Either water lightly every few days or spray the top of the mix w/ a plant mister. Pls. don't tug on the cuttings to check for rooting, just wait to see new growth; when you do that means the cuttings have rooted; then you can you can water more.

If the original rootball & its mix are hardened, soak them first, in a basin of warm water & crumble off the old mix w/ your fingers as much as you can & repot in a fresh mix. Do not put it in too large a pot. It does not need a pot larger than 12-14 inches.

Hope I've covered everything, you should see new growth in 4 weeks I'm guessing, if not before then. Good for you for wanting to rescue & do right by this plant. May it reward you w/ lots of blooms next year.

Are the edges of the stems jagged or rounded? Jagged indicates Thanksgiving cactus, rounded indicates Christmas cactus. If you see no other problems other than the woody trunks your plant is fine but you may want to start babies anyway. If you have more questions feel free to write again. Good luck!


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Darlene K. Kittle


I have been an Advanced Master Gardener for 24 years and I raise around 300 houseplants and bonsai trees a year including tropicals, succulents, and cacti. I have also been a professional plant care person for businesses in the Fort Wayne, IN area and currently professionally care for bonsai trees for my customers.


I am also studying the Japanese art of bonsai with tropical plants and is President of the Fort Wayne, IN Bonsai Club.

Fort Wayne, iN Master Gardeners. President of the Fort Wayne Bonsai Club. Allen County Master Gardeners

I am not a hortculturist. I am a Purdue University Advanced Master Gardener for 24 years. I have studied plants on a personal level by growing hundreds of plants annually for the last 35 years. I have also studied under several nationally known American Bonsai experts.

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