Repotting Christmas Cactus

ezendorApril 3, 2009

Hello all,

I've been a "lurker" on this forum for about a year now, browsing through topics and picking up advice along the way. This forum has been a great help to a plant newbie such as myself.

I was hoping somebody could share some advice on how I should go about repotting a Christmas cactus. I am unsure of the scientific name, but I know it's the christmas cactus with the sharp, pointed leaf margins (I believe the tag called it a "Zygo" cactus). Anyways, the root system on this plant is very fragile, but is showing new growth in the form of white roots. I am looking to get rid of all its original heavy soil mix and replace it with a lighter, faster draining mix (I've been using Tapla's mix to great results, and want to use that).

Currently the plant is in its original, snug-fitting 6" plastic pot with its original soil. I let the soil dry thoroughly before watering thoroughly, but this usually takes somewhere between 2-3 weeks for the soil to dry. This is why I am looking to repot.

So far the plant seems to be growing well. It is placed near a southern window where it gets dappled sunlight and some new leaf segments have grown recently. The rootball has grown such that there are many small fibrous roots that would be easily damaged while removing the soil. My question is, is there a good way to remove this original soil without damaging the fragile roots? Or will root damage not be a big deal for this plant? Or would it be best if I just left the plant in its current soil?

Thanks for any help or advice anyone can offer. :)

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If it's in the original soil it is probably full of peat and gets hard like a brick. The best way to loosen it is soak it in a bucket to loosen it, rather than break it away and tear the roots.
This is a good time to repot it also after it's blooming rest.
The link below should help you on it's overall care

Here is a link that might be useful: holiday cacti

    Bookmark   April 3, 2009 at 11:21AM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

Well, my experience is the roots are deceptively tough, they recover quickly w/ good care & I think would rebound well.

Tho' I'm very well aware of the popularity of Al's mix (Tapla), I'm not sure abt it for these plants. I grow mine in African Violet mix w/ lots of extra perlite or pumice; makes for a light & fluffy mix.

It's a different consideration, 'cause tho' these plants are cacti, they are jungle cacti, which indicates either humidity, frequent moisture, or both, unlike desert cacti and the dry, prolonged desert heat in which they grow.

Also, these plants aren't terrestrial, they don't naturally grow down in the dirt, they typically hang from tree branches, so they don't really have soil. A piece of plant (or seed) will root in leaf debris, animal droppings & whatever other natural debris that comes their way.

One could experiment, take 3 or 4 small cuttings & try some in Al's mix (you may have to water every 2 or 3 days, I couldn't keep up w/ that, I water them maybe once every 7-10 days, more like 10 days).

Also maybe try some in my suggested mix & maybe start another small pot in the existing mix. Oh, by the way, pls use plastic pots for them & don't pot them larger, their roots stay small. Best way I found to remove mix is after having wet the rootbll, just crumbling off the mix in one's fingers.

Good luck & if you choose to experiment, pls. report back your results.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2009 at 2:48AM
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Pirate girl,

Thanks for the advice. I have some miracle grow cactus/succulent mix, but no African violet mix. Do you think this would be a decent substitution? I have plenty of perlite that I could mix into the soil.

Also, I was considering switching to an unglazed clay pot, but the only size I have closest to its current pot is about a 6" pot which is about the same diameter but 1" deeper. Is there an advantage to plastic pots for these plants other than to hold more moisture? I can keep up with watering if they dry out faster with clay.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2009 at 8:34AM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

Hi Ez,

I wouldn't use that mix, I think it's too lean (spare, devoid of organics) for CC. Early on in my growing them I thought the same thing & used C&S mix on them (since I grow lot of succulents & keep their mix on hand). They did only OK, never very lush & I hadn't learned to bloom them yet. Once I switched to AV soil (richer, lighter, fluffier), the plants did much better.

I would NOT use clay, unglazed or otherwise; this plant is just not grown that way. Also over the yrs., as one would pot up to larger clay pots over time, the pot would become too heavy.

Is there some particular reason you want to do this? Not only will it dry the plant too quickly, as someone else pointed out on another thread, the tiny fine roots can become stuck against the clay & all need to be ripped to turn the plant out or to check its roots.

If the watering of CCs is not right, these plants can die quickly, either from rot, which can be quick once started, or by drying out entirely or by shedding large sections of the whole plant until there's nothing left.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2009 at 11:52AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

I would like to re-pot my Christmas Cactus this spring, as well. The bloom is just about
past, and I've curtailed watering respectively. Now I'm thinking ahead to a May re-potting.
This CC has been in this unglazed, LARGE clay pot for many, many years.....


    Bookmark   April 4, 2009 at 12:17PM
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Josh, that is a very nice christmas cactus you have there. It must be very old. I think the bark shows its age and gives it a very regal appearance.

Back to Pirate Girl, I suppose I wanted to repot this plant to prevent overwatering, but it sounds like this plant can live with a good amount of moisture. I was worried that since I wasn't having to water the plant but every 2-3 weeks that it might rot from overwatering. I've had the plant since November '08 though, and haven't really had any problems with it. I will have to look for some African Violet mix next time I'm out and see what its texture is like.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2009 at 8:50AM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

I suppose you COULD try Al's mix for these. My concern for you would be that you'd go from watering every 2-3 wks to every 2-3 days. Too confusing for both you & the plant; just speculation, but it might well rot from such an extreme change.

Sounds like your plant is just fine. Sometimes mine goes 2 wks w/ no water, I don't think this is a problem. Sorry if this seems obvious, but if your plant seems fine, I'd just leave it alone.

Mine's a small one I got very cheaply in the Fall, it's putting on lots of new growth. I just gave it a dose of acid-loving fertilizer that should last it all summer.

Hi Josh,

Nice plant; certainly seems appropriately potted for its size, but must be very heavy by now. I like the proportion of the plant to the pot.

If you DO repot yours, perhaps try to share a couple of pix of its rootball; could be very instructive for folks to see a relatively compact rootball for such a seemingly largish plant.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2009 at 10:17AM
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It sounds like you have carefully thought this out. I have had these plants for about the last 5-6 years and just received another one last week. I have mine in terracotta and glazed planters. I use pro-mix potting soil for all plants. I water less in the glazed planters than the terracotta. They like to have top watering in the winter in my zone because there isn't much sun. I prefer the terracotta clay pot because it is more forgiving when it comes to watering. I water with purified water or melted snow depending on the season. I also have trays with pebbles with water for additional moisture in the air. Christmas cactus like to be pot bound so I only transplant about every 3 years. They bloom at Thanksgiving and Christmas and again in March, April and/or May. When I do transplant I only use a planter that is slightly larger than the existing one. I also have them in a North window which I hear is a big no no but sometimes plants aren't logical. I think that's all I have.

I should mention that I have and Easter sunrise cactus that I treat the same way except for a little more water is necessary.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2009 at 4:04PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Just to add to the comments: I DO have mine planted in a gritty mix and they thrive in it. Watering is accomplished as usual...when the plants need it...perhaps once every month or so. I drench and then soak these plants on watering day, making sure that the Turface and perlite absorb and adsorb as much moisture as possible. The coarse mixes don't really dry out as fast as one would think. Faster than a heavy, peat-based product, but not super rapidly.

I've always grown these plants in clay, by the way. I believe that it's all in what you get used to. I'm quite convinced that a lot of over-watering problems can be attributed to a heavy potting mix and non-porous containers.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2009 at 4:35PM
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Josh: that's a lovely plant!
If it was mine I wouldn't repot it. To me, it looks like it still has more than enough room. I also had a huge one that was in the same pot for many years. I would only add a few inches of new soil every couple years until I got worried and decided to repot it. I ended up putting it back in the same pot after changing the soil as it had compacted over the years but it wasn't even close to being rootbound.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2009 at 3:12AM
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My cc lived all winter with no light except daylight. approx. 45 degrees,irregular watering. I brought to my house the next spring, was it ever blooming! I leave out on my back deck in the summer, bring it in the fall and put it in my extra bathroom so it will be dark for a spell. some time since I trans planted it to pottery pot and it has gotten to be two plants and very root bound. time to do some repotting! The two plants do not bloom togather! Grows like crazy in the summer!

    Bookmark   January 7, 2011 at 11:31AM
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Quite honestly, I haven't met a plant yet that didn't absolutely thrive in Al's Gritty Mixes.

Once you understand HOW and WHY the grittier mediums work, it becomes obvious that a heavier, siltier, or more organic medium is actually detrimental to the health of containerized plants.

It does no harm to read about the simple science of it, and with so many people advocating a faster draining, more aerated medium, one would be inclined to think there might be something to it. There is, but that's a determination each grower has to make for him or herself. Don't rule it out before checking into it, though... link below...

Here is a link that might be useful: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention 12

    Bookmark   January 8, 2011 at 2:45PM
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I have all most of mine in the gritty mix, and those are the ones doing the best.

I will be transplanting mine out of the peatier mixes come spring. The ones in the peat moss mixes do "ok", but the ones in the grittier mix look much happier and are thriving the best.

Once these ones in the gritty mix need a re-pot, it will be much easier since the mix will just fall way from the roots.

Watering is a bit more often, but I like the thought of watering as often as I like with our fear of root rot and my CC,TC,EC seem to like it. Since they are jungle cacti, they seem to appreciate frequent waterings even more.


    Bookmark   January 8, 2011 at 6:55PM
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Vada, keep the two CC together. They really look nice. 5 or so years back, I potted 4 CC together. Here's the results:

If I can get hold of more baskets, once spring comes, I'm going to do the same with my other CC..Good luck, Toni

    Bookmark   January 8, 2011 at 9:45PM
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Absolutely beautiful

You certainly have a way with growing some of the nicest plants and these are no exception. Thank you for the colors mixed together. Great idea;-)


    Bookmark   January 8, 2011 at 10:52PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Nice Thanksgiving Cacti, Toni!

I like the multi-blooms!


    Bookmark   January 9, 2011 at 2:45PM
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Thanks Mike and Josh. Toni

    Bookmark   January 9, 2011 at 4:36PM
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After reading all you posts, I appreciate this website.
I did not see if potting into a glazed pot would be harmful or not. I am now soaking the plant because the soil has hardened around the 5 yr old plant. Any suggestions would be appreciated

    Bookmark   June 8, 2011 at 1:49PM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

Hi Loretta,

Was there no drainage hole? I'm guessing it's more the mix (too peaty) than the pot.

Assuming you're willing/prepared to change the mix:

After the soak, I'd crumble the mix off w/ my fingertips, & discard the old mix.

I'd try to switch the mix to some African Violet soil mixed w/ extra perlite (maybe a third as much) which will keep the mix light & airy.

Then water it in & put it in bright shade to recover.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2011 at 6:01PM
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I have a very large very old Christmas Cactus that was given to me but a family friend. It is estimated 120-125 years old (the lady who gave it to me is 70 and it originally belonged her to great-grandmother). I don't know when the last time it was repotted, but to me it looks like it's outgrown it's pot. It is very heavy, and it might also need some pruning. I'm not sure I know what I'm doing and I don't want to kill this precious heirloom! Any suggestions would be much appreciated!

    Bookmark   October 16, 2011 at 5:28PM
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    Bookmark   October 18, 2011 at 11:44AM
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Em, yours is the largest, (and the oldest) CC I've ever seen. Ditto on the Wow. Toni

    Bookmark   October 18, 2011 at 1:43PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

FWIW - I don't grow CCs for lack of room, & because I quickly lose interest in plants that don't offer much opportunity for manipulation, but I have repotted many of these for friends into the gritty mix and everyone was amazed at the transformation in growth, most recently a very large plant repotted as a favor for a customer. I think a lot of growers feel they can/should depend on the soil for nutrition, but container soils are actually very poor sources of nutrition, no matter what their age (unless they are fortified with a fertilizer charge). When you see a "growth spurt" after repotting or potting up, it's actually not a spurt at all, and it's not due to the fresh soil supplying a greater amount of nutrition; it's simply evidence that the plant's growth and vitality was being limited by tight roots and a reduced number of fine roots to absorb nutrients, and perhaps a poor soil. The added soil used when potting up, or the effort to do a full repot simply allows the plant to return to growing closer to the potential with which it could have been growing all along, which is the best we can hope for.

All we need to do to have spectacular looking/growing plants is improve our skills at eliminating or reducing the effects of limiting factors. The plant is already programmed to grow well and look beautiful - our job is to simply clear the way and let the plant do what it wants to by eliminating limitations. I know "Sounds Easy" ..... right?

A 6" plant will be quite easy to repot. Use a dull chopstick or skewer to remove all the soil from the roots & repot into a fast draining durable medium that holds little or no perched water. Use the chopstick to work the new soil into the roots so there are no air pockets. Fertilize when you see new growth.

Good luck.


    Bookmark   October 18, 2011 at 4:01PM
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I created an account here and on flickr to share this with you. I hope I have the link to the photo correct as well. I found your site searching for information on caring for my Christmas Cactus. My husband's grandmother recently had a stroke. The rehabilitation facility where is she has this plant in the corner. I was amazed when I saw it. I asked how old it is and was told over 20 but no one knows for sure.

Here is a link that might be useful: Christmas Cactus

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 11:15PM
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WOW, that's a huge beautiful Christmas cactus! I would think it would have to be more than 20 years old. I have one that I bought from a woman for $40 that is smaller than that one, but still very large and she said that it was 65 years old.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 9:10PM
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What an amazing plant. I'm new to the GardenWeb. I have although been reading past entries and I have learned a great deal in the last week. I have what once was a beautiful orange christmas cactus. When we put it on the patio last year it was attacked by grasshoppers. It has started to come back to life after being chewed down to nubs. It has taken a year of patience. Some of the new growth is short and stout with 'normal' looking new leaves. It did give me one beautiful bloom at the beginning of the year. What color is this plant? I am amazed by all the gorgeous colors.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 11:29PM
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I've had a christmas cactus for twenty years now and this is the first year it hasn't bloomed.
It has started to look a little tired over the past year. I've always watered it once a fortnight and never given it any special feed, but its thrived all these years.
I'm wondering if it's coming to the end of its life, or whether repotting would perk it up. It's been in the same pot for twenty years.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 6:04AM
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I have a very large 15 year old Christmas cactus that I dig old dirt out of the plastic container and replenish with fresh dirt. I take cuttings, root them well and return them to their Mother plant or start new plants. Am i doing a disservice by not repotting the entire plant? My fear is due to the size of the plant that I will destroy the plant if I try to replant the entire Christmas cactus. My plant was started from a couple of cuttings from my late Mother and is very important to me. Any advice or suggestions would be helpful. Thank you very much.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2014 at 10:09PM
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