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Christmas Cactus Losing Branches

In the comments section of the entry for How To Make Your Christmas Cactus bloom are visitor asked this question that I thought was pretty interesting.

...Periodically, they insist on dropping branches. They seem fine and then just drop large healthy looking limbs. My plant is slowly getting sparcer instead of larger. Any ideas?-Sue

Sue, since you don't make any mention of disease or pests and say that your plant loses healthy limbs this may be an instance where "it just happens" or we may have to do some plant detective work.

The fleshy stems of Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera) hold water and it may be that you're watering too much. But overwatering would usually be accompanied by root rot or some visible signs in the leaf segments of this cactus or flower bud loss.

Also, you don't mention where the stem loss is occurring on your plant. Are the stems that are falling off on the outside of the plant or is it losing stems from within the center of the plant? If it is the outside of the plant have you considered the possibility of people or pets brushing up against it and breaking off a piece? You mentioned in the comment that you live in an area where you can now grow these outside; besides people and pets maybe it is being visited by squirrels, birds or some kind of "garden pest." If the stem loss is occurring within the center of the plant it may be because of low light. When sufficient light fails to reach the center of a bushy plant it will drop leavs from the center and branches die back.

Why I think it may "just happen."

Think about where these plants are native to and how they grow there. They can be found growing overhead in the tropical rainforest. Another clue could be the design of the plant itself. Why did the plant evolve to grow leaf segments that break and root easily instead of a long vine like an ivy? We know that the plant grows high up in tree branches so maybe the stems breaking and falling off is a necessity. If a Schlumbergera is growing high up in a tree and a branch breaks- it falls and perhaps gets stuck on a tree branch below. Withing a few weeks the piece that broke off is rooted, growing and a whole new plant is created. You can use this to your advantage by rooting the branches that break off and planting them back into your potted plant. See my entry on Rooting Christmas Cactus Cuttings by following that link.

Some things I think you can safely eliminate as the cause of your branch loss.

Underwatering: The branches wouldn't look "healthy"- they'd shrivel or turn brown and crisp.
Cold temps: If your plant was exposed to cold temperatures it would also show signs in the branches and leaf segments. The color would darken to a black or brown and become mushy.
Hot temp: Again the branches would turn brown and crisp from drying out.

Hope this helps and thanks for stopping by and asking a question that gave my brain a workout.


  1. I seem to have the same problem although I don't consider it anything major. I lose maybe 2 or 3 segments a month, they go yellow and just fall off. Mine is definitely not over watered, and there are no signs of pests, so I have chalked it up to being a part of the plants growing habit.

    Love your blog!!

  2. Anonymous9:31 PM

    Mr. Brown Thumb,

    Thanks for the insight, I think you may be on to something. Most, if not all, of my losses are during the winter, when I've brought the plants indoors from the cold. Adding to that, in general, the center is hardest hit, with my most recent loss being from underneath a group of other branches.

    I'll try getting a better light position and see if that doesn't encourage better retention.

    I don't get any yellowing, rot, withering or other damage on the branch that fell off, so I'll try to root and see if I can't start using these to fill the middle back in (or at least maintain a back up pot)

    Thanks for putting your head around this for me!


  3. I wonder if sometimes our houseplants take exception to the heat and humidity levels as well as the shorter days and lesser light.

  4. Anonymous5:02 PM

    I agree with Kate, a few of my plants just are not liking the shorter days, or the heat being turned on.

  5. @ Tracy

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    If they're healthy just root them and plant them back into the pot. Good luck with your plant.
    They certainly do. The biggest obstacles I face with growing C&S indoors and heating the home is that they want to continue growing instead of slowing down. Then they get all leggy and ugly.
    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  6. Anonymous9:40 PM

    Thanks for creating this blog. I always seem to find this site when I'm looking for gardening issues. I just got 2 different Christmas
    Cactus plants this past holiday and you've helped me in figuring out how to care for them.


  7. I've had several "limbs/branches" break off, too, but I thought I'd add a couple of additional observations: the breaks occur just above the ground level at what I suppose might be called the crown. It's the point where several limb/branches radiate out.
    The break point is a a joint between segments and it is almost always brownish and somewhat woody or leathery in texture. It's not unhealthy, it just seems mature. As other people have commented, the plant appears otherwise healthy.
    Reading up on this plant I find that I've probably kept it too sunny and hot (though it's been in the same place for two years and always bloomed) and I've probably over-watered in the summer.

  8. @ Susan,

    Thanks for the feedback and I hope you find the gardening information here useful.

    @Paul M,

    Hi thanks for posting your observations with the holiday cactus.

  9. Anonymous5:13 AM

    My Mum's cactus is quite old(probs in the region of 20-30 yrs old-it was my Gran's) and its started to rot from the crown, shedding woody branches off(they just drop to the floor), half of it is ok and half is what I can only discribe as rotted/died. Mum has got some cuttings going, she reckons its probs just run its course....we shall have to see how the other half goes, it seems solid enough at the moment though, and it probably could do with potting on, I would say.

  10. Anon,

    Good luck with your grandmother's Christmas cactus. Hope you're able to figure out what's happening with the plant and those Christmas cactus cuttings propagate for you.

  11. Wow. Great answers! I have been freaking out because my HUGE 30+ year old cactus has been dropping large, healthy branches. Could it be that they are just too heavy for the plant to hold up? Just lost a few that included the woody stems.

    Do the plants like to be pot bound, or should I be looking at sizing up a bit? What is the best way to encourage the "discards" to put out roots? My usual technique of just sticking them into a pot of soil doesn't always work. I have a few downed branches that are quite long... can I break them into 2 and 3 leaf sections for sprouting? Trying to keep this plant that belonged to my grandmother going, and giving new plants to other family members!



  12. Anonymous8:53 AM

    My (2)indoor Christmas Cacti aren't dropping 'branches', just profuse amounts of leaves. I've had them for several years and they finally bloomed beautifully last spring, but now they just making a mess on the floor. I've never experienced this problem before. Any suggestions?

  13. My Christmas Cactus has bloomed 3 times since Thanksgiving '15, but now it looks very droopy and unhealthy. I fed it with Miracle Grow, perhaps not the best food, and it receives direct sun for about 1/2 the day. I water it about once a week, when the soil is very dry. Am I looking for a problem that doesn't exist? For example, could it just be recuperating from three blooms in so short of time? Or is something wrong?
    I have a second Christmas cactus that hasn't bloomed for several years and is loosing large leaf sections at the dirt line (they''re grown inside in pots) The broken piece looks hollow and shrivelled. If I cut a few segments off and put them in the dirt, some do fine and others never take at all. Help?



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