How to Repot a Christmas Cactus
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Is your favorite Christmas Cactus in need of repotting? Great! Are you nervous about repotting your precious plant? Don’t be! We’ve got all the information you need to repot your Christmas Cactus with minimal stress to you or your plant.
Why Repot a Christmas Cactus
Repotting a Christmas Cactus, or any succulent for that matter is an important aspect in keeping your plants in top shape. Though it doesn’t need to be done frequently, repotting can give your Christmas Cactus a new lease on life.
One of the most common reasons for repotting is that the plant has outgrown its current container. This epiphytic favorite is not a particularly fast-growing plant, so you won’t need to worry about your Christmas Cactus outgrowing its pots very often.
Another reason for repotting is that plants can and will use up the available nutrients in their soil. Of course, you can always give your succulents additional nutrients with fertilizer or plant food, but repotting will still be necessary from time to time.
Over time, soil can also become hydrophobic, which simply means that it doesn’t absorb water the way it used to. Christmas Cacti do prefer well-draining soil, but it the water doesn’t stick around long enough for the plant to absorb it, the cactus is going to suffer.
Depending on the water where you live, you may also begin to notice heavy salt or mineral buildup on the outsides of your terracotta pots. Though this isn’t necessarily harmful, it can be a sign that it’s time to repot.
Think about it: if there’s that much buildup on the outsides of the pot, there’s going to be salt and mineral residue within the soil as well. By repotting, you’re simply hitting the reset button on that buildup and giving your plant a fresh start with new soil.
When You Shouldn’t Repot a Christmas Cactus
As a Christmas Cactus caregiver, it’s important to remember that Christmas Cacti grow best when their roots are a little crowded. If your Christmas Cactus still has plenty of room to expand in its current container, it may be best to wait a bit until you repot.
If you’ve repotted your cactus recently, you may also want to hold off on repotting. Repotting a Christmas Cactus too frequently can also result in damage to the roots, which can stunt the plant’s growth or even kill it.
If your plant doesn’t seem to be thriving and you have repotted in the last year or so, you may want to look into other reasons your Christmas Cactus could be feeling under the weather.
You should also avoid repotting your Christmas Cactus while it has flowers. If your cactus is actively blooming, it’s best to wait until it’s finished, usually by early spring, before you make any decisions about whether or not it’s time to repot.
Another reason to wait until spring to repot your Christmas Cactus is that it should be starting its growing season. Not only do you want to avoid repotting your cactus when it’s blooming, but also while it’s experiencing dormancy.
Repotting during dormancy does carry some risks, as your plant won’t have the energy it needs to recover from the stress. This is especially true if you needed to trim any roots during the repotting process.
When You Should Repot a Christmas Cactus
The most obvious sign that you should repot your Christmas cactus is when the plant is beginning to look a bit unhealthy despite your best efforts. If you’re providing your cactus with optimum care and it just doesn’t seem to be thriving, you might want to consider repotting.
This is especially true if it has been quite a while since it was last repotted. In most cases, Christmas Cacti do not need to be repotted every year and generally will do better if repotted every three years or so instead.
One way to tell if your Christmas Cactus is ready for a new pot is to check the drainage hole. If your plant has outgrown its current container, you may notice roots poking out of the current pot’s drainage hole.
The best time of year to repot is during the spring or summer. The reason for this is to give your plant the most amount of time during the growing season to settle into its new home and recover from the stress of being moved.
That’s not to say you should never repot your cacti during the winter, but repotting is rarely an emergency, so most people prefer to wait until spring to allow their cacti to have the entire growing season to grow into their new pots.
Most experienced gardeners also recommend waiting to repot your Christmas Cactus until after it has finished blooming. Typically, by late winter or early spring, any flowers that have been produced during the winter will have wilted.
Step 1: Prepare the New Pot
Before you remove your Christmas Cactus from its old pot, you need to get the new pot ready. By preparing the pot before you remove the plant from its container, you ensure that it will have a smooth transition and you won’t need to leave it lying around while you get ready.
Repotting can be incredibly stressful for a plant, so it’s important to prepare what you can to help minimize the stress. The smoother you can make this transition, the better your plant will recover.
Whether you’ve chosen a hanging planter or a regular pot, you might want to consider using a piece of plastic or metal mesh over the drainage hole. The mesh will help keep your soil from washing out the bottom of your pot but won’t hinder drainage.
Be sure to use a fast-draining soil for your Christmas Cactus such as one that is specifically labeled for use with succulents and cacti. If you’re not sure what type of soil is best, read our guide on succulent soil here.
Now you need to put a little bit of soil into the pot before you place your plant inside. You don’t want your cactus’s roots to be sitting on the bottom of the pot so put an inch or two of soil into the pot first.
How much soil you put in at this phase will depend on the size of the pot. Ideally, your pot won’t be so large that you need to place several inches of soil into it before you put your plant in, but you want the roots to be elevated to about an inch or two below the surface of the soil once the plant is in place and the pot is filled.
Step 2: Remove the Christmas Cactus from Its Old Pot
The next step in the repotting process is to remove the Christmas Cactus from its old container. You’ll want to handle the plant as gently as possible to prevent any accidental damage to its stems or roots.
To safely remove the plant, you may need to tip the pot on its side or even upside down. Just be sure to have a hand in place to carefully catch the plant when it comes out.
It’s safest to do this near the ground or on an elevated surface such as a table. If you need to catch the falling plant or lose grip on the container, you won’t need to worry about broken pots or plants.
Once you have the plant out of the old pot, you can begin to carefully shake away soil. A gentle shaking movement may work for some, or you may choose to carefully loosen the soil and the roots with your hands.
During this process, you’ll want to get a good look at the roots to make sure everything is healthy and there are no problems with rot or pests. If the roots were previously pot bound, it may take a bit of work to gently pry them from their tight ball.
If you’re having trouble removing the excess soil or loosening the root ball, you can also use water to clean away the old soil. Just be sure to use a gentle stream of water. Blasting the roots with water will not only make a huge mess, but you might accidentally damage the roots in the process.
Step 3: Place the Christmas Cactus in Its New Pot
As previously mentioned, you want to place your Christmas Cactus in its new pot so that its roots will be about an inch or two below the surface of the soil once everything is in place.
Gently place your plant into its new pot on top of the soil you’ve already placed at the bottom of the pot. Hold the plant in place with one hand as you carefully add soil around the plant’s roots.
Ideally, you will be able to place enough soil in the pot so that the surface of the soil is about an inch or so from the rim of the pot when you’re done. This may mean filling the pot to the rim at first and then gently patting it down.
You want the soil to be about an inch below the rim because it will be enough to keep your cactus in position without risk of the roots becoming exposed as you water the plant. Plus, your water won’t flow over the edge if you accidentally add water to the pot too quickly.
You want to make sure that you gently pat the soil down but don’t compact it. Compacting the soil will make it difficult for water and air to reach your Christmas Cactus’s roots, which might defeat the whole purpose of repotting in the first place.
Some gardeners choose to place decorative pebbles over the soil’s surface to help with erosion when you water your plants, but this step is completely optional.
Once you’ve finished the last step of the repotting process, you can stand back and admire your Christmas Cactus in its new home!
Caring for a Christmas Cactus After Repotting
Now that your Christmas Cactus has been repotted, you can give it a thorough watering. It will likely take a few weeks for your plant to recover from the stress of repotting, so be sure to keep a close eye on it.
Though Christmas Cactus prefer indirect sunlight under normal circumstances, it’s especially important to keep your plant out of direct sunlight during its recovery.
Your cactus will be particularly sensitive to harsh environmental factors during this stage, so do your best to protect it until you feel that it has fully recovered.
You will also want to avoid fertilizing your Christmas Cactus until it has recovered from repotting. The new soil will have plenty of nutrients, so you don’t need to worry about adding more until your plant is feeling better.
Once your Christmas Cactus has recovered from its stressful repotting experience, you can go back to caring for it as you normally would.
Repotting Tips and Techniques
If you’re not sure how big of a pot to move your Christmas Cactus, it’s quite simple. Choose a pot only slightly larger than the old one. An inch or two more in diameter will give your cactus plenty of room to expand.
If you need help choosing the correct pot size, read our guide on that here.
Speaking of choosing the right pot, don’t forget to pick one with a drainage hole. Though it is possible to grow Christmas Cacti in containers without proper drainage, you put your plants at risk of developing root rot.
You have to be much more careful about proper watering when using a pot without a drainage hole and it is more difficult to fix the problem should you accidentally give your plant too much water.
If you’re committed to using a container without a drainage hole, you might consider drilling a drainage hole into it. With the right tools, it’s relatively simple to do.
It’s also worth noting that repotting should be done when your soil is dry, so wait until your Christmas Cactus is ready to be watered to repot.
Repotting a wet plant is not only messy, but you risk accidentally damaging the roots in the process. Instead, opt for repotting a dry plant and watering it immediately after repotting.
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