Plant care and cultivation

Why Are My Christmas Cactus Leaves Wrinkly?

María Belén Acosta
By María Belén Acosta, Landscape and Horticultural Technician. November 16, 2023
Why Are My Christmas Cactus Leaves Wrinkly?

The sight of wrinkled leaves on your Christmas cactus, a plant known for its vibrant blooms and captivating foliage, can be a disheartening experience. Wrinkled leaves, which often appear puckered or shriveled, indicate that your plant is in trouble. To make sure your Christmas cactus recovers and remains healthy, it is crucial to address this issue as soon as possible.

The following article by thedailyECO explains the reasons behind wrinkled Christmas cactus leaves, and what to do about it.

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  1. Watering issues
  2. Unlight exposure
  3. Age-related changes
  4. Fertilizer and water quality
  5. Pests
  6. Christmas Cactus Care

Watering issues

The Christmas cactus, like all succulents, has a unique way of storing water in its structure. Unlike most plants, this one accumulates water not in its leaves but in its stems. So, when you notice the leaves of your Christmas cactus looking a bit wrinkled, it's actually the stems that are telling a tale of hydration.

When the stems of your Christmas cactus appear deflated, wrinkled, or a bit limp, it's often a sign that the plant has either lost or used up a significant portion of its stored water. This can give it that less-than-thriving appearance.

Interestingly, this issue can arise from both too much and too little watering. If your Christmas cactus is dehydrated, the leaves wrinkle because there isn't enough water for the plant to store in its reserves. Consequently, the stems shrink as the plant is forced to utilize its water supply. While Christmas cacti are adapted to withstand periods of drought, they still require a certain amount of water to thrive.

Conversely, overwatering can also lead to wrinkled leaves. Most cacti and succulents, including the Christmas cactus, have roots that are intolerant to excess moisture. When roots are waterlogged, they can rot, creating the illusion that the plant needs more water. If you observe blackening or rotting tips on the leaves, and the soil feels consistently moist, it's a clear indication that you might be overwatering your Christmas cactus.

Finding the right balance in watering your Christmas cactus is key to its well-being. Keep a close eye on the stems and leaf tips for signs of dehydration or overhydration, ensuring your festive succulent stays merry and bright all year round.

Why Are My Christmas Cactus Leaves Wrinkly? - Watering issues

Unlight exposure

Contrary to popular belief, not all cacti are built to bask in the direct sunlight of a scorching climate. Take the Christmas cactus, for instance. In some hot countries, particularly during the summer months, exposing it to intense sunlight can lead to the undesirable outcome of wrinkled leaves.

The issue arises because excessive, high-intensity sunlight prompts the Christmas cactus to lose water, even with its adept water retention mechanisms. If subjected to prolonged periods of dehydration due to insufficient watering, the stems of the cactus may start to wrinkle and dry up.

Therefore, it's crucial to strike a balance, ensuring your Christmas cactus receives the right amount of sunlight without being overwhelmed by its intensity.

Why Are My Christmas Cactus Leaves Wrinkly? - Unlight exposure

Age-related changes

Just like any other living beings, plants undergo the natural process of aging. Christmas cacti, too, bear witness to the passage of time, and as they age, their older stems and leaves may naturally develop wrinkles, even when the plant is otherwise in good health. So, if you're aware that your plant has been thriving for many years, don't be alarmed by the appearance of some wrinkled or slightly withered parts. This is a normal part of the aging process for Christmas cacti.

However, it's essential to differentiate between typical aging signs and issues that might signal a problem. If a substantial portion of your plant appears affected, it's wise to pay attention to other potential causes of the issue. While aging accounts for some changes, other factors discussed here could also influence the plant's well-being.

Fertilizer and water quality

Using the wrong fertilizers or water with excessive additives can also have an undesirable impact on the stems and leaves of your Christmas cactus.

Certain fertilizers, particularly those rich in salts, or the naturally occurring salts in tap water in some regions, may be the culprits behind these effects.

Inappropriate fertilizers can introduce salts that accumulate in the soil, affecting the overall health of your Christmas cactus. Similarly, water with high salt content, whether from fertilizers or tap water, can contribute to issues like wrinkling stems or leaves.

When troubleshooting the well-being of your Christmas cactus, it's essential to consider not just the type but also the quality of fertilizers and water you're using. Opt for fertilizers that are suitable for succulents, and if your tap water is known to be high in salts, consider using distilled or rainwater to keep your festive plant thriving.

Why Are My Christmas Cactus Leaves Wrinkly? - Fertilizer and water quality


One of the potential culprits for wrinkled leaves on your Christmas cactus could be unwanted guests in the form of pests, with spider mites being a common culprit. These tiny arachnids can inflict damage by feeding on the plant's sap, leading to visible symptoms like leaf wrinkling.

To check for pests, inspect the leaves, especially the undersides, where pests often hide. Look for small, web-like structures and tiny moving specks, which are indicative of spider mite infestations. Additionally, be on the lookout for discolored or stippled areas on the leaves, another sign of their presence.

If you detect the presence of pests, it's crucial to take immediate action to prevent further damage. Consider using a suitable insecticidal soap to treat your Christmas cactus. Insecticidal soaps are effective in controlling spider mites and other common pests without causing harm to the plant.

Regular monitoring for pests and prompt intervention with appropriate treatments can help maintain the health and vibrancy of your Christmas cactus, ensuring it remains free from the stressors that can lead to wrinkled leaves.

Christmas Cactus Care

Here are some basic care tips for keeping your Christmas cactus healthy and blooming:

  • Light: they prefer bright, indirect light. They can tolerate some direct sunlight, but too much will scorch their leaves.

  • Water: water your Christmas cactus thoroughly when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch. Allow the excess water to drain completely, and do not let the plant sit in water.

  • Humidity: they prefer humidity levels of around 50%. You can increase the humidity around your plant by placing it on a pebble tray filled with water, or by misting it regularly.

  • Fertilizer: fertilize your Christmas cactus every two weeks during the growing season with a balanced liquid fertilizer.

  • Soil: they need a well-draining potting mix. You can use a commercial potting mix for cactus and succulents, or make your own by mixing equal parts potting soil, perlite, and peat moss.

  • Repotting: repot your Christmas cactus every two to three years, or when it outgrows its pot. Choose a pot that is one size larger than the current pot.

  • Pruning: you can prune your Christmas cactus after it blooms to shape it or remove dead or damaged leaves.

  • Pests and diseases: these cacti are relatively resistant to pests and diseases. However, they can be susceptible to mealybugs, scale insects, and root rot. If you notice any pests or diseases, treat the plant with an appropriate pesticide or fungicide.

  • Blooming: to encourage your Christmas cactus to bloom, give it a period of cool temperatures and reduced light in the fall. This will simulate the conditions that trigger blooming in the wild.

With proper care, your Christmas cactus should provide you with years of enjoyment and beautiful blooms.

Delve deeper into the world of Christmas cactus care and discover how to prevent and address common problems in this informative article.

If you want to read similar articles to Why Are My Christmas Cactus Leaves Wrinkly?, we recommend you visit our Plant care and cultivation category.

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Why Are My Christmas Cactus Leaves Wrinkly?