How to Stop the Leaves Turning Red on Your Christmas Cactus - 'It's a Sign of Stress,' Houseplant Experts Say

Restore health to your Christmas cactus with these simple tips from houseplant experts

Close up of a Christmas cactus with pink flowers
(Image credit: Alamy)

The Christmas cactus is an unusual twist on the traditional festive houseplant. Similar to the classic Poinsettia, it booms deep red and pink flowers against green foliage, and the festive flowers come out just in time for Christmas to contribute to your beautifully decorated home. The question is, how can we make sure those blooms look their best throughout December?

Fortunately, Christmas cacti are relatively easy to care for, making them a great houseplant for beginners. That said, they can sometimes develop red leaves which isn't the intended look and can be a sign of stress. To understand why these discolored leaves develop and how to fix them I spoke to houseplant experts. Here they reveal how you can revive your Christmas cactus in time for the big day. 

Why are my Christmas cactus' leaves turning red?

A Christmas cactus in darkness

(Image credit: LiKind/Alamy Stock Photo)

Houseplants can be a bit temperamental. One day they look great and the next they're wilting, without explanation. The Christmas cactus is one of the best Christmas plants that isn't a poinsettia, but its odd quirk is that it's prone to developing red leaves with the slightest environmental change, and they're a lot more unsightly than they sound. 

'When your Christmas cactus leaves start turning red, it's often a sign of stress,' says indoor gardening specialist from Urban Leafy, George Brown. 'This is possibly due to too much sunlight or extreme temperature changes.'

While red is the shade of the season, the red leaves are not a good look and are a sure sign of deteriorating health. For these reasons, you'll want to prevent and fix it as soon as you notice the first signs.

How do I prevent my Christmas cactus' leaves from turning red? 

Gina Easley /Alamy Stock Photo

(Image credit: Alamy)

Prevention is key in gardening and ideally, our plant will never get to the point of having red leaves. However, this requires work to maintain its general health. You might be focused on how to make your Christmas cactus bloom, but this deserves just as much attention. 

According to George, the first thing you should always try to do is maintain a constant environment. 'The cactus should be placed in a spot with bright but indirect light and maintain a consistent temperature,' he says. 'This should help stabilize its environment.'

The first place to look at is your plant positioning. Put them too close to heat sources and it can have an adverse effect on your foliage's health. 'Christmas cacti do best when temperatures are between 55 and 70 degrees,' says Senior Horticulturist at ScottsMiracle-Gro, Amy Enfield. 'Place them in a spot away from heat vents, fireplaces, space heaters, AC vents, and drafty doors or windows.' This will help to maintain their health and avoid any red leaves developing.

How can I fix red leaves on my Christmas cactus? 

A Christmas cactus with pink blooms

(Image credit: Nadezhda Nesterova / Alamy Stock Photo)

If your cactus does develop red leaves, don't fret - it can be fixed. First, ensure you're providing the ideal location and general indoor plant maintenance. 'Place your Christmas cactus in a location with bright, indirect light,' says Zahid Adnan of the Plant Bible. 'Shield it from direct sunlight to prevent leaf reddening and attempt to maintain a consistent temperature range between 60-70°F (15-24°C) and avoid sudden temperature changes. 

Zahid also notes that you might need to adjust your watering regime to reverse red leaves on your cactus, too, since overwatering can also contribute to stress and leaf discoloration. 'Ensure well-draining soil and water when the top inch of the soil feels dry, and feed your Christmas cactus regularly during the growing season to help prevent nutrient deficiencies,' adds Amy. 'If you suspect a magnesium deficiency is the cause of your Christmas cactus turning red, an application of Epsom salt (1 teaspoon in a gallon of water) can help provide needed magnesium,' she suggests.

By addressing these factors and providing the right conditions, you can
encourage a healthier, vibrant Christmas cactus that looks wonderfully festive all season long.

Amy McArdle
News writer

Amy recently completed an MA in Magazine Journalism at City, University of London, with experience writing for Women’s lifestyle publications across arts, culture, and beauty. She has a particular love for the minimalist aesthetic mixed with mid-century furniture, especially combining unique vintage finds with more modern pieces. Her previous work in luxury jewellery has given her a keen eye for beautiful things and clever design, that plays into her love of interiors. As a result, Amy will often be heard justifying homeware purchases as 'an investment', wise words to live by.