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Does a Christmas Cactus Like to Be Root Bound?

By Eulalia Palomo ; Updated September 21, 2017
Water a Christmas cactus before repotting to reduce stress on the plant.

A Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) need repotting infrequently, preferring to be slightly root bound. While it's possible to grow a Christmas cactus for years without repotting, moving it to a larger pot periodically will give it room to grow. This frost-tender succulent can grow outdoors in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 through 12 but is usually grown as a houseplant.

Repot Sparingly

Plan to repot Christmas cactus only about once every three years. This will keep the plant slightly root bound, as the Christmas cactus prefers, without causing undue stress. If you're not sure when it was repotted last, you can let the plant tell you when it needs a larger pot. A Christmas cactus that wilts within a few days of watering likely needs repotting.

Size Up Slowly

Use a container no more than 1 inch larger than the current container when you repot a Christmas cactus. Moving any plant from a small container to a much larger one can cause the soil to hold too much water, leading to rot problems. Christmas cactus, being both sensitive to overwatering and preferring a slightly root bound growing environment is particularly susceptible to wet soil in a large pot.

Container Basics

Any pot you use should have drainage holes. The holes allow excess water to run out, minimizing root rot problems. To protect surfaces in your home, set the pot on a saucer and empty out any water that collects in it after watering. Plastic, metal, wood or glazed or unglazed clay containers work well but terra cotta, or unglazed clay is best as it allows air circulation around the roots.

Soil and Season

Repot Christmas cactus in the spring after the winter blooming season. Use well-draining cacti and succulent potting soil. If you don't have cactus soil available, you can use a general-purpose potting soil mixed with an amendment to improve drainage, such as 2 parts potting soil to 1 part vermiculite or sand.

Repotting Successfully

To repot, pull the Christmas cactus out of its container. Inspect the roots and cut off any that look mushy. Add 1 to 2 inches of potting mix to the bottom of the container and then set the root ball into the pot. Adjust the soil in the bottom until the base of the stem sits level with the lip of the pot. Fill in around the sides with more potting mix. Set the pot in a sink -- or outside if it's warm -- and water until moisture drains out the hole in the bottom of the pot.


About the Author


Eulalia Palomo has been a professional writer since 2009. Prior to taking up writing full time she has worked as a landscape artist and organic gardener. Palomo holds a Bachelor of Arts in liberal studies from Boston University. She travels widely and has spent over six years living abroad.