6 Signs How To Tell If Cactus Is Dying?

Look for signs like yellowing or browning of the pads, shriveling or wilting, and leaning or tilting of the plant. Additionally, soft spots on the cactus and lack of new growth or dropping buds are indicators of poor health.

Cacti, chosen for their resilience and minimal care requirements, come in various colors and sizes, perfect for enhancing dry garden themes. Despite their hardiness, common misconceptions about their care, such as tolerance to overwatering or lack of sunlight, can lead to their decline. Identifying the signs of a dying cactus is essential for its revival.

This article explores symptoms of distress, common causes of death, and vital care tips, including disease prevention and proper maintenance techniques.

Learn how to spot and address the issues affecting your cactus, ensuring it remains a vibrant part of your garden.

Key Takeaways

  • Dying cactus signs include pad discoloration, shriveling, and leaning.
  • Overwatering and underwatering are major causes of cactus death.
  • Cacti need sandy, well-draining soil for health.
  • Pests and diseases can severely affect stressed cacti.
  • Save a dying cactus by adjusting care, treating pests/diseases, pruning, and repotting.

Signs that Your Cactus May be Dying

How to identify a dying cactus? You must have a good knowledge on spotting the signs. These dying signs are mostly related to improper cactus maintenance, like lack of sunlight, poor drainage, and overwatering.

If your cactus experiences signs of dead cactus we will discuss below, you should take extra care to prevent further damage. Let’s have a look!

1. Yellowing or Browning of Cactus Pads

Identifying dying cactus starts with the color, as it is the most visible one.

Generally, the cause of this discoloration is underwatering or overwatering. Despite being a desert plant, cactus still needs water to thrive though it is in a small amount compared to other plants. 

How To Tell If Cactus Is Dying
Yellowing or Browning of Cactus Pads

Lack of watering can stress the plant, leading to shrinking cells to conserve water use. Consequently, the green pads will turn yellow or even brown if dehydration occurs in the long term.

Moreover, you can spot these cactus dying symptoms on the lower parts (base) or older pads.

On the other hand, overwatering will cause root rot. It also shows similar symptoms of yellowing or browsing pads. But, the cactus root will be followed by mushy textures on the base.

Furthermore, the discoloration comes from the stress of the roots since they lack oxygen and thus cannot absorb nutrients as they should. As a result, your cactus can’t develop properly.

2. Shriveling or Wilting of Cactus Pads

Cactus wilting symptoms may be different depending on the species. But generally, the cactus pads will wrinkle and soften. Besides, the pads grow smaller in size with yellow or brown tips.

Sometimes, they also become translucent. If the wilting symptoms get worse, your cactus pads may fall off. So, what’s the cause of this cactus issue?

Like the previous one, identifying dying cacti begins by checking on the upkeep. Shriveling or wilt of cactus pads is mostly likely caused by underwatering, overwatering, and extreme temperatures.

Without adequate water, your cactus will go under stress and thus show symptoms to adapt to current conditions, such as wilt and turning yellow. 

In addition, cactus thrive at temperatures between 70°F to 90°F. Suppose the temperature around you is scorching hot or freezing cold. In that case, offering shelter for your cacti to prevent damage will be wise.

3. Leaning or Tilting of Cactus

Like other plants that struggle with overwatering, underwatering, and lack of light exposure, the cactus tends to lean on one side to get the sunlight to thrive. This desert plant will grow following the light source.

Moreover, overwatering also causes the same issue. If you water the plant heavily on one side, then the weight of the water will lead the cactus to lean on that side.

How To Tell If Cactus Is Dying
Fishhook Barrel Cactus Leaning Over A Red Coral Structure

On the other hand, dry cactus pads will trip over due to underwatering since the roots are weak to hold the pads. 

However, leaning or tilting of cactus can also be one of the cacti to adapt to its environmental conditions, especially those who grow in the wild.

As a desert plant, cactus commonly grows on slopes where direct sunlight is difficult to obtain. Therefore, the cactus will try to reach a light source by leaning. Besides that, this kind of growing characteristic also allows cacti to withstand strong winds.

4. Discoloration or Soft Spots on Cactus

Depending on the species, the causes of discoloration and soft spots on cacti can vary.

However, too much water is one of the main causes of this issue. Overwatering and poor drainage trap water in the soil and pots longer. Thus, the roots will be suffocated and unable to access oxygen properly. They also cannot absorb water and nutrients. 

As a result, you will spot discoloration, such as yellow and brown, on the pads with a mushy base. You may also expect discoloration when exposing the cactus to the scorching sun without protecting it.

Apart from overwatering and sunburn, bacterial and fungal infections also cause this problem, especially the softening parts of the cactus. Moist soil is favorable for those culprits to infect the susceptible plant.

5. Lack of Growth or New Pads

Suppose you don’t pay attention to the cactus care tips, including scheduling the watering and ensuring light requirements and nutrients. In that case, your cactus will struggle to grow new pads.

As you probably know, cactus is a desert plant whose natural habitat has plenty of sunlight to allow growth. 

How To Tell If Cactus Is Dying
Lack of Growth or New Pads

Therefore, light becomes an essential part of determining the speed of its development. Lack of light can lead to stunted growth or, if not, slow growth. Apart from sunlight, you also need to pay attention to water needs.

Cacti will save their water needs to grow when they lack water. On the other hand, overwatering leads to root rot, which makes the plant fail to grow because the roots cannot absorb nutrients properly.

6. Dropping of Flowers or Buds

Apart from the symptoms above, one of the signs of how to tell if a cactus is dying is that the buds and flowers are starting to drop.

Although there are several reasons for this issue, the main thing that causes the dropping is the lack of watering. Dehydration causes the cactus to enter survival mode to conserve water instead of using it to produce and hold the blooms. 

Apart from that, underwatering also makes the plant struggle to absorb adequate nutrients to support its growth.

Moreover, dropping buds and flowers is also a sign of stress due to exposure to extreme heat. While the cactus needs sunlight to survive and reproduce, you must offer shelter if the scorching temperature hits.

Causes of Cactus Death

Besides having a broad insight into how to tell if a cactus is dying, you must understand what factors cause the cactus to die. It is crucial since these aspects allow you to give cactus care for dying plants.

Moreover, having the knowledge will also provide information regarding dying cactus prevention so that you know how to revive a dying cactus. Let’s find out!

1. Overwatering

This may be the leading cause of cactus death. Cacti are desert plants used to dry, barren, and hot conditions. It has thorns that help them to conserve water.

Therefore, overwatering can instantly damage the roots. The water will stay in the soil, making it constantly moist. 

How To Tell If Cactus Is Dying
Cactus Damage from Overwatering or Waterlogging

As a result, the roots will start struggling for oxygen, so they begin to rot. This decay will lead to the inability of the roots to supply water and nutrients for cactus growth. Therefore, you will spot yellowing or browning as an early sign of a dying cactus before the pads finally soften.

In addition, humid conditions like this promote bacterial and fungal infections, further damaging the plant.

2. Underwatering

Besides overwatering, underwatering is also a problem that increases the risk of cactus death. You might think cacti don’t need water because they are used to arid conditions.

But like other plants, the plant requires moisture to thrive, grow, and produce energy. 

Without water, your plants will experience dehydration and nutritional deficiencies because they cannot absorb the essential minerals from the soil. Not only that, dehydration also has an impact on plant physiology.

You may spot the shriveling cactus because it loses turgidity. As a result, your desert plant can collapse due to irreversible damage to the structure.

3. Improper Soil or Potting Mix

With a bad watering schedule, poor drainage is also a problem for cactus growth which can lead to the plant’s death.

A critical aspect of drainage often overlooked is the selection of soil and potting mix. Most plant owners tend to pay attention to the planters but often forget how important the soil is for plant growth.

How To Tell If Cactus Is Dying
Improper Soil or Potting Mix

As a plant that grows wild in the desert, cacti prefer sandy soil that dries out quickly. If you choose a type of soil that is the opposite of what it needs, like heavy clay or clay, cactus roots will struggle to get proper nutrient intake to promote healthy plants.

In addition, soil that is too compact also inhibits good aeration that lets the roots breathe. It will suffocate the roots, causing the plant to decline. 

In addition, the selection of soil also affects the availability of nutrients which will later be used for the plant to support its development. Lack of nutrients not only makes your plants grow stunted but also makes them susceptible to pests and diseases.

4. Pest Infestation

Pests will mostly occur when you ignore cactus care, knowing unhealthy plants are most susceptible to those culprits of invasion.

The foes will feed on the plants, including leaves, stems, buds, and even young roots. With this feeding activity, your cactus will deplete its energy and thus start showing symptoms of dying.

In addition to feeding, some of these pests are carriers of diseases. The open wound in the plant is the area most susceptible to disease infection.

Your cactus’ immune system will begin to decline and cause more massive disease attacks. And if this issue is left untreated, there’s a higher chance that your cactus will eventually die. 

Therefore, cactus disease control is crucial at this phase to prevent the spread of the disease. You can cut off the infected parts and spray the healthy parts before moving them to a new pot for a fresh start.

5. Sunburn or Frost Damage

You may wonder why sunburn can cause cactus death, knowing the plant grows well in the desert?

Sunburn occurs when the cactus is exposed to an extended period of scorching sun. This can cause damage to the tissues, leading to discoloration, such as yellowing or browning.

It also applies to frozen damage, where the tissues can rupture and cause lysis due to the growth of ice crystals on plant cell walls. 

Frost Damage
Frost Damage

Furthermore, this tissue damage has a significant impact on the sustainability of photosynthesis. Without healthy tissues, the process of energy production through photosynthesis is hampered. Even your cactus cannot supply the nutrients that stimulate its growth.

In addition, excessive sun exposure and extremely low temperatures cause dehydration because evaporation takes place more quickly and loses the ability to retain water.

Therefore, we highly recommend keeping your plants in a shady area or indoors until the weather conditions improve as a dying cactus prevention approach.

How to Save a Dying Cactus?

It is never too late to know how to revive a dying cactus. Although not all cacti can be saved using the methods below, you can try at least for those who show early signs of dying issues.

With this knowledge, you can also quickly find proper treatment to heal your precious plants.

1. Identify The Problem

Every issue that occurs in cacti has a different treatment.

Hence, it is essential to know how to identify what kind of problem your cactus has. When you can examine the issue correctly, you can spot the right healing approach for your cactus to prevent further damage. 

In addition, it allows you to adjust the upkeep. For example, if your cactus shows discoloration on the edges, the plant struggles with dehydration. In this case, you can introduce infrequent, deep watering to solve the issue.

We also recommend regularly checking at least once weekly to see if your plant has a pest infestation, disease infection, or other maintenance problems.

2. Adjust Watering and Soil

You now know underwatering, and overwatering are the two leading causes of cactus death. They are also a visible factor in how to tell if a cactus is dying.

To prevent these upkeep problems, try setting a watering schedule. 

Adjust Watering and Soil
Adjust Watering and Soil

Knowing cactus is a plant that tolerates drought, you can consider infrequent deep watering. This method works well to ensure your cactus has a steady water supply without suffocating the roots.

Make sure the soil is evenly moist when you water the plant. Also, allow the soil to dry out before introducing water again so that the soil is not constantly wet.

In addition to water, one of the cactus maintenance tips is choosing soil. You must select the soil the cactus prefers.

We highly recommend sandy soil that dries out quickly and has excellent aeration to grow the cactus. Besides, sandy soil is a type of soil that is commonly found in their native habitat in the desert.

You can also buy cactus potting mix, generally a mixture of perlite, coarse sand, volcanic rock, and pumice, to ensure good drainage.

3. Treat for Pests or Diseases

Improved cactus care not only impacts the plants’ visuals but also makes this arid plant prone to pests and diseases.

Pests that attack cacti will generally feed on the plant’s parts, including mealybugs, spider mites, aphids, fungus gnats, nematodes, and scale insects. 

Treat for Pests or Diseases
Treat for Pests or Diseases

Considering different types of cacti pests, the treatment may vary. Some of the most popular ones are manual removal using alcohol rub and spraying with neem oil and dish soap.

However, severe infections will not work with these methods. In that case, you will need a chemical approach using insecticides or fungicides. Choose one that is specifically intended for cacti so that it is not harmful to other plants or beneficial insects

Plus, preventive measures will be much better than looking for methods of how to save a dying cactus from pests and disease infection.

You have to pay more attention to watering and soil conditions so they don’t become breeding grounds for the culprits.

Another cactus maintenance tip is to regularly check the plant so you can immediately spot the issues and get proper treatment before it worsens.

4. Prune and Propagate Healthy Parts

If you spot something off with your cactus, you must immediately identify the problem. Try to check on the pads and base, as these parts are often affected by the problem of poor cactus care. 

The base usually becomes mushy and softens due to root rot caused by overwatering. Apart from that, such issues may also arise if there is a fungal or bacterial infection.

Therefore, you must cut the infected areas so they don’t spread to healthy parts. 

In addition to preventing the disease from spreading, pruning is also helpful for diverting the energy from the dead parts to the healthy ones, allowing better cactus development.

Make sure you use clean and sanitized cutting tools to prevent further infection. As for propagation, observe a healthy plant to prepare for cutting. 

After that, cut the healthy plant with a sharp shear or scissor and allow it to become callous for a few days under bright light. This step is crucial to avoid bacterial or fungal infections.

Next, plant the callous to cacti potting mix. Make sure you choose a planter with drainage holes to prevent waterlogging.

5. Repot in Fresh Soil

The last way to save a dying cactus is to plant the healthy parts in a new pot! It will set them aside from dead cacti that may spread diseases, pests, or other issues to healthy plants.

Just make sure you have completely gotten rid of the infected parts.

Repot In Fresh Soil
Repot In Fresh Soil

Furthermore, repotting is also beneficial for allowing a fresh start with abundant nutrients from the potting soil to support its growth. The new planter also gives a vast room for the roots to develop. 

If you have a tall type of cactus, transplanting your cactus provides balance to prevent the plant from leaning or tipping over on one side. As for the appeal, this method enhances the visual interest of your cactus.

We recommend trying a bigger container to boost their growth.

Prevention Tips to Keep Your Cactus Healthy

Having knowledge of how to tell if a cactus is dying is indeed important to spot the right treatment for your plants. However, preventing cacti from dying is way better and cost-efficient.

All you need to do is ensure cactus care.

The watering schedule, for example, is vital in cactus maintenance. Instead of daily watering, deep but infrequent watering is preferable. Your cactus will get a sufficient water supply without interfering with the roots. You can water it again after the soil top dries out. 

Alternatively, you can simply spray the soil if you are concerned about deep watering. Reduce the watering during winter as the plant will conserve the water.

Conversely, your plant may need more water during hot summer days. Water the plant once per week or once per two weeks. Just check out the soil before doing so.

Prevention Tips To Keep Your Cactus Healthy
Prevention Tips To Keep Your Cactus Healthy

Furthermore, we highly encourage you to do regular checking. Though it seems unnecessary, it is vital to know whether your cactus performs well or not.

Checking is also necessary in case of a pest or disease infection. If so, you can seek a quick treatment to prevent your cactus from dying.

In case you see dead parts, you must cut them off. This approach is essential to divert the energy into healthy parts and allow better growth. Besides, the dead parts commonly invite pests and diseases. So, it would be better to eliminate them before it’s too late.

Additionally, we recommend growing your cactus in pots since it is easily moveable, just in case you need to give them shelter due to extreme weather.

Final Thoughts

The leading cause of why a cactus dies is poor maintenance, such as underwatering, overwatering, lack of sunlight, and no regular checking to spot pests or diseases.

You can prevent these things by scheduling watering and planting your cacti in pots so they can be moved easily to hot areas. This growing method is also useful when offering them shelter from scorching or freezing temperatures.

In addition, pruning also helps in enhancing cactus growth and preventing the spread of pests and diseases. Just make sure you use proper and clean cutting tools.

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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Is a cactus dead if it is squishy?

A squishy cactus isn’t necessarily dead but is a sign of distress, often due to overwatering or poor drainage leading to root rot and fungal infections.

To save the plant, prune the affected areas and repot it in fresh soil with a well-draining pot, which can help prevent further disease and potentially revive the cactus.

Can a cactus repair itself?

Yes, a healthy cactus can heal from injuries, including scratches and sunburn, if it’s given proper care and the right growing conditions.

Recovery chances improve with attentive care, though fungal infections may necessitate specific treatments like pruning and antibiotics.

What does an overwatered cactus look like?

An overwatered cactus typically appears squishy or mushy at the base, with its color turning yellow or brown due to root damage.

Persistent overwatering can also lead to pests like powdery mildew and result in stunted growth as the compromised roots fail to absorb necessary nutrients.

Can cactus rot heal itself?

No, cactus rot cannot heal by itself; intervention is necessary. To help a cactus recover from rot, remove the mushy parts to prevent further spread, repot the plant in fresh soil, and use fungicides to ward off fungal diseases.

Proper watering, ensuring the soil is completely dry before watering again, is crucial to prevent rot and maintain the cactus’s health.

Can you cut off the dead part of the cactus?

Yes, you can cut off the dead part of a cactus. This is a crucial step in cactus care to prevent pests and diseases and to promote healthier growth by redirecting the plant’s energy.

Pruning also helps maintain the cactus’s shape. Use sharp, sanitized scissors or knives for cutting, and consider repotting the cactus afterward to further encourage its growth in a new environment.

Can a cactus recover from overwatering?

Yes, a cactus can recover from overwatering if the issue is detected early. Signs include discoloration, with the cactus turning yellow or brown. To aid recovery, stop watering immediately, remove any softened parts, and repot the cactus in fresh soil.

Allow the plant to dry out before watering again, adhering to a guide that recommends watering only when the soil is completely dry to prevent future overwatering problems.

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