How to Tell If Your Cactus is Dying

Kelvin M. Kelvin Mwathi on

It’s been some time since you got that cactus. You’re doing all you can to make sure it thrives. Watering. Fertilizing. Sunlight exposure.

You name ’em!

But you haven’t seen a slightest change in quite some time. Is the little thingy really growing? How do you know you’re doing the right thing as far cacti care is concerned?

Worse still, is your cactus dying?

Maybe yes. Maybe no.

One thing with cactuses is that they take time (years) to show any considerable change in size – most of them. Even then, you have to be on the lookout for any signs of deviation from normal growth patterns.

This is how you tell your cactus is dying.

Signs That Your Cactus is Dying

Discoloring cactus

A cactus plant will take on a tinge that is not naturally its own. Depending on where the problem is coming from, the change in color may start at the top end of stem segments or from the base the soil. Dying is guaranteed if rapid action is not taken.

Droopy leaves on cacti

Dying in the few leaf-bearing cacti (like epiphylum) is signaled by downward pointing leaves that lack vigor.

This gives the cactus plant a general unhealthy look (because it is, right?). It will also appear under watered even when you’ve excelled in quenching it.

Soft segments around your cactus

The change of colour above may be accompanied by squishy stem segments that appear swollen.

This also means they can break off easily with minimal force applied.

Try pulling a spine off. That’s a dying cactus if you manage to pull off the specialized leaves.

Instability in your cactus potting soil

You’ll know this if the plant has a lean. Not bent – just the whole plant leaning to a particular side. A dying cactus is shaky in its potting mix and may appear as though it’s about to fall off – well, it will definitely fall off if you moved it, for a severe case. A sign of lack of roots. Or the existing ones may be too weak to properly support the plant.

This is assuming you potted the plant just right.

Foul smells coming from your cactus plant

Now, that’s a really bad sign. A foul smell means a large part of the cactus is completely rotten and there is nothing you can do to save it.

In other words, it is no longer in the dying process, it’s actually deceased now. All you can really do now is dispose of your fighting cactus plant and obtain a new one whether it be from a purchase or from a friend.

Why is Your Cactus Dying?

Overwatering

The age-old sure way to kill a cactus is by treating it to frequent watering sprees. It may look like a sensible thing to do. Only that with a cactus, the more frequent it is getting water, the higher the chances of it dying.

This is so because the water is such a perfect condition for rot.

Inappropriate potting medium

If you didn’t get the memo – your regular potting soil is a no-go zone for a cactus. It just holds on to water for way longer than your plant would prefer.

So, even if you get the watering correct, the soil mix will pull you back a couple of steps. The long periods of dampness are a nice condition for rot. And before you know it, your plant is exhibiting signs of dying.

A wound becoming infected

It may have happened that a part of the stem broke off leaving an open patch.

Such a part is just what bacteria and some pests need to wreck havoc on your cactus. It is soft therefore making it an easy target for insects with munching tendencies. Bacterial infection may come about mainly in the cold weather or when the plant is not exposed to enough sunlight for the injured part to callous over time.

Such wounds cause the plant to start dying from top.

Wrong pot size

Getting the wrong size of a pot for your cactus is a sure way of kicking off its dying process. It could be too small or too large.

Small or large in this case will depend on the size of your cactus.

A pot that is smaller than your plant will choke up its roots as there is little breathing space. A larger than life pot on the other hand is bound to keep so much water sparking off rotting in both the roots and stem. Talk about a double tragedy… you’ll have to find the right balance that’s best for your specific cactus.

How to Save a Dying Cactus

Whether or not your plant can be saved, depends on the extent of rot. For instance, as you’ve seen above, a foul smell emanating from your cactus is a sign that you’ve lost that plant.

But in cases where dying is just getting started, it’s possible to salvage the plant or part of it for propagation purposes.

If the rot is starting off at the top of the stem, cut away small pieces of it (the stem) as you move down to the base of the plant. You want to make sure the any rotten material is done away with for good. Only stop when you reach healthy tissue.

If the plant is taking a beating from the roots up, you’ll have to take the propagation route. Just as above, cut up the plant until you have only healthy tissue before you stop. Let the cut part dry and set it up in a well-draining mix.

Also, make sure to check other aspects like the potting medium, the size of the pot and your watering. Make the following changes if you haven’t already:

  • Repot the plant remnant in a pot that fits it exactly, leaving just enough space for the soil mix. Also, remember to use a commercial cactus and succulent mix or create one by mixing regular potting soil with coarse sand and pumice.
  • Water only when the top part of the mix is dry.

Additionally, if pests and diseases were a part of the problem, apply the appropriate chemicals so as the remaining part of the plant is free from these past ghosts.

Now you’re in the know about dying cactus plants. The signs, reasons, handling and preventing. Time to check around your cacti collection and do the necessary.


Have you learned how to tell if your cactus is dying or not? Let us know what we missed out and we’ll be sure to include it in the article, we want to help as many cactus lovers as we can.

REMINDER: We have an ~exclusive~ Facebook succulent group where you can join in on fellow succulent- lovers’ conversations and post your own experiences & photos! Check it out now!

Thanks for reading and happy cacti planting! (:

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How to Tell If Your Cactus is Dying