How Long Can a Cactus Go Without Water

Do you often wonder, “How long can a cactus go without water?” The answer may vary.

Some cactus plants might not need a lot of water to survive. This means they can go for long periods without needing a lot of watering. Others need more frequent watering cycles.

Watering cycles can vary for indoor plants, depending on their growing season or individual requirements. Here are some things to consider;

Why Are Cacti Preferred Indoor Plants?

Cacti are usually preferred by many people across the USA as the perfect indoor plants. Consider cacti if you are a beginner looking for a plant that is easy to maintain.

Cacti can survive without water for a long time. This is due to their biological makeup. As they belong to the desert, they are used to long periods without water.

These plants use all parts of their body to store water, search for it, and minimize wastage. Despite having smaller roots than bigger trees, they can still go longer without water.

For them, the roots don’t matter as much as the other parts that halt the process of transpiration.

Why Can a Cactus Survive Without Water for Long?

Before wondering, “How long can a cactus go without water,” it is important to understand how it stores its water.

Cacti don’t need much water and can survive for many days on one watering because they have interesting water storage mechanisms.

1. Their Nature

Cacti are indoor plants that have adapted to a lack of water or drought. Since they originated in the desert, they are used to not receiving a lot of rain throughout the year.

This meant they stored water within their stem, much like camels do in their hump. These stems contain unique cells that can expand and make room for water.

The surface area of these stems included specific expanding qualities that allowed cactus plants to keep water stored during long periods of drought until the next watering cycle.

2. Their Body

Cactus plants use their spines, roots, and hair to store water. Their body parts include specific cells called mucilage cells, which store large amounts of water all year round.

Since cacti are not used to living in regions with frequent rain, they have adapted to this system. Their lack of transpiration and increased storage allow them to survive.

Another adaptation technique comes from spines that have learned to hold in the water and not allow it to escape during sunny days. Unlike most indoor plants, there is little or no leaf transpiration.

For cactus plants, the roots stems, and spines all play an active part in either storing or looking for water. As the roots reach deep underground, the stem absorbs water from above. As for the spines, these act as armor that keeps thirsty animals at bay.  

3. Their Coating

Another biological advantage that helps cactus plants avoid using a lot of water is the waxy coating on the stem and the spines.

This coating doesn’t just seal the water within but also keeps the plant cool. Since it experiences the sun’s direct heat every day, this layer prevents transpiration.

How Long Can a Cactus Go Without Water: The Short Answer

A cactus can survive without water for up to two years. According to Forbes, this is one of the reasons the plant is so low maintenance.

Cactus plants might need more water depending on different states in the USA. The more heat, the more water they need. However, two years is an average figure for survival.

Different kinds of cacti require more water. The longer and thicker the stems and spines, the more water they can store. Moreover, they might not need any water when they go dormant.

Just because cactus plants can go without water for long and are low-maintenance indoor plants doesn’t mean they should be deprived of water.

It is your responsibility to water the cactus as much as it requires. Avoid underwatering or overwatering, as this can lead to dire consequences.

For most cactus plants, overwatering is much worse. You must take great care not to flood your cactus with water, as that can easily lead to rot.

Watering Limits for Cacti

Waterlogging is often the common side effect of overwatering indoor plants. According to the Missouri Botanical Gardens, this can lead to rot and severe problems that kill plants early.

For cacti, this is a glaring reality that cannot be avoided. The biggest problem for cacti owners is deciding how much watering is too much.

Unfortunately, you cannot really measure the exact amount a cactus needs. Different species might need varying amounts. However, a general guide is always helpful.

You must decide how much to water your plant depending on the plant’s unique characteristics. This can help you avoid some of the drawbacks.

Start by figuring out the plant’s age and then move on to harder questions. These include the unique species of the plant, where it lives in your house, and its blooming season. Moreover, your state of residence might also make a difference.

Now that we know the answer to “how long can a cactus go without water,” let’s understand proper watering techniques;

How Should I Water My Cactus Plant?

You should take great care when watering your cactus plant. Avoid underwatering or overwatering it as that can rot the plant or cause burning due to excessive heat.

Watering requirements and methods can differ depending on potting or even the location of the plant. You can either place the cactus in a pot with drainage holes or put the entire plant in water.

For the former, the method is quite simple. All you need to do is place the pot with the cactus inside a wide saucer filled with water. This will allow the cactus’ roots to absorb the water.

The latter is a bit more complicated and beneficial for the plant. All you need to do is put the plant inside a large pot or tub filled with water and wait.

This method is best for much bigger cactus plants. In this case, a submerged plant can take water through the roots. After you submerge the plant, you must take it out and place it in direct sunlight for some time.

Try to perform regular checks on your cactus plants for overwatering. Waterlogged plants can experience rot and fungus, which is usually irreversible.

Here are some signs your cactus isn’t doing well;

Signs of Improperly Watered Cactus Plants

A cactus is usually overwatered, which can quickly cause rotting. Waterlogged plants are impossible to reverse as the rot can prevent their leaves and stems from taking in the water ever again.

Overwatering

An overwatered cactus usually suffers from the following symptoms;

  • The leaves of the cactus are showing signs of cracking
  • The soil inside the pot refuses to dry out no matter how much light it receives
  • The leaves of the cactus seem to be turning black, brown, or wrinkled
  • The cactus looks like its bursting

If your cactus has already experienced rot, it is nearly impossible to save the plant. But there may be hope if you have caught the disease in its early stages.

The first thing you should try is to change the soil. Remove the plant from the pot first and then empty the waterlogged soil. Before replacing the cactus, spray it with an anti-fungal solution.

Once you add fresh soil and the cactus to the pot, a major chunk of the problem will have been addressed.

In case the cactus refuses to return to its original health, there may be nothing more you can do.

Underwatering

While underwatering a cactus is hard, it can still happen. A lack of water for a long time can lead to many issues that eventually kill the cactus. Here are some signs your cactus needs more water;

  • A change of color on the stems or the leaves that looks unlike the cactus
  • Changes in the color of the spines or flowers on the cactus
  • Stunted growth of the cactus itself or its flowers
  • Withered leaves

Fortunately, reviving a cactus plant that has been underwatered is easy. You simply need to establish proper watering cycles and watch the magic unfold.

How to Water a Cactus Plant?

We know the answer to “How long can a cactus go without water,” and that overwatering is a much bigger concern. Thus, a proper watering technique and cycle are necessary.

Cacti are relatively easier to manage. So, managing frequent water cycles shouldn’t be hard. Since they only need water several times a year, why not do it right?

Remember that a cactus is like most other indoor plants. It needs more watering in some seasons and less in others. You must vary your strategy accordingly.

In the growing season, a cactus will demand more water than it can use to create beautiful leaves and flowers. In winter, its dormancy will require less water as it needs that break.

1. Consider their Nature

The fact that cacti come from the desert and are used to storing water must serve as inspiration for your watering routine. Cacti might need more sunlight, but they need much less water.

You must bring the desert home to make your cactus happy. Think of what they prefer instead of what you think is right.

2. Check the Soil

If you are particularly worried about overwatering your cacti, it is wise to invest in a hygrometer that can help you gauge the moisture within the soil. Once you have determined it is dry, you can proceed.

Checking the soil condition is also possible without investing in gadgets. You can stick your finger into the soil and check for moisture. If you find none, you should water the soil.

3. Notice the Seasons

Your cactus will need more or less water according to the seasons. As the summer approaches, your cactus might grow flowers or fruit. This is when it needs the most water.

You can get away with watering your cactus plants every two weeks in the summer. But keep in mind that winters are different.

In the winter, your cactus plants will need a break. This is their dormant period, where their metabolic rate takes a hit. They need much less water to survive. You can get away with a month or even more without water.

4. Placement

Like most other indoor plants, where your cactus is placed also makes a difference. Your cactus plant will need more water if it is always placed in direct sunlight and never rotated.

Other plants in indirect sunlight or smaller pots might not need much water.

5. Day

A cactus should never be watered at night time. Indoor plants usually experience rot if they cannot absorb or transpire their excess water. If you water your plants during the day, they will be much better off.

Consider the fact that sunlight can speed up the absorption and transpiration process. It can also suck the water upward and push it to the top of the stem. This leads to a healthier plant.

6. Water Quality

Last but not least, the water quality also matters for your cactus plant. You can’t really water a plant with tap water. It might be safe to drink, but cactus plants can’t bear the minerals!

For our metabolism, minerals are of the utmost importance. We need that tap water. However, these minerals can accumulate in the soil of cactus plants as they aren’t ever absorbed.

For cactus plants, filtered water or rainwater is best. This water contains a level of minerals that is perfect for them. However, never use ice-cold water to water your plants. This might deteriorate the health of the plant quickly.

Since plants have their own cooling mechanisms, use lukewarm water and allow them to cool it down themselves!

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Final Thoughts

Cactus plants can go for a long time without any water. But that doesn’t mean they don’t need that water to grow.

The more you water your cactus plant in the growing season, the more beautiful and luscious it will become.

It is up to you to figure out the comfort of your plant and water it accordingly!

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