How to Save a Dying Cactus

The fact that cacti are hardy and low-maintenance plants often make people presume they can be left on their own without any care measures. But that’s not true.

Despite being one of the hardiest plants, cacti need your love and attention. Else they may die.

If you’ve also made the mistake of ignoring your cactus plant and now have a dying cactus, wondering if there’s still a way to save it, keep reading as we discuss saving a dying cactus.

Is It Possible to Save a Dying Cactus?

Before we get down to discussing what you can possibly do to try reviving your dying cactus, it’s important to determine if it is even possible to save a cactus once it begins to die.

The answer to this depends on the level of damage the plant has incurred or the stage of deterioration it is at.

If the damage is only minimal, you can easily save your succulent. You may even be able to revive a plant with moderate damage by tending to it with utmost love and care.

However, if there is extensive damage and the decay or rot has spread significantly or to the entire plant, saving your cactus (or any plant per se) may not be an option.

How to Save a Dying Cactus?

The key to saving and reviving a dying cactus lies in emulating the conditions to which this succulent is naturally accustomed.

In other words, create an environment as close to its natural habitat as possible to trigger the plant’s natural healing mechanism and help it escape death. Here’s how you should go about it:

Find the Reason

You can’t save a plant unless you know what’s causing it to die. Therefore, your first step to saving a dying cactus should be to figure out what could possibly be the reason behind it.

Begin with a closer inspection of your plant to see the signs it is exhibiting or the kind of damage it has incurred. Here’s a quick reference guide to help understand what different damage signs can mean:

  • If your cactus has stems turning yellow from the base, it’s likely getting more water than it needs. The affected stems may also feel slightly squishy or lean to one side.
  • A shriveled or withered cactus is often underwatered, but it can sometimes also be due to a small pot.
  • If your cactus is losing its color, has shriveled or droopy stems and scraggly spines, and produces little to no flowers during the blooming season, it’s likely not getting enough sunlight.
  • A cactus that appears too dry and displays browned or blackened stem ends might be getting too much sun.
  • A mushy, shaky, or foul-smelling cactus has likely developed stem rot.
  • A cactus losing its spines is a sign of root rot.
  • Lacerations on the outer tissues of a cactus plant, brown dents, and gray-white spots are signs of fungal infection.

Give Proper Immediate Care

You should no longer ignore your cactus once you have identified the damage (and, hopefully, its cause). Tend to it immediately to prevent the problem from getting worse and the damage from spreading further.

Providing immediate care is essential to save a dying cactus, and it should be followed by long-term care to revive the rescued plant.

What Measures to Take to Save a Dying Cactus?

Here is the list of practical measures you can take to save a dying cactus plant:

1. Remove the Rotten Parts

Cut away any (and all) yellow, brown, and black parts. Also, remove the plant from the pot (or ground) to check for any rotting of the roots. If there are any, cut off the affected roots. Let the plant roots dry out and heal before repotting.

Plant rot can also be the result of a fungal infection. In that case, removing the rotten parts will prevent the infection from spreading.

Prune the rotten areas carefully not to leave behind any affected areas. If not completely removed, the rot will continue to spread and eventually kill your cactus.

Always use a sharp, sterile knife to cut any part of a plant to eliminate the chances of bacteria or disease transfer.

2. Water a Shriveled Cactus

If your cactus appears to be dehydrated, exhibited by wrinkled, wilting, or shrunken leaves and stems and an overall droopy appearance, give it more water.

To save an underwatered plant, water it thoroughly until the excess water starts draining from the bottom of the pot. Make sure the soil and pot are well-draining, so the plant can easily get rid of extra water.

3. A Curled-Up Cactus Might Be a Sign of a Lack of Sunlight

If your cactus appears limp and its stems are curled-up, but its soil isn’t severely dried out, the problem isn’t likely the lack of water. It could be the lack of adequate sunlight.

It’s a condition called etiolation, where the plant curls up its stems and/or leaves to survive in low-light conditions. Pale green color, tall and leggy growth, and thinning of stems and branches are some other common signs of etiolation.

Place your sunlight-deprived cactus in a south- or west-facing window where it gets adequate sunlight.

If your plant has been away from light for a considerable period of time, do not place it under direct sunlight, as it might lead to sunburn. Keep it in a place where it gets enough bright but indirect sunlight. Introduce it to direct sunlight gradually.

4. Move the Plant That Might Be Getting Too Much Sun

Even though cacti need plenty of light, there is still a limit to how much (in both amount and intensity) of sun they can tolerate.

If your cactus shows yellowing or browning of the skin on the side facing the sun, it is a sign that it’s getting too much sunlight. Move it to a place with some shade or a spot where it gets indirect sunlight to fix the damage.

5. Check for Waterlogging

Waterlogging refers to the condition when the soil a plant is growing in becomes saturated with water. In other words, it’s a condition where there’s too much water in a plant’s root area, and that decreases the amount of oxygen available to the roots and, eventually, the nutrients supplied to the plant.

Waterlogging can occur for a couple of reasons in cacti grown in homes – overwatering and poor soil drainage.

A cactus that is overwatered or has poor drainage starts to turn yellow from the base. It may also turn squishy. If not fixed promptly, the yellow areas will eventually turn brown or black, indicating rot, and would make it difficult to save a cactus from dying.

Cacti die more often from getting too much moisture than from the lack of it. Therefore, it’s important to look for the signs of waterlogging and take immediate measures to fix it. Here are a few tips for it:

  • Make additional drainage holes on the bottom of the pot.
  • Cut back on watering.
  • Place your cactus in a sunnier spot.
  • Repot the cactus in fresh soil. Make sure it’s well-draining and specially formulated for succulents.
  • Please make sure the size of the cactus and the pot it is planted in are proportionate to each other. Planting cactus in a pot that’s too big of its size, the soil will hold more moisture than the plant needs and takes longer to dry out. This increases the risk of overwatering damage.
  • Do not let water pool at the base of the pot. Empty the tray beneath it regularly.

Depending on the extent of the damage your cactus has suffered, you may need to take one or more of these measures to save it from dying.

6. Check for Pest Infestation

White, fuzzy spots, black mold, brown dots that are particularly more apparent on young growth, and silky webs around the stems and leaves are some of the common signs of pest infestation in cacti.

Another sign of an infestation is a plant dying from the bottom up. You may also see the culprits (insects) upon closer inspection.

If your cactus shows any of these signs, treat it with an insecticide.

Caring for a Rescued Cactus to Ensure Survival

The tips discussed above will help you rescue a dying cactus, but reviving it will depend on how you care for it in the long run.

Here are some tips to help ensure the revival and long-term health of the cactus plant that you’ve just saved from dying:

  • Water only when the soil is dry
  • Maintain proper drainage
  • Place the cactus in a spot where it gets an adequate amount of bright sunlight
  • Adjust watering frequency according to the weather
  • Maintain cooler temperature (between 45o and 60o Fahrenheit) in winter to initiate and maintain dormancy
  • Use a pot appropriate to its size
  • Use a low-nitrogen fertilizer during the active growth phase. Never fertilize a cactus (or any plant, for that matter) during dormancy.

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The Sum Up

Growing a cactus is easier. However, you must be careful of its watering, light, and drainage requirements to keep it healthy and alive. While a cactus can put up with some neglect, completely ignoring the plant can lead to several problems that might even cause it to die. If you’ve made a mistake, use this post as a quick reference guide to reviving your dying cactus.