How to Tell If a Cactus Is Dead

While cacti are easy to maintain, they often wither and die quickly. If you’re a beginner, you might find it even more challenging to look out for the warning signs. Wondering how to tell if a cactus is dead? Here is a brief guide to help you look out for the telltale signs.

How to Tell If a Cactus Is Dead 

Like most plants, cacti also display certain symptoms when they’re reaching their deterioration. Here are some of them.

Pay Attention to Physical Changes

Cacti are not notorious for their ability to grow fast. In fact, they hardly ever outgrow their containers. The growth may not be a reliable indicator of its deterioration.

On the other hand, physical changes such as loose skin and a husky appearance may call for your attention. A healthy cactus appears firm and plumped.

It Appears Shrunken

Cacti that don’t receive enough water tend to appear faded. This is because the cactus requires less water for survival when it’s smaller in size.

However, the cactus will certainly die if you don’t water it even after it has shrunken. Water it thoroughly but not excessively. Unfortunately, if the normal appearance isn’t restored even after watering the cactus, then your cactus is probably dead. 

It Appears Discolored

If you’re still wondering how to tell if a cactus is dead, this one is a sure telltale sign. It becomes discolored.

Discolored and yellow patches, especially the ones turning brown, indicate that your cactus is pretty much dead. There are a number of reasons why cacti turn brown.

One key reason is underwatering the plant, which eventually turns it dry and husk-like. However, discoloration isn’t always a serious sign. Sometimes, the discoloration can also indicate “corking.”

Corking is a natural phenomenon that affects aging cacti. It starts from the bottom, travels its way up, and appears as aged skin over the plant.

Some cacti also appear red, especially when they’re stressed. However, they tend to recover as soon as you place them in favorable environmental conditions. Nonetheless, keeping an eye on any changing properties can help you detect deterioration in time.

Stem Rotting Becomes Apparent

Sometimes, the answer to “how to tell if a cactus is dead” is not as straightforward as you like. While underwatering can result in discoloration, overwatering can also cause problems.

More often than not, root rotting becomes the key reason for a cactus’s death. If your cactus appears soft and mushy, it is a huge sign of rotting.

Furthermore, if it smells, your cactus has certainly begun rotting. Rotting does not start in a specific part of the plant. It can commence anywhere before spreading to the rest of the parts.

As soon as the smell becomes apparent, you can be certain that the cactus is dying. Unfortunately, it might not be possible to save it from this point on.

To ensure that the plant is dead, you can even touch it and see if the part cracks or falls off easily. However, if there are wet patches on your cactus, you may still be able to save it by cutting the affected areas off.

Fungi And Pests Appear

If the root rotting has already begun, pests or fungi will likely quicken the process of deterioration. They exacerbate rotting stems or roots and are also really attracted to them.

White spots could be very obvious signs of an infestation. However, not all pests are fatal. It is only during the event of root rot that pests or fungi hinder the plant’s ability to recover.

What Causes a Cactus to Die?

Now that we know how to tell if a cactus is dead, it’s imperative that we look into the causes of death. Many plant owners in the United States are unaware of basic errors that may cause their beloved cactus to die. Here are some of them.

Keeping Them In the Wrong Pot

If you’ve placed your cactus in the wrong size of a pot, you’ve certainly kickstarted its deterioration. The rule of thumb is it shouldn’t be too big or too small.

If the pot is smaller than your plant, it will hinder its ability to breathe. If the pot is larger than needed, it may preserve water and result in root rot.

Using the Wrong Potting Medium

Remember, your cactus will not thrive in your regular potting soil. Regular soil has the tendency to hold on to water longer than needed.

The soil mix is just as important for your cactus’s health as the potting. Soil mixes with the right pH balance are the ideal options for your plant.

Overwatering the Plant

This one is quite a common way to kill a cactus plant. While some find it the right thing to do, it is the fastest way to make your plant die. The more water there is on the soil, the greater the chances of rot.

Infection In a Wound

Even if a small part of the plant is wounded, it attracts pests and bacteria. Bacteria further thrive in cold weather conditions.

The lack of sunlight can promote its growth and cause the wounded part to be callous over time. Unnoticed and untreated wounds can cause the plant to die in no time.

How to Save a Dying Cactus

If you know how to tell if a cactus is dead, you should also know the possible ways to reverse the tragedy. You can still salvage your plant if it hasn’t been too late.

First, you want to cut away small pieces of rotten stem at the top. Then, allow the cut part to dry and place it in a well-draining mix.

Furthermore, you want to repot the plant only in the right-sized pot. There should be just enough space for your cactus to breathe.

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Final Thoughts

While growing cactus is easy, looking out for signs of deterioration can be challenging. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, you will always have trouble determining the small telltale signs of your plant’s declining health. All in all, the earlier you detect those signs, the better your chances of reviving your withering cactus plant.