If you have recently found a fondness for cacti, then there will be a few strange things that might have you worried, like a cactus turning brown.
You can’t really tell whether it is a fungus? A disease? Is it treatable? Or is your cactus dying?
If you are a newbie at cactus growing, you may find that these brown patches at the base of the plant are, in fact, a condition known as cactus corking.
Corking is a common feature of cacti’s aging process, though some horticulturalists find it rather unsightly.
Let’s get into some more details about cactus corking and how you can prevent it.
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What is Cactus Corking?
Every type of cactus goes through this natural phenomenon known as cactus corking. It is crucial to understand that corking is not a disease or a pest problem. Rather, it is a part of the cacti’s natural growing process.
Cacti undergo a change in color and texture during the cooking process, which is sometimes mistaken for sunburn or rot.
The cactus changes from its original green color to a brownish-gray hue with bumps that are frequently harsh to the touch.
Corking is seen when cactus lose their spines and jagged edges. They look and feel smooth like sandpaper as a result of the aging process, and fresh green flesh was worn away due to wind-blown sand.
How to Identify Corking?
Corking starts at the cacti’s base. Your cactus will start to change color from lively green to a lifeless, dull brown color.
Since corking is an aging process and takes a very long time for you to actually notice some discoloration, browning, or yellowing of your cacti might be due to a completely different reason and not because of corking.
As corking develops, you will notice that the feel of the cactus resembles that of tree bark. Corking starts to develop at the base of the boil right where the soil is and works its way up, spreading out evenly as it goes.
This doesn’t mean that the cactus will have a flawless circle of corking around the base; however, it won’t appear in patches or dots or just on one side of the cactus.
If discoloration and brown spots are seen towards the top of the cactus or only in a certain location, the reason for it might not be corking, and you will have to take a closer look at your plant to learn of the problem.
Corking may spread far from the root of the cacti based on its age, and it is different for different species of cacti.
Large cacti might have several inches of corking around their base, while other smaller ones might only have a few centimeters of corking above the soil.
Characteristics of Corking
These are the characteristics you will notice in your cactus once it starts corking:
- A corking cactus looks similar to a sun-dried cactus.
- The cactus will start to look like it is drying from the bottom. It will turn to a dull brown grayish color.
- Corking on cacti normally appears at the base; however, it can also appear elsewhere.
- A corking cactus might take on a potato-like appearance or appear to be shrinking.
- The surface of a corking cactus may appear sunken.
- The discolored areas of the cactus will feel tough to touch rather than mushy, which is how it usually feels in case of rot or other issues.
- The cactus could resemble an old, withered cactus in appearance.
Keep reading to learn about what you can do to prevent your cactus from corking.
How to Prevent Cactus from Corking?
The bad news is that once the corking process begins, you can’t really do much about it. It is, after all, a natural process, and your plant is going through significant changes deep inside.
Remember, it is aging and not hurting or harming; it does look unattractive, but that’s just how aging works.
However, you can take several precautionary measures before the cactus starts corking:
- Do Not Overwater
How much water you provide your cactus is very important for its health and longevity. Since cacti are desert plants, overwatering them harms them.
Always check if the soil has dried out completely before watering your cactus again; otherwise, you’ll be watering it too much, leading to fungi, infection, rot, and early corking,
- Well-drained Soil
The soil should be well-drained. If your cactus is planted where soil retains water, then it’s better to change its location; otherwise, you will end up with soggy roots and a faster aging cactus.
- Avoid Keeping it Under Too Much Sun.
Yes, it is a desert plant; however, too much direct sunlight will burn the cactus, so make sure you keep rotating it, so it receives equal sunlight and doesn’t end up burning and corking.
- Place the Cactus Under Indirect Sunlight
It should be placed in a well-lit area with enough indirect light since too much direct sunlight will speed up the corking process and also burn your cactus.
- Be Careful Where You Place the Cactus
Keep plants well away from heating vents and drafty situations where they could dry up. If you keep them indoors, make sure there is adequate ventilation.
- Use Organic Fertilizer
Instead of using chemical fertilizers, use organic ones because they have a lower risk of accidentally setting a plant on fire.
Additionally, fertilizer is the nutrition the plant receives, and since we want to slow down the corking process, it is important to provide natural and organic nutrition instead of artificial ones.
What to Do If I Don’t Like Corking?
Corking is simply a sign that your plant has lived for a while and grown large enough to require a bit more care.
Since cacti are easy to propagate, you should cut off a snip and plant it to have a new cactus. This way, you will have a brand-new cactus to grow and look after, and it’ll be many months before it starts corking again.
When growing a new cactus, keep in mind that you keep it away from direct sunlight since it speeds up the aging process leading to corking and might also cause sunburn.
If you really can’t stand the sight of corking, you can get rid of your old cactus, give it to somebody who doesn’t mind or throw it away.
Any browning at the bottom of your cactus should be closely inspected to rule out any insects, injury, or disease.
Examine the area, texture, and firmness to determine whether it is merely an aging symptom or a sign of something more serious.
While corking may not be something you like, it is a natural process and should be appreciated and enjoyed.
Other Factors that Cause Browning of Cacti
Cacti rot is frequently confused with cactus corking. The cactus folding in on itself is a sign of rotting cacti.
When a cactus’ exterior skin dries out and cracks, insects can enter the plant, whereupon fungus developments cause the cactus to become moist and slimy.
You will easily be able to distinguish between a corking cactus and a rotting root because the wet and slimy center has a distinct pungent smell.
Less obvious indicators of corking include brown or yellowish striations. Corked cacti, however, are easier to spot than rotting ones since they feel stiff to the touch. Corked plants also don’t have the typical root rot odor.
It is very common to assume that a cactus is being devoured by pests when it is simply the natural corking process. If your plant has been infested by pests, there are obvious tell-tale signs:
- Yellow spider mites
- White mealybugs
- Fungus nymphs hanging over cactus
Once you examine your cactus closely, you will see these tiny creatures easily and will have to take precautionary measures accordingly.
Aging is a natural process in both humans and plants, including cacti. Alas, there really isn’t much you can do about your cactus once it starts corking, except learn to live with it.
Despite how unpleasant corking might be, there is no “treatment” that can stop or slow it down. Nevertheless, you’ll have to get used to your cactus’ peculiar but fascinating characteristics.
Remember that every plant is unique, and therefore, they could have a range of scars or marks that set them apart from the rest of the plants in their habitat.
You could try everything, but once the cactus starts corking, a part of your cactus will forever be brown.
It is important to note that a corking cactus is just aging and NOT dying. With a little support, it will continue to grow and thrive, and soon, you will start loving this beautiful plant with all its natural flaws.