How Do You Know When a Cactus Needs Water?

For the longest time, people have held a notion that cacti plants do not require water to survive. However, the very notion has also resulted in the deaths of the same plants due to dehydration.

While it is true that cacti plants are drought-resistant, they still require a certain amount of hydration to not only survive but also grow.

Just like many other plants, they too can easily die without it.

We all know how easy-to-grow cacti plants are. Despite their ability to survive in a drought, they aren’t indestructible.

In fact, staying without water for a prolonged period can be nothing short of catastrophic.

This is why it’s important that you know what signs to look out for and prevent your precious cacti plants from dying due to dehydration.

How to Tell If a Cactus Needs Water

The easiest answer to the question is, “You must observe any changes in its behavior.” An under-watered cactus feels softer and looks wrinkly, but that’s not the only sign of trouble.

Sometimes, overwatering them can also be a problem. In the latter state, your cacti plant may look translucent and soggy. However, if the plant is adequately hydrated, it will neither appear soft nor soggy.

Hence, this post is all about looking out for common signs of dehydration and understanding how often your cactus needs water to thrive.

Observe It For Visual Changes

A fully hydrated cactus will appear healthy and won’t have trouble standing up to its complete height. You can tell that the hydrostatic pressure is dropping the moment you see any signs of distress.

For instance, they may appear folded into half until you water them, and that’s when they stand up again due to the normal pressure.

Is It Turning Yellow?

If you see any signs of the leaves or the body of your cactus turning yellow, you may either be underwatering or overwatering it.

The reason it starts turning yellow is that it’s unable to produce chlorophyll due to some form of root damage.

Is It Shriveling?

Shrinkage and distorted growth are pretty obvious signs that your plant isn’t as hydrated as it should be.

Is It Wilting?

A healthy cactus does not have difficulty holding its upright posture. The moment it starts to droop down, you should know that there isn’t enough moisture to help it hold itself up.

Does It Have Brown or Dry Edges?

Insufficient water can also cause your cacti plant’s tips and edges to wilt and die. However, there is still time to determine if the same is happening because there are very apparent dry and brown tips.

Moreover, it may also indicate sunburn if you had left it out in the sun for long without watering it enough.

Does It Have Brown Spots?

If the leaves of your cactus have brown patches on them, it’s because they’re either exposed to direct sunlight or are close to a source of heat. Any plant that isn’t hydrated enough can fall prey to such patches and become even more susceptible to heat damage and sunburn.

Touch It

Sometimes, appearance alone does not help. You must touch the plant to determine whether its hydrostatic pressure has gone down.

You can tell by its ability to regain its shape quickly after slight pressing that it’s fully hydrated.

However, it can still be hard to figure the state out if you haven’t tried the same technique before. Therefore, you can start by watering the cacti plant, letting it rest for some hours, and then pressing it to understand how it should feel when it’s fully hydrated.

Again, softening is not just a sign of dehydration but also of invisible root rot damaging the plant’s healthy tissue.

Are the Roots Brittle?

If your plant’s roots are becoming dry and brittle, it’s because they’re not able to get enough nutrients and moisture from the soil. In fact, if you tug on them, you may even break them off in pieces.

Are the Spines Weak?

Touching a plant gives you a good idea about its spine. However, unfortunately, if it’s too late and if the spines have lost their shine and strength, they may fall off even if touched slightly.

When Is the Right Time to Water a Cacti Plant?

Now that we know how to figure out if a cacti plant is dehydrated, it’s time to understand the next step. The consistency of your potting mix plays a huge role in keeping your plant happy. If it has enough inorganic material and is fast draining, then you have nothing to worry about.

All you have to do from this point onwards is ensure that your soil is dry before watering the plant. If you’re not entirely sure whether it’s dry or not, stick your finger into the soil and go at least two inches down.

If it feels even slightly damp or wet, avoid watering it. Let it rest for some more days before trying again. Another way to determine the dryness level is by using a device to record the moisture content, called a soil moisture meter.

Causes of Dehydration and What to Do About Them

Irregular Watering Schedule

More than insufficient watering, the problem lies in irregular watering. Here are some ways to be more efficient in this regard:

  • You don’t need to follow a strict schedule or timeline for this. You can water less but make sure to do it thoroughly until the soil gets soaked. If you end up watering often but scarcely, you may leave the plant exposed to distorted or uneven growth because the moisture may only have reached halfway in the pot.
  • Always stick to room temperature water instead of cold water as you may end up shocking the cactus.
  • Avoid using tap water at all costs. Instead, use filtered or distilled water.
  • Make sure to check your plant’s moisture level regularly, either with the two-finger method or a meter, especially during the summers.

Quick Evaporation

The impact of harsh conditions such as direct exposure to sunlight for a prolonged period is greater than you can imagine.

While it is true that most cacti plants are well-suited to harsh conditions as they come from the desert, it’s not a ticket for you to test their strength and patience in such conditions.

Here’s what you should do at all times:

  • Place them somewhere bright but only with indirect sunlight. Get rid of any source of heat nearby as it may cause the water in the plant to evaporate faster and result in shriveling and dehydration.
  • It’s true that your cactus is in a state of dormancy during winter, and you may deem it suitable to place it near a radiator, but you should still water it at least once every three weeks, so it doesn’t shrivel up.

The Soil Mixture Isn’t Quite Adding Up.

Your cactus needs certain nutrients as much as it needs water. While good drainage ability is a blessing, the soil must have at least a combination of 30% perlite and sand, or it will rot your cactus due to constant moisture.

Here’s the best combination of potting soil, sand, and other items:

  • 20% perlite, 20% sand or gravel, 20% compost (organic), and 40% regular potting soil
  • The sand and perlite enhance the space between soil molecules and provide additional room for oxygen. You can prevent a considerable amount of damage to your plant simply by preventing the soil from being moist constantly. Additionally, the organic compost will provide it with more healthy nutrients.
  • You may want to be careful with the sand consistency because adding too much of it can cause the soil to be dry.

Toxicity Due to Nitrogen

Nitrogen is one of the biggest culprits that cause soft growth and attract diseases and pests to your plant. Moreover, it also makes the plant curled, wilted, yellow, or brown as it takes the water away and leaves the salt behind. Here’s how to avoid it:

  • Don’t overfertilize your plant and avoid fertilizing completely during winters. The winter season can also be an opportunity for your cactus to take some rest and avoid excess salt.
  • If you do plan on fertilizing, use a granular fertilizer as it not only lasts longer but also dissolves in a gradual fashion, unlike others that dissolve way too quickly, depriving the plant of necessary nutrients.

Wrong-Sized Container

  • Avoid keeping large cacti in small pots and vice versa as it hinders their ability to absorb water well.
  • Excess water that settles on the bottom can cause the root to rot. So, make sure to get a pot that has drainage holes.

Can You Revive a Cactus?

Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do for a severely rotten cactus. However, there are definitely a few ways out for an underwatered one.

Cut Off the Damaged Parts

Sometimes, when a certain part has gone too far in the cycle of rotting, the only way to protect the entire plant is to cut off the root of the problem itself.

You can cut the rotten parts (those that are dry, brown, and completely damaged) by using a sharp knife because there’s absolutely no way they can recover or add any value to the plant.

Remember, the focus is to cut rotten parts, not dehydrated parts, so make sure not to cut the yellow ones off yet.

Water It

Sometimes, all a plant needs to perk up is water. However, if you still don’t see a difference after a few days, dig a little deeper to inspect if there’s possible damage to the roots.

Consider Repotting

Smaller and younger cacti need to be repotted more frequently than bigger ones. However, if you don’t see your cacti improving even after thoroughly watering them, then the problem may lie in the soil.

Somewhere along the way, you may have gone wrong with the soil mixture. Hence, you should consider repotting if any of the given circumstances occur:

  • The soil mixture is too dry
  • The plant’s roots are too big to fit into the pot

As an added tip, always use plastic pots over other materials as they hold moisture in a much better way.

Place Your Plant In the Right Environment

You may be doing everything right, from watering and fertilizing to repotting, but if your cactus isn’t placed in the right environment, it will still be vulnerable to every form of damage.

The deal is to make sure that all factors are working in solidarity to keep your plant healthy and thriving. Hence, apart from direct exposure to sunlight, you may also want to avoid extreme temperatures.

The ideal temperature to place your plant should be between 16 to 22 degrees Celsius. As soon as you notice the temperature rising (due to nearby radiators or heaters) or going down (during early autumn, for instance), you should make the required changes immediately.

What Is the Right Way to Water It?

People often don’t pay much heed to the watering method and apply the top-to-bottom approach to every plant. However, in the case of a cactus, the method leads to more problems.

Cactus is not an ordinary potent plant. When you apply the top-to-bottom approach, water travels down in a way that leaves little room for absorption where it’s needed. This means that there’s also a significant chance of rot at the soil line.

Hence, the right way is to place your pot in a pan of water and give your soil a chance to absorb as much as possible.

Once it has absorbed enough and you notice the moisture reaching the surface, carefully remove the pot from the pan and allow it to drain.

Frequently Asked Question (FAQ)

Does Damaged Cactus Revive Itself?

Yes! In fact, cacti have amazing regenerative abilities. They are able to reabsorb water and nutrients from their surroundings and grow back completely after being damaged.

Some varieties even produce roots from the inside of their stems to form new plants.

What’s the ph level of Cactus soil?

What does the pH level of Cactus soil mean?

Cacti are succulent plants that thrive in arid climates. They are often cultivated indoors as houseplants because they require little water and sunlight. The pH scale measures the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. The higher the number, the more acidic the solution.

A plant’s soil pH affects its growth and development. Most cacti prefer a slightly acidic environment (pH 6.0 – 7.5). If the soil is too alkaline (above 8), the plant will struggle to absorb nutrients from the soil.

How to Store Cactus Pear?

Cactus pears are delicious fruits that are very nutritious. They are also very perishable and should be stored properly. If you want to enjoy them at their peak, then you need to store them correctly.

Cactus pears are native to Mexico and Central America. The fruit has thin skin and fleshy pulp. It is usually eaten raw or cooked.

You can store cactus pears in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. After that time, they start to go bad. Keep them in a cool place away from direct sunlight.

What is a Cactus Fruit Called?

Cacti fruits are also known as prickly pear or cholla fruits. These fruits are usually greenish-yellow in color and contain juicy fleshy pulp.

How long can a cactus go without water?

A cactus can survive for 2-3 weeks without water.

The Bottom Line

In the end, cacti are much more susceptible to changes in the environment and watering patterns than we would like to believe.

The best way to keep them healthy, growing, and thriving is to look out for signs of dehydration and take the required course of action immediately.

Other articles you may also like: