How to tell if a cactus is dead

It's not always easy to tell if a cactus is dead.

Cacti are those plants which, in general, protect themselves with more or less long and thin thorns. In addition, their flowers are usually colors that show quickly and are very beautiful, so they are, without a doubt, very interesting to collect. As they can remain in pots for a very long time, and there are even some which, since they do not grow much, it will not be necessary to plant them in the ground.

But sometimes they start to spoil, wrinkle or rot, and we wonder how to know if a cactus is dead. Is there a quick way to find out? Well, sometimes it’s very obvious, but sometimes it’s not so obvious.


What are the symptoms or signs that indicate the cactus is dying?

Cacti are watered from time to time

There are other reactions cacti can have that can be confusing, for example: when their bodies wrinkle or thin. It’s normal for them to do this if they haven’t rehydrated for several days or weeks, but they can also be seen this way if they are suffering from an already very advanced disease.

So, you need to think and remember the care that has been given to them so far to find out if the symptoms or damage it has is that of a dying plant or a plant that, yes, may be going through a bad time but its life is not in danger. So, to make it easier for you, we are going to talk about different situations:

  • excess water: we may also have put a plate underneath and with soil that quickly absorbs water. The plant has reached a point where it becomes limp, wrinkled and, in very severe cases, rots.
  • lack of watering: The cactus has not received a drop of water for a long time. The earth is very dry, it may look cracked and its body begins to wrinkle and shrink, but it still remains hard and green.
  • Sunburn: Although there are many cacti that need direct sun, none should be placed in this exposure if they have not been acclimatized before. The burns will always appear overnight, or after a few hours, and in the most exposed part (usually the upper part). But there are no more symptoms than that.
  • disease spots: These spots are different from burns, because they grow gradually over the days. And although it is not visible to the naked eye, they are accompanied by other symptoms, such as root death, softening or rotting of the cactus, and also the soil may be too wet.

Based on this, how can we know for sure that our cactus is dying? This is not easy, because it will depend on what is causing this general weakening of the plant and the state it is currently in. But yes there are symptoms that may make us suspect that you are not well:

  • like the spots that get bigger as the days go by,
  • rapid softening of your body,
  • a fungal disease (such as rust, which covers your body with reddish or orange spots) that progresses rapidly
  • or even if it begins to grow in a way that is not natural to it, i.e. if it etiolates, which happens if there is not enough light or if the pot has become too small.

How can we prevent the cactus from dying?

The most important thing is to find the cause, because depending on this we will apply one or the other treatment. So, let’s see what steps we need to take so that it can be recovered:

Better irrigation control

Cacti are not drought-tolerant plants, as is often said. Indeed, it is very easy for them to die from lack of water, especially if they are small and/or in pots. But they can’t stand waterlogging either. For this reason, it is important that if we suspect that they are dehydrating, we water them conscientiously, and if, on the contrary, we think that they have been watered too much, we will change the soil. From there, we will water when we see dry land.

Related article:

Why cacti are not easy to care for

Plant it in a pot with holes and no saucer underneath.

Cacti are not resistant to excess water

While pots without holes are nice, for cacti they are a death sentence. Sorry to use those words, but that’s the way it is. Cacti are not aquatic plants, so they should not be planted in these containers. The water, unable to get out, accumulates inside, and the roots have more and more water and, therefore, more respiratory problems. After a few days, the cacti rot, so to avoid this they must be planted in pierced pots. Likewise, they should not be put under a plate, unless you are going to think about emptying it after each watering.

We’ll transplant it whenever they need it

Even if we take good care of them, if we keep them in the same pots they will not always have the opportunity to grow, and this could weaken them a lot. For it, we must change them to slightly larger containers if they have been in the same container for more than three years and/or their roots are coming out through the holes.

Apply a systemic fungicide in case of excessive watering

To prevent fungi from destroying cacti we must apply a fungicide to them if we suspect that we have watered them a lot or if it has rained a lot during the last days. We will use a spray, like this one, and we will apply it to its entire surface as indicated on the packaging.

It’s not always easy to tell when a cactus is dying. But don’t worry, because these tips will surely help you get your plant back.

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