How to Tell if Your Cactus is Dying: 2 Symptoms You Shouldn’t Miss

We love cacti, but irrigation… oh! Irrigation. It is very difficult to control, even if you have been taking care of the plants for some time. Whether we water too little or too much, in the end the poor succulents cannot grow as they should.

One of the questions we ask the most, especially when we start, is the following: how to tell if your cactus is dying? Because of course, if it is dying, we can already assume that we will be losing it, or maybe not?

how to tell if your cactus is dying
Eriosyce aspillagae

How to Tell if Your Cactus is Dying

If the cactus does not change visually, everything is fine.

Cacti change their appearance when they are not doing well. They develop spots (yellow, brown, or black), collapse, become wrinkled, mushy or brown.

Why is My Cactus Dying?

Well, the truth is that as in everything in this life, a cactus dies depending on a few reasons. What does it depend on? The cactus itself, the season of the year in which we find ourselves, the amount of water we pour into it and the frequency with which we water it. Thus, a healthy and well cared for cactus when touched, we will feel it hard, unless we apply a little pressure, in which case it is normal for the fleshy body to give way a little.

But… what happens if you don’t give the amount of light it needs or you aren’t watering properly? In these cases, the cactus becomes soft. If it is in an area that is not bright enough, what will happen to it is that it will etiolate, that is, it will grow as much as it can towards a light source. As a consequence, the new stems that emerge are very weak, so much so that they often fall under their own weight.

If, on the other hand, the problem you have is that you are not watering as often as you should, the cactus can become ill. The symptoms are:

  • Overwatering: the roots die of suffocation and the fleshy body of the plant rots quickly.
  • Lack of irrigation: when a cactus has not received water for a long time, to survive it adopts a drastic survival measure: to consume the water it has stored in its reserve, that is, in the fleshy body itself. If the situation lasts too long, the plant “wrinkles” as it runs out of precious liquid.

How to Prevent a Cactus from Dying

Basically, there are three things we can do:

  1. Use a substrate that has very good drainage, be it pumice, black peat mixed with perlite in equal parts, or similar.
  2. Check the humidity of the soil before watering, inserting a thin wooden stick and see how much has stuck onto it. If it comes out practically clean, it means it is dry.
    Another option is to hold the pot before watering and again after a few days. As the dry substrate does not weigh the same as when it is wet, it can serve as an indicator.
  3. Place the cactus in an area where it receives a lot of sunlight, if possible directly throughout the day. These plants do not live well in semi-shade, much less in shade. Of course, for this you have to let it get used to it little by little.
how to tell if a cactus is dead

How to Revive a Dying Cactus

If your cactus is rotting and the rot has not progressed too far, the cactus can be saved. It is important that it is still healthy in the upper part and that the tissue is not wrinkled or mushy.

Handle the cactus with thick gloves or a piece of paper to prevent spines from penetrating the skin. Cut off the healthy part with a sharp and disinfected knife. There must be no putrid spots. Treat the wound with cinnamon. It ensures that the surface does not become infected.

Pro Tip:

Euphorbias can also be saved this way. To stop the sap from flowing after the cut, hold the cut part under warm water for a few minutes.

How to bring a cactus back to life:

Let the wound dry

It is important that the wound is dry before planting. In many cases, the rooting also works if cacti with a fresh wound have been planted into the substrate. But there is a risk that the healthy part of the cactus will also rot. So wait at least 24 hours before you stick the cactus into the substrate. Their tissue functions as a water reservoir, so that the plants can lie dry for a long time. If there is a hardened layer on the wound, don’t worry. This so-called callus is a superficial wound cork. It protects the open area and ensures that no mold spores or pathogens can settle. The roots form on the edge tissue.


After the separated part has dried, encourage it to take root in a special substrate for cacti. For the greatest possible success, you should mix yourself a mineral-rich substrate. Cacti are adapted to nutrient-poor locations and require humus-free substrate, even if many hobby gardeners cultivate their cacti in potting soil. When buying cactus soil, pay attention to the composition.

  • Fill the planter with substrate
  • Moisten the substrate slightly
  • Carefully press the cactus into the substrate
Further care

You can try to save both the lower part and the upper part. This only works if rot has not developed. Place the vessels in a bright location. The substrate in both pots should not be watered for the next week. Cacti take root at different speeds. With some specimens new roots can be seen within a few days, other individuals take between six weeks and three months for root development. In some cases the lower part regenerates when it receives more light again. The wound becomes lignified over time and the plant sprouts anew at the edges.

Pro Tip:

Always make sure that the relationship between light and water is balanced. Signs of a dying cactus only appear when there is an imbalance.


Many cacti develop several shoots or offshoots that you can recognize by the constrictions. Should your cactus develop such offshoots , you can simply cut them off at the constriction and root them in a nutrient-poor and mineral-rich substrate. So you can not only save rotten cacti, but also rejuvenate and multiply them at the same time.