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Common Problems When Growing Cacti

8 min read

Common Problems When Growing Cacti


Cacti are a type of succulent plant belonging to the family Cactaceae. They are renowned for their unique and distinct characteristics that set them apart from other types of plants. Primarily found in arid and desert regions where water is scarce, they've developed remarkable adaptations. One of the most notable features of cacti is their ability to store water in their thick, fleshy stems. This allows them to survive extended periods of drought and excessive sunlight. This is also the reason why cacti are a symbol of strength, endurance, and resilience, making them thoughtful and meaningful gifts.

Cacti have achieved a special place in the houseplant stardom and have made their mark in popular culture, becoming recognizable symbols in art, fashion, and design. Cacti's minimalistic aesthetic aligns seamlessly with contemporary interior design trends. Their distinctive shapes have been incorporated into clothing prints, jewelry designs, and home decor items. This cultural integration has contributed to their iconic status. 

Caring for cacti is generally quite simple, making them suitable for beginners and people with busy lifestyles. However, this doesn't mean that they are entirely maintenance-free. Cacti do have distinct requirements we need to understand in order to give them the correct care. Let’s take a look at the most common problems you may encounter when growing cacti and learn how to solve them!


Overwatering is a common issue that many cactus enthusiasts face, and it's one of the leading causes of problems in cactus care. Cacti have evolved to thrive in arid environments with infrequent rainfall, which means they are adapted to storing water in their tissues for extended periods, and it is very easy to overwater them. 

Here's why overwatering can be problematic for cacti:

  • Root Rot: Cacti have shallow and delicate root systems that are particularly susceptible to rot if kept consistently moist. Overwatering leads to soil saturation, depriving the roots of the oxygen they need to function properly. This can result in root rot, a fungal infection that can quickly lead to plant decline or death.
  • Stunted Growth: Cacti that are overwatered might show signs of stunted growth. Their natural growth cycle gets disrupted, causing them to become weaker and less resilient.
  • Susceptibility to Pests and Diseases: Overwatered cacti weaken and become more susceptible to pests and diseases. Their weakened growth makes it easier for harmful organisms to attack them. 

To avoid overwatering your cacti, keep these tips in mind:

  • Watering Frequency: Only water when the top soil is dry to the touch. Your watering schedule depends on your climate, temperature, humidity, amount of lighting and time of the year.
  • Optimize Drainage: Always plant your cacti in pots with drainage holes and use well-draining soil made for succulents and cacti. Drain all excess water after watering. 

  • Winter Watering: Reduce watering during the dormant winter months when cacti naturally require less moisture.
  • Be Mindful of Rainy Periods: If you keep your cacti outdoors or in an area where they might be exposed to rain, be cautious of overwatering during rainy seasons.


Even though it is better to underwater than to overwater, inadequate watering can lead to various issues that affect your plant’s health and vitality.

Here's why underwatering can be problematic for cacti:

  • Dehydration and Stress: Cacti store water in their tissues to sustain themselves during dry periods. Underwatering disrupts this natural water storage mechanism, leading to dehydration and stress. Prolonged dehydration weakens the plant, making it more susceptible to other problems.
  • Stunted Growth: Insufficient water can hinder cacti's growth and development. New growth may be limited, and the plant might fail to achieve its natural size and form. This can impact the overall aesthetic appeal of the cactus.
  • Yellowing, Drooping and Wrinkling Stems: Underwatered cacti may show visible signs of distress. Their stems can become limp, and the skin might appear wrinkled or shriveled. Yellowing or browning of the stem or spines can also indicate that the plant is not receiving enough water to sustain its metabolic processes.
  • Reduced Flowering: Cacti boast beautiful flowers! However, they require adequate water to support the energy demands of flowering. Insufficient water can lead to fewer or smaller flowers. 
cactus flower. Cactus blooming. Cacti. Cactus succulent

Insufficient water can lead to fewer or smaller flowers.

To prevent underwatering and ensure the well-being of your cacti, consider the following tips:

  • Regular Monitoring: Keep a close watch on your cacti and examine their condition regularly. Look for signs of dehydration such as drooping or shriveling.
  • Watering Frequency: While cacti are drought-tolerant, they still need water. Adjust your watering schedule based on the specific needs of your cactus species and its growing environment. Your cacti need more watering during their growing season. 
  • Proper Watering Technique: When you water, ensure that you thoroughly moisten the soil. Water should penetrate the root zone to encourage healthy root growth. Water deeply during each watering session rather than giving small amounts frequently.

Incorrect soil

Using incorrect soil is a significant mistake that can adversely affect the health and growth of your cacti. Cacti have unique requirements when it comes to soil composition due to their adaptation to arid environments with limited water availability. Using the wrong type of soil can lead to issues like overwatering, poor drainage, and root rot. Here's why choosing the right soil is crucial:

  1. Well-Draining Medium: Cacti need soil that provides excellent drainage. Regular potting soil retains moisture for longer periods, which can be harmful to cacti. The ideal soil for cacti is one that allows excess water to escape quickly, preventing waterlogged conditions that lead to root rot.
  2. Aeration: Cacti roots require access to oxygen. Heavy or compacted soil can impede air circulation within the root zone, causing the roots to suffocate and leading to poor growth and health.
  3. Water Retention: Cacti are adapted to store water in their tissues, which means they can withstand periods of drought. Using soil that retains too much water can lead to overwatering and, consequently, root rot.
  4. Nutrient Balance: While cacti don't require rich soils, they still need access to essential nutrients. Using soil that is too nutrient-poor can lead to deficiencies, resulting in stunted growth and weakened plants.

To keep your cacti healthy, chose a high-quality commercially available cactus mix that was formulated to meet the specific needs of cacti. It typically consists of a blend of sand, perlite, and other materials that promote drainage and aeration.  If you want to create your own cactus mix, combine regular potting soil with materials like coarse sand, perlite, and pumice. The goal is to create a mixture that allows water to flow through easily.

Incorrect Lighting

Cacti need a lot of bright sunlight. They have evolved to thrive in environments where sunlight is abundant, and they can tolerate direct sunlight. Cacti need more light than most succulents, and these sun-loving plants also can stand some harsh sunlight for short periods. 

Insufficient lighting is a common problem for cacti lovers. In low light conditions, cacti may exhibit a phenomenon called etiolation. Etiolation is characterized by elongated, weak stems as the plant stretches towards the available light. This can lead to an unsightly appearance and reduced structural integrity. Insufficient light also limits cacti’s ability to carry out photosynthesis effectively, leading to slow growth and overall weakness. Low lighting also affects flowering, resulting in fewer or smaller flowers. To solve this problem, position your cacti where they receive the right amount of light. If growing indoors, place them near a bright window that receives several hours of direct sunlight each day. If natural light is insufficient, consider using artificial grow lights to supplement illumination

Insufficient lighting is a common problem for cacti

Insufficient lighting is a common problem for cacti lovers.

On the other hand, while cacti are adapted to thrive in bright and sunny conditions, excessive sunlight can lead to damage that manifests as discolored or bleached areas on the plant's surface. Intense sunlight includes high levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can be damaging to plant tissues. Sunburn occurs when the plant's tissues are unable to protect themselves adequately from this radiation. To prevent sunburn on your cacti, use shade cloth or sheer curtains to filter the sunlight and reduce its intensity. If you're moving cacti from indoors or a shaded area to direct sunlight, acclimate them gradually. Start by placing them in a spot with indirect light, then gradually increase their exposure to direct sunlight over a period of several days or weeks.

High-Humidity and Insufficient Air Flow

High humidity and insufficient airflow can pose a challenge for cacti, as they are adapted to thrive in arid environments with low moisture levels. While cacti are generally more tolerant of dry conditions than many other plants, excessive humidity can lead to various issues that affect their health and growth. Cacti's roots and stems are adapted to store water and tolerate drought. When exposed to high humidity, their water storage mechanisms can become compromised, making them susceptible to rot and fungal infections, particularly if the soil remains consistently moist. Excess moisture in the air can lead to the growth of mold, mildew, or other fungal issues on the cactus's surface, potentially causing damage. Adequate air circulation hence is crucial for cacti to prevent these issues related to high humidity, fungal growth, pest infestations, and overall plant health.

Here are some suggestions to keep your plant healthy:

  • Maintain a Suitable Humidity Level: Keep your cacti in an environment with low to medium humidity (below 50%)
  • Positioning: Place your cacti in areas with good air circulation, both indoors and outdoors. Avoid overcrowding them, which can impede air movement.
  • Indoor Ventilation: If growing cacti indoors, use fans to improve air circulation. 
  • Outdoor Location: When growing cacti outdoors, select spots with natural air movement, avoiding areas surrounded by obstacles that might block the breeze.

Failing to Detect Pests

Failing to detect pests on your cacti can lead to significant problems, as pests can cause damage to the plant's health, appearance, and overall vitality. While cacti are generally more pest-resistant compared to many other types of plants, they are not entirely immune to pests. Their natural adaptations, such as thick spines and waxy surfaces, do provide some level of protection against pests, but it doesn't mean they are completely pest-proof. It's important to understand that pests can still find ways to affect cacti, and regular pest checks are essential to maintaining their health and preventing potential problems.

When introducing new cacti to your collection, especially those from different sources, there's always a risk of inadvertently introducing pests. Regular pest checks help ensure that new plants don't bring in unwanted visitors. Young or stressed cacti might be more susceptible to pest attacks. Additionally, cacti that are flowering or producing new growth can be targeted by pests.

Here are some of our tips to avoid this mistake: 

  • Avoid Overwatering and Environmental Changes: Changes in temperature, humidity, and other environmental factors can impact cacti's resistance to pests. These changes might make them more susceptible to infestations.
  • Early Detection: Detecting pests early is crucial for preventing infestations from spreading and causing significant damage. Regular pest checks allow you to catch problems before they become severe.
  • Control and Treatment: If you do identify pests, early detection makes it easier to implement control measures, whether they involve manual removal, natural predators, or safe pest control products.

Note: Remember that each species of cactus may have its own specific requirements and preferences, so it's important to research the type of cactus you're growing and tailor your care accordingly. If you encounter problems, identifying and addressing them early can help ensure the health and longevity of your cacti.

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