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What causes a cactus to lean?

6 min read

What causes a cactus to lean?


Cacti are unique plants. They are technically succulents, but they stand out from other succulent species because they have very distinctive and intriguing appearances. Most cacti have thickened, fleshy, water-filled globular or columnar bodies with ribs or spikes of different sizes. They look vigorous and sturdy and bring a touch of wildlife and a desert-inspired feeling to any living space. They are also incredibly low maintenance! However, it doesn’t mean that cacti are problem-free. They, as succulents, are prone to root rot, overwatering, and pest infestation, among other things. One commonly seen complication cacti sometimes develop is that their stem starts to bend or lean over. A leaning cactus may have one or more underlying issues. This article will explore the most common reasons why a cactus cannot stand upright anymore, and how to fix them. 

Fortunately, most problems that lead to a leaning cactus can be corrected. Whether you are a seasoned houseplant gardener or a newbie cactus enthusiast, you can easily follow our tips and advice to help your beloved plant regain its shape and come back to its naturally beautiful and healthy self again. 

Why does my cactus lean over and how to fix it?

Strong wind and rain or sloped surface

For cacti planted outdoors without any covering, strong wind and/or rain or a sloped surface can cause them to gradually bend over to the down-hilled side. This is especially common for young cacti that haven’t developed sturdy stems and a tough root system yet. If left unsolved, this problem will lead to your cacti falling over, causing damage to their stems and roots. 

Fixing this problem involves immediately repotting your cactus in another spot with a flat soil surface away from strong wind. You can also consider transferring your plant into a planter and bringing it to a safe place during windy, rainy days. 

Underwatering or overwatering

Incorrect watering may tell you many bad stories, cacti leaning over included. An underwatered cactus will have dry, weak roots, and weakened stems, making it unstable and fragile. Overwatering, on the other hand, causes the soil to become waterlogged and soft, and your water-filled cactus would start to tilt over. 

To solve this issue, first, you need to check the soil moisture. If it is too dry, and your cactus looks dry and thirsty, water it thoroughly and let all excess water drain out of the pot. Cacti are drought-tolerance, so you should only water your plants once the soil is completely dry. Check if the pot you are using has good drainage. Make sure you only use pots with drainage holes and are made from porous materials like concrete, ceramic or unglazed terracotta. 

Rot root or stem

Rot roots will become so weak they cannot support the cactus stem anymore, making it lean over to one side and gradually fall off. A rot stem will also tilt over due to the weakening of the rotting part. Rot stem may look brown and mushy, so it is very easy to detect this issue. 

Succulentsbox, How to know cactus is rotting
Rot roots will become so weak they cannot support the cactus stem anymore, making it lean over
Photo on CactusWay

Rot roots and stems are serious problems that, if you do not act fast, can become fatal for your plants. You should inspect your cactus carefully to see if it has any pests, fungal infections, or other diseases. Repotting with a clean pot and cactus-friendly new soil mix is recommended immediately. You may need to remove some parts of the roots of they are already decaying. 

Incorrect pot size

Planted in a pot too small, your cactus may become root-bound, nutrient-deficient, and cannot support its own weight. No room for roots to grow leads to a lack of stability for the stem, and your plant ends up leaning all over. However, too big of a pot is equally bad. In a big pot, the roots struggle to get nutrients and water and to establish a stable root system to support the stems. Cacti planted outdoors on loose soil or planted on shallow soil surfaces also have this instability problem. 

Fixing is easy. Repot your cactus in a smaller pot and only upgrade the pot size once every 2 years, as most cacti are generally slow growers. Even when your plant has outgrown the current pot, you should only repot it in a pot 1 size or 1 and 1/2 size larger. Do not plant your cactus too close to the surface, and make sure you fill around the stem base with well-draining soil to support it. 

Pests, fungal infections, and diseases

Common pests like mealybugs or scales insects can make your cactus become sick, weak, and start to lean over. A cactus declining in its health will lose its stability, especially when it has a thick, fleshy, and heavy stem. Fungal infections also weaken your plant to the point that it may not support its own stem anymore. 

Pest, fungal infections, and other diseases can be deadly for any plant and need to be treated as soon as possible. A regular inspection should be included in your care routine. Check the symptoms carefully and apply a suitable treatment.

Potting soil issues

There are several potting soil issues that may result in your cactus bending over. Don’t forget that most cacti come from arid, desert dry lands and can only thrive in well-draining, porous, sandy soil. Rich, moistened soils that other houseplants enjoy can cause root rot and stem rot in a cactus. Potting soils that are too compact and do not allow easy water and air flowing are also damaging to your plant. However, if the potting soil is too loose and cannot help the root system to establish a strong base for the heavy stem, that would be problematic too. 

If you notice that your soil isn’t correct for your cactus, change the soil to potting soil mixed especially for succulents and cacti. This type of soil usually has the perfect ratio of sand, perlite, soil, and grit to allow optimum drainage and airflow for your cactus. Do not plant it too deep or too shallow, as a correct soil level is important to keep your cactus upright.

Improper lighting condition

Cacti and succulents need lots of bright light. They tend to lean towards the light. A cactus leaning over to the source of light is a natural response of the plant to acquire more light when its lighting condition is insufficient. Indoor cacti may not have enough lighting, or they only have lighting on one side, which causes them to lean over to that side. 

Cacti and succulents need lots of bright light
Cacti and succulents need lots of bright light.

When you notice that your plant is leaning toward the light, you should rotate your cactus and do it regularly to ensure both sides have enough lighting. If the lighting condition is generally limited, consider investing in a couple of grow lamps. 

Type and age of the cactus itself

Some cactus species are naturally more prone to leaning over than others. For example, columnar or cereus cacti have tall stems and upright growth habits, so they are more likely to bend over under their heavy weight when compared with cacti that have a spreading growing nature. A young cactus may not have a well-established root system to keep it upright under challenging weather conditions, and it is therefore vulnerable and easily bends over.  

It is important that you understand the growing habit of your cactus and give it some support before or as soon as it starts to lean over. Providing your plant with a stake or trellis is recommended to help it stay upright.

Quick tips to help straighten a leaning cactus 

Give it support with a stake or trellis. This method usually works for young and small cacti, but not for heavy and old cacti. Make sure you use a safe stake that does not cause injury or damage to your plant. 
If your cactus has matured and been crooked for a long time, you may need to cut a straight piece from the tip of your cactus to remove the bending part and decrease the heavy weight. The cutting can be used for propagation.

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