Q&A: Cactus help: Is my cactus dying?

Question by Meg: Cactus help: Is my cactus dying?
I brought a cactus a couple of years ago, its very small, about…17 cms. Its just one long tall stem. The top of it has gone floppy though, and where it flopped over the stem has gone brown. I dont think the water can get to that part of it very well, should I leave it alone? Or water it more? Or maybe not water it at all? Or cut off the floppy part? If you cut off the top of a cactus will it repair itself or will it die? HELP PLEASE!!!!

Best answer:

Answer by Jeeem
Hi Sarah,

Ah…the perils of cactus care.

There are many issues here, so I’ll try to cover just about everything and let you sort out what you need.

To begin, succulents and cactus plants grow for only a few months of the year and the rest of the time they quite literally rest. They respond to the seasons and will typically grow during the spring and fall and sleep during the hot summer months and the winter.

So, in regards to water, the general rule is to water during growth periods (spring and fall) and withhold water during resting times. If your locale is a typically humid one like say Florida in the summer months, then you can get away with almost no watering during resting times.

It’s really all about timing. If you treat your cactus as if it were a broad-leaf or tropical plant, it’s gonna die. Cacti need very little care really, in the scope of things.

You don’t mention much detail about your plant’s location or the type of cactus you own. Cacti need sun, but different species require different amounts of sun. If your cactus is located in or near a sunnier south window and isn’t doing well, then simply move it to a west or east window and see if that improves its overall health. If, in your case, you’ve put your cactus in a sunny south window and the plant dried out too much, or too quickly, prompting you to water it in compensation, this may cause the plant to rot as you describe, due primarily to overstressed in a southern window.

The best way to combat this seemingly complicated situation is to determine what species plant you have and simply look up its particular needs, which is easily done in a simple Google search.

Are you watering your cactus with tap water? OMG! If you are, then stop that. Tap water can be very rough on cacti. If you absolutely have to use tap water, place some vinegar in it. Simply mix about 30cc’s (one medicine cup) in a liter of tap water, or approximately nine drops of vinegar from an eyedropper into one quart of tap water. Always remember to toss any left over right down the drain since if you try and store it, it will spoil. This vinegar mixture is much safer than straight tap water. Or, if you don’t have to use tap water, use either distilled water or rain water. Rain water is my preference and appears to work best on my plants.

The rot you mention is most likely caused by fungus. This can be caused by watering your plant from the top like you’d water other broad-leaf plants. Instead, you should always water cacti by the bottom method. Placing water in the pot tray and allowing the plant to absorb the water.

There is so much more I could say here, but given what you’ve mentioned in your question I think your plant is most likely going to die due to the description of the mold rot, however, I could be wrong. I don’t know what species you are growing, so I’m not going to even venture a guess.

What I would do, if I were you, would be to take the plant into a garden store, especially one who specializes in cactus, and simply ask them what to do. Then, if you are able to save it (whether by replacing the soil and treating the roots and allowing them to dry out, or by other methods) remember to follow the above advice regarding your particular species, and the seasons, in regards to watering.

Good luck!


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