How Do You Tell if a Cactus Is Over or Under Watered?

Cactus is one of the attractive plant species. These spiny plants are available in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, types, etc.

These plants are known to habituate in a desert region and grow in warm temperatures and can thrive well in drought conditions. Cacti are almost all a variety of succulents, that is, they have fleshy stems that have adapted into a thicker variation to facilitate the storage of water.

As cacti are found in dry areas with extreme climatic conditions, they require water, and thus, they have adapted structurally to provide for their water requirements by storing them in their thick and fleshy stems.

The cacti plants either have reduced leaves or highly modified leaves into thorns or no leaves at all to save the transport of water throughout the plant.

Cacti plants have very short growing seasons as compared to other plants and longer dormancy periods. All features of the cactus help it to strive in the driest situations and to store water efficiently.

Cacti are very common houseplants and have over time evolved to be one of the most attractive interior décor elements.

With its adaptive features of caring and providing for itself, the cactus becomes a very easy and low-maintenance type houseplant. It is the best type of houseplant for new gardeners and ones with less time for their greens.

Their attractive sizes, shapes, flowers, and colors are appreciated by all gardeners and plant enthusiasts. There isn’t a lot to do to grow and tend to a cactus plant. They make truly amazing indoor and outdoor plants, are easy to grow and maintain, and also make great gifting and décor options.

With all its adaptive and highly evolved features that help it to store water, the cactus when grown in homes still needs to be provided with a balanced watering routine.

Too much or too little watering can turn out to be problematic. We will look through the ways to properly water your house cacti, ways to find out if the cactus is over watered or under watered, and other requirements to grow and keep your cactus healthy.

Table of Contents

How to water your cactus effectively?

These plants, as they belong to arid regions, require dry soil and warm growing condition. They do have certain specific water requirements, mostly during the growing season.

Watering a cactus is rather an essential task and must be carried out well to ensure proper growth and good maintenance of the plant.

There is a proper way to carry it out including factors like when and when not to water, how often to water a cactus, maintaining the porosity in the soil, drainage of the soil, overwatering and under watering and its consequences, etc. Let us look into this aspect of growing cactus in greater detail.

How often and when should the cactus be watered?

Cacti usually have very fleshy stems that hold water for the entire plant. The inside of the cactus is rather mushy and jelly-like because of its water retention in the stems.

The best way to water the cactus is determined by various factors. Usually watering the cactus should be more regular during the growing season.

The summer and spring seasons are the growing seasons for this plant and it needs a little more watering during this period.

Watering your cactus just once in a week is the recommended watering routine during the growing seasons. The soil must be soaked well and make sure that you do not wet the stem of the cactus. It is only the soil that needs to be watered.

The other time of the year, that is, during the fall and winter months, the cactus goes through a non-growing period. It is the dormancy period for the cacti plants and they tend to stop growing during this time.

When the cactus is in its dormant period, it is to be provided with less food and watering. Watering the cacti during winter and fall months must be reduced to once in a month only.

Sometimes the watering schedules depend on the variety of cactus as well. There are some types of cacti plants that are holiday cacti or winter cacti.

These special varieties grow during the holiday and winter months and go through a dormancy period during the summer and spring season. According to your cactus type, you should arrange your watering routines to encourage and facilitate good growth and prevent damage to the plant.

Practical Tips for watering the Cactus adequately

Watering the cactus is a job that takes certain knowledge to carry it out well. When watering the cactus, make sure you are only wetting the soil in the pot and not the cactus stem.

The soil in the pot should be thoroughly provided with water. Moisture on the stem of the cactus can be harmful to the growth and its display as well. If the stem is kept wet it tends to get softer and loses its strength to stay upright. The softening of the cactus can make it droop and look unattractive.

If your cactus tends to be drooping due to too much moisture on the foliage, it must be exposed to the Sun so that the excess water dries off as quickly as possible.

Another way to provide the cactus with water without wetting the foliage is by placing the potted cactus in a saucer containing water.

When the pot is placed upon a saucer with water, the water will seep into the soil from the holes at the bottom of the pot.

The roots can easily absorb the water from the soil this way. The soil gets saturated halfway from the bottom up without even affecting the stem part of the cactus plant.

The cactus always requires soil with a good drainage facility and does not prefer soil that holds moisture.

There are special kinds of potting soil mixes available to suit the cactus varieties. When planting, it is best to use these potting soils. If using regular soil, you should make sure that it is light and allows proper aeration and drainage.

The soil must never be allowed to hold extra moisture and the water should be let out from the pot completely.

The pot chosen must have good drainage holes to encourage flowing out of the water so that the soil can entirely dry off. Too much water when allowed to stay in the soil for long will lead to rotting of the cactus roots.

The soil in the bottom of the pot can be layered with small pebbles that assist in flowing out to water correctly. Before re-watering make sure the soil is dried out and does not contain water from the previous watering schedule.

The topsoil must be dry to touch and it should not be damp up to at least 2 inches deep. To check this, you can often use a wooden skewer. The skewer can be inserted in the soil to make sure that the soil is dry enough and not damp inside.

If your cactus is growing in a humid environment, then make sure that the soil stays dry. The potted cactus can be provided with good amounts of heat to facilitate the drying of the soil.

If the environment contains comparatively more moisture, then you can reduce your watering routine from once a week in the growing season to only once in two weeks. Similarly, during the dormancy period, it can be watered every other month.

How to understand that your cactus plant is under-watered?

Although the cactus has its own ability to store water, it should not be under-watered. If your cactus is thirsty and not well-watered, it starts to show various signs of distress.

If your cactus tends to shrink and pucker up, it is a consequence of less watering. As the cactus uses up all its water reserves stored in the stem, it starts to shrink and dry if more water is not provided.

Another consequence that occurs in the cactus due to under watering is that it shows discoloration. The cactus may turn dull and the color of it may fade. On the other hand, the cactus plant can even develop brown colored patches if it does receive enough water.

Many a time due to less moisture and insufficient watering, the cactus plant can become dry and develop calluses on the skin of the plant. This is a sign that you need to water the cactus more often and more efficiently.

Underwatering a cactus can be corrected easily and the damage can be reversed. Thoroughly watering the cactus can be the solution and can make your unhealthy, dry, and discolored cactus, plump and fresh again. It is easier to correct an under-watered cactus as compared to a cactus plant which is overwatered.

How to determine that your cactus plant is overwatered?

Overwatering of the cactus is more problematic than under-watering it. The damage caused by too much watering of the cactus is more intense and harder to reverse as compared to an under-watered cactus plant.

It is rather simple to find out if the cactus is going through negatives effects due to overwatering. The signs in a cactus when provided with extra water are more prominent.

If a cactus is being overwatered, the stems of it tend to turn soft and mushy. As the roots absorb more water and it is stored in the stem portion, the stem starts to swell and the wall begins to rupture due to excess water and less space to store it.

This results in the stem turning squishy and watery. This is the major consequence that is shown if the cactus is overwatered.

Due to excess water in the stems and not enough space to store it, the stems start to leak. This is a noticeable change and an alarm for you to water your cactus lesser and allow it to dry.

Many a time the development of dark-colored patches can be a result of overwatering the cactus. The stem can show a change in color. The bottom of the cactus stem tends to turn brown or black and has a slimy feel when touched if it is receiving too much water.

The cactus tends to look stale and appears unhealthy and rotten. These are signs of decay in the cactus caused by overwatering it.

Overwatering leads to the soil holding more water and this can be harmful as the cacti do not at all tolerate damp soil.

This leads to the rotting of the roots. Rotting of the roots in cactus is generally an irreversible phenomenon and can destroy the plant over time. The roots of a cactus are sensitive and more vulnerable to damage.

If the roots begin to rot, then they lose their ability to absorb water properly and thus leading to an insufficient supply of nutrients and water to the stem.

Overwatering is more harmful also because as the roots rot, the ability to absorb water is lost and ultimately it also leads to underwatering and its consequences as the stem do not receive water and suffer from dehydration.

Thus, it is really necessary to follow the proper watering schedules that we mentioned and letting the water drain out well.

Factors that determine the Water requirements in Cactus

1. Sunlight and temperature

Cactus needs a desert-like condition and therefore it requires bright sunlight. It must be positioned near a window where it can receive enough sunlight. Around 6-hour exposure to sunlight is enough for a cactus.

These plants can also be kept in a partially shaded area as too much heat and harsh warmth may be damaging. New plants must be exposed to partial sunlight and gradually to full bright light.

These plants prefer a warm and dry temperature all year round. During summers, the temperature range of 65 – 90 is suitable and around 45 – 55 during the colder months.

2. Soil

As discussed earlier also, cacti prefer a well-drained soil type and there is special cactus specific potting soil that can be used. Regular light and proper-drainage soil can be used too and it can be topped with gravel to make it more absorbent.

3. Fertilization

Cactus can be fertilized once during each growing season, that is, once in summer and once in spring. Winter and fall time being the dormancy period for most cacti, do not need fertilizing. Regular diluted fertilizers or cactus specific fertilizers can be used.

With all these key details about watering the cactus and keeping it fresh and healthy, you can get going on growing cactus in your homes. Give the cactus its requirements and it will turn out to be one of the most attractive and low maintenance houseplants enhancing the beauty of your indoor and outdoor gardens.


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