What are the symptoms of a lack of water in cacti?

Plastic watering can with flower

It sounds a bit strange to say that a cactus is suffering from lack of water, right? Part of the responsibility for this is the large garden centers as well as popular beliefs, who have told us over and over again that these plants resist drought very well.

The reality is very different: if a plant does not receive water regularly, it dies. In fact, it is very important you know what are the symptoms of a lack of water in cacti to avoid losing them.

What are the symptoms?

When a plant with leaves is going thirsty, we notice it immediately: the tips turn brown quickly, the appearance becomes sad, growth stops ... But, what about cacti? How to know if my cactus is suffering from lack of water?

For that, we have to talk a bit about "cacti anatomy" and how they manage to survive. These plant beings do not have leaves, but if we look at it, almost all have their bodies green. This pigmentation is due to chlorophyll, a substance thanks to which they can photosynthesize and grow.

But also that body or stem is fleshy: inside there is a large amount of liquid ... water. In times of drought, they survive thanks to these water reserves. The problem is that if it does not rain for a long time (or without watering) these reserves will be depleted.

If this happens, we will see that the cacti become almost "skeletal", very wrinkled, as if someone or something had "absorbed" all the water they had inside.

How to get them back?

Potted opuntia

To recover dried cacti, drastic measures must be taken: take the pots and put them in a basin with water for half an hour. This will serve to rehydrate the substrate, which will help the plants to recover. But this is not all there is to it.

If we do not want it to be repeated, we must control the risks, or in other words: water them every time they need it. We must end the myth that these plants resist drought, it is not true. A 7-meter saguaro will have thousands of liters of water inside, but that water must have been absorbed from somewhere, otherwise it could not live.

During the summer it will be necessary to water frequently: 2-3 times a week, while the rest of the year it will be enough to water every 7 or 10 days (or every 20, depending on the species and its needs). This way we will avoid causing problems for them.

To finish, I would like you to stay with this: the larger the cactus, the more water it will have inside and the better it will be able to withstand the lack of rain; the smaller it is, the more likely it is to die dry if it is not watered.

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  1.   Moises bonilla said

    Hello, my cacti look wrinkled but I don't know if it is due to excess or lack of water, do I need help?

    1.    Monica Sanchez said

      Hi Moses.
      Check the moisture of the soil. For this you can insert a thin wooden stick: if it comes out practically clean it is because it is very dry and, therefore, you have to water.

      If you don't have a stick, you can do it with your fingers. If you find it difficult to break the ground, it is because it is very dry. If so, take the plant and put it in a dish with water until the next day.

      On the other hand, if what happens is that the soil is very wet, remove the plant and wrap the soil bread with absorbent paper until the next day. Then plant it and don't ridges for a few days.

      A greeting.

  2.   Ana Karina said

    Hello! I find it wonderful to have found this page, it has helped me a lot with my doubts. In December I bought a small cactus in a nursery and from what I have investigated it seems to me that it is a Mammillaria backebergiana. Within days of having it at home, I began to notice that it was turning yellow and dry in one area. I thought it was due to lack of water, so I decided to water it every 4 days (I live in a coastal area and the climate is quite hot). However, the yellow and dry areas still continue and even spread a bit. What would be the cause of this? Too bad I can't attach a photo of my baby. ): I hope you can help me.

    1.    Monica sanchez said

      Hello Ana.
      Do you have it in an area where direct sun hits it or next to a window? If so, I recommend putting it in semi-shadow as it could be burning.

      And if it is not there, write us again and we will tell you 🙂

  3.   Julieta said

    Hello, my cactus turned yellow and wrinkled into a "petal" let's say, and then the other one that is green and like a branch fell off! What do I do????

    1.    Monica sanchez said

      Hello Julieta.
      How often do you water it? Does it get sun?

      If it is watered in excess, and / or if it is kept indoors or in low light, they become very weak. I recommend you water by letting the soil dry between waterings, and put it if you don't have it outside, in a bright area.

      A greeting.

  4.   Luis said

    It served me well, but I don't know what to do with the baby plant. I do not know and I need help. Thank you

    1.    Monica sanchez said

      Hi Luis, what's wrong with your cactus?

      May this link I helped you.


  5.   Yudithvana Barrios said

    I don't know what's wrong with me. Mammillaria shrunk and turned brown, it's also turning whitish at the base… How the color is fading… I usually water it once a week

    1.    Monica sanchez said

      Hello Yudithvana.

      When a Mammillaria shrinks, it is a bad sign. Normally it is because it has been watered too much, and / or it is kept in a land that remains humid for a long time; although it can also be the opposite: that you have in a land that dries very quickly, and that therefore you go thirsty.

      So my question is: how do you water it? That is, do you pour water until it comes out of the holes in the pot, or do you just wet the surface? If it is the latter, it is possible that it lacks water, since you always have to water until all the soil is well moistened.


  6.   Nicholas Pulido said

    Good evening, I have an opuntia monacantha but it looks dull, generalized whitish, what could it be? I spray it every 10 days, it is on the window direct light Thanks for the answer

    1.    Monica sanchez said

      Hi Nicolas.

      It is possible that it is burning, since when the solar rays pass through the glass the magnifying glass effect is produced.
      I recommend you move it away from the window a bit.

      On the other hand, rather than spraying it, it is better to water it; that is, moisten the earth. This minimizes the risk of rotting.


  7.   Angelica said

    Hello .. my cactus is a parody chrysacanthiom, or something like that, it has yellow flowering. The fact is that it began to change its color on one side, it is a little yellow and when I press it on that part it feels somewhat soft. It is in full sun. What is happening to him? Can you help me?

    1.    Monica sanchez said

      Hello Angelica.

      Have you been in the sun recently? It is that if so, it is possible that it is burning.
      Now, it would also be highly recommended to water only when the soil dries completely.


  8.   Margherita said

    Hello, my cactus is very big and round but it turned yellow .. I would like to recover it but I don't know if it was rather excess water

    1.    Monica sanchez said

      Hi Margie or Hello Margarite.

      How does your cactus follow? If it started while yellow it is possible that it was due to excessive watering. It is important that the soil is allowed to dry between one watering and the next, and that they are planted in pots with holes in their base.


  9.   Evelyn said

    Hello, I have a cactus approximately 10cm "mother-in-law's seat" at first I used to water it every two weeks but due to the cold season I started to water it once a month and after that some of its tips began to turn yellow and wrinkled and in other certain yellow spots .. What should I do? ??

    1.    Monica sanchez said

      Hello Evelyn.

      In winter, the cacti should be watered little, but only in the event that the ambient humidity is high (that is, if the windows are foggy and the plants wet), and if it rains from time to time. For example, I stop watering them in autumn, because with the humidity and the "few" rains of winter they keep hydrated; and I water again in spring.

      But assuming that the temperatures are high, of more than 18ºC, and it does not rain, the land takes little time to dry out. Therefore, you have to check the humidity of the soil before watering.

      In any case, if it is the first year that he spends with you, it is possible that those symptoms he has are cold.


  10.   Vanessa said

    Hello everyone, I have had a cactus for 2 years, and suddenly it is getting soft and as with fungi on the trunk, it is not a problem of excess watering because it is dry and I water it very little. What can happen to him? I have photos but I don't know how to put them here. Greetings and thank you.

    1.    Monica sanchez said

      Hello Vanessa.

      Is the cactus in a pot with a plate underneath? Or was it put into a pot without holes? It is that when they become soft it is almost always due to excess water, and / or humidity in the earth.

      What kind of land does it have? If it is in peat, it may not drain the water well enough, and it may stay moist for a long time. That is why it is advisable to plant cacti in specific substrates for them (here you have more information).