How do I Know if my Cactus is Healthy?

Your cactus is one of the most unusual and interesting plants you can take care of. Learn how to look after your plant and it will bring you a lifetime of enjoyment. Do your homework before you buy it, and you’ll have a healthy, long-lived representative from the third largest family of living plants.
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest

If you are a cacti enthusiast, you would already know that these desert plants are resistant even to the harshest of environmental factors. However, this does not mean that they are immune to attacks from animals, diseases and bugs. Cactus can withstand some form of neglect, but it needs proper care to remain healthy and thriving. A healthy cactus is a sign of good prospects and hope for reproduction in the future.

So, how do I know if my cactus is healthy? A healthy cactus will be evident from its physical features.  A strong, succulent stem, upright leaves, evenly green outlook and strong roots stand out as some of the characteristics of a healthy cactus. A healthy cactus will hold a considerable amount of water without showing any signs of weathering and will bloom bright colored flowers each flowering season without fail.

This article will take a look at the characteristics that stand out for a healthy cactus. It will discuss ways to keep the plant healthy and how to spot any signs of poor health.

Physical characteristics of a healthy cactus

The Stem

A cactus stem, unlike other plants, is specialized for several functions. Apart from acting as the pillar for the whole plant, it also works as:

  • A water reservoir to help store water for the plant to be used in times of drought
  • Making food for the plant through photosynthesis

Based on this, a healthy cactus ought to have a strong, upright stem. In most cases, the stem will be green. The green color on the stem should be even with no sign of discoloration or rough patches.

A healthy stem enables photosynthesis that keeps the plant alive. Unlike other conventional plants, cacti take in carbon dioxide at night when the temperatures and evaporation are low in a process known as CAM photosynthesis. This carbon dioxide would then be used during the day to make oxygen and sugar.

Leaves/pads

While some cacti have little spiny leaves, others have pads or spikes to compensate for the same. A healthy cactus portrays vibrant pads with no signs of withering or leaning over. Depending on the cacti species, the pads would multiply with time, thus providing the pant with a chance to propagate into new plants. Usually, the pads may be attacked by bugs or herbivores trying to feed on them. This leads to dents and discoloration of the outer skin. However, note that as the cactus ages, discoloration may be noted in the stem or leaves, and this is normal.

Flowers

Almost all cacti have flowers. Usually, the flowers are short-lived and would appear in specific seasons. A healthy cactus blooms brightly colored flowers every season. Depending on the cacti species, a flower would have 5 to 15 petals, usually blended with the sepals. It also features a multi-loved stigma surrounded by several stamens.

If your cactus does not produce flowers every season, it might not be completely healthy.

An unhealthy cactus may skip some flowering seasons or fail to flower altogether. This may be a result of nutrient deficiency or lack of enough water. Notably, the ability of a cactus plant to bloom can be determined by its age. While some cacti may take years to mature and produce flowers, others may stop flowering after a certain age. It is, however, important to ensure that your cacti get enough sunlight and watering as desired.

Fruits

The flowering season is usually followed by an abundance of fruits and seeds, depending on your cactus species. A healthy cactus would produce juicy fruits and healthy, full-size seeds following its flowering period. Some edible cactus species like the prickly pear, barrel and dragon cactus produce juicy edible fruits. A healthy cactus would be consistent in producing fruits and seeds for a better part of its lifespan.

Spines

A healthy cactus plant features multiple erect spines all across its surface. These are meant to help protect the plant against external attacks from herbivores. The spines keep the cactus healthy by insulating it against cold or dry weather. Weak or broken spines are signs that the plant is in trouble and at risk of dying off from external attacks.

Unhealthy cactus plants have weak or broken spines.

Skin surface

A healthy cactus plant features a moist, shiny and ribbed surface. The ribbed surface is an adaptation that helps the plant expand comfortably without the risk of bursting as it absorbs more water to its reservoir. A healthy cactus also features a waxy surface that helps the plant reduce evaporation in times of drought. The waxy skin also comes in handy to help deter insects and other bugs from eating into the plant’s moist and soft interior.

Roots

Unhealthy roots in a cactus can spell disaster. The plant is commonly attacked by root rot, leading to death if it doesn’t get urgent attention. As such, it is important to understand the characteristics of healthy roots.

You wouldn’t accurately determine the health of cactus roots unless you uproot the plant. This may be done when repotting. Healthy roots are usually whitish or grey. They are moist, and some would feature vibrant hairs around them. Roots with brownish or black coloration may be a sign of poor health not only for the roots but also for the plant as a whole.

Soil

For a cactus to remain healthy, the soil’s condition must be ideal enough to ensure efficient nutrient uptake by the plant.  A cactus growing on light, porous soil is a healthy cactus. Such soil guarantees just the right drainage to avoid dumpy conditions that may lead to root rot and eventual death. When planting, you may opt to make your own soil mix at home or opt for the commercial soil mix available in most arborist stores, here are our recommended ones.

The quality of the soil mix influences the healthiness of your cactus plant.

Potting container

A good sizeable potting container with drainage holes is a guarantee to have a healthy cactus.  As long as the container can still comfortably hold the plant with no signs of roots outgrowing through the drainage holes, it should be an indication of a healthy cactus.

Consider repotting your cactus every year or whenever signs of roots getting overcrowded are noted for better results. A larger container gives space to the plant to grow even bigger and more vibrant.

How to keep a cactus healthy

Cacti are resistant plants, alright, but this does not mean you neglect them altogether. Cactus plants, especially those grown indoors or in gardens, require constant attention to keep them healthy and thriving.

Watering

Cacti are desert plants, but they need sufficient watering to keep them vibrant and improve their growth and reproduction rate when grown indoors. However, watering a cactus needs skill and strategy. Unlike other moisture-loving plants, cacti need some waiting period between watering to allow the plant to use up most of the water already fed. Since they store their water in their succulent stems, cacti do not need frequent watering. Only water when at least two inches of the topsoil feel dry.

Sufficient lighting

Cacti love light, and you may not be too lucky if you keep them in the dark place. Lack of light causes the plant to change color and eventually die off.  When growing your cacti indoors, ensure you provide enough light. Do this by strategically positioning your plants in a west-facing or south-facing window. At least six hours of light per day is enough to keep your cacti healthy, vibrant and thriving.

However, beware not to expose new or young plants to too much light. This may scorch the outer skin and expose it to external attacks by bugs and fungal diseases.

Use proper potting soil and container

The survival of your cacti is highly dependent on the soil and container used. For better results, always ensure you use proper-sized containers with drainage holes. These will help drain excess water to avoid cases or root rot.

When planting, use the proper soil mix ideal for planting cactus (Here are our recommended ones), The soil should not be heavy as these will retain too much water. A soil mix with lighter soil will be ideal in this case.

Fertilization

Cactus may be a dessert plant where nutrients are limited, but this doesn’t mean it doesn’t need fertilizer. A properly fertilized cactus will grow and mature faster, will produce brighter and more regular blooms and will have a vibrant appearance overall.

Fertilizer promotes the growth of a healthy cactus and makes it mature even faster.

Cacti do not need a specific blend of fertilizer, but a highly diluted, all-purpose fertilizer will do the magic. Use a low nitrogen water-soluble fertilizer with a ratio of 5-10-10 or 10-10-10 for better results.

A healthy cactus is a happy cactus. As a cactus enthusiast, you not only have to get acquainted with the characteristics of a healthy cactus but also take steps to ensure that it remains so for the rest of its lifetime. With proper care and expert attention, your cactus will live to serve its purpose, whether indoors or in the garden.

Share on email
Share on print
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest

read this next

Bunny Ears Cactus is a very unique plant that has many interesting ways to grow and develop. It is one of the most popular types of cactus mainly because of its unusual growth patterns. Often do people buy a Cactus and wonder how to grow it properly? Here is the complete guide
Succulents are perennial plants that need very little attention, making them ideal for busy people who have enough going on in their lives! In fact, one of the most popular traits of having a succulent is that they require minimal care. From lighting to food to watering, these are some of the easiest plants to keep at home.
Succulent foliage comes in a wide spectrum of colors. Most of the time, the colors are very specific to the variety, but there can be many different causes for leaves turning yellow or brown. In this post we will go over some of the most frequent reasons and how to fix them so you can enjoy your succulents again.
Succulents are easy to care for and they add a wonderful pop of color to any room. If you’re thinking about adding a few to your home, but aren’t sure what types to choose, this list is for you. Try one or more of these 15 succulents that are easy to care for and don’t require much attention.
Have you been struggling to take care of your cactus? Perhaps you blame yourself and think your lack of care is what led to your cactus dying. It’s possible that you did not give it the best fertilizer. To prevent this from happening again, you should fertilize your cactus more carefully next time.
Succulents are perfect for lovers of plants and flowers. They don’t need to be watered often and prefer direct sunlight. However, many owners of succulents wonder how to care for succulents in winter. We will answer this question and also give recommendations and advice on how to keep your plants healthy and beautiful all year long.
Cactus plants are just fascinating. But most of us don’t know much about them. What is the classification of cactus plants? How many types of cactus plants are there in the world? Let’s find out.
Unlike other plant families, cacti can grow healthy and survive without much water. Water-efficiency is linked with several features, including the presence of spines instead of leaves, respiration at night to conserve water, globular shape, ridges, ribs, broadly dispersed root system, and waxy surface
It is possible to save a rotting cactus as long as the damage isn’t severe, Be sure to take action as soon as you notice any signs of rot on your cactus plant. Keep in mind that this is a serious problem that can easily lead to the death of your Cacti
There are over 1,500 cacti species that come in different sizes, shapes, and colors. The average lifespan of these plants varies greatly from one species to the other. Species such as the Saguaro can live for up to 200 years while jungle cacti species such as Christmas cactus have an average lifespan of between 20 to 30 years
having a cactus at home would provide you and your family with many health benefits, the truth is quite the contrary. There are a plethora of benefits to having a cactus at home, helping to improve both your physical and mental condition
These 15 Tall Cactus Plants are just the thing you need to give your home or garden a dose of stunning nature. These plants really stand out with their beautiful, vibrant colors. Not only that, but we’ve also included the names so you can tell them apart! Plus, these cacti make great gifts for those that love plants.
Succulents have a reputation of being a hardy plant, and while they’re tougher than most other plants, they need water to survive. They can even survive neglect, but they perform much better when treated right. If you have any succulents in your home, here are eight rules for watering them properly.
Cactus fruits are edible and safe. Scientific research has proved that consuming cactus fruits offer a wide range of health benefits to the body. They can prevent lipid oxidation, lower the blood sugar level, and speed up the wound healing process
A cactus has spines for several different reasons, such as reproduction, shading, water regulation, cooling, and protection. Learn about species from North America, including Echinocereus, Ferocactus, Mammillaria, Opuntia engelmannii, Saguaro, and Triangle cactus
Planting a cactus isn’t very hard to do; however, there are some steps to follow that will ensure that you buy the right one and plant it in the right way. If you’ve never grown a cactus before this article is for you
The desert is not known for anything flowery, but the truth is, there are hundreds of flowering desert plants. Most of these would bloom at the slightest sign of rain, giving the otherwise flat and arid land some rare ambiance and color.

Receive the latest news

Get Our Cacti Newsletter

Stay updated with the latest facts, tips, advice, and more!

Your privacy is important to us.