Cacti are slow-growing, spiky, and firm. They are unique from many other species of plants in that they have spikes instead of leaves and their stems (if present at all) are very thick. They are also excellent plants for people who tend to forget – for weeks at a time – that they even own plants.
However, that doesn’t mean Cacti can be completely neglected. A Cactus still requires the basic elements of proper care. One problem that can arise if your Cactus isn’t getting the treatment it needs is that it will become soft and squishy.
If a Cactus is soft or squishy, it is likely due to overwatering, poor drainage or root rot, humidity over 60%, or pests like mealybugs and scale. To solve this, you simply need to reduce watering and possibly repot your plant if you are concerned about root rot.
As long as the issue is fixed relatively quickly, your Cactus should be able to recover in no time. So let’s get started on figuring out how to help your Cactus thrive.
Why Is My Cactus Mushy at the Bottom?
Often, if a Cactus is mushy at the bottom, it is a sign of root rot and overwatering. Like many other succulents and Cactus-like plants, a Cactus doesn’t need a lot of water. They have evolved to live in harsh desert conditions where little water is available.
Like Aloe Vera, a Cactus stores water in its stems and trunks. This water that they store is actually what gives the plant a lot of its structure. If a Cactus absorbs too much water, it can start to experience cell bursting, which will cause the Cactus to feel squishy and mushy.
The outer skin of their stems is waxy which makes it harder for water to evaporate like it would in other plants. This is one of the reasons that Cacti are so low maintenance. They can go for a long time without water and can handle a fair amount of neglect.
While too much water is the most common cause of squishy or mushy Cacti, there is also the possibility that insects are harming your plant, or that the humidity in the surrounding area is too high.
What to Do if My Cactus is Squishy?
If your Cactus is squishy, the first step is to identify the problem. The most common problem is overwatering. Even if you haven’t overwatered your plant recently, it may have improper drainage or perhaps you were overwatering at some earlier point which allowed bacteria and fungi to grow.
Either way, a good rule of thumb is that if the soil stays wet and doesn’t have time to fully dry between waterings, your Cactus is getting too much water.
The first step to remedy the issue is to make sure you know how to water correctly. Since Cacti need dry soil, it is important to make sure you understand what that means. The most effective way to check if your Cactus needs water is to do the soil test.
The soil test can be done with a finger, screwdriver, chopstick, butter knife, or anything around your home that isn’t too large and that wet soil will stick to. Place the object about 2 inches (5 cm) down into the soil and pull it back up. If any wet soil is clinging to the object, wait before watering.
Only once the soil is completely dry should you water your Cactus again. Although there are guidelines on how often you should water your Cactus, if the soil isn’t draining well, then it may take longer than expected before you can water your plant again.
If your plant is overwatered, you will just need to cut back on watering until the soil is dry. This should help your plant to recover over time.
Overwatering can cause a couple of issues in your plant. On top of cell walls bursting due to the absorption of too much water, moist soil can entice fungi and bacteria to grow. This can cause root rot.
Root rot is often related closely to overwatering. It occurs when fungi start to infect the roots of a plant and make it hard for them to absorb nutrients and water correctly. This often leads to discolored, squishy roots, and eventually the rotting of your Cactus from its roots up.
To fix root rot, you have to act quickly. It is best to repot your plant using new soil and a new pot. While you are replanting, you will want to cut off any areas that are rotted, including the roots. Make sure you use sterilized tools to reduce the chances of spreading the infection or taking it along with your plant into its new pot.
If you are still worried, you can use a fungicide on your pot and in the soil as well.
If you’ve done a soil test and still aren’t sure if overwatering is the problem, you can also look at humidity. Cacti prefer dry climates and low humidity levels, usually around 40% to 60%.
If you live in an area where it is generally more humid, or if your Cactus has been placed in a particularly humid room, you should consider moving it somewhere where it is still warm but more dry.
Otherwise, you can consider buying a dehumidifier to place near your Cactus. Once the humidity decreases, your plant should start to show signs of recovery.
Certain insects and pests enjoy the sap of a Cactus and aren’t perturbed by their spikes. Mealybugs and scale insects are the two most common insects to bother Cacti.
As these pests start to drink more and more of its sap, the plant will weaken. Often, the roots won’t be able to support the plant anymore, and the plant will start to grow soft and squishy.
Using an insecticide or pesticide is a quick way to get rid of insects. If you don’t want to use a lot of chemicals, neem oil is a more natural option. When spraying or applying the insecticide, try to make sure to get in all of the Cactus’s hidden crevices, including at the base of the stems.
Using rubbing alcohol on cotton buds is another option if you want to try to rub the pests off yourself.
Will an Overwatered Cactus Recover?
Cacti are very hardy plants. As long as you still have some green on your plant, there is a good chance that they will still recover. It may take a while, but with patience and proper care, most Cacti will be able to resolve any symptoms resulting from overwatering.
How Long Can You Go Without Watering a Cactus?
Some Cacti have been observed to be fine with up to two years without water! After finally receiving water, they can recover and continue to grow as if nothing had happened. For indoor Cacti, however, often a month without any water seems to be the limit.
Symptoms such as a shriveling of the stems and trunk will likely start occurring as a clue that your plant needs water soon.
How Often Should I Water My Indoor Cactus?
The best way to determine how often an indoor Cactus should be watered is by doing soil tests. The results of the soil tests will let you know how quickly the Cactus is absorbing all the water in its soil.
However, in general most Cacti do best getting watered every ten days or so.
In winter, Cacti can often go a month or a month and a half without needing any water. If you start to notice that your plant is going longer than this without water and yet the soil is still damp or moist, it may mean that your soil isn’t draining as it should.
What Does a Dying Cactus Look Like?
If your Cactus loses all of its green color and is yellow or brown instead, that is a sign that it is very close to dying. Additionally, your Cactus may become very loose in its soil base, to the point that it falls over or is easy to move.
A Cactus that has turned black is often the final sign that your Cactus is dead and unable to recover.
Cacti are hardy plants, but there are still some conditions in which they will not thrive. For example, if your plant starts to grow squishy and soft, that is usually a sign that it is being overwatered, has root rot, is in too humid of an environment, or has a pest problem.
Cacti do best with minimal watering, once every 10 days in summer months and once per month during winter months. This helps to prevent root rot and doing frequent soil tests will help you determine the right watering schedule for your Cacti.
As long as your plant still has some green, there’s a good chance it can recover from any issue. Taking the time to identify your Cacti’s problems and being patient as you help them recover is key to making sure your prickly friends continue to live strong for many years.