How to Tell If a Cactus is Dead?

Growing and taking care of a cactus can be one of the toughest tasks. Different cactus species need a different kind of care and the requirements of a cactus plant are quite different from the other houseplants. Since the cactus grows quite slowly, it may take a considerably longer time to understand that the signs of the death of the plant. 

So, how to tell if a cactus is dead? A few signs that the cactus is dead can be that it may appear to be falling over, and maybe loose in the soil. It may also experience spikes falling off. You may also experience a color change from yellow to brown. A bad smell can also be an indicator for a dying cactus.

How to Tell if a Cactus is Dead?

There are several indicators that may show that the cactus is dying or even dead. It may be a good idea to check out the early signs so that you can perhaps save the plant just in time. 

(Photo: Houzz)

You may notice that the cactus is falling over or has quite loosened up in the soil. This can primarily happen when you have overwatered the cactus and the roots have begun to rot. It may also be indicted in the form of spikes falling off. 

You may find the color changing from yellow to brown. In most of the cases, a brown color in a cactus indicates a root rot. Please note that color changes may not necessarily be an indicator of a dying or dead cactus. It can even happen in an older cactus. 

A soft appearance can be yet another indicator that the cactus has died or dead. This can most commonly happen due to overwatering. 

Another indicator that your cactus has died or dying can be the bad smell originating from the plant. This can be because of the rot in the organic material of the plant. In fact, if you get a bad smell, it should be a clear indication that the plant cannot be saved. 

Signs Your Cactus Might be Dead: A Few Indicators

Like we already stated above, there are a few indicators or signs that should ideally indicate that your cactus is dying or maybe already dead. Detecting the signs earlier itself can perhaps help you resolve the issues easily enough. 

A few signs to indicate that the actus may already be dead can include:


One of the most common signs of a cactus dying or a dead cactus can include the withering of the parts of the plant. It can also happen because of dehydration in the plant. The best option in such situations can be to water it – hoping to save it. You can even cut off the dead parts so that issue is not spread to the healthy areas of the cactus. 

(Photo : Holoweb)

Most of the cacti species begin converting themselves into a small plant when they face a shortage of water. While it may appear that the plant has died, but it is not the actual death. 

Changes in color

Cactus plants normally change color when facing stress. They can turn to brown or may even go reddish. The color change may be either a good sign or an impending death. You need to analyze the reasons carefully before arriving at the actual causes. 

In most of the cases, the change in color from yellow to brown may be a severe cause of concern. In other cases, the color change may indicate something else than death. 


Corking is an indication of ageing, and need not necessarily mean any impending death. It is quite natural for the cactus to do when it ages. Corking is an example of where the plant grows a brown layer on the existing green layer. 

This would ideally start from the bottom of the plant and move up. It is just a sign of ageing and not necessarily death. 

How to Make a Cactus Unhappy?

There are several ways you can make the cactus unhappy. Changing their habitat can be one of the causes that can make them unhappy. 

Cacti are designed by nature for a hot and arid environment. They make use of several tricks to live in those circumstances. Some of them would involve storing the water in their trunk and other parts and going dormant in certain conditions. Using a pot that has no drainage holes can be one of the prime ways you can make your cactus unhappy. In fact, overwatering has been one of the prime reasons that have been the root of many cactus deaths. 

Too dim or too bright light can be a few of the reasons that can further make your cactus unhappy. Too much or too little water can cause severe damage. This can make your succulents go quite unhappy. 

A Brief How-to Guide on Cactus Care

Cacti are both unusual and unique plants. The fact that they can fit all home decors can prove to be one of the best options in the long run. Following a few care tips for the plant can prove to be a step in the right direction to provide a better health to the plant. 

Some tips for taking the right care of your cactus can include:

Give it enough light

Cactus thrives in the direct sunlight. Placing them in the sunniest corner of your house or the warmest place in your home may prove to be quite practical. They are likely to grow faster and more healthy outdoors as opposed to the conditions indoors. When they are outside, you may not need to worry about watering them. Even a light shower can prove to be healthy enough. 

(Photo: Wikimedia)

Cacti need around eight hours of sunlight. However, it would also be important to note that too much sun can also prove to be a bad option. They may get sunburned in such situations. And yes, remember to keep them away from the air conditioners. 

Use the right type of fertilizer and soil

If you want to have a better growth in your cacti, the right step would be to ensure that it gets the right type of soil and fertilizer. A soil mix that consists of more rock and sand would be preferable. This is helpful in draining the water out efficiently. That way, you will prevent root rot. 

Soil apart. You should also make use of the right fertilizer specifically made for the cacti. Cacti do not need huge feeds. It would be sufficient to use the fertilizer once during summer and spring. The fertilizer should be used in the minimum quantity and care should be taken to avoid the root burn. 

Water them properly

Cacti can survive without water for a prolonged period of time. That should however not mean they do not need any watering. Make sure that you are watering your succulent in a better way. If the soil is dry to up to two to three inches deep into the soil, it may be the right time to consider watering. 

The tendency of overwater the cactus can prove to be one of the deadly mistakes. This can lead to root rot and an untimely death of your cactus. Underwatering may not be an issue, and you can bring the plant back to life even when there is any issue of under watering. Ideally, a cactus plant will require watering once every 14 to 20 days during the summer months. The cactus goes into dormancy in the winter months and may not need much watering. 

Look out for the pests

Most of the cacti are known to suffer from the bacterial and fungal diseases. This can primarily be the result of overwatering. However, you may even find them facing the attack from pests such as Mealybugs. Controlling these bugs can be rather very tough as they tend to be quite stubborn. They may finally end up killing your cactus. 

(Photo: altman plants)

A few other pests that can trouble a cactus can include spider mites, fungus gnats, and mealybugs are the most common issues you may find attacking the cactus. Using cotton swabs dipped in alcohol can be a great option to address the mealybugs. You can even use insecticidal soaps to wash off the pests. 

Observe them carefully

Observation is the key to safeguarding and taking care of your cactus. Keenly observing the growth of the cactus can help you understand what perfectly works for them. In case you observe that the leaves are moving towards sunlight, you can end up finding that they need more sunlight. You can change the location or arrange proper lighting for them. 

In contrast, a faded cactus can indicate that it is getting too much of sunlight. It would be worthwhile to move it to an area that receives less light. Remember that there is no such thing that suits every plant. 

Reasons Why Your Cactus is Dying

Now that you understand whether your cactus is dead, let us now try to understand why your cactus is dying. Understanding the reasons for the issues can help you avoid such issues and grow them in a healthy way. 


Overwatering is one of the prime reasons that can result in your cactus dying. While it is necessary to water your cactus, overwatering can result in creating more harm than doing good. As we are aware, cactus plants need lesser water. A few of the signs of the overwatering can include root rot, browning, and plumpy stems. 

Improper replanting

An improper replanting of the cactus is yet another reason that can cause the severe issues that can result in the death of the plant. When repotting, you need to ensure that the height inside the soil should be the same as in the original container. The green stem tissue should always remain above the ground. 

Not a proper soil drainage

Cacti needs proper drainage of water. Using the right kind of soil mix and ensuring that your container has drainage holes helps you that the cactus is not being overwatered. They grow better in a soil that drains off real quick. Go with the right kind of commercial soil mixture. You can even prepare your own soil mix. 

Lack of light or sun

An inadequate light exposure can end up causing the death of your cactus. The stretching towards the sunlight is an indication to prove that the plant is experiencing the improper sunlight. This can be one of the common problems that can cause issues in indoor plants. You can perhaps make use of the artificial lights.


The cactus plant is one of the most exciting options for your indoor planting adventures. If you are a beginner, you need not worry about how to take enough care of the cactus. The tips shared here should help you find out how to tell if your actus is dead or dying. Taking the corrective measures right in the bud can help you protect your plant and help you prevent it from dying. 


Nikita is a Succulent lover. She really enjoys planting and nourishing them. She loves to share information about various Succulents on this blog to aware people more about these awesome plants.

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