How do I Revive my Dying Cactus?

Root rot is often caused by excessive watering and slow-draining potting soils. Cacti require the soil around their roots to dry between watering. Cactus that is constantly in damp soil will turn yellow-brown or black and have a squishy texture.

A cactus with too much shade can cause the stem to droop, or lean over. However, a cactus moved straight from a shade area to full sun will turn white and appear scorched.

A cactus is considered dead if it lives in conditions that are substantially different from its natural environment.

To revive a dying Cactus, you must replicate the natural conditions. This means that the cactus should be placed in the sun for at least 6 hours, and only water when it has completely dried.

Continue reading to learn how to save your dying …

cactus plants

Cactus in White Pot

Dying Cactus – Softening, Squishy, and Drooping

  • Symptoms. Cactus can feel squishy and may become yellow, brown, or black. The cactus may also start to droop and lean over to one side.
  • Causes. Temperatures cooler then 40 degrees F (5 degrees C) overwatering and compacted soil.

A cactus that becomes squishy due to too much moisture around its roots, caused by either overwatering, slow draining dirt or pots with no drainage holes at the base, Root rot is when the cacti turn yellow and squishy. Temperatures cooler then 40degF also cause cacti to turn soft and squishy.

Most houseplant cactus can tolerate hot and dry conditions in their natural habitat. They thrive in a gritty soil that receives little rain.

The thick stem of the Cactus stores water. This is an effective survival strategy to deal with drought, high temperatures, and blazing sunlight.

Due these adaptations to drought, the cactus can be very vulnerable to overwatering. This can make the stem squishy and soft and cause a drooping appearance.

Cold temperatures can also cause a mushy texture. They slow down the soil’s drying rate.

If the soil is dried too quickly (due to cold conditions), then root rot can occur and the cactus will become squishy.

Whilst a room indoors is often well within the preferred temperature range of 55degF to 85degF (12degC to 30degC) for most cactus species, the glass of a window is usually much cooler then the indoor air temperature.

A cactus that is placed against a cold window at night can become squishy.

Cactus turns black and squishy in freezing temperatures

Compacted or slow draining soils, as well as saucers, trays, and pots with poor drainage all make the soil too moist for the cactus to withstand. This causes root rot and makes the stem squishy.

A healthy cactus should feel strong and sturdy. If it is weak, it may start to lose its weight.

How To Revive a Squishy and Drooping Cactus

  • Ensure the cactus is in a temperature range of 55degF to 85degF (12degC to 30degC). This is the typical temperature range for most species of cactus. The soil should be dried out between watering to prevent root rot.
  • Scale back the watering. Water a cactus only when its soil is dry. To determine when the soil is dry, feel the drainage holes at the base. Then water again. Cactus may be squishy if you water more than once per week.
  • Lift the cactus out of the soil and inspect the roots. Use a pair of sterilized pruners to remove any roots that are brown, mushy or rotten. Reduce the amount of dead growth to encourage healthy growth. To prevent fungal pathogens from spreading to healthy root tissue, wipe the pruners’ lades with a disinfectant-soaked cloth between each cut.
  • Replace the potting soil with well draining succulent and cacti soil. The old potting soil should be thrown out as it can harbour fungal pathogens which make the cactus soft. Root rot is significantly reduced by using well-draining soil and porous stricture. This replicates the soil conditions of the cactus’ native environment.
  • Ensure the cactus is planted in a pot with drainage holes in the base. Clay pots and terracotta are the best, as they are porous and dry evenly. To prevent water from pooling under the pot, empty any saucers or trays regularly.
  • Locate the cactus in at least 6 hours of sun to recreate their natural conditions to which they are adapted.

The ability of a cactus to recover depends on its endurance in cold and overwater conditions.

A cactus can recover within a few weeks if it is given the proper watering and potting soil.

If the cactus’s surface has become squishy, yellow or brown and is black in color, then the root rot has occurred. You can save the plant by propagating from healthy tissue or offshoots. (See the YouTube video below for more information).

Cactus turning yellow, brown or black

  • Symptoms. The stems of cactus can turn yellow from the base. The stems may feel somewhat squishy or start to lean.
  • Causes. Overwatering, poor drainage soil, excessive water pooling under the pot, or decorative pots with no drainage holes can all cause damp soil. Root rot can be caused by potting cacti into large pots that retain too much moisture. Underwatering can cause a cactus to turn yellow and shrivel up.

The most common reason a cactus turns yellow is excessive moisture from either overwatering or slow draining soils. Cacti can tolerate drought so water should only be given to dry soil. Cactus roots can’t absorb nutrients and water as efficiently if the soil is too wet. This causes it to turn yellow.

Desert cactus that are commonly sold in garden centers are drought resistant plants that have specifically adapted to grow in hot and dry environments with well draining, gritty soil and relatively infrequent (although heavy) rainfall.

To grow a cactus and prevent the stem from turning yellow, you need to replicate the natural conditions of the cactus’ native environment. This means that the plants should be planted in a well-draining, granular potting soil, and then water them after the soil has dried.

Too much moisture around desert dwelling plants’ roots can be caused by overwatering or planting them in normal potting soil.

Too much moisture around roots can cause the stem to turn yellow, which can lead to a squishy texture.

A combination of a yellow-colored cactus and mushy stem can indicate root rot.

Most cacti require the soil to dry completely around their roots in between watering. This mimics their natural environment with drought-like conditions and then a deluge rain.

It is important that cacti be planted in pots with drainage holes at the base in order to let excess water escape after watering.

The excess water from trays, saucers and decorative outer pots can cause the soil to become spongy around the bottom, which can lead to root rot and yellowing of the cactus.

How To Revive a Dying Cactus That Turns Yellow Brown or Black

  • Reduce the amount of watering. Your cactus may be turning yellow if you water it more frequently than once per week. Desert cacti should only be watered when the soil around the roots has dried out, which is typically once every 14 days. This can depend on the size of your pot and how well the soil retains moisture. You can test to determine if the soil feels moist through the drainage holes at the base.
  • Repot your cactus in new potting soil. Even if you water your cactus after the soil has dried, it can still turn yellow or squishy if the soil retains too much moisture. This is because the soil does not drain efficiently and doesn’t hold too much moisture. You can replace ordinary potting soil with succulent or cacti soil. This mimics the characteristics of the native environment of the cacti and will reduce the likelihood of root rot, which can cause the cactus’ yellowing.
  • Always plant cacti in pots with drainage holes in the base. Excess water must drain out of the pot quickly to prevent water from pooling around roots and causing root rot. Clay pots or terracotta are best because they have porous structures that allow the soil to dry more evenly. This caters to the cactus preference to be in drier soil conditions.
  • Plant cacti in pots that are proportionate to their size. Pots that are too big can hold more soil, which will take longer to dry after watering. This could increase root rot risk and yellowing of your cactus.
  • Empty saucers and trays underneath cacti pots regularly. The soil can become sloppy if it is not properly drained by saucers, trays or decorative outer pots. Don’t allow water to pool in the pot.
  • Place the cactus in more hours of sun to help combat the affects of overwatering and to mimic their preferred natural conditions of at least 6 hours of sun.

To determine when to water your Cactus, check the soil in the bottom of the pot by looking through the drainage hole at the base. You can delay watering your cactus for several days if the soil is damp. If the soil is dry, this is the best time to water your Cactus.

Watering your cactus after the soil has dried is a way to mimic the natural conditions of infrequent rain, followed by a period of drought. However, this must be done in conjunction with the right type of succulent and cacti soil.

If the soil is too dense or compacted, it is not possible for roots to breathe. This can cause root respiration problems and prevent roots from absorbing nutrients and moisture.

If the cactus is unable to draw up water or nutrients, it will turn yellow. This is a sign that it’s stressed.

Once you have identified the root cause of your cactus turning yellow or mushy (adjust how often you water the soil and put in the best watering practices), the cactus will start to recover, even if it appears yellow. As long as the soil is allowed to dry out.

The speed at which your cactus recovers depends on how much stress it has been under, but it should be able to show signs of recovery in the weeks that follow.

How to Save a Cactus from Severe Root Rot

If the cactus keeps turning yellow and then becomes squishy it is likely that the root rot has occurred. Root rot can make it very difficult for you to save your entire plant. However, you can save some of the healthy tissue by cutting the cactus.

Cactus can be propagated relatively easily by cutting propagation, offshoots and pads.

Watch this YouTube video to learn how to propagate cacti from all species …

Cactus Turning White

  • Symptoms. Cactus turns white with a somewhats scorched appearance.
  • Causes. It is necessary to move the cactus from a low-sun area to full sunlight without allowing it to adjust. Due to the intense sunlight, this is most common in summer.

A cactus that turns white is when it has been exposed to intense sunlight. This has caused the cactus to turn white. Cactus can be adapted to live in full sunlight, but being moved from partial shade to full sunshine without the chance to adjust causes the cactus’s color to become white.

Cacti can grow in full sunlight and are often adapted to these conditions.

Cacti can grow and flower in less light environments, but they are able to adapt.

If you have been growing your cactus in partial shade and then move it to a window sill in full sun or outside during the Summer then the stem can scorch white as it is not able to tolerate the contrast in light conditions so suddenly.

This can also occur if the cactus is in transit from a nursery to a store or for too long without getting full sunlight.

If you’re moving a cactus from an area with full sun, or if you notice that the cactus has turned whiter, then you should return it to its original light conditions (partial shade, morning sun followed by afternoon shading).

It is important to expose the cactus to full sun gradually by placing it in more hours of light each day before moving it back to shade, so that it does not scorch white.

Move your cactus slowly to a sunny place for 2 weeks. The cactus will be more able to adapt to the increased light after two weeks. It should also grow better over the long-term than if it was kept in the shade.

Whether the area of the cactus that is scorched white recovers depends on the extent of the sunburn. The area that is whitened does not always return to green. However, the cactus can continue to live despite its scorched appearance.

I would always recommend to turn a cactus 45 degrees each time after watering to ensure even growth and so each side of the cactus can acclimatize to higher levels of light to reduce the risk of scorching the cactus.

(Read my article, how to revive a dying succulent).

Cactus Drooping, Leaning or Falling over

  • Symptoms. Cactus leaning to one side. There could also be sections of the cactus that are soft and mushy.
  • Causes. The strongest light source may be the best for cactus growth. Cactus can be affected by overwatering, compacted soil and cold temperatures.

Insufficient sunlight is the most common cause of a drooping Cactus. Always locate a light. Cacti thrive in full sunlight and need at least six hours of direct sun each day. Insufficient sunlight can cause cactus weakness and make them look for more light. This causes them to lean or droop over, which is a sign that they are stressed.

A leaning cactus occurs more often in Winter when there are fewer hours of sunlight, especially in Northern latitudes. However, drooping can occur anytime of the year, as long as the cactus stays in the shade and not in direct sunlight.

A cactus can lean towards the sun if it isn’t turned frequently.

Cactus tend to be attracted to the strongest light source so they will naturally lean towards the windows to get the sun.

Turning the cactus 45 degrees around, each time you water, so that each side has even exposure to direct sunlight, is best practice to achieve a more even appearance.

Cactus can become droopy and fall over if the soil is too dry due to overwatering or slow draining potting dirt.

Cactus can withstand drought and thrive in well-draining sandy soils. A drooping appearance is an indication of stress. Other signs include cactus turning soft, yellow and mushy.

Most cactus species grow in a temperature range of 55degF to 85degF (12degC to 30degC). If the cactus is exposed to temperatures cooler then 40degF (5degC) or even freezing temperatures that cactus can turn black, mushy and droop or lean to one side.

How To Revive a Drooping or Leaning Cactus

  • Locate your cactus in an area of 6 or more hours of direct sunlight. You can move your cactus out of the shade by gradually exposing it to the sun. (A sudden change from the shade to the sun can cause the plant to turn yellow.) After a few days, the sun will gradually decrease for two to four hours. Then, gradually increase the amount of direct sunlight over the next 2 weeks until the plant can adjust to full sun.
  • Always rotate the cactus 45 degrees every time your water. Rotating the cactus every two weeks, or as often as you water it (typically once a week), ensures even growth. It also prevents the cactus from leaning to one side.

Rotating your cactus often and putting it in more sunlight can fix a leaning plant, as long as it is not in the shade too much.

I recommend that you propagate a cactus that has been left in the shade for too long and is leaning or falling over. Once it loses its structural integrity, it is not able to grow again.

A cactus can be propagated to produce a healthy plant if it has healthy tissue.

For more information on how to propagate Cactus, see the YouTube video below.

If your cactus is falling due to overwatering, cold stresses or damp potting soil …

  • Reduce the amount of watering. You should only water your cactus after the soil has dried. It depends on the season and your climate, but it is recommended to water once every two weeks in Spring and Summer, and every three weeks in Fall or Winter.
  • Repot your cactus in succulent and cacti potting soil to improve drainage. Cacti and succulent soil are specially designed to mimic the soil conditions in the native environment of cactus. The soil is porous and contains more sand, but does not retain much moisture. This greatly reduces the likelihood of root rot, and its associated drooping.
  • Keep your cactus in a temperature range of 55degF to 85degF to prevent cold stress. Whether your cactus recovers from drooping due to cold stress really depends how low the temperature is (lower then 40degF can significantly harm a cactus) long it has been exposed to cold temperatures. Cactus parts that have been damaged by cold often become blackened and squishy. Reduce the frequency of watering if this happens. The soil will dry out between waterings and the black, squishy areas can dry out. Callus can then be removed and the cactus will begin to recover.

Once the cactus has a watering schedule that allows the soil to dry between each watering and the cactus is planted in the appropriate, succulent and cacti potting soil, within a temperature range of 55degF to 85degF then the cactus has the best chance of recovering from its drooping appearance.

Another reason your Cactus might be leaning down or drooping is because it’s underwatering. In this case …

  • Always water a cactus with a generous soak. Cacti don’t need to be watered as often as other plants but they still require regular watering. This ensures that water has reached the soil where it is needed, and the cacti roots can absorb moisture. The typical cycle of rain followed by drought is replicated by a soak.

If the cactus gets too little water, the stem will shrink in size and droop as it depends on moisture for its structural integrity.

Why Is My Cactus Shrinking

  • Symptoms. Cactus shrinking in size, sometimes with a wrinkled texture to the stem or leaning over to one side.
  • Causes. Small pots and underwatering.

Underwatering is the reason for shrinking cactus. As a way to cope with drought, the stem of a Cactus stores water. The stem shrinks in size when the cactus doesn’t get enough water. This happens because the stem draws on the moisture reserves within the stem, which results in the shrinking appearance.

Cactus’s moisture reserves can cause wrinkles on the surface. Cactus are dependent on storing moisture in the stem to retain their size and shape.

The stem’s water pressure keeps the cactus plump and tall with a firm texture.

This ability to store water is a vital survival strategy for cactus, as it allows them to tolerate high temperatures and frequent rainfall in their desert environment.

Houseplant cacti can shrink because they are too dry or too small. The cactus will shrink if it is not given enough water. This is because the top inch of the potting soil is dry and the water doesn’t reach the roots.

If the pot is smaller than the cactus’s size, it will have less soil capacity and can dry out quickly. This is especially true for high temperatures.

How To Revive a Shrinking Cactus

  • Always water a cactus with a generous soak. You should water the cactus with a generous soak. However, you must allow the soil to dry between waterings or there will be root rot. To ensure that moisture has reached the roots, water generously.
  • Repot the cactus to a larger pot. If the cactus roots appear to be pot bound or the cactus is very large and the pot looks disproportionately small, then repot your cactus to a pot one size up and replant with succulent and cacti potting soil to ensure good drainage. You should always repot your cactus according to its size. Large pots can trap too much moisture, which can lead to root rot.

A shrinking cactus will start to recover after a good soak. It should also recover after two or three cycles of watering. To prevent root rot, ensure that saucers and trays under the cactus pot are regularly emptied of excess water.

(Read my article, how to save a cactus that is turning yellow).


Key Takeaways

  • The reason for a dying Cactus is often too much water around its roots due to slow draining soil and overwatering. Cactus species require that the soil dry completely between watering. Cactus can turn yellow, brown, or black if the soil is damp. The reason a cactus turns yellow is due to either overwatering, or underwatering. Root rot is when the cactus becomes yellowish and droopy. The cactus may be shirking or turning yellow due to insufficient watering. Cactus can become droopy and squishy due to cold temperatures and damp soil. Cacti grow best in a temperature range of 55degF to 85degF in well draining soil. If the cactus is exposed to temperatures cooler then 40degF for a long time or the soil is too damp, this can cause the cactus to droop and turn mushy. Underwatering causes shrinkage. Cactuses store moisture in their stems. The cactus will shrink if it isn’t watered enough or isn’t watered enough. Sunburn is the reason a cactus turns white. The cactus may turn yellowish-white if it is moved from an area that receives less sun to one that gets a lot of midday sunlight. To revive a dying Cactus, water only after the soil is dry completely. Then, locate the cactus under full sun and place it in well-draining, porous soil.


Went from a bad gardener to a half-decent one over 10+ years. Super happy to share my tips and tricks with you :)