How to Save Your Cactus That Is Turning Yellow

Last Updated on November 16, 2022 by Stephanie

The reason why a cactus turns yellow usually is due to excessive watering. Cacti are drought-resistant plants that cant tolerate constant moist soil. If the soil is wet and doesnt dry between periods of irrigation, the cacti will develop root rot, which results in the cactus turning soft and yellow.

Cacti change color in winter due to overwatering and temperatures that are lower than 40degF. Cacti remain dormant in Winter and this significantly decreases their need for water and puts them at chance of developing root rot as a result of excessive watering.

Cacti may turn yellow because of sunburn if they move from a place of shade to full sunlight without the time needed to adjust to a greater intensity of light.

Cacti may also become wrinkled and yellow when they arent watered frequently enough or watered light.

To preserve a cactus that is yellowing, it is essential to recreate the conditions in its natural habitat by watering it when the soil is dry and ensuring a temperature range between 55degF and 85degF (13degC up to 29degC) and then removing the diseased roots using the use of sterile pruning tools.

Read on to find out the reasons behind why your cactus is beginning to turn yellow, and how to apply the correct strategies to protect your cactus from dying…

Cactus Turning Yellow, Soft and Mushy

The reason a cactus is becoming soft and yellow is due to overwatering as well as cold temperature. Cacti are drought-resistant plants that require for the soil to dry out between waterings and prefer temperatures of 55 degF to 85 degF. When the soil becomes too humid and cold, the cactus will turn to yellow and becomes soft.

Cactuss are drought-resistant plants that have been specifically designed to thrive in warm and dry conditions that have well-drained soils and frequent rain.

For a successful cactus to grow and to prevent the leaves from becoming brown and yellow it is essential to replicate the conditions of the natural environment by planting the cacti in a sand-like and well-draining potting soil and only watering after your soil have dried out.

If the soil is constantly wet around the roots of the cactus, because of overwatering and slow drainage soils, parts of the cactus may change color from brown to yellow with a soft, mushy texture that could indicate root decay.

Trays, saucers and other containers can also stop water from draining out of the pot, causing it to collect around the roots, which could be the reason for root decay and lead to an oblong, yellow Cactus that is yellow, mushy and.

How to Save a Cactus Turning Yellow, Soft and Mushy

  • Reduce the frequency with which you are able to water your Cactus. If youre frequenting the watering of your cactus, more than once a week, this could be the reason why your cactus is becoming soft and yellow. Cactus plants should be watered after they are in a soil that have been completely dried out. It usually takes 14 days, however it can differ depending on the dimensions of the pot as well as the climate and draining of soil.
  • Remove the cactus from the pot, take out the soil, and examine the roots for signs of root decay. Healthy roots feel solid and thick, and appear like they are whitish (or slightly brown because of the potting soil) while those with diseased roots appear soft and rotten, with an unpleasant smell and are brown in the color. Make use of sterile pruning tools to trim damaged roots to create healthy growth. Clean off the pruners blades using an ointment-soaked cloth after each cutting to avoid the spread of pathogens from a damaged root to healthy roots.
  • Repot the cactus into new soil. Pot the cactus with specially designedsucculent and Cacti soil that replicates the grittier, well-draining soil that is the cactuss natural habitat. The normal potting soil retains water for too long for drought-adapted cactus to withstand and is the main reason that a cactus turns yellow. Thesucculent and cactus type of soil greatly minimizes the chance of root rot caused by overwatering and is readily available at garden centers or online at a reasonable cost.
  • Make sure to plant a cactus in the pot that has drainage holes in the base . Also, emptying the trays and saucers regularly. Cacti are able to be grown in wide range of pots so long as they have drainage holes at the base to allow the excessive water drain efficiently to stop root decay. Clay or terracotta pots are the best choice as they possess pores that allow the soil in the pot to dry out more evenly, which is in line with the preference of cactus for dry conditions. Cacti are planted in pots that are proportional to their size, as larger pots have more soil , and thus have more capacity to hold water, which reduces the speed of drying out, and also increases the chance for root rot.

To determine if the cacti-potting soil has dried up within the root zone, you can feel the soil at the base of the pot, through the drainage hole at the bottom in the base of the container.

cactus collection sitting on top of wooden cabinet

If your soil is damp, you should put off watering your cactus for a couple of days. If the soil begins to feel dry, it is the ideal moment to give your cactus a good watering.

The act of watering your succulent after the soil is dry effectively mimics natures rain and drought cycles for which the cactus has been specifically adapted.

After you have identified the root cause of the reason your cactus has turned soft, yellow and mushy and followed the correct timing for watering, the cactus will begin to recover.

If roots rot becomes severe, it could be extremely difficult for your cacti recover . The best solution is to establish a new Cactus from the remaining healthy growing.

Cut any soft, yellow and mushy areas of your cactus with a the use of a sterilized pair of pruners can also help to stop the decay from spreading.

Most houseplant cactus species can easily reproduce by releasing offshoots, pads and even healthy parts from the plants stem.

Check out this YouTube video to learn how you can easily propagate your cactus plant using cuttings, pads and offshoots in order to help save your cactus

Cactus Turning Yellow in Winter

The reason a cactus is changing color in winter is typically due to root rot caused by excessive watering. Cacti in winter are dormant and cease to grow due to the low temperatures and light levels which decreases their need for water, making them susceptible to excessive watering. Cacti that have been overwatered turn brown and mushy during winter.

Cacti are more prone to being overwatered in Winter due to:

  • Cacti are in dormancy, with less hours of sunlight and cooler temperatures. They also stop growing in Winter, which means they dont require the same amount of water. In Winter, the roots dont draw in water, which means that the soil remains moist for longer, and the moist soil creates conditions that encourage root rot.
  • In cooler temperatures and less sunlight, the rate of drying the soil is reduced significantly. This means that the soil around the roots remains damper for longer, and also increases the chance of root rot, which can turn the cacti into a yellow.

Cactus Turn Yellow Due to Sun Burn

The reason a cactus is able to change color at the top is due to sunburn. Cacti are prone to scorching yellow when moved from low sunlight to full sun, without any time to adjust to the change in intensity of light. The rapid increase in light intensity turns the cactus into a yellow, with a scorched look.

The majority of houseplant cactus species are indigenous to dry and hot conditions, and can often withstand full sun.

But they are usually grown or kept in the nursery or store prior to sale in a space with less light.

Cactus plants are extremely adaptable and can adjust to the environment they live in even in lighting conditions that arent ideal.

However, when they are moved from a shaded area to full sun , or even outside, the cactus isnt used to the intense sun and the abrupt change in brightness is the reason why the Cactuss color turns yellow.

Its often simple to determine if sunburn is the cause of your cactus becoming yellow (rather than under or over watering) since the part of the cactus that is most exposed to the sun is the most scorched-looking yellow appearance.

The sudden rise in light intensity can also be caused by an increase in temperature and an increase in the rate at which the soil is dried out after watering, and generally an increase in humidity that could also strain the cactus, and cause coloration.

How to Save a Cactus That is Turning Yellow in Winter

  • Reduce the frequency with which you water your cacti during the winter. How often you water your cacti will depend on the temperature in the area and the dimensions of the pot as well as how big the cactus. Typically, watering every two weeks is usually the best option for cacti during winter however, you should always check the soil at the bottom of the pot by the drainage holes at the base to determine if it is dry prior to applying water.
  • Transfer the cactus to an area with more sunlight. The more light you have, the better in Winter, so choose the most bright room in your home for your cactus in order to save it.
  • Maintain the temperature within the recommended range of 55degF-85degF (13degC up to 29degC) and stay clear of temperatures that are lower than 40degF. The majority of houseplant cacti belong to dry and hot areas therefore, it is best to keep them in a space that is within the temperature range that is ideal for them. This will ensure that the soil doesnt remain wet for long after an application of water.

The steps to save a cactus that is yellowing in winter are identical to the steps described in the previous paragraphs for saving an overwatered Cactus that has turned yellow and soft.

This involves repotting the soil and examining your roots to see if they have root decay. Cut off any rotten roots using a sterilized pair of pruners , and then plant the cactus in a new pot.

I recommend that you propagate the offsets or pads, or cutting off any healthy growth to save the cactus, as if root rot is severe, the main stem of the cactus is difficult to save.

How to save a Yellowing Cactus from Sun Burn

Cactus plants can adapt to full sunlight after a time of shade, however, it must be exposed to the brighter light gradually by placing the cactus under the sunlight for about 20 minutes more each day over the course of two weeks or as.

This helps the cactus adjust to the increased the intensity of light over a long period of time. This keeps the cactus from burning yellow.

If the cactus is burned yellow, it will not change color once more because the cactuss surface is not able to heal from sun burn.

Although the sunburned areas of Cactus arent visually appealing, they shouldnt necessarily cause harm to the plant (assuming it is protected from any further sun-induced damage).

The cactus will continue to grow for as long as the weather conditions are favorable (do not forget that cacti are almost dormant in Winter and dont show any noticeable growth).

The most effective method of salvaging a damaged cactus from the sun is to reproduce the cactus is to reproduce it by utilizing offsets that have grown cuttings or pads of healthy, undamaged tissue that will allow you to create more cacti that can develop in a healthy, green color.

Cactus Turning Yellow and Wrinkled due to Underwatering

Cacti become yellow due to the fact that they arent watered frequently enough or are watered insufficiently. Cacti require a soak and dry-watering cycle to ensure that the water is reaching the cactuss root. If the cactus gets not watered enough, the cactus may become wrinkled and yellow due to stress from drought.

One common error in caring for cacti is to interpret the advice that cacti dont require lots of water. This could mean that a cactus requires only just a tiny amount of water to water it.

If the cacti are not watered enough, only the top inch or two of soil is wet, and the water will not get to the root where it is needed.

Cacti store water inside their soft stems. If there isnt enough soil moisture available the cactus will draw on the water reserves contained within the stem. When the cactus exhausts its water reserves it shrinks in size, causing the cactus to become yellow and have wrinkled appearance.

The cactus can also turn brown with wrinkles when it isnt regularly watered. Factors like extreme temperatures, sun exposure in summer and low humidity could cause a yellowing drought-stressed Cactus that is stressed by drought.

How to Save an Yellow, Wrinkled Cactus due to Underwatering

  • The cactus should be watered with an ample amount of water and let the excess water drips off the base. This will ensure that all the dirt is moist and that the water is reaching the roots at the point where it is needed. Make sure that all saucers and trays that are beneath the pot are cleaned of water that is not being used regularly to prevent root decay.
  • The cactus should be watered when the soil is dry at the bottom in the pot. Typically, this means watering your cactus once every two weeks, however it can vary depending on the climate of your area and the temperature of the room, and the medium used for potting. Always test your soil with the drain hole at the bottom of the pot to check how dry the soil prior to applying water. It is crucial to avoid the risk of overwatering your cactus.
  • Place the cactus in a room thats between 55degF and 85degF (13degC to 29degC). This is the ideal temperature range for most cacti. If your cactus is becoming wrinkled and yellow, it could be due to the fact that it is too close to the source of heat from indoors that causes soil to dry out too fast.

Cactus that have turned yellow and wrinkled because of the water usually recovers after two or three watering cycles. By watering regularly, the cactus an opportunity to draw in moisture to replenish its depleted reserves within the stem, which will improve the appearance of the cactus.

It is crucial to remember that cacti is able to be able to recover from yellowing because of underwatering more easily than from excessive watering, so make sure to ensure whether the soil is dry prior to watering.

Will a Yellow Cactus Turn Green Again?

If the cause of the cactuss color changing is root rot, then the soft yellow areas of the cactus will not change color and must be removed from the cacti in order to stop the decay from spreading to the Cactus.

If the cactus is burned yellow and scorched by sunburn the cactus will not change color to green. Keep the cactus away from direct sun and then propagate any offshoots cuttings or pads that are unharmed to create an entirely fresh green cactus.

If the cactus is becoming yellow and wrinkled due to underwatering, then it should change to green. The cactus should be watered thoroughly to ensure it is damp. This assists in replenishing the cactis water reserves and bring the cactus appearance to a healthy green appearance.

(Read my article on the best way to bring back the dying Cactus).

Key Takeaways:

  • Cacti become yellow at the base due to root rot caused by overwatering. Cacti are drought-resistant plants that require that the soil dry out between waterings. If the soil is always wet and temperatures are less than 40 degrees, the cactus will develop root rot, which makes the cactus into a yellow and soft and mushy.
  • Cactus leaves turn yellow in winter due to root decay. Cacti go into dormancy in winter and require less watering. The cold, damp soil that is caused because of overwatering in Winter creates conditions for root rot, which causes the cactus to change brown and mushy.
  • Cacti may turn yellow because of sunburn when they move from a shaded area to full sun without a chance to adjust to the increased intensity of light. The sudden change in bright conditions can burn the cacti and turn it yellow.
  • Cactus plants may turn wrinkled and yellow when they arent regularly watered or too light. Cacti store water within their stems. If they arent regularly watered the cactus will deplete its water reserves, causing the cactus to become yellow and wrinkled in appearance.


Went from an inexperienced gardener to a half-decent one over 10+ years. I cover anything from general indoor plant guides and lawn care, to succulents and flowers. Super happy to share my tips and tricks with you :)