What Causes a Flat Cactus? And What Can You Do?


Growing cacti at home should be easy enough, but there are times when the cactus ends up getting deformed such as when it becomes flat or when it seems to deflate.

Why does my cactus droop or flatten? There are actually a lot of possible reasons for this, including an infection, improper care, not getting enough sunlight, and so on. It could also be because the cactus is beginning to rot, which is basically eating it from the inside, thus causing the deflation. Finding out which one of these is the reason is important.

Knowing what causes your cactus to deflate might be enough to save your plant, as well as help you do better with the next one.

What Causes Cactus Deflation

There are a lot of issues that can come up when you are growing cacti but one of the biggest would definitely be deflation. That is to say, you are looking at a problem that could undo weeks or even months of work if you are not paying attention. As to how you know if something is going wrong with your cactus, you can tell when:

·         The cactus starts losing volume

·         The discoloration sets in

·         When an unpleasant smell is wafting out

·         When fungus starts growing on the surface or roots

When any or all of these things start happening, you might still be able to do something to save your cactus. However, this would be entirely dependent on you actually knowing what causes the problem, to begin with. This is why you may want to take a look at the table below, which contains some of the potential causes for cacti deflation:

CausesDetails
Fungal infectionOf all the possible reasons why your cactus could be deflating, the presence of fungus is almost always the problem
DecayIt could be due to any number of reasons, which include the fungus or some other disease, the cactus could start rotting from the inside
Not enough waterJust because cacti can survive a long time without water, this does not mean that you don’t water them at all
Too much waterOn the other end of the spectrum, drowning the cactus can be a good way to make it floppy
PestsBugs that infest the cactus can start feeding on it, sapping it of nutrients and just turning it into a rotten stump
Not enough lightCacti that are left indoors for too long without adequate natural lighting will begin to weaken and die due to starvation
Freezing temperaturesWhen trying to grow cacti in frigid regions, it is important never to let the cactus come in contact with freezing temperatures

So, there you have it, these are the most common causes of cacti deflation. You should be able to easily determine what the problem is based on any of those since the symptoms are easy enough to identify. If you are still unable to do so, the problem might not be with the cactus, at all.

Fungal Infection – If something seems to be going wrong with your cactus, there is a very good chance that it could have something to do with fungal infection. This is one of the most common causes of death in cacti plants, both potted and plotted. You definitely want to keep an eye out for those fuzzy white, gray, or colored tufts that start to infect your beloved plant.

As to how you will be able to tell if the fungus has already begun taking root in your cactus, there is no other way other than to keep checking on a regular basis. This is because cacti tend to be quite deceptive in terms of their health in that they can look fine on the outside while disintegrating inside. If you have ever lifted a pot of cactus where the body just snaps, you’ll know what this is like.

In any case, what you want to do is just to check your cactus every time you go up to water. You can do this, every other day or a few times a week. Just don’t go too long without inspecting your cactus because the fungal infection can take place quite fast and it might be too late to stop it from spreading.

Decay – There is any number of reasons why your cactus might rot but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter which. When this occurs, you will start to notice that your little bulb of a spiky plant will begin to deflate. This is because the inside is already losing mass and density, and the tough exterior can no longer support the structure.

Not Enough Water – It can be difficult to tell how much water you need to give your cactus, which is why it is often a good idea to spray the plant every day without really soaking it. Just spray enough to cover the whole body with moisture and to get the soil wet a bit. What you don’t want to do is to neglect to water your plants for a few days or even a few weeks.

There are those who assume that just because cactus plants are commonly found in the desert that they don’t really need to be watered all that often. What these people don’t realize is that the cacti are actually excellent at drawing water from deep underground, which are residues of the scarce rain that occurs.

Potted cacti are not rained on all that often, so if you don’t give it enough water, the plant will be discolored. Once that happens, you will have only a limited window to do something about it before the cactus dies.

Too Much Water – In direct contrast to not watering the cactus enough, there is a limit to how much you should water the plant. As already mentioned, the safest way to play this is to simply spray the cactus with water every day in a manner that would provide it enough moisture for its needs. Cacti have adapted to harsh conditions in which they don’t really get that much water.

This then means that their physiology has evolved to the point where they don’t need as much water as other plants to survive. Consequently, this means that if the cactus is given more water than it needs. It will not be able to use it. That water will then only serve to drown the cactus.

This is why your pots for planting the cactus should have adequate drainage systems so that the cactus does not get drenched. What’s more, you need to make sure that the soil you use is not garden soil because cacti are used to the dryer, looser soil.

Pests – Then we have pests, which are certainly among the most irritating reasons for why cacti deflate. If you don’t really check all that often or look too closely, it can be easy to overlook things like insects infesting your cactus. You don’t really even notice that there is anything wrong since these bugs often like to start from the bottom.

Before you know it, the inside of your cactus has turned to liquid and there is now not enough mass to keep it standing.

Not Enough Light – Then we have the issue of light. Specifically, we have the issue of not having enough light, which is a requirement for something like a cactus, which is a species of plants that have evolved under the scorching sun. This is the kind of plant that you can just leave outside all day, every single day and it would be completely fine.

Unfortunately, there are times when you just can’t find it in your schedule to move your cactus to the window so that it gets enough sunlight. This then affects its ability to produce, food, which inevitably means that it will die. This is just the kind of result that you should have been expecting from the start, which is why you place your cactus either outside or near a window.

Freezing Temperatures – Finally, we have the issue of freezing temperatures, which mostly come down to winter. Yes, the desert actually can get quite cold in the evenings, but it does not really approach freezing temperatures. In some places, it can be quite a warm part of the year and really cold at other times of the year.

As long as you have a warm interior, your cactus should be just fine. However, if the heat is out and you decided to allow a cold draft of air to come in, your cactus will basically start to freeze. As you know, cacti are succulents and when the water molecules inside it start to turn to ice crystals, you better believe that it’s not going to be pretty.

How to Grow Cacti Properly?

If you really want to make sure that the cactus that you are growing will be healthy and will not turn into a mess before you even notice, you will need to do a few things right from the start. First of all, you need to choose the right soil for the job. You need to consider the kind of environment that cacti are known for and try to emulate that as much as possible.

This is why you have to use a potting mix with topsoil so that the roots of the cactus will have no trouble moving around as necessary. You will also want to make sure that the soil has already been treated with mulch so that it is actually quite nutritious. You can use fertilizer if you want to but try to keep it at a minimum.

After preparing the soil is preparing the container of the soil and the cactus, and it needs to be of the right size. Do not choose a pot that is too big because it will cause moisture issues or too small because it will constrain the cactus and make it difficult to maintain it. The pot should also allow water to drain easily. These are very important points to remember.

Following that, you need to make sure that you plant the cactus gently and place it in an area where it will get adequate sunlight. Once the cactus is settled, you can begin checking it on a regular basis for any signs of fungal infection, insect infestation, or malnutrition. You will also want to smell the cactus from time to time to see if there is a cloying smell that could indicate rot at any point.

Why Grow a Cactus at Home?

With the issues regarding the growing of cactus at home brought up, you might now be wondering if it is even worth having such a problematic plant at home. To be honest, for all of the risks that come with taking care of cacti, these are actually some of the best plants as far as low maintenance requirements go. You don’t really need to do much other than give them sunlight and water.

Yes, you do need to check to make sure that they are not infected with fungi or are being eaten by bugs, but you hardly ever really need to do this. Once or twice a week is plenty enough. They don’t even really need to be watered all that often since a spray once a day is often enough. By simply doing all of that, you end up with a plant that can be a joy to watch.

As with any kind of organic item in a sterile work environment, cacti can basically add a sense of calm to any room. This goes doubly true for cacti species that bloom beautiful flowers. If you are looking for more practical reasons, there are some species of cacti that you can eat or use for cooking and making liquor. The results can often be quite delicious, as well.

Related Questions

How Do You Bring a Cactus Back to Life?

You can try cutting the dead parts, using a pesticide, changing the position of the cactus, or just giving it more water. There are any number of ways to save a dying cactus but if the problem has already spread to the core or is found in the roots, there is practically nothing you can do about it.

What Are the Benefits of Eating Cactus?

There have been a ton of health benefits that are tied to eating edible cactus like the pear cactus, which include reducing cholesterol levels, preventing or mitigating diabetes, and even treating a hangover. A lot of the benefits have yet to be verified, but they have been observed to be true.

Can Any Cactus Be Grown at Home?

If you have a big enough space and you can afford to take care of some of the biggest examples of cacti in the world, then yes, you certainly can grow any kind of cactus at home. However, if we are going to be realistic about this, then you can only really go with the small bulbs and the flat types that can be grown in a pot.

These are the cacti that you can transport with ease, don’t really require a lot of maintenance, and you won’t really have to worry too much about getting hurt. More often than not, you will definitely want to make sure that you are doing the kind of work in caring for the cactus that is suited for your capabilities.

The worst thing you can do is get a cactus that is going to be too much for you to handle and it ends up getting neglected because you become overwhelmed. This would then lead to all kinds of additional troubles that could have been avoided from the start.

This is why you need to do your research as thoroughly as you can before you even start. It’s understandable that you would come across a bench of cacti that are on sale one day and be tempted to buy one on impulse. More often than not, these cacti should be relatively easy to grow, but there might be considerations that you did not even think about.

Then again, if you really want to get the unwieldy sort of cactus, you might actually need to put in some effort to do so. Those can be rather difficult to find, after all, and would be quite a pain to look after. As such, if you are going to plant those kinds of cacti and take care of them, you might already know what you are doing.

Can Cactus Be Eaten?

You can find several examples of cactus being edible in varying levels and most of them can be found under the opuntia species. That’s right, there are different species of cacti and they basically belong under the same family. These cacti can be consumed raw or they can be used in cooking, as well as in the production of many types of alcohol.

Another example of a cactus that can produce one of the most well-known spirits in the world is the agave cactus, which is used to produce tequila. It’s certainly not the only one, though, since there are actually a ton of examples of exotic cuisine that make use of certain species of cactus for both food and drinks.

With that said, you do have to make sure that the cactus is actually fit for eating if you plan on growing it for consumption. There are times when cactus can only be eaten under certain conditions and you certainly cannot expect your cactus to be fit for human intake if it is diseased.

Just because a cactus is edible, this does not automatically mean that you can harvest it any time you want. Equip yourself with the right information first before you ever make the decision to take care of an edible cactus.

You might also want to think about the prospect of allergies if you are going to feed yourself the cactus or someone else. Although cases of severe allergic reactions to cacti in the industrialized world are quite rare, this is only because very few people even eat this plant. So, be careful. 

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