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How to Fix & Prevent Underwatered Cactus? [Quick Guide]

If you wonder about your shriveled and discolored cacti, accept that they are underwatered.  They may require enough water and a consistent watering schedule.

Generally, an underwatered Cactus results from a scant amount of water supply leading the plant to drooping and wilting leaves, falling spines, and brown edges. If the plant is drooling due to dehydration, thoroughly water it and stick to the flexible watering schedule. 

Gradually these unfavorable conditions and irregular water supply may change its shape and appearance, leading to the death of your Cactus. 

Go through this article precisely to recognize the signs of underwatered Cactus and revive the plant.

What does an Underwatered Cactus Look like? 

Overall, species of Cactus are drought resistant, living for 1-2 years without water. They have thick stems that can store water and an extensive root system that can soak even a little water.

Let’s learn about the signs of underwatered Cacti and ways to fix them to revive your unhealthy plant. 

1. Yellowing of Cactus

Lack of enough water brings about the yellowing of cacti because of depletion in chlorophyll production. 

The complication arises when the root of the cacti can not uptake enough water and stops functioning.

sick cactus
Avoid peat-based mixture as it can attract pests.

This leads to yellowing the whole body of your Cactus. Besides, the yellowing can imply stunted growth and a limp appearance. 

Moderately the Cactus will turn brown, which starts from the edges and spreads throughout the plant. 

2. Falling off the Spines

Spines are the modified form of leaves that minimize evaporation rate by breaking air flow around Cacti. Falling off the spines is one of the consequences of underwatering. 

Leaves transpire most water in the plant. Cacti lose their spines to minimize the outcome of underwatering and to keep themselves alive.

Additionally, the absence of enough water in the cells to hold the spines is another reason behind falling off the spines.

3. Wilting and Drooping 

In extreme dehydration, the signs appear in its overall structure. Losing of the spines and shrinkage in the cell wall causes the stems to wrinkle.

In the low supply of water in the Cactus, the drooping occurs only in the lower parts of the leaves. 
Cactus plants have a thin and upright position that will slowly start drooping down, and their branches appear soft and mushy because their tissues don’t have enough water to hold them.

4. Dry Roots 

Cacti are succulent perennials that have spiny stems and extensive roots. They have expanded roots to soak up the water from farther away and store moisture.

The prolonged underwatering cause the roots of Cacti to dry out, making roots shrivel and fragile. 

After drying, roots can’t uptake water and nutrients, and the plant starts showing symptoms like yellowing and drooping of whole plant parts.

Additionally, roots stop functioning; all plant parts start to sag, and ultimately, the plant dies. 

5. Pests and Pathogens

Underwatering depletes the immune of  Cactus, and the plant becomes more susceptible to pests and pathogens.

The most common pests are Scales, Mealybugs, Spider mites, etc.

On top of that, the dry roots of Cactus cannot uptake enough minerals from the soil, counting Nitrogen.

Most of us may have uncertainty about the cause of signs shown by Cactus since those signs are almost similar for both overwatered and underwatered conditions.

However, in both conditions, plant roots cannot provide enough water to plants. 

Besides, you may separate the symptoms of overwatered Cactus from underwatered ones by the table below.

Underwatered CactusOverwatered Cactus
Yellow plant followed by brown discolorationBlack or brown discoloration
Drying and falling of spinesStem softening and rotting
Drying of rootsRotting of roots
Dead and dried up lower leavesLeaves start to drop from lower plant parts

How to Fix Underwatered Cactus? 

Besides, observing the symptoms, you can also take the help of a finger test or chopstick test to examine the dryness of your soil.

This helps you confirm that the plant is underwatered requiring the following treatments.

  • Water the Cactus profoundly and leave the plant for 4-6 days until it absorbs the water and looks plumper. Further, strictly water it again after 6-7 days. 
  • Furnish the plant with water therapy by soaking the plants in clean water for 24-72 hours.
Consistent watering can revive the Cactus from signs of underwatering
Don’t let the Cactus be covered by dust because they can’t process the light.
  • Likewise, thoroughly water the Cactus from the top rather than using the bottom watering method to prevent root rot.
  • In the extreme case of underwatering, prune the dead parts and repot the plant in a terracotta pot.
  • Prepare the best potting mix from potting soil, coarse sand, and perlite in a ratio of 3:2:1.
Note! Cactus thrives in low humidity (40-60%), so it may be harmful to mist the plant as it stimulates pest infestation. 

How to Prevent Underwatered Cactus? 

Irregular watering, fast water evaporation, improper soil or potting mix, the wrong size and type of container, and nitrogen toxicity can cause underwatered Cactus. So, avoid these with the following steps.

  • Water your Cactus every 2-3 weeks during warmer days and every 4-6 weeks during winter.
  • Slightly warm water between 30 and 40°C is favorable for the Cactus.
  • Place your Cactus in a shadier location where it can get 6-7 hours of bright and indirect sunlight. 
  • You can use a moisture meter to assess the moisture level in the soil. 
  • While repotting, use a pot size slightly bigger than the previous one. Also, proper potting mix and well-draining soil can be a savior.

FAQs Regarding Underwatered Cactus 

1. Can a Cactus survive in a dark room?

No, the Cactus can’t live in a dark room for an extended period as it requires bright and direct sunlight with a temperature of 60-75°F for its proper growth. 

2. Will Cactus survive on just water? 

You can propagate Cactus on water but need to transfer them to the soil after they begin rooting. However, growing Cacti on water prevents them from soil pathogens and pests.

3. Can a Cactus recover from underwatering?

Cactus can be recovered from a yellow, brittle to a green, healthy plant by watering it regularly once a week. And it’s essential to let the soil completely dry before watering to prevent root rots.

From Editorial Team


Depending on the season, you must water the Cactus on a flexible schedule to prevent it from getting underwatered.

The underwatering symptoms are the same for the Moon Cactus, Christmas Cactus, Bunny Ear Cactus, and Pencil Cactus.

You need to prune the infected parts to prevent the outspread the problem. Also, you can propagate Cacti stem cuttings if the plant is dying.