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Common Cacti Problems 1

Overwatering


overwater_carnegiea_a_200    overwater_parodia_a_200

Description:
Succulent plants store water in their tissue. That, by definition, is what makes it a succulent plant. Cacti are succulents and use the water they store in their tissue to help them survive long, dry periods. Since cacti as a general rule grow in dry places, they take up water through their roots very quickly and efficiently. On the other hand, they do not have the ability to quickly get rid of excess water. While this all works out fine in the wild, when cacti are grown in cultivation, people can supply more water than the cacti needs. This is actually a common situation and the plants in cultivation look plump and happy compared to their habitat counterparts.

But the real problems start when people don't just give their cactus more water than it needs, but more water than it can handle. This is over-watering. When a cactus is over-watered, it will swell up more and more and often times the cactus stem will become so saturated that it splits open in one or more places. While a cactus can usually recover from this, the other result of over-watering (especially when combined with cold temperatures) is rot. Sometimes just the roots will rot off, but often times the whole plant will turn to mush.

Treatment:
The first thing to do with an over-watered cactus is stop watering it! In most cases, repotting would also be a good idea. When the plant is unpotted, you can let it stay unpotted to dry out for a week or two and then repot it. If the plant body has split in any place, the damage is permanent and there is nothing you can do but let it scar over. If the plant has started to rot, saving the plant will depend on how far the rot has set in.

Underwatering

dessication_echinocereus_a_200     dessication_opuntia_a_200

Description:
It is a myth that cacti don't need water. In fact, cacti are very fond of water. While it is not hard to over-water a cactus, too little water will eventually kill a cactus off. Cacti store water and keep it and they can wait patiently for a long time between watering and so it is better to under-water than to over water. As you can see in the picture at left, this cactus plant has desiccated from lack of water, but once it got water again, it put on new growth. Temperature has a big effect on the rate that desiccation occurs. The hotter it is, the faster it dries up. Typically, when temperatures are high, cacti want water, light, and will do their growing under these conditions. When the water runs out (or the heat gets too high), then the plant will shut down and sit dormant until conditions improve. If conditions don't improve eventually, it will die.

Treatment:
Well the solution that would seem obvious to fix the problem of desiccation, would be to give your plant a bunch of water. However, it is much better to water only a little bit at first and gradually increase the watering over many weeks. This is largely due to the fact that desiccated plants will have lost many of their roots and will only be able to take up a little water at a time. As the roots grow, it can take in more water. If too much water is given and the roots can't take it all in, the plant will start to rot from sitting in damp soil.