Cactus Plants: A Beginners Guide to Their Complete Care With 3 of the Most Important Things to Know

Cactus and succulent care for beginners cactus

Cactus plants are known for their ability to thrive in dry and hot conditions, making them a popular choice for those living in desert climates. They also add some desert-inspired beauty to a garden. But caring for them does require a bit of knowledge and attention. These prickly plants have unique needs that must be met in order to thrive. In this blog post, we will explore the best ways to care for cactus plants and provide some expert tips and tricks to help you keep your cactus plants healthy and thriving.

You might like: How to Repot Succulents

Cactus for beginners cactus

Soil for Cactus Plants

Cactus plants have unique soil requirements that differ from other plants. They require a soil mix that is able to provide proper drainage, aeration, and moisture retention. Choosing the right soil is crucial for the health and survival of the cactus plant.

Cactus and succulent soil mix is an excellent option for cactus plants as it is formulated to mimic their natural desert environment. This soil mix is typically made up of a blend of inorganic and organic materials such as perlite, sand, gravel, and peat moss. It is designed to provide excellent drainage while still retaining enough moisture to keep the plant healthy.

It’s important to note that regular potting soil is not suitable for cactus plants, as it holds onto moisture and does not provide adequate drainage. This can lead to overwatering, which can cause root rot and other issues.

When choosing a soil mix for your cactus plants, it’s also important to consider the size of the pot. A pot that is too large for the plant can lead to soil that stays wet for too long, which can also cause root rot. It’s best to choose a pot that is just slightly larger than the root ball of the plant.

Overall, choosing the right soil mix is crucial for the health and success of your cactus plant. By using a well-draining cactus and succulent soil mix and avoiding overwatering, you can help ensure that your cactus thrives and remains healthy.

Watering Cactus

Overwatering can lead to root rot, which is a serious issue that can cause irreversible damage to your cactus. It’s crucial to ensure that the pot has proper drainage to allow excess water to escape and avoid water from accumulating at the bottom of the pot. Using a cactus-specific soil mix can also aid in proper drainage and prevent soil compaction.

Another important factor to consider when watering your cactus is the time of year. During the winter months, cacti go into a dormant phase and require less water. It’s recommended to reduce watering frequency to once every four to six weeks during this time. In contrast, during the summer months, when cacti are actively growing, they may require more frequent watering.

It’s essential to monitor your cactus closely and adjust your watering schedule accordingly. Signs of overwatering include yellowing or browning of leaves, soft or mushy stems, and an unpleasant odor. If you suspect that you have an overwatered cactus, remove it from its pot and allow the roots to dry out completely before replanting in fresh soil.

Location, Location, Location!

Cacti are succulent plants that have adapted to survive in environments with little water and bright sunlight. As a result, they have specific light needs in order to thrive. In general, cacti prefer bright, direct sunlight. They can tolerate hot temperatures and long hours of sunlight. They require at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. It is also important to note that cacti need a period of darkness in order to flower and produce fruit.

Some cacti will also tolerate partial shade and can grow well in a south-facing window. However, not all cacti are alike, and some species may have slightly different light requirements, so it can be helpful to research the specific needs of the cactus you have or planning to have.

With the right care and attention, your cactus will thrive and bring some desert-inspired beauty to your home or garden. Follow these expert tips and tricks and your cactus plant will be healthy and happy for years to come.

Helpful Tools for Beginning Cactus Gardeners

Image of 3 potted cactus plant in terracotta pots

Prickly pear cactus and its fruit

Why is my cactus turning black?

A cactus turning black is usually a sign of rot, which can be caused by overwatering or poor drainage. When cacti are overwatered, the roots may become waterlogged and begin to rot, which can spread to the rest of the plant. Poor drainage can also cause water to pool around the base of the plant, leading to rot. In some cases, it may also turn black due to sunburn or frost damage. It’s important to address the cause of the blackening and take corrective action as soon as possible to save the plant.

Closeup of 3 cacti

Why is my cactus turning light green?

If your cactus is turning light green, it could be a sign that it is not getting enough sunlight. Cacti require plenty of direct sunlight to maintain their green color and stay healthy. Without sufficient light, the plant may start to lose its chlorophyll, which can result in a lighter or yellowish green color.

Another possible reason for a cactus turning light green is overwatering. Cacti are adapted to survive in arid environments and can quickly become stressed if they are watered too frequently or if they are sitting in soil that doesn’t drain well. Overwatering can lead to root rot, which can affect the plant’s ability to take up nutrients and water from the soil, causing it to turn yellow or light green.

It is also possible that yours is a variety that naturally has a lighter green color. Some cacti, such as the Opuntia microdasys ‘Albata’, have a pale green or even white appearance. However, if the plant was previously a darker green color and has suddenly turned light green, it is more likely a sign of a problem with light or water.

Closeup shot of a cacti and its spines.

Why is my cactus shriveling up?

There are several reasons why a cactus may be shriveling up:

  1. Underwatering: Cacti are desert plants and are adapted to survive in dry conditions. However, if they are not watered regularly, their tissues can become dehydrated, leading to shriveling.

  2. Overwatering: On the other hand, overwatering can also cause cacti to shrivel up. When a cactus plant is overwatered, its roots can become damaged, making it difficult for the plant to absorb water and causing it to shrink.

  3. Lack of sunlight: Cacti need plenty of sunlight to thrive. If they are not getting enough light, their growth can slow down, and they may start to shrink.

  4. Pests or diseases: Cacti can be susceptible to a variety of pests and diseases, which can cause them to shrivel up. For example, mealybugs can suck the sap out, causing it to wilt and shrivel.

  5. Age: Finally, it is natural for cacti to shrink and shrivel up as they age. As the plant gets older, it may stop producing new growth and begin to shrink and become more compact.

To determine the cause of your plant shriveling up, check its watering and light conditions, inspect it for signs of pests or disease, and consider the age of the plant.

Garden of cacti

Why is my cactus growing arms?

Cacti can grow arms, also known as branches or offsets, for a variety of reasons. One of the most common reasons is that it has reached a certain age or size, and it needs to expand to accommodate its growing needs.

Another reason is that the plant has been injured or damaged in some way, and it is growing new branches to compensate for the loss of its main stem.

Some cacti naturally grow arms as part of their growth pattern, such as the Saguaro cactus, which can develop multiple arms over the course of many years.

Growing arms is a normal and healthy part of plant growth, and it can even add to the plant’s unique and interesting appearance.

Large green cacti

Why is my cactus leaning?

A leaning cactus plant could be a sign of several issues, such as inadequate light, water, or nutrients, or root rot. If your cactus is not receiving enough light, it may lean towards the light source. Overwatering or poor soil drainage can lead to root rot, causing the cactus to become weak and lean over. In some cases, the cactus may lean due to its growth pattern, such as when it is reaching for more sunlight or trying to balance itself. If you notice your cactus plant leaning, inspect it for signs of root rot and adjust its growing conditions accordingly.

Cactus growing for beginners cactus

Why is my cactus wrinkled?

When it comes to your wrinkled cactus, there are a few reasons that could be causing this.

First, it’s important to check if you’re watering correctly. Over-watering is a common issue with cacti and can cause the plant to become wrinkled and soft. Make sure you’re not watering too frequently, and that the soil has a chance to dry out between waterings.

Another possibility is that yours is not getting enough sunlight. Cacti thrive in bright, direct sunlight and if they’re not getting enough, they can become wrinkled and appear to be shriveling up.

Finally, it’s possible that yours is simply going through a natural cycle of growth and dormancy. During periods of dormancy, cacti can lose some of their plumpness and appear wrinkled, but they will bounce back when they enter their active growth phase again.

So, to sum it up: check your watering habits, make sure your cactus is getting enough sunlight, and don’t worry too much if your cactus appears wrinkled during periods of dormancy.

Why is my cactus getting woody in some spots?

First, it’s important to note that some species naturally develop woody stems as they mature. This is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about. In fact, some cacti are valued for their woody stems and are commonly used in landscaping and garden design.

However, if your cactus is developing woody spots in areas where it previously had a fleshy texture, it could be a sign of overwatering. Overwatering can cause the stem to become waterlogged, which can lead to root rot and ultimately, the development of woody spots. Make sure you’re not watering too frequently and that the soil has a chance to dry out between waterings.

Another possibility is that your cacti is not getting enough light. Cacti thrive in bright, direct sunlight and if they’re not getting enough, they may not be able to photosynthesize properly. This can cause the stem to become woody in some spots.

Finally, if your cacti has been subjected to cold temperatures or frost damage, it may develop woody spots as a response to the damage.

Why is my cactus getting pointy as it grows?

Some cactus plants naturally develop a more pointed shape as they mature. This is a normal part of their growth process and is nothing to worry about. In fact, some cacti are prized for their sharp and spiky appearance.

However, if your cactus plant is becoming more pointed in certain areas where it previously had a rounder or flatter shape, it could be a sign that it’s not getting enough light. Cacti need bright, direct sunlight to thrive, and if they’re not getting enough, they may grow taller and thinner in an effort to reach more light. This can cause them to become more pointed as they mature.

Another possibility is that it is not getting enough water. While cacti are known for their ability to store water, they still need regular watering to stay healthy. If it is not getting enough water, it may grow more slowly and develop a more pointed shape as a result.

Finally, if your cactus is growing in a crowded or cramped space, it may become more pointed as it tries to grow around obstacles and reach more light.

Why is my cactus growing sideways, and can it be fixed?

Here are a few possible reasons why your cactus is growing sideways:

  1. Uneven light: If it is not getting enough light on one side, it may start to lean in the direction of the light source. In this case, moving your cactus to a spot with more even lighting should help it straighten out.

  2. Uneven watering: Similarly, if you are not watering  evenly on all sides, it may start to lean towards the side that is getting more water. Make sure you are watering your cactus evenly on all sides, and that the soil is draining properly.

  3. Root damage: If your cactus has suffered damage to its roots, it may start to lean over. This could be caused by overwatering, underwatering, or physical damage to the roots. In this case, you may need to repot and carefully examine the roots for any signs of damage.

  4. Growth habit: Some cacti naturally grow in a curved or leaning shape. If your cactus is one of these species, it may not be possible to straighten it out without causing damage to the plant.

If your cactus is leaning due to uneven light or watering, it may be possible to fix the problem by adjusting its environment. However, if the leaning is due to root damage or a natural growth habit, it may not be possible to straighten the plant out completely.

Where to Buy Succulents Online

I receive a small commission when you purchase anything through my links. 

Leaf and Clay


Succulents Box


Rojas Succulents

Collecting succulents is not an addiction. It's a healthy interest

Learn how to propagate succulents and share them with your friends
Learn how to propagate succulents and share them with your friends

Links on this page may be affiliate links which means I earn a commission any time you make a purchase through my links.

fucculent succulent gift
Who would you gift this to?

Most Popular

Does my succulent have a death bloom?
If you have pets or children, this is a must read.
Propagate succulents with 4 different techniques
Give your succulents the right amount of light.
Everything you wanted to know about watering succulents.
Repotting succulents and what you need to know about transplant shock.
All you need to know about succulent soil and recipes to keep your plants healthy.