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What are the Best Methods for Watering Cactus?

By Michelle Haskins
Updated May 16, 2024
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Watering cactus can be one of the most difficult aspects of caring for them. Learning when watering cactus is needed and how often can be difficult. Each family of cacti are different. One type may require watering on a weekly basis, while another may only need it once per month. There are several factors to consider when learning the best method for watering cactus.

Whether the cactus is inside or outside will make a difference in the watering schedule that is needed. An indoor cactus requires much more monitoring and close observation. When growing a cactus indoors, first ensure that the pot it is placed in is no bigger than the original. If the pot is too large, it will allow more water than necessary to surround the plant, and over watering can occur.

During the dormant season, the need for watering cactus is less than during the growth season. One way to find out if the plant needs more water is to gently push a pencil into the soil. If there is still damp soil clinging to the pencil when it is removed, then there is no need to water it. If the pencil is dry, then the cactus needs to be watered. A good soaking is all that is required when watering cactus.

Another way to learn the best method for watering cactus is careful observation. Signs that a cactus needs water may include wrinkling of the outer skin. This is caused by shrinkage of the water-storing tissue within the cactus. Other times, the cactus may begin to turn yellow, indicating that it is dehydrated. If any of these signs are present, soaking the entire cactus will normally help.

Over watering cactus is another issue. Swelling and cracking of the outer skin is an indicator that the cactus is receiving too much water. Change to less frequent watering and check the soil using the pencil method.

Outdoor cactus in their native habitat will generally live a long and healthy life with the care that nature provides. If a cactus is planted as part of ornamental landscape, extra care may be required. Ensure that it is not planted near any type of irrigation system. Cactus roots have been known to stretch to great lengths underground to find water. This may be unhealthy for the cactus, unknowingly causing an over watering problem.

Cactus have been known to thrive for over 100 years. The many varieties can add interest to almost any landscape. With patience and care, a cacti can give many years of enjoyment.

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Discussion Comments

By anon354670 — On Nov 10, 2013

My cactus is a moon cactus and it loves water and likes to stay cool.

By bagley79 — On Jun 23, 2011

I have several cacti and love them not only for their interesting shapes, but many of them also have beautiful blooms.

If you plan on repotting your cactus, I would recommend that you wear some protective gloves as it can be quite painful if you get stuck with their needles. Keep the pots fairly close to the same size it came in because they don't need much room to grow. I like to add rocks around the bottom of the cacti to incorporate the desert look.

By myharley — On Jun 20, 2011

I have found that you can't treat all cactus the same, and that you must care for them differently than many other tropical plants. They love a lot of sunlight, and I think that if you are new to caring for cacti, it is easy to over water them. I have a lost a few by doing this.

It is almost better to not give them enough water than too much water when it comes to most cacti. I have grown other tropical plants that like a lot of sunshine, and they seem to require more water.

By SarahSon — On Jun 20, 2011

One reason I like to grow cactus indoors is because they are pretty easy to take care of and don't seem to have the problems with insects or disease that many other plants I have tried to grow have.

Also, if I forget to water regularly, they will usually be OK. This doesn't mean that you can just plant them and forget about them, but I do think they require less care than many indoor house plants.

I have several cacti that I have been able to get alive for several years and they still bloom and look good - which has not always been so easy for me to accomplish with indoor plants.

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