The 5 Reasons Why Your Cactus Is Leaning On One Side


When we say cacti, the first thing that comes to mind is their resilience and low maintenance. However, as tough as they can be, they can get stressed when the conditions are not right and you are gonna see it. One of those signs is a bend-over cactus.

Cacti tend to lean in a direction when they are stressed because of 1) root rot, 2) unidirectional or insufficient light, 3) pest/ insect infestation, 4) heavyweight, and 5) dehydration. It is essential to check your cactus when they begin to bend over as it might have unfavorable effects over time.

A leaning cactus is then not a good sign. However, the good news is that can be recovered! How? Well, keep reading!

5 Reasons Why Cacti Tend To Lean On a Side

Cacti are pretty strong and low-maintenance plants but require special care. Seeing them grow, standing tall, and thriving is fulfilling. But what if you see them gradually changing their form and drooping? You might wonder what goes wrong. Why do they tend to bend on one side?

Here are the reasons why your cactus is leaning over:

1. Root rot

If a cactus is bending and the base is soft and mushy then the reason is root rot.

Overwatering is the primary cause of root rot among cacti. Cacti are sensitive to wet, soggy soil. The roots will begin to rot because of excess water, and soon after, the fungus will start to develop.

Fungus infection will spread upwards toward the base of the cactus, making it mushy and soft. The mushy base of the cactus can no longer support the weight of the plant. Thus, the cactus will bend down. This problem here needs immediate action so you won’t lose your cactus completely.

2. Unidirectional or Insufficient Light

If an indoor cactus is leaning towards the external source of light, such leaning is just a natural response of the plant to maximize its light requirements. Also, a total lack of light can cause bending on the cactus.

Most cacti require a lot of sunlight to perform photosynthesis. Some cacti can tolerate hours of direct sunlight without being scorched. Without enough sunlight, photosynthesis will be affected, and the plant will be weak and soft over time. They begin to bend down and start drooping. This is common in indoor cactus where light is insufficient.

If you have your cactus on a specific spot like on a window where they receive light on one side only, the tendency is they will lean in that direction. The part that receives more light grows slowly, while the side that receives lesser light grows faster. That is why your cactus appears to be lopsided. And nothing to worry about here as long as the plant is perfectly healthy.

To note also that cactus in constant shadow can develop bending. This is not due to a different growth rate but rather a change in the cactus tissue structure due to an insufficient level of nutrients.

3. Pest/ Insect Infestation

A leaning cactus can be a sign of an infestation of a variety of insects such as root mealybugs, ants, and cochineal scales.

Insects like root mealybugs, ants, and cochineal scales are common on cacti. These pests latch on the fluids inside the cacti’s body and leave them dry. They lay their eggs under the roots and onto the potting mix.

Root mealybugs love to feed on the roots and will damage the rooting system if left untreated. Damaged roots can no longer absorb water causing the plant to shrink, lean over, and eventually die. If these awful pests are not eradicated right away, they will continue to live and infest other cacti nearby.

4. Heavy Weight

Large cactus naturally tend to bend over their own weight leaning in one direction due to their heavy upper part unable to be supported any longer by the cactus.

As the cactus grow taller, they become top-heavy. This is most common on columnar cactus. The base cannot support the growing weight of the plant. Some develop lots of offset on top, causing the mother plant to bend low as the pups get heavier.

5. Dehydration

Lack of water will make a cactus way more prone to leaning on a side due to the lost of sturdiness of its tissues.

If overwatering is not suitable for cacti, underwatering them has its adverse effects too. Cacti that have not been watered for long will become soft, wrinkly, and weak. The reason is that they have used up all the water in their body. Dehydrated cacti tend to shrink from the base, and the weight of the top will cause the plant to lean.

Good news? Thirsty cactus are way easier to save than overwatered ones.

Cactus Leaning One Side Reasons – Infographic

What To Do With a Leaning Cactus?

Depending on the causing a cactus to lean on the side, the most common solutions to address such problem are:

  1. Pest Removal
  2. Cactus Rotation
  3. Support
  4. Bottom Watering
  5. Beheading

After you assess why your cactus is leaning, take immediate steps to solve the problem to avoid further damage. I have here a list of solutions to fix your leaning cactus.

1. Remove Pests

Mealybugs, scales, and spider mites are some of the pests that attack cacti. They spread rapidly from one cactus to another, and they are detrimental if left untreated. Removing these pesky little things as soon as possible saves you from a lot of trouble.

How To Treat Pests?

If the whole body of the cactus is infested, I recommend uprooting the plant and wash thoroughly using pressure spray. Discard the potting soil and wash the used pot with a soap solution. With a soft bristle brush, brush the remaining infestation off the cactus until all the pests are removed. Treat the cactus by spraying systemic fungicide for total removal. Let the plant dry for a day or two and plant to fresh soil and new pot.

If the infestation is not vast, remove the pest by rubbing them off using a q-tip soaked in alcohol. Check the ribs and under spines to ensure that nothing is left on the body of the cactus. You can also use tweezers by picking the mealybugs but be careful not to poke the cactus.

Pesky scales that suck on cactus tissue

2. Rotate The Cactus

If your cactus is in a bright spot and is leaning towards the light, rotate the pot every month so it can receive an even amount of light and may go back to being upright again.

But if your cactus is in the shade and begins to bend, it is starving for light. Transfer the plant to a brighter area, gradually, and you’ll notice it will stand tall in time.

3. Use Stakes For Support

Leaning tall columnar cactus can be fixed by using stakes to help support the weight of the plant. You can also put stakes on the mother plant for support as the cacti pups get heavier. Or the better solution for crowded offsets is to separate them from the mother plant and propagate them. In that way, the mother cactus can breathe.

4. Bottom Watering

For severely dehydrated cactus that lean on one side, bottom watering can help the plant sip enough water to quench its thirst. This is to give more time for the cactus to replenish moisture in their system.

Bottom watering is a technique where you place your potted plant in a basin with few inches of water.

Make sure that the pot has drainage holes for the water to enter. The plant will absorb the water from the tub for over a while. Leave it in the tub for a day or two, and it’s just the right time for the plant to have a good drink and revive its thirsty tissues. You can see a change in the plant’s body as it begins to get plump and upright again.

5. Beheading

Cactus that suffer from root rot can be saved if the damage is not severe. You can cut off the damaged tissues, easily recognizable for their pale color.

Discard the pot with the rotten cactus or go through a deep cleaning as discussed in our guide. Apply sulfur powder or cinnamon on the cut of the beheaded part to prevent infection. Sulfur and cinnamon are known to have an anti-microbial ability. Let the cut to callous and heal to then plant the cactus on fresh cacti soil mix.

Cactus Species That Are More Susceptible To Lean

Some cacti lean naturally. Mammillarias and Opuntias are some of the cacti species that bend no matter what favorable the conditions are. It is because they have softer vascular cambiums compared to other species.

Mammillarias bend over significantly if they’ve grown taller and longer. They don’t have stiff vascular cambiums to support their weight. It is also the reason why most mammillarias are not used as a rootstock in grafting.

Takeaway

  1. Cactus tend to lean when they can’t receive enough sunlight or are situated on the same spot for an extended period. By introducing more light gradually or rotating the pot in the opposite direction, the bent cactus will bounce back. Weight is another factor.
  2. Mealybugs and scales are common attackers on cactus. Remove them as soon as possible. Lack of water or even excess of it are other causes, easily detectable of leaning cactus.
  3. Mammillarias have a high tendency to lean over because of their soft vascular cambiums.

Sources

https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/root-mealybugs

https://www2.hawaii.edu/~johnb/micro/m140/syllabus/week/handouts/m140.8.3.html

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.654.1319&rep=rep1&type=pdf

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Esther

Esther is the self-proclaimed cactusholic :D of the team. She owns a cacti shop with hundreds of plants that she takes care of. Esther has many years of experience in growing and caring for drought-resistant plants like cacti and succulents.

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