Everything You Need to Know About Watering Cactus Plants

One of the reasons cactus plants are so popular is their easy-to-care and forgiving nature. While it’s true that these plants do not need much attention, proper watering can make them flourish and thrive. Here we’ll share everything you need to know about how to water cactus including the main considerations to be aware of, when to water, how to water, the best types of water to use, and remedies for over and under-watered cactus plants.

If you’re looking for your next cactus plant, check out our guide to the best cactus nurseries, growers, and cactus plant store specialists delivering nationwide throughout the USA.


How to Water Cactus – The Essentials:

Cactus plants should only be watered when the soil base in the potting vessel is at least 90% dry. Soil probes or moisture meters are the most effective methods to determine the relative moisture content present in the soil. A small to medium sized cactus plant grown indoors in a consistent ambient temperature of 60 to 75F will typically need to be watered every 7 to 10 days during spring, summer, and autumn months and every 4 to 6 weeks during the winter. The best watering method for cactus plants is to saturate the soil completely using rainwater or distilled water and stop the watering process when water starts to disperse from the drainage holes in the potting vessel.


How to Water Cactus – The Main Considerations

How to Water Cactus - The Main Considerations

If you have been tending plants for some time now, then you already know that watering is not as easy as it sounds. Yes, it’s a simple method, but there’s a lot more than giving your plants a “drink.” You also need to think about the following factors that affect the watering needs of a cactus plant.

Your Plant’s Location: Indoor vs. Outdoor

One factor that often gets overlooked when watering any plant is its location. Plants grown indoors require slightly different watering requirements from those grown outdoors since their growing conditions vary.

Temperature & Humidity

Temperature and humidity largely contribute to a cactus plant’s watering needs. Hot temperatures make the soil dry faster, while colder temperatures help retain soil moisture. The more quickly the soil dries, the more frequent watering is needed.

Light Conditions

Cactus plants in direct sunlight and those planted in the shade have different watering needs. When plants are in direct sunlight, the soil tends to dry quicker, thus requiring more watering. Cacti in the shade or partially lighted areas, on the other hand, can retain soil moisture much longer.  

The Seasons

Plants, including cactus, grow actively during warmer seasons (called the growing season). They require supplemental moisture to remain vigorous as they grow.

On the other hand, most cactus plants are dormant or in “resting period” in late fall to winter. During this period, they only need occasional watering or when the soil dries out completely.

Soil Mix

The soil mix also plays a crucial role in determining your cactus plant’s watering needs. Soil types and conditions respond differently in terms of moisture absorption and water retention. Loose, well-draining soil is best for a cactus plant because it won’t hold excess moisture, resulting in root rot.

Heavy and compact soil is something that you should try to avoid if you want a thriving plant. This type of soil is not well-draining and often leads to soggy conditions.

Potting Container Size

The size of a potting container also says a lot about watering a cactus plant. Generally, small and shallow pots tend to evaporate and drain water faster than bigger and wider ones. Because of that, cacti in small containers need frequent watering than those planted in bigger pots. 

Drainage

Drainage is another factor that significantly affects a cactus plant’s watering needs. Cactus grows best in soil with excellent drainage. Occasional overwatering will not be an issue with good drainage since the soil can drain away any excess water.

Cactus Plant Type

There are many cactus species available. Most of them don’t have true leaves, while others do. Some are small, and some are large.

Such differences affect the plant’s watering needs. For instance, smaller cactus plants need less water than bigger ones. On the other hand, those with thinner leaves require more water than cactus plants with thick modified leaves or stems. 

Thus, knowing the type of your cactus plant will help to determine how much water it needs as well.


When to Water a Cactus

How much water do cactus need

Every plant in the Cactaceae botanical family is different. The watering needs of these plants depend on their characteristics and external factors. Luckily for us, there are general rules that tell us when to water a cactus plant.

Water cactus plants only when the soil is at least 90% dry. You need to monitor the plant’s condition and the ground’s dryness to know when to water. Use a moisture probe or your fingers to determine the soil moisture levels.

Water your cacti in the morning so that there will be no excess moisture at night. Doing so will help prevent plant diseases.


How Often to Water Cactus?

How Often to Water a Cactus Plant

Another dilemma you might be having is this: How often should I water my cactus plants?

You cannot set a fixed watering schedule because, as mentioned above, many factors affect the plants’ watering needs. For instance, indoor cactus plants require less watering than outdoor cactus plants because their growing conditions are different.

Another factor is the plant’s age. Younger cactus plants are usually more demanding and need frequent watering to support their growth. These plants also require more watering in spring and summer than in colder months since they are actively growing.

Generally, cactus plants will need watering every 7 to 10 days for optimal growth during spring, summer, and autumn months. Increase the interval between watering schedules during the plant’s rest or dormant period during winter (approximately every 4 to 6 weeks).


What Type of Water is Best for Cactus Plants?

What type of water is best for cactus plants

The type of water is another crucial factor in growing a healthy plant. For cactus plants, the best ones are rainwater and distilled water

Unlike soft water, hard water, or tap water, rainwater contains the right amounts of minerals that a cactus plant needs. Other water types have lots of minerals that can build up in the soil and affect your plant’s health.


How to Water a Cactus Plant?

How to water a cactus plant

You can use several methods to water your cactus plants, but the best way is deep watering. During each watering, soak the soil thoroughly until water starts draining out the pot’s drainage holes.

You can also drip water slowly around the roots. Another method is placing the pot on a saucer filled with water, allowing the plant to take in moisture through the roots. Different cacti species respond differently to other watering methods. Because of that, it will help to know first the type of your cactus plant and explore what way works best for it.

Regardless of any method you use, do not mist your cactus plants. Water at the base and avoid overhead watering to prevent plant disease formation.

How Much Water do Cactus Need?

As discussed above, a cactus plant’s water requirements depend on many external factors like temperature, light, soil mix, and more. You will get a better gauge of how much water your plants need if you pay attention to those factors. Understanding such factors will help determine how much water your cactus needs to grow healthy.


What To Do Between Watering Cycles

What to do between watering cycles

Allow your cactus plant to dry out between watering cycles. Make sure that the few top inches of soil are completely dried out before the next watering schedule. You can use your fingers and manually feel the soil’s dryness. You can also use a water gauge to determine the moisture level in the ground. 


Watering Cactus Plants After Repotting

Watering cactus plants after repotting

Repotting is one method that helps your cactus plants thrive. Ideally, you should repot your cacti once a year. The practice allows extra space for growth and helps reduce mineral buildup in the soil.

When repotting cactus plants, the common question is, “Should I water my cactus plant immediately after repotting?”

The answer is no. The process of repotting damages a cactus plant’s root system. After the transfer, the root system is still fragile and needs some time to heal. So, it’s best to leave it for a couple of days until it recovers before watering it. Watering immediately after repotting may lead to root rot.


Overwatering and Underwatering Cactus Plants

Underwatering or overwatering cactus plants

Overwatering and underwatering are common issues encountered by beginner cactus hobbyists. Most are not sure how much water to give their cactus plants. As a result, they are unknowingly underwatering or overwatering their poor houseplants.

Unfortunately, underwatering or overwatering leads to undesirable results. You can easily avoid this by watching out for signs of such poor watering practices.

Signs of an Underwatered Cactus

Your cactus tells you that it needs more moisture through one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Pale, rubbery, and deflated leaves
  • Discoloration on the leaves and stems
  • Withering leaves and foliage
  • Drooping leaves
  • Dryness in appearance and to the touch
  • The lighter weight of the pot

While you may think that your cactus plant is dying, there’s actually an easy fix to help revive your plant’s vigor. When it starts showing signs of underwatering, simply water it thoroughly. Wait for a few days, and your plant will bounce back to its healthy state.

Signs of an Overwatered Cactus

As with underwatering, overwatering is something that you should avoid when taking care of cactus plants. It’s more severe than underwatering since the effects of excess moisture are often irreversible. Here are the signs of overwatering in cactus:

  • Rotting or decaying plants
  • Leaves and base are turning brown or black
  • Plants appear plump

Overwatering often causes a saturated soil condition. This isn’t favorable for cactus since it can lead to root rot, killing your plant.


Wrap-UP

Proper watering is crucial in growing healthy cactus plants as it helps promote growth, flowering, and fruiting. Although watering is a simple process, you need to make extra efforts to know when and how to hydrate your cactus houseplants. Familiarizing yourself with the factors affecting a plant’s watering needs will help you grow beautiful and healthy cactus plants in your home.


How to Water Cactus FAQ:

Cactus plants should only be watered once the soil in the potting vessel is virtually completely dry. When watering looking to saturate the soil avoiding the leaves and foliage where possible. Stop watering when you start to see water disperse from the drainage holes in the potting vessel.

During spring, summer and autumn months a cactus plant grown indoors will need to be watered every 7 to 10 days typically. During winter months cactus plants only need to be watered every 4 to 6 weeks.

Underwatered cactus plants will typically display the following signs:

  • Pale, rubbery, and deflated leaves
  • Discoloration on the leaves and stems
  • Withering of the leaves
  • Drooping leaves
  • Dryness in appearance and to the touch
  • The lighter weight of the pot

As a general rule, avoid misting cactus leaves and foliage. This often leads to stagnant water build up on the leaves which can accelerate fungal infections.

Where possible, aim to water your cactus plants with either rainwater or distilled water. Tap water straight from the faucet is often overchlorinated and contains unhelpful nutrients and minerals which can build up in the soil base.

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