Why Is My Cactus Growing Skinny?

Why Is My Cactus Growing Skinny?

One of the common problems encountered by cactus owners is when their succulents start to grow skinnier than normal.

 The reason this is happening to your cactus can either be that it is not getting the amount of light that it needs every day, or that it was unable to go into dormancy over the winter.

In this article, we will go deeper into the reasons your cactus is becoming skinny, how to remedy the situation, and what you can do to prevent this from happening.

If you are currently experiencing this problem and you wish to know more about it, then just keep reading.

Why is my cactus growing skinny?

The correct term to use when describing a skinny plant is etiolated, a condition wherein the cactus has started to become skinny and has also gotten paler.

The first and most probable reason for etiolation is that the cactus is not getting enough sunlight every day.

Remember that cacti are native to some of the hottest, driest and most arid regions of the world and they are adapted to being under the sun for many hours a day. Even though they can also grow well indoors, they need a certain amount of light in order to reach their full potential.

If your plant is deprived of the light that it needs, it will start to etiolate. Its stem will grow faster, and first that may seem like the plant is growing well and there is no cause for concern.

Unfortunately, however, this is actually a bad sign for your cactus, because the quick growth also means that the stem is growing skinny, pointy and pale. These are not qualities that you would want to see in a healthy cactus.

Etiolation commonly happens when a cactus has grown for several months or years outside your house and you transfer it indoors without giving it enough time to adjust to its new living conditions.

The cactus will use all of its remaining resources to grow long, thin stems in the direction of the closest source of light, just so it can continue surviving. These new stems will be so skinny that they may have the appearance of antennae growing at the ends of the cactus’ pads.

Another possible reason your cactus is growing skinny is due to temperature. If the temperature outside is starting to become quite warm, the plant will want to be exposed to more light as well, since winter is over and the plant will no longer be dormant.

If you fail to move the cactus outside despite the warmer weather, it will become etiolated and skinny, so make sure you keep a close eye on your cactus and take it outdoors to get more light even before winter officially ends. Do not wait for the plant to wake up from dormancy before moving it back outside.

Finally, the cactus may be growing skinny because it was not able to go dormant over winter.

This happens when you fail to change the way you care for it according to the season.

During the winter, bringing the cactus indoors is the right thing to do because the freezing temperatures may be enough to kill it. Also take care not to overwater your plants during winter, because a dormant cactus will barely need any water at all. If you still water it the way you do during the spring or summer, but you are not giving it the light it needs, it will fail to go dormant and this will also stunt its growth.

What is the right way to care for a dormant cactus indoors?

If you continue giving the plant water even during the winter, it will start growing thin stems. And, as we have learned, this is not great for your cactus.

The best thing to do is completely refrain from watering the cactus for a month to a month and a half during the winter, and place the plant in a cold spot where it can go into dormancy without any interference.

How to fix a skinny cactus

If you have a cactus that has already grown skinny, you will not be able to reverse the skinny growth and make them normal.

If you do not remove the skinny parts and just leave them be, your cactus could become top-heavy and fall over or snap in half once a normal stem has grown on top of the skinny stem. 

In order for the cactus not to snap in two, cut off the skinny stems and use them to propagate the plant. It is best to do this during the summer, when the plant is in its active growth phase and the newly propagated stems will grow fast and well.

After cutting the skinny stems off your cactus, move the plant outdoors so that it can start getting the sunlight it needs. If you live in an apartment, place the plant on a windowsill so it can still get as much light as possible while indoors.

While it is important that your plant gets the sunlight it needs, remember that too much light can cause sunburn, so be vigilant and do not overexpose your cactus.

In order for your cactus to get adequate light on all sides, rotate the plant every couple of days so that all sides get their time in the light.

If the light coming through your window is not enough, you can also buy a grow light to support your cactus with artificial light. Plants use artificial light in the same way they do natural sunlight, so do not worry about any ill effects on your cactus.

How to replant your broken cactus

If you were unable to catch your cactus before it broke, you can easily replant it.

Get the broken cactus piece and leave it in a shaded room for about a week at room temperature. After a week, the broken end will have become callused and you are now ready to replant it.

Prepare a new pot or container that will give the cactus a quarter of an inch of space between it and the edge of the pot. Make sure the pot has drainage holes at the bottom so that any excess water can easily flow out and reduce the chances of overwatering.

Fill the container about two-thirds with succulent soil and plant the cactus in the middle before filling the pot with the rest of the soil. Pat the soil down around the plant until it is stable.

How to care for your replanted cactus

The three factors that you need to remember when caring for a cactus are temperature, water and light. If you are not able to find the perfect balance of these three elements, it may lead to the death of your cactus, which is not what we want.

Place your newly-replanted cactus on the windowsill and allow it to sit there for two to four weeks without watering.

After two weeks, check the soil in the pot and, if it is dry to the touch, water the plant.

Do not water it again until it has established roots, which should take around two more weeks. You can check for roots by giving the cactus a gentle tug. If there is resistance to your tug, it means that the roots have grown nicely.

When it comes to watering your plant, adjust the volume and the frequency of watering according to the season and the current weather conditions where you live.

If the climate and weather are cold, you might want to lessen the frequency of watering because the soil will not dry out as quickly as in hotter climates.


Your cactus is growing skinny because it is etiolated, meaning it is not getting as much light as it needs, so it is growing long, skinny limbs to reach towards the closest source of light.

You can fix a skinny cactus by cutting off the skinny stems and using them to propagate the plant. Do not allow the skinny stems to continue growing, because this can lead to a broken succulent.

To avoid skinny succulents, make sure that your plants get all the light they need and that you are watering them correctly.

Image: istockphoto.com / greenleaf123