Cacti are succulent plants native to some of the most arid places on earth. They come in all shapes and sizes, and the smaller varieties make great indoor plants because they are low-maintenance and easy to care for.
A common problem experienced by cactus owners is when their cactus become squishy or soft to the touch.
The probable causes of this change in texture are fungal and bacterial infections, too much water, root rot, poor drainage, humidity, pests, and injury.
In this article, we will discuss each of these causes and how to resolve them. So, if you are currently struggling with this problem and want to learn more, then keep reading.
Why is my cactus squishy?
1. Fungi and bacteria
One of the reasons your cactus is squishy could be an infection caused by either a fungus or bacteria.
If aside from the squishiness, you also notice black spots on the body of the cactus, then it is most likely due to a fungal or bacterial disease.
The longer the disease goes untreated and the longer it is allowed to attack the body of the plant, the limper and softer the cactus will become.
Fungal infections on cacti are more likely to happen when the plant is overwatered, in high humidity conditions, or with poor air circulation.
Bacterial infections can come about when the pot or soil is contaminated, or if the water you are giving the plant is unclean.
If you suspect your cactus is squishy because of either a fungal or bacterial infection, you need to treat it as soon as possible.
First, take the diseased plant away from your other plants. Prune off any rotting or dead parts of the plant so that the infection does not continue to spread. Also remove any debris in the pot that has fallen off of the diseased plant.
Spray the plant down with fungicide or bactericide that you can purchase in your local gardening store. If you do not want to use chemicals on your plant or around your house, you can make a neem oil solution by adding two tablespoons of neem oil to a spray bottle full of water.
Treat the plant every three days until you think it has recovered.
The plant will also need to be repotted. Remove it from its pot and wash off as much of the soil as possible from its roots. This soil is contaminated and will need to be replaced.
Wash the pot thoroughly with soap and water to disinfect it before using it again. Make sure the pot is completely dry, fill it with fresh succulent potting mix, and replant your cactus.
You can prevent fungal and bacterial infections by making sure the pot and the soil are always clean, watering the cactus properly, and providing the correct light and humidity for the plant.
2. Too much water
Arguably the most common reason your cactus is squishy is that you are giving it too much water.
Remember that cacti are desert plants that are used to living in dry places. Their bodies are designed to absorb and hold plenty of water to use in the event of a drought, and they do not need to be watered constantly.
If the plant’s soil is constantly wet, the roots will continue to absorb water from the soil until the excess water causes the cells in the plant tissue to burst. This affects the structure of the plant, making it limp, while the excess moisture makes it squishy.
If you think your cactus is being overwatered, stop watering it immediately, and in the future only water the plant when the top two inches of soil are dry.
An overwatered cactus can go up to two weeks without needing water again, and for the soil to dry out.
Place the plant in a spot where it can get lots of sunlight to help the soil dry out faster. Make sure it gets good air circulation, such as near a door or window.
As long as you allow the soil to dry out, the plant should have no problem recovering from the overwatering.
3. Root rot
If a cactus is overwatered for extended periods, it can develop root rot.
Root rot is a condition that starts when the plant’s roots are constantly standing in wet soil, and are unable to dry out between waterings.
The roots will drown and die, and the dead roots will become susceptible to opportunistic pathogens which will make the rot spread more aggressively to the rest of the plant.
The squishy parts of the plant are a result of the rot spreading up the roots and into the rest of the cactus.
The cactus will also be unable to properly absorb water and nutrients because of its compromised roots, causing it to become weak and possibly even die.
If you suspect that your cactus has root rot, you need to remove it from its pot. Wash away as much soil from the roots as possible, and do this gently because the roots will be very fragile in this condition.
Inspect the roots for brown and black sections. These are rotten and will have to be pruned off. Use a sterile knife or scissors to cut off the rotten roots, until only the healthy, white roots remain.
Place the plant on a dry paper towel to let the air of the root dry for several hours.
Prepare a new pot, ensuring that it has drainage holes, and fill it with fresh succulent potting mix.
Place the cactus in the middle of the pot and cover the roots with more potting mix.
Prevent future root rot by avoiding overwatering the plant and making sure that the soil and the pot have adequate drainage.
It is not guaranteed that your cactus will recover from root rot; it will depend on the severity of the damage. If you were able to catch the rot in its early stages, the plant will have a higher chance of making a full recovery.
4. Poor drainage
If your cactus does not have good drainage, it might also become squishy after some time.
Poor drainage, overwatering, and root rot usually go hand in hand when it comes to this problem.
Poor drainage leads to waterlogged soil, which leads to overwatering, which ultimately leads to root rot.
A cactus can have poor drainage if the pot is too small for the plant, or if the pot does not have any drainage holes at the bottom.
A small pot fills up with water quickly and, because there are no drainage holes, the excess water will not be able to flow out.
Poorly-draining potting mix can also hold onto water for too long and can lead to similar problems.
If your cactus is squishy due to poor drainage, you might need to change your pot.
If the roots in the pot are forming a ball, it is an indication that the pot might be too small, and your new pot should be one size bigger.
Use a succulent potting mix that is airy and porous, and does not hold onto water for too long.
Also, make sure the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot are big enough. Use a drill if you need to add more holes or if you want to make the existing holes larger.
Another possible reason your cactus is squishy is that you are keeping it in a very humid place.
Cacti are native to the desert, where the humidity is naturally low and the air is dry. If the cactus is in a humid environment, it will become limp and soft because of all the moisture in the air.
Humid environments also encourage the growth of fungi which, as we mentioned, can also cause cacti to become squishy.
If you are keeping the cactus in a humid environment, transfer it immediately to a place where the humidity is lower.
Dry areas where the plant gets plenty of sunlight are perfect for a cactus.
If all the areas in your home are too humid for the plant, you can use a dehumidifier to lower the humidity in the room where you keep the plant.
Water your cactus less if it is in a humid environment. Wait until the top two inches of soil are completely dry to the touch before watering it again.
The most commonly observed insects on cacti are mealybugs and scale insects. Both of these pests will cause damage to the cactus by feeding on the sap in the plant’s tissue.
These insects also leave a substance called honeydew on the plant, which attracts other insects such as ants. These will cause even more damage to an already damaged plant.
The longer the infestation is left untreated, the more damage will be inflicted on the plant and the weaker it will become due to loss of water and nutrients.
If you see pests on your cactus, get rid of them using a pesticide. If you do not want to use a chemical pesticide, you can also use neem oil, which is an organic pesticide. Mix two tablespoons of neem oil to a spray bottle full of water and spray the solution directly on the affected areas of the plant.
You can also dip a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol to manually remove the insects one by one, or use a stream of water from a hose to knock the insects off the foliage.
Repeat the processes as long as needed until you are sure that all the pests have been eradicated.
While you are treating your plant, keep it in another part of the house where it can be quarantined, so the pests do not spread to your other plants.
If there are parts of the plant that were heavily damaged by the insects, do not be afraid to cut those off with a sterile knife or scissors.
If all of the causes listed above have been ruled out, then the squishiness of your cactus is most likely due to an untreated injury.
You might have dropped the plant, or it could have been hit by an object without your knowledge.
Pests can cause injuries, as can the animals living in your home.
No matter how small the injury, it can still become infected and this will lead to the plant rotting, hence the squishiness.
If you are able to find the injury on your cactus, you need to treat it as soon as possible.
Use a bactericide or a fungicide to prevent bacteria or fungi from entering the plant through the injury.
If the injury looks fresh, you can just clean it with mild soap and water.
If the injury is significant, you might need to cut off the damaged part of the cactus in order to save it. Use a sterile knife or scissors to do this, so as not to contaminate the plant.
While the cactus is recovering from an injury, do not expose it to direct sunlight.
Cacti are wonderful and fascinating plants that come in all shapes and sizes. They are hardy and resilient plants that are low-maintenance and easy to care for.
One of the most common complaints cactus owners have is when their plant becomes squishy.
The probable reasons your cactus has gone squishy are fungal and bacterial problems, too much water, root rot, poor drainage, humidity, pests and injury.
Correctly identify the cause of your cactus’ squishiness and treatment can be administered promptly to save your plant.
Image: istockphoto.com / singkamc