Why Is My Cactus Turning Yellow? Exploring the Causes of Yellowing

By | Updated on November 30, 2023

A cactus turning yellow can indicate various issues, such as overwatering, wrong soil type, insufficient light, diseases, or pest infestation. The cause can be determined by checking soil moisture and drainage and exposure to light. Adjusting watering and other care factors accordingly is crucial for reviving the plant.

The cactus is one of the most popular plants in the world. They are unique and often beautifully colored, which makes them a favorite for many people.

However, despite their popularity, they can be somewhat difficult to care for.

It’s not uncommon for a cactus to turn yellow, mainly when it is being grown in an environment that is too dry or has the wrong lighting.

But why is my cactus turning yellow?

There can be many reasons for this, so it’s important to diagnose why before treating it.

This blog post will cover why your cactus turns yellow and what you should do about it!

11 Reasons Your Cactus Might Be Turning Yellow

The most common reasons a cactus plant turns yellow are:

1. Overwatering

A yellowing cactus is often the result of overwatering. Cacti need occasional watering but should be watered less than once a week in most cases.

If you overwater your plant, it will turn yellow (sometimes with some brown spots on its edges) and eventually die.

Ensure there are no standing water pools around the base of the plants or pots, which can lead to overwatering problems like root rot or stem decay.

If your cactus is turning yellow due to overwatering, try allowing the soil to dry out between waterings.

If this doesn’t solve the problem, make sure that there are no standing pools around its base and ensure it is getting enough sun and ventilation.

2. Insufficient Light

One common reason your cactus may turn yellow is that it needs more sun.

Cacti need a lot of sunlight to grow and thrive, so if you’ve kept it in the dark for too long, its color will change.

If the plant is outside, ensure no obstacles are blocking sunlight from reaching it.

In addition, check to see if your plants have been recently repotted and need more bright light before they begin sprouting new green growth.

The color of a succulent plant will also depend on its location in an interior setting because some types of artificial lighting can cause it to change its colors over time.

Place an indoor cactus where there’s plenty of natural light.

3. Excessive Sunlight Exposure

Cacti are desert plants that need a lot of light to grow.

However, if you plant your cactus in an area exposed to intense sunlight, it can get fried and turn yellow.

It is common for a cactus to sunburn and turn yellow if the plant is left in a sunny spot for too long.

The best way to prevent this is by repositioning your plant so it isn’t in direct sun all day.

You can also place your cactus plant in a spot with morning sun and afternoon shade or create a screen to block the sun.

Yellowing can also happen if you move your plant from shady to sunny areas.

If the plant is not used to getting so much sun, exposure will damage it and turn yellow.

But this won’t last forever! If you gradually expose your cactus to more sunlight over time, its natural defenses will increase, too, preventing further damage or yellow discoloration.

4. Inadequate Water in Hot Weather or Drought Conditions

A cactus will turn yellow when it does not receive enough water.

This can be caused by too much sun, drought conditions, or just leaving the plant in a pot for a few weeks without watering.

To fix this problem, you’ll need more frequent and thorough watering until the soil is moist again.

If there’s no rain or moisture in the air, misting may also help keep your plant from turning yellow.

If they live in a hot climate or drought conditions and your plant has been yellow for several weeks, you may want to try the following:

First, check that it is not getting sunburned from a location with too much light.

If this is not why it’s turning yellow, provide plenty of water and allow the soil to dry out completely before watering again.

You could also move your plant into an area with partial shade or near an open window where there might be some humidity in the air.

5. Poor Soil Nutrient Content

It will turn yellow if you grow your cactus plant in a pot with poor soil and low nutrient content.

Cacti need high-quality porous soil dense enough to hold water but not so heavy as to make the plant top-heavy or prone to falling over when watered.

Potting soil mixes for cacti (succulent/cactus soil) are usually highly recommended because they contain additional nutrients like iron and calcium, essential for healthy growth.

6. Temperature Fluctuations

Temperature changes are among the most common causes of a cactus turning yellow.

They can be caused by moving it from one location to another or placing it near something that causes significant heat, like an oven vent or heater.

If you have not moved your plant recently and the temperature has changed significantly in its current location, then this may be why your plant is turning yellow.

To prevent a cactus from turning yellow due to temperature change, move your plant to its new location over several days.

Gradually moving it will prevent a plant from turning yellow because of sudden temperature changes.

If you have not moved your plant recently and the temperature has changed significantly in its current location, then this may be why your plant is turning yellow.

When a cactus turns yellow due to sudden changes in the surrounding environment, it can take some time to recover.

In this case, you should wait until the color returns before watering or fertilizing again. Otherwise, root rot could occur if water was applied too soon after the temperature change while staying at high temperatures.

To mitigate the risk of rotting roots on a cactus, maintain the soil’s moisture at a consistently damp but not overly saturated level while gradually acclimating plants to changes in temperature when transferring them between distinct environments.

7. Imbalanced Fertilization

Other reasons why a cactus may turn yellow are over- or under-fertilization. When the plant doesn’t get enough water, it will show signs of stress and eventually turn yellow from lack of nutrients.

If too much fertilizer was applied in one day, this could also cause the surface leaves to turn brown and peel off as they decompose.

Excess fertilizers contain salts that build upon the soil’s surface, blocking moisture from going into roots.

This is hard to do, but the best way to “fix” this problem is by regularly watering the plant without adding fertilizer for at least two weeks.

After a while, you can add fertilizer again slowly until the plant’s leaves look better and have grown new leaves.

8. Pest Infestation

One of the most common reasons a cactus turns yellow is pests attacking it.

Usually, these are bugs such as mealybugs or spider mites that have built up many plant populations and suck all the nutrients out from their yellow leaves.

To avoid this, check your plants often for any signs of pest infestation–a little bit can quickly become overwhelming before you know it!

Most importantly, remove any dead matter around or near your plant so they don’t use those materials as food sources. Dead organic material will only attract more pests.

If you do find an infestation, the best solution I’ve found is to use neem oil.

You apply it as you would an insect repellent–by spraying it on the plant and rubbing it well so that no white traces are left behind. It doesn’t smell good but has amazing results!

9. Diseases

A cactus turning yellow is a sign of various diseases.

One common fungal disease that can cause this symptom is Cephaleuros wilt, caused by the fungus Verticillium dahliae (Vd).

This infection causes water-conducting tissues in the plant to die and lose their ability to transport water throughout the rest of its body. Yellow may also be from other symptoms associated with other illnesses, such as chlorosis.

Chlorosis or iron deficiency most commonly affects cacti and succulents because they absorb very little nutrients from their environment.

When this happens, you may notice your plant turning an overall lighter green color with speckles of light browns.

Though it can happen at any time during a cactus’s life, it usually occurs when the plant gets too much water (meaning overwatering) or not enough water (underwatering).

If left untreated for long periods, diseased cacti will die off altogether.

The solution is to repot them into fresh soil to get new nutrients and a better drainage system. Then, make sure to cut off any dead roots with a pair of scissors and provide plenty of direct sunlight right away!

10. Frost Damage

If the cactus is turning yellow because of frost damage, it may not be able to recover.

Frost damage can cause irreparable harm to a plant’s cells and tissues, resulting in permanent scarring on the surface of the leaves.

This type of injury usually occurs when temperatures drop below freezing overnight, or light freezes over several days.

You can try moving your cacti into an area with more sunlight or higher humidity conditions.

If the cactus was harmed by frost, you may be able to help it recover over time if it’s left in a place where temperatures are about 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

As this area warms up and new growth appears, move your plant back into its normal environment until all signs of frost damage disappear.

11. Exposure to Chemicals

Some chemicals can cause cacti to turn yellow. These include chlorine, fluorine, and other substances found in water or fertilizers.

If your cactus is turning yellow, it may be because of a nearby chemical spill or the excess use of these products around your plants.

If you suspect this might be why, try moving them elsewhere away from any potential sources for contamination- such as sprinklers used on lawns near where they’re sitting on the ground.

Preventing Cacti Yellowing

Ensuring the vibrant health of your cactus requires proactive measures to prevent the occurrence of yellowing.

Here are key strategies to maintain the lush green hue of your beloved succulent:

1. Optimal Sunlight Exposure

Cacti thrive in bright light, but excessive sunlight can lead to sunburn, resulting in yellowing.

To ensure the health of your cactus, it’s crucial to discern its specific sunlight requirements and regulate exposure accordingly.

Consider factors like sunlight intensity and duration, and if necessary, provide shade during peak sun hours to protect your cactus from potential harm.

2. Well-Draining Soil

The key to cactus health is choosing well-draining soil to prevent waterlogging, a common precursor to yellowing.

Incorporate perlite or sand into your potting mix to enhance drainage and safeguard your cactus from stagnant water. This measure is especially vital in preventing root rot, a prevalent issue associated with waterlogged conditions.

3. Watering Practices

Mastering the art of watering is pivotal in preserving your cactus’s vitality.

Overwatering is a primary culprit behind yellowing, leading to root rot and other moisture-related complications.

Establish a meticulous watering routine, allowing the soil to dry between sessions thoroughly.

Adjust the frequency based on environmental conditions, recognizing that your cactus’s water needs may fluctuate with temperature and humidity.

4. Appropriate Pot Size

Choose an appropriately sized pot to give your cactus the spatial comfort it deserves.

Transplanting into a larger container as the cactus grows accommodates expanding roots and averts overcrowding. This proactive approach fosters healthier growth patterns, reducing the risk of yellowing induced by restrictive pot sizes.

5. Proper Feeding

Nurture your cactus with a balanced fertilizer during active growth phases, adhering to recommended dosages to prevent over-fertilization, a potential source of nutrient imbalances leading to yellowing.

Select a fertilizer specifically formulated for cacti to address their unique nutritional needs. This strategic feeding regimen fortifies your cactus against deficiencies that compromise its vibrant green appearance.

6. Pest Management

Vigilance is key in the battle against pests undermining your cactus’s well-being.

Regularly inspect the plant for signs of infestation, such as webbing, discoloration, or visible insects. Promote targeted measures to curb pest spread, such as insecticidal soaps or neem oil.

Timely intervention shields your plant from adverse effects, including yellow spots or blemishes caused by pest-related stress.

7. Temperature Considerations

Acknowledge the impact of temperature on your cactus’s health, especially during colder periods.

Shield your plant from extreme cold, as frost exposure can trigger stress responses, including yellowing.

Implement protective measures like relocating the cactus indoors or providing insulation to mitigate temperature-related stressors and sustain its vibrant green vitality.

8. Pruning and Maintenance

Maintain your cactus’s impeccable appearance and health through regular pruning and upkeep.

Promptly remove any yellow or diseased segments not only for aesthetic reasons but also to impede the spread of issues contributing to further yellowing.

Pruning encourages new, healthy growth, fostering a robust and resilient cactus less susceptible to discoloration and other stress-induced symptoms.

Incorporating these preventive measures into your cactus care routine can significantly reduce the risk of yellowing and ensure your plant remains a vibrant and healthy addition to your botanical collection.

Can a Yellowing Cactus Turn Green Again?

This depends on why the cactus has turned yellow in the first place.

As we’ve seen, some reasons are due to the damage that can’t be undone, such as exposure to chemicals or being eaten by pests.

Other times, moving your plant to a more ideal environment for its growth may only be a matter of moving it to a more ideal environment.

In most cases, however, a yellow cactus will not turn green again on its own accord.

Trying one of the treatments we’ve listed above may help get your cactus back to its original color, but it’s also possible that the plant will remain yellow or even die if the cause of the problem is not remedied.

Final Thoughts

The yellowing of your cactus can result from various factors, necessitating a thorough assessment of the cactus and its surroundings.

An essential factor to consider in comprehending the yellowing issue is the potential influence of inadequate care. Therefore, when faced with a cactus exhibiting a yellow hue, the initial proactive step is to examine your care routine for deficiencies.

By identifying and rectifying these lapses in your home and garden, you can significantly restore your cactus to a vibrant and healthy state.

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