Why is my cactus turning yellow?

Cacti are popular houseplants, known for their unique appearance, low maintenance requirements, and ability to thrive in harsh conditions.

Have you ever wondered “Why is my cactus turning yellow”? Despite their hardiness, yellowing is a common issue faced by cactus owners.

In this article, we will explore the common causes of yellowing cacti, the symptoms to look out for, and how to revive and prevent this issue. The yellowing of a cactus can indicate a variety of issues, from improper watering to nutrient deficiencies.

Understanding the cause of yellowing is essential in reviving your cactus and keeping it healthy for years to come. With the right care and attention, you can keep your cactus looking vibrant and thriving.

Symptoms of Yellowing Cacti

Discoloration of Stems and Leaves

One of the first signs of yellowing in cacti is a change in the color of the stems and leaves. The green pigment may fade to yellow, or the cactus turning brown, or even black, indicating a problem with the plant.

Wilting and Drooping

Another symptom of yellowing cacti is wilting and drooping. This can be caused by a lack of water or other environmental factors, such as a sudden change in temperature or exposure to direct sunlight.

Yellowing of Spines and Buds

The spines and buds of a cactus are also an indicator of the plant’s health. If the spines and buds turn yellow, it can indicate a lack of water or a nutrient deficiency.

Soft or Discolored Spots

Soft or discolored spots on the surface of a cactus can also be a sign of yellowing. These spots can be caused by pests, diseases, or environmental factors, such as exposure to cold temperatures or over-watering.

To diagnose the problem, it’s important to examine the plant closely and consider all possible causes.

Common Causes of Yellowing Cacti


Overwatering is one of the most common causes of yellowing cacti. Cacti are native to arid regions, where water is scarce and they have developed the ability to store water in their fleshy stems. When cacti receive too much water, the soil becomes waterlogged and the roots are unable to access the oxygen they need to survive. This leads to root rot, which can cause yellowing and wilting of the leaves and stems.

It is important to be mindful of the watering schedule for your cacti and to only water them when the soil has completely dried out. This can vary depending on the size of the pot, the type of soil, and the environment, but a general rule is to wait until the top inch of soil is dry to the touch before watering. To avoid overwatering, make sure the pot has proper drainage holes and remove any excess water from the saucer after watering.

It is also important to consider the humidity and temperature in your home, as higher humidity levels can cause the soil to retain more moisture and take longer to dry out. If you live in a humid environment, you may need to water your cacti less frequently or consider using a potting mix specifically designed for cacti and succulent plants.

In conclusion, overwatering is a common cause of yellowing cacti and can be prevented by monitoring the soil moisture levels and avoiding watering when the soil is still moist. If you suspect that your cactus is becoming squishy, it is best to let the soil dry out completely and to be mindful of your watering schedule moving forward.

Overwatering the cactus


On the other hand, underwatering a cactus plant can be an issue as well, when its leaves begin to shrivel and turn yellow, indicating that they are stressed.

To prevent underwatering, checking on your cactus regularly is important, making sure the soil has completely dried out before the next watering. It is also important to choose a well-draining potting mix and avoid over-watering, as soggy soil can lead to root rot, which can also cause yellowing.

Lack of Sunlight

Lack of sunlight may cause yellowing too. The cactus is a desert plant that is adapted to strong, direct sunlight. When grown as houseplants, it is important to recreate their native conditions as closely as possible.

Placing cacti in areas with low or too much light can cause their leaves to yellow. This can be due to the plant not being able to produce enough chlorophyll, which is essential for healthy growth and the conversion of light energy into food.

To prevent this, it is recommended to place cacti in a location with bright, indirect light and to rotate them periodically to ensure even exposure to light. Additionally, it is worth mentioning that some cacti, such as the Barrel cactus, are particularly sensitive to strong sunlight and may need to be placed in areas with more shade to prevent leaf burn.

Nutrient Deficiency

Cacti, like all plants, need a balanced intake of nutrients to maintain healthy growth and appearance. When a cactus is lacking in certain nutrients, its leaves can turn yellow, indicating that the plant is under stress.

Some of the essential nutrients that cacti need include nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are typically found in fertilizer.

If you suspect that a yellow cactus is due to nutrient deficiency, it is recommended to provide it with a balanced fertilizer that contains the necessary nutrients and to follow the instructions for application.

Pests and Diseases

Pests and diseases can also cause yellowing in cacti. Aphids, spider mites, and mealybugs are common pests that can attack cacti, while root rot and stem rot are common diseases.

Reviving and Preventing Yellowing Cacti

Cacti are popular plants in homes due to their low maintenance requirements. However, yellowing cacti can be a sign of a problem and may require intervention.

To revive a yellowing cactus and prevent it from happening again, it’s important to understand the underlying causes.

Proper Watering

One of the most common causes of yellowing cacti is incorrect watering. Overwatering can lead to root rot and cause the cactus plant to turn yellow, while underwatering can cause the plant to become wilted and discolored.

To ensure proper watering, only water your cactus when the top inch of the soil is dry. You should also be careful not to overwater, as this can lead to root rot and other problems.

Adequate Sunlight

Another common cause of yellowing cacti is a lack of sunlight. Cacti need a lot of sunlight to thrive, so it’s important to place your cactus in a location where it will receive plenty of bright, direct sunlight.

If your cactus is turning yellow due to a lack of sunlight, move it to a sunnier location and keep an eye on it to make sure it’s getting enough light.

Adequate Sunlight

Appropriate Nutrient Supply

Nutrient deficiencies can also cause cacti to turn yellow. Cacti need a balanced supply of nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

If you suspect your cactus is experiencing a nutrient deficiency, consider fertilizing it with a cactus-specific fertilizer.

Regular Pest and Disease Management

Finally, pests, funghi and diseases can cause cacti to turn yellow. Regularly inspecting your cactus and treating it with appropriate pesticides can help prevent pest and disease problems.

Additionally, it’s essential to keep your cactus clean and free from dead leaves and other debris, as this can attract pests and create conditions for disease.

Types of Cacti and how they need special treatment

Different cacti can have different issues and it’s important to know how to solve them. Many species of cacti grow in various regions of the world, from Asia to Africa, Europe, America, and South America.

They thrive in well-draining, sandy soil and strong sunlight, so it’s important to recreate their natural conditions as much as possible when growing them as house plants.

The first step in fixing any problem with your cactus is to identify the type of cactus you have and what might be causing the issue. Here’s a brief rundown of common problems faced by various types of cacti and how to solve them.

The Totem Pole cactus may turn yellow when it’s feeling very dry. To resolve the issue, simply give it a generous drink of water. Make sure the soil feels dry to the touch before watering and then let the whole root ball become moist.

The Pencil cactus may shed its older leaves, which will turn yellow. This is a normal part of the plant’s growing process and the leaves can simply be removed. However, you should also check if other issues such as improper watering, soil, fertilizer, or sunlight are affecting the plant.

When Euphorbia cactus leaves are turning yellow, they may need more light. Try moving it to a sunnier location and check the watering. Too much water can also cause yellowing, so make sure to not overwater the plant. Finally, check for root rot and drafty conditions, which may also be causing the yellowing.

Euphoria cactus

The Moon cactus is actually two cacti grafted together, with the top part producing colorful flowers. When cactus turns yellow, it’s often due to dryness and lack of watering. Ensure the soil is suitable for good drainage and only water when the topsoil is dry. Fertilizing before flowering with low-nitrogen feed is also beneficial for the plant.

If the leaves of your Barrel cactus are turning yellow, it may be due to strong sunlight causing leaf burn. To resolve the issue, simply move the cactus to a location with indirect sunlight. Over-watering can also be a problem, so make sure to let the soil dry out between waterings and check the soil before adding more water.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is yellowing a normal part of a cactus’ life cycle?

It depends on the type of cactus and the cause of the yellowing. For some species, like the Pencil Cactus, shedding older yellow leaves is a normal part of their growth cycle.

However, yellowing can also be a sign of stress or a problem with the plant’s growing conditions, such as over-watering, lack of sunlight, or pest infestations. In these cases, it is not normal and steps should be taken to resolve the issue.

What type of cactus is most susceptible to yellowing?

It is difficult to determine a specific type of cactus that is most susceptible to yellowing as it can occur in any species of cactus. The yellowing of cacti can be caused by various factors such as over-watering, under-watering, lack of sunlight, and exposure to cold temperatures.

It is important to monitor your cactus regularly and observe any changes in its appearance in order to determine the cause of yellowing and take appropriate measures to fix the issue.

Can a yellow cactus turn green again?

Yellowing of cacti can be prevented or reversed in some cases. The causes of yellowing can vary and include improper watering, insufficient sunlight, nutrient deficiencies, pest infestations, and others.

To prevent or reverse yellowing, you should first determine the cause of the problem and take appropriate action, such as adjusting watering habits, moving the cactus to a sunnier location, adding fertilizer, or treating pest infestations. By providing the cactus with the proper care, you may be able to prevent or reverse the yellowing.

Can a yellow cactus turn green again?

What type of soil is best for preventing yellowing?

Cacti prefer well-draining, sandy soil that mimics their native desert environment. Soil that is too dense or holds too much moisture can lead to root rot, which can cause the yellowing of the leaves. It’s important to choose soil that allows for proper drainage and air circulation for your cactus.

What type of fertilizer is best for cacti to prevent yellowing?

To prevent yellowing, it is best to use a low-nitrogen fertilizer specifically designed for cacti. Nitrogen is important for plant growth but too much of it can cause yellowing.

A balanced cactus fertilizer with the proper ratio of nutrients will provide the necessary nutrients for healthy growth and prevent yellowing. Following the label instructions when using fertilizer is important, as over-fertilizing can also lead to yellowing.


Cactus plants are beautiful, resilient plants that can thrive in a variety of conditions. However, if you notice your cactus turning yellow, it may be due to too much sun exposure or a nutrient deficiency. Ensure the soil is suitable for good drainage and only water when the topsoil is dry.

Additionally, check for pests and diseases as they could also cause yellowing leaves on your cactus plant. If all else fails, try moving your outdoor or indoor cactus to an area with indirect sunlight. With proper care and attention, desert plants like cacti will bring joy into any home!