What Is Cactus Etiolation? The Causes & 5 Ways To Prevent It?

What Is Cactus Etiolation?

What is cactus etiolation? It is when a cactus plant does not get enough light, and its stem curl up. Even the cacti plants grow taller to get sunlight, but the plant becomes pale and thinner.

Although the cactus plant is easy to grow, it does not require much water. But this may cause cactus stretching, resulting in cactus etiolation.

Are you worried about your cactus plant but cannot figure out the symptoms? This article is for you!

This will teach you the major causes, effects, and ways to prevent and treat the etiolated cactus.

So, let’s dive in!

What Is Cactus Etiolation?

Before moving to the question what is cactus etiolation?, let’s discuss the cactus plant first.

Cacti are perennial succulent plants. They can be differentiated from other succulent plants by the presence of areoles (small structures from which branches and flowers may grow).

Most cacti plants have no leaves to reduce the surface area for water loss. The stem does photosynthesis for the plant.

If your cactus plant loses its natural color, looks unhealthy, or becomes thinner gradually, it may be an etiolated cactus.

They may grow taller to fetch light, but their stems curl up due to light deficiency.

So, a few gardeners ignore it thinking that the growing cactus shows that it is fine, but actually isn’t!

Not only the light but the poor soil quality and low humidity can also result in succulent etiolation.

Due to this cactus plant does not have enough chlorophyll to protect itself from harmful UV rays.

Besides monitoring, you can do nothing to prevent and treat etiolated cactus.

Remember: The etiolated cacti are more prone to stem and root diseases.

If you don’t know the symptoms or causes of the etiolation in cacti, you will never be able to figure it out in yours.

So, let’s jump to the causes of etiolation.

3 Major Causes of Cactus Etiolation

The primary reason for etiolation in cactus plants is the lack of sunlight. It may be due to the plants growing nearby or something blocking its way to direct sun.

Cactus does not require watering frequently, but they do need much sunlight. The whole plant should be exposed to the sun so that it thrives.

But there are other reasons too that cause cactus etiolation. Let’s discover them too!

Shorter light periods

As discussed earlier, sunlight plays an essential role in the healthy growth of the cactus plant. So are the light periods.

Do you know? Cactus plant requires around 12 to 14 hours of direct sunlight during the day. That’s why it shows good growth during summer.

Low humidity

Low humidity can be the cause of etiolation in cactus plants. It dries out the plant. This usually happens during specific periods of the year.

To avoid this cause, you may start watering the cactus plant on and off. Or use a terrarium to help it not to lose moisture much.

Excess Fertilizer quantity

Besides light and humidity, too much fertilizer can cause cacti to stretch.

When you apply excess fertilizer to cactus plants, they overgrow with no sunlight reaching all parts evenly. This makes the plant weaker, which eventually causes the cactus to etiolate.

What do these 3 causes do to the cactus plant? Let’s move to the effects of the etiolation in cacti.

4 Common Effects of Etiolation In The Cactus Plant

once you understood what is cactus etiolation, it is now time for you to look into some effects. Healthy cacti look green and have a strong stems with upright leaves. It stores a lot of water and uses it later, and it also booms colorful flowers during its season (depending on the type).

But when your cactus plant is etiolated, you may find any or all of the following effects.

Retarded growth

Cactus etiolation impacts the growth of the plant negatively. The plant looks unhealthy and does not show average growth.

Uneven and drooping leaves

Healthy cactus plant has even leaves growth in perfect symmetry. While an etiolated cactus has uneven leaf growth.

Also, the leaves of the affected cactus start to droop gradually. Before drooping, they may show a slight color change.

Spindly stems

Usually, healthy cacti have thick stems and grow leaves as the stem grows. But the affected cactus plant has a stem growing taller and taller in search of sunlight. This makes the stem weaker and thinner.

No flowering during the season

Your cactus does not grow flowers when it’s time to bloom. It may be the effect of etiolation in cacti.

To avoid this, you should take care of its proper sunlight and other minor factors (discussed above).

Tip: You should grow cacti during the late spring and early summer to enjoy their full bloom!

How To Identify That The Cactus Is Etiolated?

What Is Cactus Etiolation?

Got yourself aware of what is cactus etiolation? Want to know how to figure it out? You can look for initial symptoms to identify the etiolation in cactus. A few of them are discussed below.

Leaves start turning yellow or brown

Either your cactus plant is not getting sufficient sunlight or is being overwatered; its leaves will turn yellow and brown before falling off the plant.

So, turning the leaves yellow should make you think twice about your plant’s health.

Spikes falling off without being touched

If your cactus plant’s spikes start falling off without being touched, it’s a sign that your plant is etiolated.

And this majorly is due to the deficiency of sunlight.

Cacti lose their symmetry

This is the most common symptom from which you can identify that your cactus is etiolated.

Cactus plants lose their symmetry and grow unevenly in different directions.

One side of the cactus plant gets discoloured

When the sunlight does not reach all parts equally, one side may get yellowish, causing cactus etiolation.

One side can also become thicker than the other. The reason is that the roots grow unevenly, i.e., with uneven water distribution.

Etiolated cactus, What To Do?

Have you identified any one or more than one symptom in your cacti plants and now are wondering what to do?

Here are the treatment ways and the etiolated cactus care tips.

5 ways to Treat etiolated cactus

knowing what is cactus etiolation is not enough. you will need to Can you make the cactus look healthy again? Well, the answer may be yes or maybe no.

Once the cactus gets stretched, it’s almost impossible to recover. But many ways can help better its condition if it has not gone so bad yet.

A few of them include:

Stop overwatering the cactus

If you have been regularly watering the cactus the same as other plants, stop that!

Because the cactus plant does not require that much water stay alive, it requires sunlight more than water.

Remember: Overwatering the cactus plant makes its roots grow more, and they move away in search of nutrients.

Also, never plant it in staying water. Reduce water exposure to cacti to keep a balance between water and nutrients.

Longer direct light periods

As mentioned earlier, cacti require 12 to 14 hours of direct sun exposure. So, to avoid cactus etiolation, place it in direct light for longer. Especially if you accidentally have overwatered it.

Place the cactus plant outside

If your cactus plant etiolated when you placed it inside. It is recommended that you move it out.

Moving out will increase. It’s natural light exposure that eventually would decrease the etiolation effects.

You may keep the plant in the shade if you do not have any open area where direct sunlight enters.

Trims are essential

The easiest and quick way to reverse cactus etiolation is to trim it.

Cutting the upper ends will expose the roots more to the sun, which will help the plant recover and grow healthier branches.

Prune the damaged leaves

At times cacti get etiolated because of the damaged leaves that were not pruned on time.

Also, pruning damaged leaves prevent cactus from getting a bacterial or fungal infection that may damage the plant further.

What if your cactus has lost its symmetry completely, or you just want to fix it healthily? Propagating the etiolated cactus is the best way to do so. Here’s how you can achieve that.

Propagating the etiolated cactus

To propagate the cactus, follow the following simple steps:

  • Separate the cactus plant from its roots using a pruner.
  • Now remove the leaves by gently moving them to and fro and slightly twisting them.
  • If your cactus has a fresh flower at the top, don’t pluck it; just leave it like that.
  • But if it has all the leaves big and mature, you can pluck all.
  • Now, prepare the soil and plant the stem (with or without leaves), leaving only the upper leaves out.
  • Now, it’s time to plant all the leaves in a tray.
  • Place the soil in the tray and arrange all the leaves upside down.
  • Now, wait a week before watering the leaves and the stem (let them dry and heal).

Remember: It takes around a month when the little cactus leaves to start sprouting, so wait patiently.

When they start growing, you may shift them in separate pots. Every leave will become a separate cactus.

Preventing Cactus Etiolation

As your question what is cactus etiolation has been answered above, its important to figure out its prevention. As the cactus is a succulent, it needs sunlight more than other plants.

But merely keeping it in sunlight does not guarantee that your cactus plant won’t get etiolation.

Along with proper sunlight, you should also check the fertilizer amount you’re applying and the humidity level around the cactus plant.

Remember: Water deficiency may also result in etiolation, so make sure you water your cactus sparingly.

Keep the balance between the water and the nutrients so that the roots and stems grow hand in hand.

Trim the branches if you find them turning yellow or brown; this will stop further damage.

Wrap up!

This article covers what is cactus etiolation. Cactus etiolation happens when your cactus plant stems curl up, and the leaves start drooping, turning yellow or brown.

Major causes of etiolation in cactus and its effects. Among major causes, sunlight deficiency, overwatering, low humidity, and excess fertilizer can cause problems. Unhealthy cacti with no blooming are shown if the cactus is etiolated.

Once you have found the answer to what is cactus etiolation you must look for how to identify the etiolated cactus, and what to do with etiolated cactus? Cactus losing symmetry and changing their color are easy-to-identify signs. And you can somehow treat it by taking care of a few factors, including moving it out, trimming its branches, stopping overwatering, and pruning the damaged leaves.

It also covers the prevention tips that can help you avoid etiolation in the future. The critical factor is balancing the water, sunlight, and the plant’s nutrients.

Do you have more questions related to the etiolation in cactus? Here are the answers to the frequently asked questions.

Frequently asked questions

Does cutting an etiolated cactus help it recover?

This is one of the ways to help cacti recover from etiolation. You should also consider other factors like humidity, oxygen, watering, and fertilizer that play a role in the healthy growth of the cactus.

Why is my cactus skinny?

This is because of the cactus etiolation. The new branches that emerge are weaker and grow tall for sunlight.

How to fix a leggy or stretched cactus?

Propagating the cactus is the best way to do so. Above, you can find the complete process in detail.

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