Houseplant clinic: why is my cactus turning yellow?

If you've noticed your cactus turning yellow, there are a few steps you can take to work out the cause. Our expert tips will help you make the right diagnosis

bunny ear cactus potted outside that is turning yellow
(Image credit: Getty)

If you're wondering, 'why is my cactus turning yellow' we're here to help. Cacti bring lovely greenery and life into your interior while being ultra low-maintenance. For that reason, we think they're some of the best indoor plants you can buy if you don't have the best track record with houseplants.

Although they're generally happy under pretty hands-off supervision, cacti do demand a little bit of looking after. If you notice your favorite cactus is turning yellow, there are a few things it could be.

collection of cacti and houseplants in pots, with some raised on a wooden platform

(Image credit: Abstract House)

Why is my cactus turning yellow?

A cactus turning yellow could indicate too much light, the wrong soil type, or a too-small pot. The yellowish color is a sign of stress, but don't panic, as you can probably revive it. Most likely, is that you're underwatering or overwatering. 

It could be that you're making a common cacti watering mistake and drowning your plant. This can be easily remedied by tweaking your watering routine. We asked a houseplant expert for her tips for if your cactus is developing a yellowish tinge. 

Beth Chapman is the founder of houseplant store Leaf Envy, which offers a huge range of indoor plants and cacti. She has plenty of expertise in this area and says that although there's no one-size-fits-all answer, there are a few common factors surrounding its environment and conditions.

Beth Chapman, founder of Leaf Envy writing at laptop surrounded by houseplants

(Image credit: Leaf Envy)

'First, it is important to understand where your cactus is positioned in the home,' she tells us. 'Unlike most plants, cacti enjoy plenty of bright direct sunlight.

'Not being exposed to enough light could impact its health and cause yellowing,' Beth explains. 'Second, cacti can survive desert heat and drought-like conditions, meaning they don't need as much watering as the rest of your plant collection.'

Only water plants when the soil has turned dry, Beth says, and remember to reduce watering over the winter months in general. If you've overwatered your cactus, she says to stop watering until the soil has dried and check whether the roots have died.

potted indoor cactus being watered with a glass jug

(Image credit: Getty)

'If they haven't died, you are in luck, and we advise you to re-pot your plant with cacti-specific soil,' says Beth. 'Make sure you wear gloves though, it can get a bit prickly!'

Although those in the UK won't be able to grow cacti outside, for anyone living in warm and dry climates, there's a whole world of creative cactus garden ideas for creating a striking outdoor display.

Whether you're the proud owner of a collection of ladyfingers and blue columnar cacti — or if a large bunny ear cactus brings a Joshua Tree vibe to your living room, cacti and other succulents are a great choice. If you spot a yellowish tinge to yours, you'll now know to go through a process of elimination to fix it.

Millie Hurst
News Writer

Millie Hurst has worked in digital journalism for five years, having previously worked as a Senior SEO Editor at News UK both in London and New York. She joined the Future team in early 2021, working across several brands, including Gardeningetc. Now, she is Senior Content Editor at Ideal Home, taking care of evergreen articles aimed at inspiring people to make the most of their homes and outdoor spaces.