The cacti watering mistake that could be killing your plant

The most common cacti watering mistake people make, according to a plant expert

Cacti and watering can
(Image credit: marinesea/ Getty)

You're probably watering your cacti all wrong, plant experts are warning. Part of the reason why cacti never go out of fashion is that they are very easy-going plants, suitable even for complete beginners. They also, unlike most tropical plants, don't mind temperature fluctuations, making them suitable for placing on window sills. 

However, even the best indoor plants can suffer if cared for incorrectly. And cacti in particular are often killed with too much kindness – that is, too much watering. 

Why you're watering your cactus all wrong

Cactus being watered from a watering can

(Image credit: Catherine Falls Commercial/ Getty)

The main problem is that many plant lovers make the mistake of caring for cacti in the same way they care for their other houseplants, most of which come from tropical rainforests. Cacti, in the main, come from arid or semi-arid climates with generally much drier weather conditions than rainforests. They store water in their trunks, which allows them to go weeks, or even months, without water. 

Watering plants regularly is typically a necessary part of keeping them healthy, but this just isn't the case with cacti. 

Richard Cheshire, Plant Doctor at Patch Plants, explains, 'cacti don’t need a regular watering schedule', so go ahead and 'let the soil completely dry out and stay that way. Rest assured that if you forget your cactus for weeks (or months!) on end, you can nearly always bring it back to life with a little bit of water - just wet the top layer of soil.'

You really don't need to water your cactus every week, or even every other week – just water it occasionally, when it looks really dry. In winter Richard recommends laying off the watering altogether. That's right – your cactus garden ideas include months of no watering. 

When the growing season starts again in March, start watering them again. 

The correct method for watering your cactus

Watering a cactus

(Image credit: Catherine Falls Commercial/ Getty)

But what about the way your water your cactus? You may have read that it's bad for your cactus if water hits its stem. However, Rachel Martin, plant expert at Patch, assures cacti lovers that damage from water coming into contact with the stem is 'quite rare', water simply 'rolls down' it before it can cause any problems. So, don't worry about water from the side of the pot, it really doesn't matter too much. 

However, it's a different matter if you're learning how to grow succulents; with these plants, 'water can pool on the leaves and cause rotting this way.' That means you're better off watering those plants from below, by filling a tray with water and letting their roots take up what they need. 

Anna writes about interior design and gardening. Her work has appeared in Homes & Gardens, Livingetc, and many other publications. She is an experienced outdoor and indoor gardener and has a passion for growing roses and Japanese maples in her outside space.