Why are My Cactus Spines Falling Off?

You look at your cactus one day to see the spines have begun to fall off. When the spines fall off the plant, the cactus doesn’t look as beautiful, and it can even die without its spines. Let’s have a look at how you might stop your cactus spines from falling off.

Why are my cactus spines falling off? This could happen for several reasons like direct physical contact or because of root rot. It could also mean that your cactus suffered damage. In some cases, it happens because of pests. The mealybug, in particular, is known for causing this.

One of the Signs of a Dying Cactus

When the spines of the cactus pull off the cactus easily, it shows you how your cactus could be dying. Normally, the spines don’t come off easily unless it has begun to die. 

Direct Physical Contact with Your Cactus

As much as possible, you want to avoid direct physical with your cactus because it can break off the spines from the cactus. Once the spines come off the cactus, they don’t regenerate on most species. The cactus will grow larger and the missing spines will become less pronounced over time, but the spines never grow back in that area for most cactus species.

Root Rot Causes the Spines to Fall Off

Root rot causes the spines to fall off in some cases. Cactus mostly live in the desert. They weren’t meant for soil that holds wetness over the long term. That can kill the cactus, and as the cactus dies, the spines fall out.

When you go to make the soil for your cactus, use the right kind of soil. This means a grittier, sandier type of soil that doesn’t hold the water. You will also only water your plant once per week. When you water it, drench it because cactus are used to this type of water. It mirrors their natural habitat.

Along with wet rot, which comes about because of water, you have dry rot, which happens because of fungi or bacteria. You will notice dry rot because your cactus starts to turn brown. On the other hand, wet rot will make your cactus wet and mushy.

Pests Can Damage Your Cactus

As we said before, pests have the potential to do a lot of damage to your cactus. In particular, watch for the mealybug. This pest most commonly causes the spines of your cactus to fall off. Seeing mealybugs, you will see a white bug that resembles a white cotton substance.

You don’t always see mealybugs. In some cases, you will see the mealybugs on the roots. If you don’t see them on the cactus, look for them in the roots. As the mealybugs suck out the juices of the cactus, it will lose its spines. Left unchecked and unchallenged, it will kill your cactus as the mealybugs suck the life from the cactus.

The second and possibly more deadly pest to have on your cactus is the nematode. This parasite hides in the roots of your cactus. Unfortunately, most people don’t catch nematodes in time, so the cactus dies. Some of the symptoms of nematodes include discolorations on the cactus, swollen roots and a loss of spines.

You want to handle pests before they get out of control because they will kill your plant. Apple cider vinegar sprayed from a bottle kills mealybugs while freezing temperature or cold winds can kill nematodes.

Poor Nutrients in Soil and Fertilizer

As much as possible, you want to pack the soil with nutrients. Choose a fertilizer with many types of nutrients because poor nutrients can cause the cactus spines to fall off. Your cactus itself could also become discolored because of poor nutrients in the soil.

Let’s say that you haven’t put fertilizer on your cactus in three years. This could be a good indication of why the cactus spines have fallen off your plant. In particular, soil that lacks potassium could cause the cactus spines to fall off. That is why they often recommend potash and lower nitrogen with fertilizers for cactus.

In general, good cactus fertilizer isn’t too difficult for the requirements. Consider diluted houseplant foods. You might look for a 5-10-5 solution. To apply the fertilizer, you will dissolve 1 tablespoon of it in a gallon of water.

Apply the fertilizer during the growing season for the most benefit. Many fertilizers come in liquid form, and you need to dilute them for the best results. You might choose a slow-release fertilizer, especially good for cactus, which eliminates the risk of fertilizer burn. Fertilizer burn puts excess nitrogen salts into your cactus, and this could lead to a loss of cactus spines.

Beware of Fake Flowers

In some cases, cactus needles fall off because of fake flowers that the retailer glued to the cactus to sell more flowers. Don’t buy from retailers who do this. Not only does it set a poor precedent, but you buy a damaged cactus because of how the hot glue damages the cactus.

Your cactus spines could fall off because of this, and once they fall off, they don’t return. It might look attractive at the checkout, but you will regret buying cactus with fake flowers on them.

To identify fake flowers, look where the flower sits on the cactus. Many times, the retailer places the fake flower directly on the top of the cactus. Real cactuses don’t bloom like that. With real cactus, their flowers always grow from the most mature part of the plant. That’s how you can identify fake flowers. A flower perfectly centered on the cactus isn’t a real one.

Don’t Overwater the Cactus

In some cases, your cactus could lose its spines if you oversaturate the cactus with water. You might use a dry towel to dab the water. Overwatering the cactus can happen easily, so you have to watch.

People often overwater their cactus in the colder climates because they don’t let the cactus go through dormant season. Because of the lack of sunlight, this can cause the cactus to get overwatered.

Don’t Underwater the Cactus

You don’t want to overwater the cactus, nor do you want to underwater it. In particular, this becomes more of a problem with larger cactus. The spines will start to fall off, but one of the other signs of an underwatered cactus comes from it shriveling up. When you have a plump plant, you can rest assured that you have enough water in it.

How You Put the Cactus in the Sun

More cactus have died from someone who transplanted their cactus and put it on the wrong side than anything else. You have to make sure that you return the cactus to its original position. Cactus don’t like to be turned too often. 

One sign to turn your cactus is when it seems to lean to one side. You have to turn your cactus at this point.

Never turn your cactus when it is getting ready to bloom. This can stop it from blooming, and it can harm the cactus so that it would lose its spines.

Some Cactus Lose Their Spines with Age

With some cactus, their spines fall off as they age, and unfortunately, you can’t do anything about it. You have to consider the age of your cactus if this is what is happening with your cactus. Usually, this starts to happen after the cactus is older than 10 years. However, that depends on the species of the cactus. Some cactus will live much longer than others like the saguaro cactus, which can live between 150 to 175 years.

Be Careful How You Pot the Cactus

In general, you want to repot your cactus every two to three years or the spines could fall off. That happens because the nutrients in the soil start to diminish. As the nutrients vanish from the soil, like with fertilizer, the cactus can lose its spines. Examine the cactus closely, and if you see the roots, this indicates that the cactus expanded too much, and you need to repot your cactus.

These are some of the reasons why your cactus spines might be falling off the cactus. Unfortunately, with many cactus species, after the spines fall off, they do not regrow. That is why you have to take caution with your cactus to remedy the problem as quickly as possible. Spines falling off the cactus indicate that the health of your cactus is not good, and if you don’t correct the problem, it can lead to the death of your cactus.

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