Why are My Cactus Spines Turning Brown?

Maybe you have looked at your cactus to find brown spines. You have a couple of reasons why your cactus spines might turn brown.

Why are my cactus spines turning brown? As your cactus ages, the spines change color. Older cactus has more brown spines. The spines close to the soil will especially have a brown tint if a high humus content exists in the soil. Brown spines could also indicate that your cactus is dying.

Brown Spines Mean a Dying Cactus?

With red spines, yellow spines or black spines on a cactus, you don’t have to worry. Brown spines on the cactus could mean problems in rare cases, however. For example, brown spines could happen if you haven’t watered your cactus much or the cactus has started dying from the bottom up.

If you have cactus spines turning brown, this could indicate the age or a high humus content in the soil. You have a dozen species where the cactus spines turn brown. As the cactus ages, the spines will turn brown and lose color. New spines will replace the old spines with more vibrant color. The spines will also feel softer to the touch.

Direct Sunlight Turns the Spines Brown

You have cases where direct sunlight can turn the needles brown. Eve’s Needle, for example, is known for the spines turning brown when exposed to direct sunlight. Exercise caution with the sun especially after transplanting a cactus. More people have killed cactus from transplanting them to another pot and putting the wrong side facing sunlight than anything else. Transplant your cactus carefully.

Eve’s Needle cactus have spikes that can turn red, yellow or a lovely black color when put in the sun.

Don’t Worry About Brown Spines

In most cases, you don’t have to worry. One of the telltale signs to hit the panic button: If you pull on the brown spines and they come off easily, this means you have a dying cactus. Pinpoint the reason and fix it ASAP. Because they inhabit the desert, cactus have a robust nature.

What to Understand About Cactus Spines

Many times the spine color that you originally see on a cactus will differ from the spine’s color later. If you start with a white spine, don’t be surprised if you see a red or black spine one day. This is normal. You don’t have to worry about brown spines if the cactus looks healthy. Usually, brown spines mean that the spines of the cactus have aged. You might see new spines on the cactus to replace the old, and they will look another color.

Keep Water off the Spines

You have some cases where spines turn brown because of the salts in the water or organic substances that get on the spines. To fix the problem of brown spines, don’t put water on your spines. Having grittier soil helps with the growth of your cactus.

Can You Revive a Dying Cactus?

While brown spines may not indicate a dying cactus, you have cause for alarm if the cactus itself turns the color brown. This could mean several things. First, it could mean that the cactus needs more water. You want to water your cactus at least once a week. Water the soil without getting anything on the plant and let the water drain away.

Allow the compost to dry out in between waterings. Cacti in the desert live by feast or famine with water. Either they get a strong soaking or they will experience little water.

To revive a dying cactus that has started to get brown spines, repot the plant and remove all the diseased soil. Wash the pot well with soap and water before you replant the cactus. In some cases, you might save a brown and mushy cactus through taking a cutting of it.

Brown Spines: What to Watch For

You do have some cases where the cactus has begun to die. In particular, look for a cactus that has developed brown and unhealthy looking spines near the bottom. This could mean that the plant has died and will die from the bottom up. 

Pay attention to the state of the needles. Do they look healthy? That matters more than the color. Usually, a deep and dry brown color could indicate more problems than a light brown color.

In some cases, you can take a cutting of the top from a lively part of the cactus to save it. You will want to cut at least 2 inches above the brown spines to ensure that you don’t transplant the diseased part of the cactus.

Brown spines don’t always indicate a problem, but you should keep a close eye on your cactus if you notice a deep brown color overtaking your cactus spines. In many cases, light brown spines don’t mean anything bad.

If you’d like to learn about black cactus spines, click here on an article I had previously written. Click here to learn more about red cactus spines. As I’ve said, the color of the spines has more to do with the species of the cactus than its health.

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