Cactus Watering - Everything You Need to Know! 

Updated: February 05, 2024

Cactus Watering - Everything You Need to Know! 

Cacti are a popular houseplant that requires proper care for a long life, contrary to the common misconception that they don't need much watering. Even though plants in this group often prefer slightly drier soil, they still need moisture, especially during the growing season. Cacti store water throughout their stems, and as a result, they are one of the ultimate drought-resistant plants.  Cacti are like Camels; they drink up a lot of water quickly and then can last a long time before needing water again. 

How often should you water a cactus plant?  Watering cactus plants can be difficult, and many gardeners end up overwatering them. This isn't always the case because cacti can be found in a wide variety of habitats. There is more to how to water a cactus than when to water it; you also need to know the correct cactus soil porosity, container drainage, site conditions, and time of year.  Don't worry; Planet Desert has got your back. Let's embark on a journey to discover the secrets of watering cacti and ensure they thrive in your care. Let's dive in! 

Arid, desert plants come to mind when you think of cactus. Imagine you're in a desert oasis, surrounded by adorable cacti. Now, picture yourself holding a watering can, ready to quench their thirst. But watering these prickly cacti can be a bit tricky. 

Watering cactus

Importance of Proper Watering of Cactus 

Desert plants, such as cacti, are adapted to grow with minimal water.  Water is essential for the cactus to carry out vital processes like photosynthesis and nutrient absorption. It helps in the transportation of nutrients from the roots to other parts of the plant, ensuring proper growth and development.  

Proper watering also helps cacti maintain their turgidity, preventing them from becoming dehydrated and wilted. It supports the cactus plant in producing vibrant flowers and new growth. However, it's important to strike the right balance when watering cacti.   

By providing your cactus with the right amount of water, you'll help it thrive and display its unique beauty. Some cacti like the bunny ear cactus; thrive with infrequent watering while others such as the Thanksgiving cactus need a more consistent watering schedule. Maintain your Thanksgiving cactus watering and watch it flourish! 

watering cactus

Signs of underwatering and overwatering cacti  

Underwatering can cause the cactus to become dehydrated and stunt its growth, while overwatering can lead to root rot and other fungal diseases.


Cactus Image

1- Wrinkled or shriveled appearance

When a cactus doesn't receive enough water, it may start to look wrinkled or shriveled.

This is a clear sign that it needs more hydration. 

2- Dry and brittle stems

The stems of an underwatered cactus may become dry and brittle to the touch. They may also appear thinner than usual. 

 3- Slow or stunted growth

Insufficient water can hinder a cactus’ growth. If you notice that your cactus isn't growing as quickly as it should, it might be a sign of underwatering. 


watering cactus

1- Soft or mushy stems

Rot spots on an overwatered cactus, causing the stems to become soft or mushy. If you notice a squishy texture or discoloration, it's likely due to excessive moisture. watering cactus

2- Root rot 

Overwatering is one of the most common problems with cacti. This can lead to root or stem rot and other issues. To avoid overwatering, it is important to allow the soil to dry out completely between waterings. The cactus should also be planted in well-draining soil and a pot with drainage holes.  

3- Foul odor 

If you detect a foul smell coming from your cactus, it could indicate rotting due to overwatering. The smell is often accompanied by a mushy texture in the affected areas.  

4- Yellowing or browning of leaves 

When a cactus receives too much water, its leaves may start to turn yellow or brown. This can be a sign of root damage caused by overwatering.  

Cactus Watering Requirements 

Understanding the specific watering needs of your cactus is crucial. Factors such as the type of cactus, pot size, potting soil composition, bright light, and environmental conditions all play a role in determining the frequency and amount of water your cactus needs. Remember to adjust your watering routine based on the seasons, as cacti may require less water during their dormant period.  

To keep your cacti healthy, we have covered in detail below the best practices for watering them as well as the most common watering errors to avoid. 

1- How Often Do You Water a Cactus – Based on Location 

When it comes to watering cacti, the frequency can vary depending on a few factors. Generally, cacti don't need to be watered as often as other plants. It's best to water them thoroughly but infrequently, allowing the soil to dry out completely between waterings. 

Indoor Cactus Watering  

  • Watering frequency: If you are growing cactus indoors, it's generally recommended to water the cactus every 2–4 weeks, or when the soil is completely dry. This allows the roots to dry out between waterings and helps prevent overwatering.  
  • Observation is key: Keep a close eye on your indoor plants and observe their watering needs. Factors such as temperature, humidity, and the type of potting mix used can affect how quickly the soil dries out. Adjust your watering schedule accordingly to ensure the cactus plant's well-being.
watering cactus

Outdoor Cactus Watering 

  • Watering frequency: Outdoor cacti typically require less frequent watering due to exposure to natural rainfall. In general, you can water outdoor cacti every 4-6 weeks during the growing season, or when the top few inches of soil are dry. However, this may vary depending on your climate and the specific needs of your cactus.  
  • Consider the weather: Consider your local weather conditions. If you live in a particularly hot and dry climate, you may need to water your outdoor cacti more frequently. On the other hand, if you experience heavy rainfall, you may need to adjust your watering schedule to avoid overwatering.  

Pro Tip

Stick your finger about 2 inches into the soil around the cactus. If it feels dry at that depth, then it's time to water. But if it still feels slightly moist, hold off on watering for a bit longer. This technique helps ensure that you're not overwatering your cactus, which can be harmful. 

 2- When to Water a Cactus – Based on Season 

When it comes to watering cacti, the frequency can vary depending on a few factors. Generally, cacti don't need to be watered as often as other plants. It's best to water them thoroughly but infrequently, allowing the soil to dry out completely between waterings. 

How Often to Water in Summer? 

During the growing season, cacti typically require more frequent watering as they actively grow and may have increased water needs because of direct light. It's important to monitor the soil moisture and water when it starts to dry out.  Smaller cacti require more water, while larger ones require additional moisture. However, be cautious not to overwater, as cacti still prefer well-draining soil. 

watering cactus

How Often to Water in Winter? 

Winter is a rest period for many cacti, reducing their watering needs. Smaller specimens can go weeks without watering, while larger ones can survive all winter without moisture. Soak the soil thoroughly after each watering until water begins to drain from the pot's drainage holes. Overwatering is a major issue in the fall and winter months. To avoid overwatering, let cacti dry out more and use a moisture gauge or finger to check the soil. 

watering cactus

Pro Tip

It's a good idea to water your cactus in the morning. This allows the warmth of the day to help the soil dry out, preventing excess moisture by nighttime. Moisture lingering for too long can lead to unwanted bacteria. So, morning watering is the way to go!   

3- How long can cacti go without water? 

It's amazing how resilient cacti can be when it comes to water. Many desert cacti have adapted to survive in arid environments with infrequent rainfall. Some desert types can go a year or even longer without water, relying on the occasional rain that occurs in those regions. While larger cacti can generally handle longer periods without water, it's important to note that the specific water needs may vary depending on the cactus species and its size.  

Cactus Image

Most large cacti can easily go 4 to 6 months without water, but it's always a good idea to monitor their condition and adjust watering accordingly. While cacti can survive with normal rainfall, providing them with a bit more water can help them thrive.

Keep an eye on the signs of a thirsty cactus, like a wrinkled or shriveled appearance, as this can indicate that it's time to give your cactus-like Prickly pear a good drink. However, it's important to remember that each cactus is unique, and its watering needs may vary. 

Observing the signs of a thirsty cactus, such as a wrinkled or shriveled appearance, can also guide you in determining when to water. 

4- Best Way to Water a Cactus  

To water your cacti, the soak-and-dry method is the way to go. This method involves giving your cacti plants a good, thorough deep watering until the soil is completely soaked. Then, you let the soil dry out completely before watering again. This helps mimic the natural habitat of rainfall in desert environments, where cacti are native to.  

To water your desert cactus, place the pot with drainage holes in a water-filled container. The potting mix soil will absorb water from the bottom, hydrating the roots. Leave it for 30 minutes or until fully soaked, and the moist soil will be visible from the top. This may translate to soaking a container until moisture runs out of the drainage holes or using a garden hose set low to steadily drip water into the root zone of the plant for several hours.  

Misting is not typically necessary for desert cacti, as they prefer drier conditions. Jungle cacti are a bit different and thrive with some misting. They are adapted to store water in their fleshy stems and don't rely on frequent misting like some other plants.    

The best watering method is to saturate the cactus soil completely using rainwater or distilled water and stop the watering process when water starts to disperse from the drainage hole in the pot.   

Remember, cacti love a good soak followed by a period of drying out. This helps promote healthy root growth and prevents overwatering. So, give your cactus a drink when the soil is dry, and let it enjoy its desert-like habitat!  

5- Best Soil for Cactus 

Soil plays a crucial role in watering cacti because it affects how water is absorbed and retained by the plant. watering cactus

A well-draining soil mix allows excess water to flow through quickly, preventing waterlogged roots and potential rot.

Instead, a regular potting soil mix that retains too much moisture can lead to overwatering, which is harmful to cacti.

So, choosing the right soil mix is essential for maintaining the proper moisture balance and preventing water-related issues for your cacti.  

Planet Desert specializes in cactus and has specialized cactus potting soil that includes an organic substrate with mycorrhizae to help with the growth of a healthy root system to help your cacti grow healthy.  

6. Watering freshly rooted cuttings  

Watering freshly rooted cactus cuttings is different from watering well-established cacti. Overwatering can stunt root growth and weaken the plant. Proper watering is essential for a healthy cactus. To properly care for newly rooted cuttings, wait until these desert-dwelling plants show signs of thirst, such as shriveling or wilting. Water the soil to minimize moisture around the base of the cactus, either around the rim or bottom. This encourages roots to sense the water and grow towards it. Water until the root systems are well established and can handle full soaks, ensuring the plant can handle full soaks.  

Can Cactus Be Watered with Tap Water? 

Most people don't think about what type of water to use for cacti and simply use tap water. However, it's important to keep in mind that some tap water may contain high levels of minerals or chemicals that can be harmful to cacti. If you're concerned about the quality of your tap water, you can let it sit out for 24 hours to allow any chlorine to dissipate before watering your cactus. Alternatively, you can use rainwater, filtered or distilled water to ensure the best care for your cactus. Rainwater or distilled water is ideal for cacti as it contains healthy minerals and is safe for watering because it removes impurities It's always a good idea to monitor your cactus and adjust your watering routine based on its specific needs. 

Do You Water a Cactus from the Top or Bottom? 

Watering a cactus from the top is the recommended method to avoid overdoing it, instead of bottom watering. Slowly pour the water over the potting medium, ensuring it is evenly moistened. Avoid pouring over the top to avoid black spots or tip rot. When the water begins to flow from the bottom, add enough and discard any that drains out. Never let the water soak. 

watering cactus

How to Know When to Repot Your Cactus?  

Knowing when to repot your cactus is important for its health. Keep an eye out for a few signs. If the roots start to grow out of the drainage holes, or if your cactus becomes too big for its current pot, it's time to repot. Additionally, if you notice the soil drying out too quickly after watering, it might be a sign that the roots need more space. Remember to choose a pot with good drainage and use well-drained soil. 

The Bottom Line  

Overall, Overall, Cacti do most of their growing in the warmer seasons like spring and summer. During this time, they need a deep soak to support their growth. It's best to water them when the soil is completely dry, which could be every 10 to 14 days.  When fall and winter roll around, cacti go into dormancy and require less watering. You can water them when the soil is completely dry, which might be every 4 to 6 weeks during this period. 

Understanding how to properly water your cacti is essential for their health and well-being. By being aware of the signs of overwatering and underwatering, you can adjust your watering routine accordingly. Remember to let the soil dry out completely between waterings and provide good drainage. Each season may have different watering requirements, so pay attention to the needs of your cacti throughout the year. With the right care and attention, your cacti will thrive and bring joy to your space.  

In our previous article, Cactus Care 101: Everything You Need to Know About Having a Cactus, we explained everything you might want to know about care, from watering requirements to propagation and so on.  

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should I water a cactus? 

To properly water a cactus, you should follow a few simple steps. First, make sure to use the soak-and-dry method. This means giving your cactus good water until water drains out of the bottom of the pot.

Allow the soil to completely dry before watering again. It's important to avoid overwatering, as cacti are adapted to dry conditions. Also, remember to adjust your watering frequency based on factors like the type of cactus and the climate you live in.  

How long can cacti go without water? 

Cactus stems are thick, allowing for water storage and protective covering. Some species can survive without water for two years, while indoor varieties require more frequent watering, depending on the species.  

However, it's important to note that while they can survive without water for a while, providing them with regular and appropriate watering is essential for their overall health and growth. 

Should I water the cactus from the top or bottom? 

You should water cacti from the top. Pour water directly onto the soil around the base of the cactus until it drains out of the bottom. This allows the roots to absorb the water effectively. Avoid watering from the bottom as it can lead to waterlogging and root rot. 

How much water does a cactus need? 

Cacti have different water requirements depending on factors like the species, size, and environmental conditions. As a general rule, it's best to water cacti thoroughly and then allow the soil to dry out completely before watering again. 

Overwatering can be harmful to cacti, so it's better to underwater than overwater. Observing your cactus and adjusting the watering frequency based on its needs is key. Remember, it's always safer to err on the side of underwater. 

What type of water should I water my cactus with? 

When it comes to watering your cactus, it's best to use filtered water that doesn't contain any chemicals like chlorine. Chlorine can harm the natural biome of the cactus and affect its overall health. So, opt for filtered or distilled water, or you can also collect rainwater for a natural and chemical-free option! 

How do you know if a cactus is overwatered? 

If a cactus is overwatered, you may notice signs such as yellowing or mushy stems, wilting, or black spots on the cactus. The soil might also stay consistently damp or have a foul odor.  

It's important to adjust your watering routine if you suspect overwatering to prevent root rot and other issues. Remember, cacti prefer dry conditions, so it's better to underwater than overwater. 

Do Cacti Need Much Water? 

Cacti are excellent at storing water in their stems, so they don't need much of it. Cactus plants are juicy, resembling aloes with mucilaginous goo inside their leaves.  

They store moisture in their cells, providing water during extremely dry, drought-like conditions. They are able to endure prolonged droughts in their native desert habitat thanks to this. 


  • Ellen

    Iam confused one paragraph says to water from the top. Another paragraph says fill a saucer and water from the bottom. Which is it, or does it matter

  • No one

    My brother has overwatered his cactus and I would like to try and revive it. It has a light brown spot on it but I was still wondering if I could try and revive it. If I could how would I be an able to do it? X

  • Gilly

    Instead of pushing your finger in to the soil I use a wooden plant stick pushed right to the bottom of the plant pot it accurately shows any moisture on the stick it’s great to do on all plants in fact.

  • Daphne Dear

    I found this site an excellent source of information from the type of potting mix to the type and amount of water to use of Cacti. I must admit I was making quite a few mistakes which I’m about to try to rectify to improve conditions for my plants. Many thanks for your expert advice

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