Reasons Why Your Cactus is Growing Skinny.
Everything You Need to Know!

Is your cactus growing long and thin, and you are not sure what is causing it? Here is what you need to know to prevent it from toppling over.

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Jimena Bolívar

April 18, 2021


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Introduction

Generally, cacti are considered hardy plants that seem to not have as many requirements as other house plants. Even though cacti continue to grow in many different environments, they are originally desert plants that require some specific conditions of light, heat, and water to thrive in their best shape and form.

Cacti have ways to express their unfulfilled requirements like other plants. Even though they do not have leaves that could turn yellow, they can exhibit their demands by becoming pale and skinny. This is called etiolation. The cacti may grow long and thin or sometimes it may form branches that are spindly and weird looking. If your cactus is exhibiting these signs, keep reading.

The main reason why cacti grow skinny is inadequate sunlight. To compensate, they grow tall and become thin in order to reach out for more light. You can fix this by moving them outdoors or near a south-facing window.

A cactus with many thin sections.

Reasons your cactus is becoming skinny:

Cacti will start becoming etiolated (by becoming skinny and pale) due to several reasons: if their sunlight requirements are not fulfilled, there is a difference between the amount of light and temperature they are receiving, or if they are not kept dormant properly in the winters.

Details about these factors are given below:

1. The biggest culprit: Not Enough Sunlight!

Cacti need to soak up large amounts of sunlight, especially desert cacti. Even though they can still grow indoors, they need to be in sunlight to grow to their full potential. When this does not get fulfilled, they will start to become skinny.

Cacti express this by a process known as etiolation. Their stem starts to grow faster which might be mistaken for a good sign. Believe me, it’s not! Even though they might be growing faster, they will start to look long and skinny. Some cacti even become paler and pointy.

This usually happens when you move your plant from outdoors to indoors. With lesser sunlight, they cannot grow to their maximum size, and instead of following their natural growth pattern, they start looking like antennae.

A cactus with skinny branches lying on a desk indoors

2. Difference between the provided light and temperature:

When the temperature starts to increase in spring, the plant needs to be put in sunlight as soon as possible. If the temperature is increased without providing the plant with sunlight, it will start to become skinny to reach higher for more sunlight.

This happens after the winter months when the temperature starts to increase but the plant is kept indoors without light. The increased temperature will cause the plant to wake up from its dormant state and this is the perfect time to move it outdoors.

3. No Dormancy in winter:

Your cactus requires different care during different seasons. You have to make sure that you provide your cactus this seasonal care by ensuring maximum growth in warmer seasons and keeping it dormant in the winter season.

When winter arrives, people tend to bring their cacti indoors. That is the correct thing to do but you have to make sure that you do not overwater it during this time. When the cacti keep receiving water but no light, they will fail to become dormant which fails to stop their growth.

The cacti will keep growing when provided with water, but the result will be thinner sections. Consequently, over the years your cactus will have a series of contractions. To avoid this, restrict watering to once in 4 to 6 weeks in the winter months and try to keep it in a cool place.

Beware!

Do Not Overwater

During the months of October to march, do not water your cactus more than once a month.

How do I fix it?

Once the cactus has grown a skinny part, it will not regain its original size. To fix the cactus, you will have to chop off the skinny part, move the cactus outdoors where it can get sufficient sunlight, or provide it with artificial light if you plan to keep it indoors.

1. Chop and replant your cactus:

If you keep the skinny part of the cactus, there are chances that your cactus will topple over after it grows another part on top of the skinny part. If too much weight accumulates at the top, the cactus will likely snap under the weight.

To make sure that your cactus does not fall, cut the uppermost thin part of the cactus and replant it. It will be better if you cut it during the summer when adequate light is available so it can regrow to its full potential.

A cactus with a chopped off piece.

2. Move it outdoors:

Since the biggest factor that contributes to skinny growth is inadequate sunlight, it is clear that you need to fix it by moving it someplace where there is sufficient sunlight. If you are keeping your plant indoors, you must move it outdoors or in a window with light.

Warning

Avoid Sunburns!

Make sure your plant is not exposed to long periods of sunlight at once. Gradually increase its time in sunlight.

A cactus placed outside a window in direct sunlight

Sometimes, if the cactus is receiving the sunlight from only one direction, it will tend to droop towards that side to get more sunlight. Make sure it receives adequate sunlight from all directions by turning it over.

Protip

Keep Rotating your Cactus

If your cactus is drooping to one side, rotate it 180 degrees to allow it to straighten out.

A cactus placed outdoors with adequate sunlight from all directions.

To learn about how to take care of your cactus indoors, click here.

3. Artificial Light:

If you plan to keep your plant indoors where there is insufficient light, you can keep it in a good quality artificial light. The plant will propagate just like it will in natural sunlight. Here are some good options if you want to get artificial light for your cactus:

MiracleLED 604594 Grow Light, 1 Pack, Multi-Plant White 150W

Multi-plant technology allows this wide angle bulb to more effectively cover multiple plants at a time. Grow cacti rapidly with the full spectrum technology that delivers a white daytime sunlight that cacti crave.

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MiracleLED 604610 Full Spectrum Multi-Plant Grow Light, Single Pack, Full Spectrum Replace 100W

Multi-plant technology allows this wide angle bulb to more effectively cover multiple cacti at a time. Grow cacti rapidly with the full spectrum technology that delivers a white daytime sunlight that they crave.

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Conclusion

Cacti that receive inadequate sunlight tend to become etiolated and grow long and thin. This is their way of expressing that they need more sunlight so they are reaching out for it. To make sure that your cactus is receiving sufficient sunlight, move it outdoors or buy an artificial light for indoors. Also, make sure that your cactus is receiving more water in the summers and less water in the winter months during its dormant period.

It may seem like your cactus does not need care since it does not die easily, but cacti need love and care just like any other plant. For more information about cacti and how to take care of them, here are a few helpful articles:

Can You Grow a Cactus Indoors? What can help you do this?

Want to know about Grafted Cactus? Everything Explained in-detail

How to water your succulents on vacation? Easy methods to apply!

Why Picking The Right Pot for Your Succulent Plants is Really IMPORTANT!

Jimena Bolívar Picture

By Jimena Bolívar

Easy Succulents Founder

My name is Jimena and I'm the the founder of Easy Succulents! I'm fascinated by this wonderful plants and I want to share with the world everything I know about them!

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Jimena Bolívar Picture

Jimena Bolívar

Easy Succulents Founder

My name is Jimena and I'm the the founder of Easy Succulents! I'm fascinated by this wonderful plants and I want to share with the world everything I know about them!

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