Help! Why is my cactus shriveling? (Let’s solve it together)

Featured image - A picture of my wrinkled eve's needle cactus on the right hand side and the words "Winkly or shriveled cactus? Let's fix it together"

Welcome, it’s great to have you here!

Here in the UK, we’re just coming out of the dormancy period and the other day I noticed my eve’s needle cactus looking a little sorry for itself next to some of my desert cacti.

My potted eves needle cactus which is shrivelled with wrinkly yellow leaves
My poor cactus baby!

It’s shriveled with wrinkly yellow leaves as you can see below in the close-up;

A close up of the wrinkled, yellow shriveled leaves on my eve's needle

Naturally, the first thing I did was panic!

Once I’d regained my composure, I began to tackle the problem logically and asked myself the following questions;

  • When was the last time I watered it?
  • How much light is it getting?
  • Can I see signs of pests?

These questions are what we’ll be looking at throughout the rest of this article so let’s jump in;

Underwatering – My issue

I’d left my eve’s needles with the rest of my desert cacti in my conservatory during autumn/winter when I noticed the shriveling. I quickly realized it hadn’t been watered for almost 6 months.

After doing a little research, I realized it should have been watered very infrequently every 5 or 6 weeks which I’ll definitely remember for next year.

I gave it a small drink to wake up the roots.

Giving the eves needle a small drink of water from a plastic jug to awaken the roots.
The first splash of water for the first time in 6 months. I bet that feels good!

7 days later once the soil had completely dried, I gave it a good soaking, and wow, what a difference!

My eves needle after a good soaking. Many of the leaves have plumped up and the wrinkling has gone. There are still some dead leaves which I will need to deal with
Look how it’s plumped up after the first watering

At this point, it’s safe to say that any of the remaining shriveled leaves are dead.

I simply picked them off and will continue with my normal watering routine from now on.

Final images of my underwatered cactus once it's been watered and pulled off the remaining dead leaves.
Restored to its former glory!

Overwatering

Nothing in the cacti world is ever simple and your cactus could be suffering because of the exact opposite problem as I had above…overwatering with the same symptoms.

A Cactus just about to be watered with a jug with a big red cross through the image
Stop! Don’t water unless you’re sure the soil is completely dry

When the soil stays wet for too long, the roots begin to rot and eventually die not allowing the main plant to take on water.

The way I test this is to insert a chopstick into the soil and see if any of the soil sticks. If it does, you don’t need to water yet.

You may be able to save it by removing it from its pot, removing excess soil, and allowing your plant to dry out.

You’ll then need to replant in a peat-free, well-draining soil and ensure it has enough hours of daylight for photosynthesis.

Unfortunately, if the rot has already taken hold, it’s probably too late.

Pests – Visible or otherwise

Whenever I see a problem, the first thing I do is look for any signs of pests on the body of the plant.

Although this wasn’t the case with my eve’s needle, I did recently have an infestation on two of my other plants.

A close up image of a mealybug on one of my cactus recently. The mealie has been highlighted with a red circle
Ugh mealybugs! This is from one of my other cacti a little while ago.

If you can’t see signs of pests, your watering is on point, and your plant gets enough sunlight, I would then look at the roots.

Root mealies will slowly suck away at the roots draining the plant of all its nutrients.

Carefully remove the plant from the pot and gently massage some of the soil from the root ball.

Inspect the roots and remaining soil for signs of fluff or cotton wool like material. These are a dead giveaway that root mealies are nearby!

If you find mealies on your plant, you can use my guide here to help remove them.

Over to you

How did you get on? Have you found the problem? Please let me know in the comments section below what you’ve found and how you’ve decided to tackle it.

I’ll reply as soon as humanly possible!

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