Cacti are remarkably easy to grow and maintain. However, you may notice a few problems once in a while. Cactus going soft and mushy is something that needs urgent attention. You may be able to save your plant if you discover the underlying cause.
A cactus might get squishy due to fungal and bacterial infections, poor soil drainage, frost damage, overwatering and physical injury to the plant.
Generally, cacti plants have low watering needs; they thrive in sunny conditions and temperatures above 70°F. Potted plants, in particular, prefer nutritious and well-draining soil. Pest problems on cacti are minimal and usually easy to deal with.
Why is my cactus squishy?
If your cactus feels squishy, it is likely an indication of one of the following issues:
1. Excess moisture in the soil
The excess moisture in the soil may result from overwatering or poorly drained soil. When water occupies all the air pockets in the soil, it results in a lack of aeration, which suffocates and kills the plant roots. This may result in cactus rot and the death of the plant.
Damp soil conditions also encourage the enormous multiplication of harmful fungi and bacteria. As they enter the plant, tissues are weakened and damaged. You’ll notice that your cactus is turning brown at the base as the stems get squishy.
How to fix
If you have been overzealously watering your plant, stop until the soil becomes completely dry. If the condition of the plant doesn’t improve, inspect for root rot. Remove the plant from the soil, cut off all the damaged roots, wash it with clean water and repot it in fresh soil the following day.
Be sure to use well-drained soil formulated for succulents and a pot with good drainage holes. Unglazed terracotta clay pots are usually the best. Water the cactus when the top layer of the soil is completely dry.
Further, don’t let the plant sit in excess water that collects on the saucer.
2. Pest damages on the plant
Pests are conduits for bacterial and fungal infections in cactus plants. They cause open wounds on the stems as they suck juices from the plant. It takes time for these wounds to heal, and in the process, pathogens easily find their way into the plant tissues.
Dogs and cats are also notorious for causing physical injury to houseplants. They like nipping and knocking over plants due to curiosity or boredom. Unfortunately, some plants can be poisonous to your pets when ingested.
How to fix
A wound on the cactus may take time to heal completely, and you must provide the right care to help speed up the process. Quarantine the plant cleanly and protect the wound from any contact with water. Additionally, inspect the plant for pests and any other possible damages.
The formation of white fuzz on cactus, brown spots, and squishy stems are signs of the pest. Some of them, like mealybugs, hide in tight places where you can hardly notice them.
If you are able to see any pests on your cactus, manually remove them using a pair of tweezers, then wash the plant with a strong stream of water.
You may also use insecticidal soaps or neem oil to control the pests. Visit a nearby gardening store for purchase and apply as the manufacturer directs. Be sure to test on a small section of the plant to see if it’s safe to use on the whole plant.
Always protect your houseplants from cats and dogs and provide toys to them or alternative playing areas. Contact your vet if your pet shows discomfort after ingesting a cactus.
3. Fungal and bacterial infections
Fungi thrive in dark, warm, and humid conditions. Inadequate lighting, poor air circulation, and excess moisture around the plant are triggers of fungal infections. Bacterial infections are introduced to plants through open wounds commonly caused by insects and small animals.
How to fix
Many cactus fungal infections, including leaf spots and dry rot, have no cure. Removal of the infected tissue has been seen to work in most plants. You can also quarantine or destroy a cactus if severely infected. Be sure to seal diseased plant parts in a plastic bag for disposal.
Providing the right growth conditions to your cactus will help prevent bacterial and fungal infections. Make sure that your plant is receiving a sufficient amount of sunlight, air, and excellent drainage.
Further, regularly inspect and get rid of mealybugs and other pests hiding on your cactus.
4. Frost damage
Cacti aren’t cold-hardy plants, and they easily get damaged by frost. It’s important to bring them indoors during winter or cover them with protective material. Soft squishy tissues of the cactus are also a sign of frost damage.
How to fix
Frost-damaged cacti can be saved, but you must wait until the cold season ends. You don’t need to act if the cactus tips or stems turn from green to purple; the plant will likely heal itself when the cold is gone.
However, when the softened parts turn black, you must prune them before the rot spreads to the whole plant. Use a sterilized knife to cut off the blackened tips or stems; new growth will sprout in a few months.
Cactus plants are easy to grow and care for. They hardly need water and supplemental nutrients. Cactus turning soft and squishy could result from improper growth conditions or an underlying fungal or bacterial infection. Early interventions into the problem can help save the squishy cactus.
- “Master Gardener Program Handbook,” the University of Idaho Extension
- “Focus on Plant problems,” the University of Illinois Extension
- “Examine Cacti,” Biocircuits Institute
My name is Diane M Lewik, and I am the founder of this website. I am a degree holder in plant biology from the University of California – Berkeley. Over years, I have cultivated a vast collection of succulents and I have learned a great deal about how to grow and care for these unique plants.