Why Is My Prickly Pear Cactus Turning Brown

Cacti are popular among plant parents due to their low maintenance needs and eye-catching aesthetics. However, a number of things can make the leaves on your cactus become brown.

Cacti are popular among plant parents due to their low maintenance needs and eye-catching aesthetics. But if you detect any yellowing or browning on your Prickly Pear, it could be terrible news for your cherished plant, so you need to identify the issue quickly to figure out how to get some healthy pad development again. Your prickly pear cactus browning is most frequently caused by overwatering, sunburn, drafts, temperature shock, and pest infestation.

How is Browning cactus fixed?

Look to check if the brown spot and the vicinity are mushy and soft. If so, your cactus has probably started to rot from the inside out and is now displaying symptoms on the outside.

After noticing soft brown areas, the best technique to fix your cactus is to cut off healthy stems (without any signs of rot) and start a new plant.

Before cutting, disinfect a razor blade or a pair of extremely sharp sheers. Cut the cactus above the area of rot, allow it to dry, callus over, and then plant it again.

Use fresh soil, and thoroughly clean and dry the pot if you’re using the same one. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to save your cactus as is once it has begun to decay.

In other words, the only method to revive a cactus that has developed rot is to cut off the healthy stems—those portions of the plant that are still green—and repot them in fresh soil.

When a cactus begins to turn brown, what does that mean?

Cacti can change color from yellow to brown. This process, known as corking, is most frequently caused by aging. When a cactus reaches maturity, corking occurs spontaneously.

It starts at the plant’s base where the soil is in contact and might gently progress upward or remain stationary. The plant looks woody after corking. The plant is solid to the touch and generally healthy.

You have a distinct problem if the plant becomes brown and feels mushy or soft to the touch. This typically indicates either rotting, sickness, or both. Rot can develop at the roots of a cactus that has been exposed to constant moisture and progress up the plant.

A cactus can also turn brown from diseases like fungus or from pest infestation. The browning frequently affects various plant components, and when touched, it will feel soft and mushy rather than hard.


Prickly pears don’t need to be pruned, but they can be trimmed back. To keep the pads’ size and shape, take out individual ones as necessary. Holding the pad in place with tongs, cut it off at the junction or line where it attaches to the following pad. Pads can be calloused off and shared with pals or planted somewhere else. Find out more about propagation below.

Amendments & Fertilizer:

Young plants should be fertilized with a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer. A water-soluble fertilizer with a ratio of 5-10-10 or even 0-10-10 can encourage more flowers and fruit in established plants. Use a nitrogen-rich fertilizer if you’re growing for the pads.


Prickly pears can withstand severe droughts. For the first month, don’t water newly propagated pads. After that, water during the first year every two to four weeks—twice a month in the summer and once a month throughout the other seasons. Rainfall will usually be sufficient to keep established plants alive. When there is a drought, you can supplement with the twice-monthly/once-monthly seasonal schedule.

off a pad pruning, a new prickly pear plant has grown. Selma Jacquet/Alamy Stock Photo provided the image.


Since seeds grow slowly at first, it can take your plant three to four years to begin blooming and bearing fruit. The seeds should be maintained moist until they begin to sprout since they require shade.

Pad propagation is considerably easier and produces results more quickly. This is how:

  • By according to the above pruning rules, you can take off pads that are at least six months old.
  • The cut end of the pads should create a callus if they are left to dry out in a spot with some light shade. This can take two to four weeks in warm, dry weather, but it may take longer under cool or humid conditions. It prevents the new plant from decomposing at the base.
  • Plant pads at a depth of 1 inch in a mixture of half soil and half sand once they have fully calloused over. Your plant could rot if it were buried any deeper.
  • For the first month, don’t water it because the pad already has enough moisture to survive.
  • Until roots develop during the course of the following month, support it with rocks or another type of structure. Your plant should be able to stand on its own after a month, but if it’s still a little unsteady, keep providing support.
  • You can water it at this time and follow the previous watering instructions, just make sure to let it totally dry between waterings.

Flowers and fruit normally start to appear on young plants by the second or third growing pad.

Is a cactus becoming brown normal?

A corking cactus is a typical sign of aging. It involves a cactus’ changing color and texture, which often starts at the bottom and proceeds up. Therefore, it is not corking if the browning of your cactus occurs from the top down. Most likely, a sunburn or other problems are the cause.

And regrettably, just like with our own aging, there is no way to stop corking or slow down its progression.


How come my cactus appears burned?

Cacti plants can turn brown for a variety of causes, as was indicated in our introduction. We go over some of the main causes of this issue in this section.

Root rot

The issue may be root rot if your cactus plant’s base is getting brown and the stem is mushy and yellow.

Root rot can unfortunately be quite difficult to save because it typically starts inside the plant before spreading outside. The majority of the time, root rot symptoms don’t appear until the issue has already progressed.

The best course of action is to stop watering the plant as soon as you discover signs of root rot and repot it in soil that drains effectively.

In order to prevent the rot from spreading, you can also try to rescue your plant by removing all of the rotting tissue and some of the healthy tissue surrounding it.

Use a clean, sharp knife, and clean it between each cut with alcohol. When you’re through, make sure to rub sulfur powder on the wounds to aid in the plant’s recovery. The most frequent causes of root rot are soils with poor drainage and overwatering.

Indoor hazards

The same pests and diseases that threaten outdoor cactus can threaten your interior plants. Indoor plants, however, could experience extra issues that are exclusive to them.

Make careful to ensure that your indoor plants are not adjacent to a heat vent if they begin to exhibit indications of browning or drying out.

Despite the plant’s thick layer of waxy protection, the hot stream of air that the vent blows can cause the tissues to dry out. Similar harm can also be done by AC vents, albeit it might take longer for the harm to manifest.

Usually, if your plant is not directly in a window and starts to turn brown and feel brittle on one side, it is time to think about relocating it to another location.


The most frequent and likely reason for your cactus plant to start turning brown from the top is sunburn. Given that the majority of us have a misconception that cactus are sun-loving desert plants, this may sound strange.

Not all cacti species, meanwhile, do well in the intense sunlight. Some of them need only a little sun and some shade to grow successfully. If you don’t give your new cacti plants from the store or nursery enough time to adjust to the harsh outdoor light, they could also get sunburned.

Mild sunburn typically manifests as a pale discoloration on the plant’s sun-facing side. The whitish areas eventually transform into brown scars, which are a sign of severe sunburn. There is nothing you can do to repair severe brown burns on cacti plants because they have been permanently damaged.

Moving your plant to a shaded area, however, will rescue it if it has white patches. It will totally recover if you give it shade on the warmest days of the year. It would also be beneficial if you spend some time learning about the lighting requirements of your plant so that you can create the ideal environment.

Remember that species of cacti that aren’t used to being in direct sunlight need to acclimate by being exposed to full sunlight for a brief period of time every day.

Start gradually increasing the exposure over several weeks. Your plants will quickly become accustomed to the outdoor lighting settings.

It’s also important to note that some cacti plants shouldn’t be left in direct sunlight all day.


Scales are tiny insects with hard, brown shell coverings that frequently resemble brown patches on cacti plants. These insects consume plant liquids, weakening the cactus plant and turning it brown or yellow.

If this is the case, you might want to wash your plant with a reasonably light detergent solution or consider spraying it with a stream of water to remove the scales. For extensive infestations, you can use your chosen brand of insecticide.

Using cotton swabs that have been dipped in horticultural oil and applied to both sides will also kill scales. As a result, an oil coating builds on top of the scales, blocking off the insects’ access to oxygen.

Frost damage

Similar to sunburns, cacti plants may become brown where they have been damaged by cold. The only way to distinguish between frost damage and sunburn damage is by checking the temperature because the damage is pretty similar.

Cactus plant tissues that are exposed to cold temperatures experience cell rupture. Even though you might not detect the damage right away, the plant will attempt to self-heal by covering the harmed tissues with calluses.

Although the brittle patches on the plant are typically spotty, this type of self-healing mechanism also takes place after a hailstorm.

Indoor plants that come into direct touch with the window glass might nevertheless sustain frost damage.


A mite infestation may be evident if your plant is becoming brown from the top, where new growth is beginning to form.

Red spider mites are small insects that feed on the liquids your plant produces in its more delicate areas. Because these insects are so tiny, finding their webs may be easier than finding the insects themselves.

Rusty brown stains that emerge on the plant’s top and the appearance of mite webs are signs of a mite infestation.

These pests can destroy your plant if they are not dealt with since they feed entirely on the tissue of the outer layer. Red spider mites are most likely to infest indoor cactus.

The plants may occasionally leave the nursery with these mite infestations already present. Consider watering your plant from above with a reasonably strong stream of water to get rid of bugs.

Another typical sort of mite that could infest your cactus is root lice. For plants produced in greenhouses, root lice can travel from pot to pot, making control difficult.

Root lice are best treated by keeping your new plants separate from the other plants for a few weeks. To control root lice, you should also refrain from recycling and sharing soil.


A cactus plant that is otherwise healthy may suddenly develop stiff, brown tissue that resembles bark a few inches above the earth. This is an indication of corking.

Fortunately, this is a normal aspect of cacti plants’ aging processes, so you shouldn’t be too concerned.

Most of the time, corking begins at the plant’s base and progresses upward. There is nothing you can do to stop the natural process of corking if your plant is browning as a result.

How can you determine if a cactus has been overwatered or not?

The cactus won’t typically seem radically different from day to day because underwatering typically happens gradually over time.

There are a few indicators, nevertheless, that will let you know if your cactus is submerged.

Signs of an Underwatered Cactus

Knowing the warning signals of an underwatered cactus is crucial for prompt response. Your cactus will have a better chance of recovering if you do this.

The most typical warning indicators of a submerged cactus include:

The Cactus Is Light Green or Yellowish

Since this normally happens gradually over time, the color change might not be apparent right away.

If your cactus begin to become light green or yellowish, keep an eye out for more symptoms of an underwatered plant.

The Spines Are Falling off Easily

A well-watered cactus has roots that go far into the ground and take in water there.

Their root systems do not, however, work correctly while they are underwater because the dearth of nutrients in the soil leads them to wither away.

As a result, the spines become fragile and easily detach.

another typical indicator of a submerged cactus

The Cactus Is Wilting

Due to nutrient deficiency, their spines cannot support the plant adequately, which causes them to lose their shape.

As a result, plants that were formerly upright and in good shape gradually start to sag or droop.

Decay at the Base of the Plant

Roots will cease developing and begin to deteriorate over time if they are unable to absorb enough nutrients from the soil as a result of a lack of water, which will eventually result in decay at the base of the plant.

It’s possible that you won’t immediately notice whether or not your cacti are underwater because this normally happens gradually.

The New Growth on Your Cacti Is Weak and off Center With Older Growth

Lack of nutrients will have an impact on how a cactus develops new limbs.

In this instance, you’ll see that the younger growth is somewhat deformed and less symmetrical than the older ones-another indication that the cactus has been submerged.