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What Causes Cacti Browning - Varnish + Vine

What Causes Cacti Browning

It might have started so slowly that you didn’t notice it at first. Then, it’s evident that something is wrong with your San Pedro Cactus. No longer is it that pretty emerald green. It’s brown, instead. This condition is a symptom that can have several causes. We’ll go through the most common ones, from easy fixes to difficult situations.

Low-Light Conditions

Cacti enjoy lots of sun in the arid places in which they live. They’re well-adapted to these conditions, too. While some species go dormant in the winter, that doesn’t necessarily mean these plants can handle a lack of adequate sunlight. Even tolerant cacti need some light. Moving your plant to a sunny room may offer an easy solution.

Over Watering

Cacti have evolved to conserve water and use it efficiently when it’s available. That’s one reason why they are shallow-rooted. That allows them to soak up any precipitation that falls quickly. However, it also means they can’t tolerate too much of a good thing. Some cacti only need watering once a month. Over watering can cause your plants to turn brown or worse.


Cacti love the sun but will do best if it’s indirect bright light. They can get sunburn just like you if they spend too much time in direct sunlight. The browning you see is just the start of the damage it can do. Moving your plants farther into the room, away from the windows, can stop the burn from getting any worse.

Root Rot

We mentioned that over watering could get worse. Root rot is the problem at its extreme. We’ve talked about cacti’s response to rain when it happens. It seems like they don’t have a way to stop sucking up moisture. Too much water sets the stage for mold and fungus, which literally start to eat away at your plant. You may detect a foul odor from your Peruvian Apple Cactus or softening of its trunk.


Corking describes a condition where a cactus will start to brown at its base and eventually harden. It’s a normal response to stress, whether it’s from too much sun or damage from foraging animals. It’s also a response to plant growth. The thicker outer layer (caused by corking) can support weight better as the cactus sprouts new limbs.

Unfortunately, you cannot do much once you notice it happening. Some people have tried cutting off the brown parts. It doesn’t always work without hurting the cactus. The best thing you can do is to try to prevent it. That means providing the ideal conditions for your plants. That will reduce stress and hopefully keep their vibrant colors without the browning.

Final Thoughts

Cacti sometimes are a challenge to grow. They’re different than other houseplants in their watering and light needs. The essential thing to remember is that these plants live in relatively stable environments. Stress, over watering, or too much light can cause ill effects, such as browning, yellowing, or leaf drop. The best way to keep them happy is to make it feel like home to them.

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