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What Causes Etiolation in Cactus (And How to Fix It)

Cacti, in general, need a lot of very bright light to thrive. To grow plants indoors, it’s extremely difficult to provide them with light that is bright.

Even the brightest windows in the house aren’t bright enough to keep the cactus from etiolation, even if the windows face south. 

On the inside side of a windowsill, plants will receive far less light than on the side that is facing the sun.

Due to the unique morphology of each succulent, it may be more difficult to detect early signs of etiolation and to correct the abnormal growth caused by the prolonged absence of light.

Although xenon lights are expensive and difficult to maintain, many people would rather not have them in their homes.

What is etiolation in cacti? What causes it? How to prevent it? What are the signs of etiolation? And finally, how to “fix” or “correct” an etiolated cactus? That’s the goal of this article.

What is Etiolation in Cacti?

Etiolation in Cactus
Etiolation in Cactus

A lack of light is the primary cause of etiolation. Plants use etiolation as a response mechanism and a survival strategy in the face of low light conditions. Etiolation is an adaptation.

Due to the fact that cacti do not get the amount of light they need for proper growth, they tend to grow abnormally thin or slanted, losing their “natural” shape. Cacti show all the signs of etiolation, which will be discussed in greater detail later on in this article.

Despite the fact that etiolation isn’t necessarily fatal, it should be treated as soon as possible for both the plant’s aesthetic appeal and its health. A lack of light for an extended period of time weakens cacti and makes them more vulnerable to other problems that are more common in succulents and cacti.

Etiolation in Cacti: What Causes It?

Insufficient lighting is the primary cause of etiolation, as previously stated. However, there are some additional considerations that I’ll go over in more detail below.

Indoor Lighting Is Insufficient

Most cacti require a lot of light. Consequently, their growth becomes stunted when grown indoors. 

Cacti stretch in search of better conditions and lose their natural shape when they don’t get enough light.

So, before bringing succulents or cacti indoors, it is critical to understand their lighting requirements and provide them with a location with adequate light.

Lighting Is Only Coming From One Direction

Not only does the amount of light matter, but so does the direction of the light, because if there is only one point of light, the cactus will try to lean toward it.

To get more light, plants such as cacti will stretch towards windows or other sources of light that are nearby. Regular plant rotation will help to keep this from happening.

Every so often, rotate the pots of your cacti if you keep them near windows. When you water them, you can, for example, rotate them a little. 

This prevents them from leaning toward the light source and allows them to maintain their shape.

Lack of Overwintering  

In the absence of hibernation or dormancy, etiolation is a common problem for cacti. If you live in an area where winters are long and cold, cacti are likely to hibernate.

If cacti do not go into dormancy, they will continue to grow in an unfavorable environment and will suffer from etiolation. 

Because of this, it is critical to observe the cacti’s dormancy period and even force them to hibernate.

You should do the following to induce hibernation:

  • Do not feed your cacti fertilizer.
  • Allow your cacti to be exposed to low temperatures.
  • Reduce the amount of watering by a significant margin.

For example, in the northern hemisphere, where temperatures begin to fall in October and November, we begin these changes to induce hibernation in cacti. 

For some cactus species, the dry season runs from December to March or April without any watering at all.

Etiolation Signs In Cacti

Signs of Etiolation in Cactus
Signs of Etiolation in Cactus

When I discussed the signs of etiolation in succulents, I mentioned downward-pointing leaves, increased leaf spacing, aerial roots, and other things. 

These signs do not apply to cacti because of their unique anatomy and the fact that they do not have leaves.

That’s why early-stage etiolation in cacti can be more difficult to spot than in other succulents. To make it easier for you to spot etiolation in cacti, I’ve put together a list of 8 telltale signs.

1. Loss of color

One of the first signs of etiolation is the appearance of this symptom. Light-deprived cacti cannot efficiently produce chlorophyll, which is responsible for their green pigmentation as well as their ability to perform photosynthesis. 

Therefore, cacti that do not receive enough light have a paler green color and even a whitish or yellowish color.

2. Tilting to one side

It’s also a common symptom of etiolation. If a cactus leans toward the light source, it is because it requires more light. 

You need to rotate the plant regularly if the light is only coming from one direction.

3. Pointy Growth

There are several cactus species that are normally round at the base. When they are affected by etiolation, this growth form changes to a pointed or even pyramidal form.

4. Rapid And Thin Growth

When there is not enough light, etiolation can serve as an adaptation and survival strategy. When cacti sense that they aren’t getting enough light, they grow rapidly to catch up to the sun. A normal cactus grows thicker or narrower when it is growing so quickly because it tries to elongate as quickly as possible toward the light source.

5. Elongated And Thin Segments

Etiolation manifests itself in cactus species that grow in segments, such as Opuntias or some jungle cacti, by the segments becoming thinner or smaller. Furthermore, if etiolation is advanced, it appears that the segment will be unable to sustain new growth.

6. Malformations of The Spines

Cacti that have begun to etiolate have spines that are becoming increasingly separated from one another. It’s possible that they’ll get shorter, thinner, or disappear altogether.

7. Lack of Flowering

Etiolation, insufficient overwintering, and poor lighting can all cause a plant to stop blooming.

Due to the significant amount of energy required by flowering, cacti require adequate lighting in order to produce their best results.

To be clear, the absence of flowering does not always imply that there is a lighting issue or that it is etiolation.  

If your mature plant doesn’t flower for years despite getting plenty of water and nutrients, then it’s not normal.

8. The Appearance of A Weak And Brittle

They appear to be weak, fragile, and sickly in general. Another thing to keep in mind is that cacti that are exposed to poor lighting conditions and then receive the correct lighting return to their normal size.

There are many reasons why some cacti have an unusually shaped body. This is abnormal and indicates that the cactus has gone through periods of etiolation, which is why it looks this way.

How to Prevent Cactus Etiolation

In light of the fact that etiolation can be caused by a lack of light, the best way to prevent it is to provide the cactus with adequate lighting. To avoid etiolation in cacti, here are some questions to ask yourself.

1. Identify The Species

As part of your research, you must identify the species of cactus and the lighting conditions in your home or workplace where the cactus will be placed. Using this method, you can ensure that the cacti receive adequate light and will not develop etiolation.

2. Keep An Eye Out For Warning Signs

You should be on the lookout for early signs of etiolation on your cactus so that you can remedy the situation before it worsens.

3. Do Not Disturb Your Cactus During Dormancy

Let nature take its course when it comes to hibernation or rest. When the plants are dormant, they should not be fertilized or watered frequently.

How To “Repair” A Cactus That Has Been Etiolated

Unfortunately, the abnormal growth caused by etiolation is irreversible. Cacti can become hourglass-shaped because they have gone through various stages of proper growth and etiolation, as we discussed earlier in the article.

Follow My Advice Or Recommendations To “Fix” A Cactus

1. Make Sure There Is Enough Lighting

Moving it to an area that gets more sunlight will help. Take care when moving your plant from low light conditions to the full sun because it will most likely get sunburned, especially if the change is too rapid.

I advise a gradual transition. To help the cactus get used to the new light, gradually increase daily sun exposure by 30 minutes at a time.

2. Induce Hibernation

Hibernate the cactus if you see etiolation when it should be resting. To accomplish this, you must:

  • Cut back on the amount of time you spend watering your plants
  • Do not fertilize and
  • Your cactus should be kept at a low temperature.

3. Trim Your Cactus

For those who see that their cactus is not going to recover from etiolation or that the weakened growth on top of it is not going to be able to support additional growth, pruning is probably the best option.

Pruning cacti is as simple as cutting off unwanted growth. Cacti can produce one or two offspring after being cut. Cuttings from these plants can also be used to propagate new plants. Roots can grow into healthy plants if given the proper attention.