Cacti are incredibly resilient plants, well-adapted to thrive in arid environments. However, these succulents still require some care when kept as houseplants. Watering is especially important to get right. In their native desert habitats, cacti experience rainy seasons followed by prolonged dry spells. As the seasons change, altering our indoor watering regimen is vital for maintaining healthy cactus. But how often should you water a cactus in winter? Let’s take a closer look.
Why Does Cacti Need Less Water in Winter ?
During spring and summer, cacti are actively growing. Their metabolism speeds up, and the plants produce new stems, leaves, and flowers. To support this growth and replace moisture lost through evapotranspiration, cacti require more frequent watering in the warmer months.
Come wintertime, the situation changes. As days shorten, cacti receive less sunlight to fuel photosynthesis. Temperatures drop as well. This signals the plants to go dormant, essentially hitting the pause button on visible growth. Even though the roots, internal structures and some chemical processes are still functioning, overall the cactus has lower water needs.
If cacti are overwatered in winter, it can lead to rot, fungal diseases, and even death. It’s crucial to reduce watering frequency and amounts in winter. But finding the right balance takes awareness and observation.
Signs Your Cactus Needs More or Less Water
Pay close attention to your cactus’s appearance throughout winter to spot signs of under or overwatering. Here are some visual cues:
Wrinkled, shriveled stems
Flattened or drooping segments
Dull, dry coloration
Mushy, discolored base
Brown or black rot spots
Split, cracked stems
Adjust your winter watering schedule if you notice these characteristics. Underwatered plants need more frequent moisture while overwatered cacti require an immediate reduction in watering and improved drainage.
Factoring in Different Cactus Types
There is no definitive watering timeframe that suits all cacti in winter. The specific species plays a major role in determining water needs. Use these general guidelines based on cactus type:
- Desert cacti – Water every 2-3 weeks
- Forest cacti – Water every 10-14 days
- Jungle cacti – Water every 1-2 weeks
Desert cacti like prickly pear and saguaro have adapted to receive very sparse rainfall. Species native to tropical jungles tend to store more moisture. It’s still essential to check soil dryness and watch for thirst signals before watering any cactus.
Reduce Watering Frequency, but Don’t Eliminate
A common misconception is that cacti require no winter water at all. In fact, completely ceasing watering could damage or kill the plant. Cacti rely on some moisture absorption even in dormancy.
As a general guideline, cut back on watering frequency by around half in the winter months. For instance, a cactus watered weekly during summer might go to every other week or just once a month in the winter.
Before watering, check the top few inches of cactus soil. If still slightly damp, hold off until drier. The duration between waterings can vary significantly based on conditions.
Ambient Environment Matters
The temperature, humidity, sunlight exposure, and airflow around your cactus also impact winter water requirements. Here are some examples:
- In a hot, dry home – Cactus may need more frequent watering like every 10-14 days.
- In a cool basement – Can go longer between waterings, even once a month.
- Next to a sunny window – Evapotranspiration higher, avoid underwatering.
- Enclosed terrarium – Higher humidity means less water needed.
Get to know your cactus’s specific environment. Adjust the watering schedule accordingly if you notice it struggling.
Soak Thoroughly, Then Dry Out
When you do water your cactus in winter, water deeply. Slowly pour water until it drains from the container’s bottom. This encourages stronger roots to grow downward searching for moisture.
After a thorough soaking, allow the soil to dry out completely before watering again. Find the balance between saturating the soil infrequently while not allowing it to remain bone dry for too long.
Use Grow Lights to Supplement Sun
One challenge with winter cactus care is less natural sunlight exposure. Short winter days coupled with weak sun angles mean fewer photons reaching the plants.
Providing full-spectrum grow lights can compensate for the lower winter light. Position LED grow bulbs close to the cactus for 12-14 hours per day. This fuels photosynthesis so water needs don’t drop too drastically.
Adjusting cactus watering practices to match seasonal changes is crucial. Observe your plants, reduce winter watering frequency, and address any signs of distress. With the right schedule, your cute cactus will stay happy and healthy through the dormant months.