When we think of cacti, we often picture plants in some semi-desert landscape or scenography for Western movies. They thrive without rain for months, but can a cactus survive without roots?
The short answer is – Yes, but only for a limited time.
Sometimes, when you buy your cacti and bring them home, you can notice it doesn’t stay upward in the soil. When you check for the roots, you might notice your new green friend doesn’t have one. That’s what happened to me.
Sometimes, your old cactus might lose its roots for various reasons. Further, we will discuss everything about cactus roots, how they can stay without them, and what you can do about them.
Also Read: Why Did My Cactus Deflate?
How Cactus Roots Look Like And How They Work
Cacti roots are, to some extent, different from the roots of other plants. They are usually shallow and widespread just below the surface. That way, they can absorb a larger amount of water quickly and survive in arid environments with occasional periods of rain.
They are thin and pale and can grow and retract depending on the water and nutrients.
A central root goes deeper into the ground in some larger cactus species. This thicker and stronger root helps the cactus stay firmly in the soil. It can also help the plant reach water that is available deeper in the ground.
5 main reasons why cacti lose their roots
If you water your cactus too often, it will cause root rot. Roots will become mushy and get the characteristic rotting smell. Rotting spreads quickly and may cause complete decay of the root system. If left that way, the whole plant might rot in no time.
Cactus plants need well-drained substrate. If the soil retains too much water, the effects will be similar to overwatering, causing root rot and decaying the whole plant. To prevent this, use a special potting mix for succulents and cactus and a pot with drainage holes.
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Insects or pests
Cactus plants are pests hardy, but a couple of insects can still damage roots. Some species of mealybugs can cause serious damage to cactus roots. You can recognize them as fluffy white patches on the root, and they can be treated with insecticides.
Another pest is a root-knot nematode, which forms galls on roots. To prevent them, sterilize the soil before potting.
Cotton root rot
It is an incurable fungal disease you can find in many cactus species. Brown strands of fungi grow instead of roots, and affected plants should be destroyed.
This bacterial disease develops in a high-humidity environment. The affected parts are dark, soft, and watery; you should remove them and treat the plant with copper fungicides.
In some cases, cactus may lose its roots accidentally; you may cut them off or damage them while poting or repotting, or the pot may turn over. If that happens, the cactus will most likely survive and regrow new roots with proper care.
How Can Cactus Survive Without Roots
Cactuses are recognizable by their thick flashy bodies (stems) that can store water when available. This water reserve helps them survive during dry periods and when their roots are missing.
Cactus usually don’t have leaves, so they don’t lose much water through transpiration. It helps them save water, especially when they can’t absorb more from the soil because of missing or damaged roots.
These adaptations help cacti manage without roots for some time, but eventually, they’ll need new roots to survive. Without roots, they can’t get enough water and nutrients from the soil, which they need to grow and stay healthy.
Which Cactus Can Survive Longest Without Roots
Some cacti species are hardier than others. They will probably survive without roots for a longer time.
- Ferocactus (Barrel cactus)
It is cylindrical cactus with ribs and long spines; it grows very slowly but can grow large and store water in its body. Spines prevent sufficient transpiration and help it survive without roots for a long time.
- Opuntia (Prickly Pear Cactus)
This species has round, flattened, fleshy pads that help it store enough water to thrive without roots. Sharp pads minimize water loss.
- Echonocereus (Hedgehog Cactus)
It is cylindrical cactus covered in tight, sharp spines. Usually grow small to medium in size. The larger they get, the harder they are, and they can survive longer without roots.
Cactus Without Roots – What To Do
If you find that your cactus doesn’t have roots, it’s still not the time to panic. You can help it grow new roots by following these steps:
Remove any damaged tissue
If your plant was a victim of root rot, first, you need to remove all affected parts of the plant. Cut them off till you get green, healthy tissue.
Let the cut end dry
If your plant loses its roots, allow the cut end to dry. It will form calluses, a protective tissue.
Plant your cactus
When the cut ends dry, you can plant your cactus in a special potting mix for succulents and cacti. The cut end should be in the soil to grow new roots.
Wait before watering
After planting, don’t water the cactus right away. Wait a week or two for the plant to start growing roots.
Cactus can survive without roots for some time. Larger species usually can endure a long time. Some desert cactuses can live up to a year, while smaller cacti that grow as houseplants can last a few months.
It is because of their unique characteristics, such as water storage and slow transpiration. However, they can go on like that forever. Roots are necessary for absorbing water and nutrients; without them, plants can’t grow and stay healthy.
If you get a cactus without roots, or your plant loses them for some reason, you can help it regrow new roots. Important parts of the process are allowing the cut end to dry, choosing a well-draining substrate, and avoiding watering initially.
Whatever the causes of losing roots, it’s essential to address them immediately and act accordingly.
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