Why is my Fishbone Cactus dying?

Last Updated: October 27, 2022

Also known as the ZigZag Cactus, Moon Cactus or RicRac Cactus, the Fishbone Cactus (as we like to call it) is loved for its unique leaves and tropical vibe. And although they can be pretty low maintenance compared to a lot of other plants out there, it’s common to run into a few issues from time to time. 

To figure out why your Fishbone Cactus is dying, we have outlined the potential factors below as well as what to look for to successfully diagnose the issue. You’ll also find tips on how to treat the issue and steps to take to prevent it from reoccurring.

Are you overwatering your Fishbone Cactus?

Improper watering is one of the biggest issues for most houseplants and can kill your Fishbone Cactus pretty quickly. You might not think it because of the name but the Fishbone Cactus is actually a succulent plant which means their roots are very sensitive to waterlogged soil and it can cause them to start dying pretty suddenly.. 

Overwatering will cause their leaf tips to turn brown, their leaves to turn yellow, their roots to rot and eventually their leaves to become unstable and mushy. So all in all it’s really something you want to avoid if you can! 

During the spring and summer growth months, you shouldn’t be watering your Fishbone Cactus more than once every week or two. During the colder months, once a month is definitely enough.

But how do I know when to water my Fishbone Cactus?

Getting the watering amount and frequency right is probably the hardest thing about caring for houseplants because there isn’t a set schedule you can follow. We are pretty against the watering schedules that exist out there because there are so many environmental factors that change how much water your plant needs. 

Factors such as light level, temperature, plant size, maturity and root-to-soil ratio alongside variables such as seasons all impact how fast your Fishbone Cactus’ soil dries out. 

There are a few things you can do to know when to water your Fishbone Cactus. Firstly, if you water with a top-down approach, check the top few inches of the soil and only water when they are dry. If you use the bottom-up approach then the chopstick method, lifting method and using a moisture meter are the right things for you. 

The pot and soil may have drainage problems

If you are seeing symptoms alike to overwatering but you really aren’t giving your plant much water, it might be dying due to poor draining of the soil and pot. You can very easily increase the amount of drainage in your Fishbone Cactus by mixing in a small amount of perlite

You also want to check that your plant pot has drainage holes and that they aren’t blocked by anything. This will allow any excess water to flow out of the pot and you can get rid of it so it isn’t sitting around the roots. 

One final tip we have to increase the drainage and prevent your plant from dying due to root rot is to switch to clay or terracotta pots. The clay they’re made of is permeable which means that some of the water in your soil can evaporate through the sides of the pot. This isn’t the case for the plastic pots that most use, which instead hold in all of that moisture.

You might be underwatering your Fishbone Cactus

Now that we have covered overwatering and drainage issues, there’s actually one other watering problem that could be why your plant is dying; underwatering. 

Too little water can also cause a lot of problems for your Fishbone Cactus and it will start to develop dry crispy leaves. If not caught early, it can cause the entire plant to crisp up and wilt.

If you suspect it is underwatering then you must again check the moisture levels in the soil before making any changes to your care routine. The worst thing you could do is increase how much you are watering your Fishbone Cactus when it really doesn’t need any more water

To solve the issue, make sure you adjust your schedule going forward so you are either increasing how much water you give your plant each time or increasing the frequency that you are watering. You still want to, however, ensure that the potting mix fully dries out between waterings.

A lack of sunlight could be killing your Fishbone Cactus

Although direct light can cause leaf burn and a range of other issues, not enough sunlight can also be really damaging to your plant and might be why it has started dying. 

Whilst they can adapt to some lower light areas, they will struggle in winter in low light corners of the room and you might start to see symptoms that include small or stagnant growth, leggy leaves and drooping leaves. 

Solving the issue can be pretty straightforward as you need to find a sunnier spot for your plant. If you aren’t able to find somewhere with more natural sunlight, then we recommend purchasing an LED grow light. These can help supplement natural light during winter and are great when propagating and cultivating new plants. 

Check your plant for pests immediately

Although fairly rare, Fishbone Cacti can begin dying if they are infested with pests. It’s a pretty serious issue which is why we recommend checking your plant thoroughly for any signs of them.

Insects such as mealybugs or spider mites can take hold of the plant and suck on their nutrients which will cause leaf damage. Over time these leaves will begin to fall off the plant as they become dry and damaged. 

Most of the time you can spot the pests crawling on the leaves which makes confirming the problem fairly easy. Other signs you want to look out for are small yellow and brown spots, small holes in the leaves (or holes halfway through the leaf if they didn’t quite make it through)

Although spotting pests isn’t always difficult, treating them can be a bit of a pain. You want to remove any leaves that are very damaged or have a high number of pests on them. We also recommend you replace the entire potting mix to cut down the number of pests. Then move on to treating your dying Fishbone Cactus with neem oil and an insecticide.

To diagnose what’s causing your Fishbone Cactus to start dying, we recommend going through the above list whilst inspecting your plant, the potting mix and its root system. This will help you eliminate issues and hopefully land on the right one. Then once you have made changes to either the environment or your care routine, keep a close eye on your plant to make sure that things are moving in the right direction.

To learn more about caring for your plant and preventing more common issues from arising, check out our Fishbone Cactus care guide.

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