My Rat Tail Cactus is very very unhappy and maybe nearly dead

by Jeanette
(Madison, WI, USA)

Picture of limp rat tail cactus

Picture of limp rat tail cactus

Hello,
Well, this is a cactus, but I think they are a type of a succulent.

I started this cactus from a very small cutting and was very very pleased with it's growth until it took a tumble.

That put a little narrowing "bump" in it, but it came back strong.

Then while it was sitting in its normal spot on the shelf in the picture window- with it's "nose" kind of hanging over the shelf closest to the window- we had a terrible and immediate cold snap and it seemed to get kind of frost bitten. That seemed to be the end of it.

Then the weather was really weird and the humidity levels inside totally unmanageable, I over watered it for what it was able to absorb.

By the time I figured this out, this poor little plant had become fairly limp with it's nose still looking a different shade of green, than the rest of the plant, from the "frost bite".

Finally I cut back the watering a lot to allow it to dry out and it just keeps getting more limp.

Now I started doing a "flooding" letting water run through and out (now with a little fertilizer as a last resort) alternating with almost complete drying. That's why the strainer is under the pot inside the tray just to be sure it is completely draining.

But it is still getting thinner and limper. I don't think it has enough roots to be delivering proper water to the plant.

It is in proper cactus soil that drains really well, but I am not sure- can't recall clearly- if it always was that way or if I switched that out somewhere along the way.

I just don't know what to do with this anymore and I'm afraid it is all but done. I am including 4 photos. Hope they show well enough.

I can't tell if all 4 photos got loaded(?) I will try them again.

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Just one picture...
by: Jacki Cammidge, Certified Horticulturist

Which is enough, plus your great write up. I need as much information as I can get, which you've given me.

I'm so sorry to say that this plant may be done. You indicate that it got cold - these plants are not that hardy, and below a certain temperature they won't recover. However, if there is any hope at all, it's that maybe there is a bud that escaped the cold. With time, this may emerge from under the soil level and grow. Don't give up too quickly!

I suggest, and you may have already gathered this, because the roots are very sensitive to excess water, they may not be working very well.

I would treat this plant like a new cutting, and not water it.

They also have a dormant period, which is right now. During this time they may look almost dead, and they'll revive in the spring with lengthening day light, and warmer temperatures.

Good luck, have patience. Put the plant on 'ignore' and let it recover without your worrying. If it makes it, you've learned something. If it doesn't, you've also learned something and can do better next time.

Also
by: Jacki Cammidge, Certified Horticulturist

Please stop fertilizing it. This won't do any good at all, in fact, it may be the final straw.

These plants originate high up in tree tops, so they don't have any use for fertilizer. Plus, it will burn the roots, which are already compromised.

Thanks for your advice, but...
by: Jeanette

Thanks so much for your advice. I just want to be very clear about it tho. Do you mean just stop watering it altogether? And for how long...until it starts to recover or completely dies?
Also, where should I keep it? How much sun and heat?
That's all the questions I can think of right now. Many thanks and kind regards.

You nailed it
by: Jacki Cammidge, Certified Horticulturist

Yes, stop watering completely until it either recovers or dies totally. Continuing to keep the soil wet if it's got damaged roots won't help. Give it a rest until the spring.

As for temperature, somewhere that stays above freezing, like a back bedroom or a place that isn't used a lot is best. If possible, with a grow light and away from the window so it doesn't get frozen again. For light, bright light, but not full sun (wherever you live, you may not be getting sun at all, these days!) Again, a grow light is crucial. Set the timer to 12 hour on, 12 hours off, so it gets the correct day length.

Best of luck with it - keep us posted!

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My poor little rat tail cactus is now limp and lifeless, now what?

by Jeanette
(Madison, wi)

Hello, my tablet is in the shop. So no picture today. Suffice it to say my Rat Tail cactus is nothing to look at anyway.

It is still sitting under the grow light and I have resisted watering it. You said it might still have a "bud" that will grow. So, if it does, what do I do with the plant now to give it the best chance of coming forth?

Do I continue to leave it under the grow light? When do I finally water it? What else do I need to do or know about this?
Thanks much, jw

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Be Patient!
by: Jacki Cammidge, Certified Horticulturist

The recovery process could take a while. You'll be leaving it under lights until spring arrives. To water it, spray or sprinkle a tiny amount close to the stem where it comes out of the soil, but not on the plant itself. If roots are still alive, this is where it will need it most.

The roots may be alive, and if there's a bud under the soil that didn't get too cold, it will emerge once spring comes. There's no rushing this process.

Please do continue to send pictures of the progress. It helps me to give you more information (and encouragement) if I can see what's going on.

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