How To Stop a Bunny Ear Cactus From Leaning

Opuntia microdasys is famous for the distinct way the pads grow out in pairs, resembling perky rabbit ears. Hence, one of the common names it goes by is the bunny ear cactus. Unfortunately, the pads on the bunny ear cactus can start leaning, but how do you stop this?

You can stop the bunny ear cactus from leaning by providing it with enough water and sunlight and eliminating the pests that feed on the plant’s sap. When growing your cactus outdoors, be sure to give it adequate protection from strong winds. Pruning can also help reduce the weight of your plant.

In the rest of the article, I’ll explain what causes the bunny ear cactus to lean and how to prevent it. Let’s get started!

Assessing the Cause of Leaning

The bunny ear cactus is a fantastic indoor plant because its growth rate is very slow. When left to thrive outdoors in a sunny and spacious location, it can reach up to 3 feet (90 cm) tall and 6 feet (180 cm) wide after 10 years.

Larger plants are more likely to droop, but the list of factors below can cause any bunny ear cactus to lean over:

Dehydration

Like all cacti, the bunny ear cactus has evolved with modified stems that can store moisture to survive extended periods of drought. These stems are called pads, which are relatively flat and less plump compared to other cactus species.

Nonetheless, these pads work effectively to store moisture to sustain the plant’s needs. So when the plant is constantly underwatered, it results in dehydration and the plant’s consequent drooping or leaning over.

Water-Logging

Bunny ear cacti do much better in dry environments than in water-logged conditions. So if your plant is habitually overwatered, some segments may become water-soaked and exhibit stem rot. As a result, the affected pads may lean over.

In severe cases, the plant becomes susceptible to root rot. Once the roots have been severely damaged, the pads can no longer get enough moisture and eventually dry up. They will then show similar symptoms to a dehydrated plant.

Insufficient Sunlight

Most cacti species exhibit etiolation or elongation when they don’t get enough sunlight. Being sun-loving plants, they’ll try to reach out in search of a light source. 

So if you’re growing your bunny ear cactus indoors and notice it becoming longer and leaning, this can be an indication that your plant isn’t happy with the little amount of light it receives. This may be due to insufficient light intensity or duration of exposure.

Pest Infestation

Numerous insects are attracted to bunny ear cacti because they can feed on the juicy pads. These insects can also multiply rather quickly, resulting in significant damage, especially when the plant is weakened due to diseases or poor environmental conditions.

Some cacti pests to watch out for include the following:

  • Aphids
  • Mealybugs
  • Scale insects
  • Fungus gnats
  • Spider mites

Fungus gnats are easy to spot and remove because they usually dwell in the soil to feed on organic matter and plant roots. However, other pests that stick to the pads are hard to spot as they blend in with the glochids. 

Glochids are modified leaves that look like fine, hair-like spines jutting out of the cactus pads. Physical contact with these structures can cause mild to severe skin irritation, making removing the small insects around them more challenging.

Wind Exposure

The bunny ear cactus doesn’t grow too tall, and you can easily control its size when grown in containers. However, on well-draining, sandy garden soil, they can spread up to 10 feet (3 m) in diameter.

The pads may lean over, depending on the direction and speed of the wind, especially when the tops become too heavy.

Top Heaviness and Size

As mentioned, heavy pads on top of the plant will make your bunny ear cactus more likely to lean over during a relatively windy day. A larger plant will also need more water, leading to higher chances of dehydration.

Preventive Measures and Solutions

Adequate Watering

Leaning is just one of the many symptoms of water-related problems in a bunny ear cactus. Several other symptoms can be life-threatening. It’s crucial to pay attention to your plant’s watering needs.

During the growing season in spring and the cool season in the fall, you can water your plant once every 10-14 days or when the top 2 inches (5 cm) of the soil feels dry. 

You can increase the watering frequency as temperatures rise in the summer. For instance, you can check the soil every 5-7 days. When the upper 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm) of the soil is dry, it’s time to water the plant deeply.

In the winter, the watering requirements vary depending on whether you have indoor or outdoor plants. Indoor plants kept at temperatures above 60 °F (15.6 °C) can receive water once every 10-14 days or as soon as the top 3 inches (7.6 cm) are dry. 

On the other hand, outdoor plants should only receive water when the soil has dried up completely. However, when temperatures drop below 40 °F (4.4 °C), you must stop watering altogether to prevent the moisture inside the pads from freezing.

Wrapping your plant in burlap (or similar breathable but warm material) can provide your plant with extra protection in the winter.

Ensuring Proper Sunlight

Outdoors, the bunny ear cactus thrives best with six to eight hours of direct sunlight. However, they’d still do well indoors with over eight hours of indirect sunlight. The best places for them indoors are next to an unobstructed eastern window or a bright south-facing window.

If you live in a home where those options aren’t available, you can use grow lights for up to 16 hours a day. 

A cheaper alternative is using regular fluorescent lights rich in blue light, with a wavelength of approximately 400 nm. If you want your plant to bloom, you can use a fluorescent lamp with higher wavelengths (~700 nm) in spring.

Pest Management

Small potted bunny ear cacti grown indoors that are heavily infested by pests might need to be disposed of right away. Treating your cacti to remove the insects might only encourage the pests to move to your other indoor plants.

However, if you spot only a few insects on your plant, you can get rid of them using simple methods:

Sticky Traps

First, you can catch them with sticky traps. You can place sticky traps on the soil and wait for the pests to fall on them. While helpful, this method can prove to be the least effective unless you brush the pests off your bunny ear cactus pads using a cotton swab.

Neem Oil Solution

Treat your cactus with a neem oil solution. This is a widely used method of eliminating many kinds of insect pests from plants.

However, be careful to dilute the solution properly to prevent the sunlight from heating up the oil and burning your cactus’ pads. Mixing 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of neem oil, 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of liquid dish soap, and a liter (0.26 gal) of water should do the trick.

Hand-Plucking

Pluck the insects off the pads using tweezers. This method can be time-consuming, but it works if your plant has only a few insects. You can drop the insects in soapy water to kill them.

Insecticidal Soap Spray

Spray plant-safe insecticidal soap spray on your plant. Although commercially available household liquid dish soap is also effective in killing common bunny ear cactus pests, they’re not always safe for plants.

Choose a product specially designed for the purpose to avoid harming your cactus. You can also use the same product for other houseplants.

Wind Protection for Outdoor Plants

If you want to grow your bunny ear cactus outdoors and allow it to spread freely, you might as well install a structure that can protect it from strong winds. 

A fence is better than trees for this purpose. A bunny ear cactus thrives in sandy soil, and not many trees like the same. Moreover, tall trees can provide more shade than necessary, making them unsuitable windguards for sun-loving plants.

Pruning for Balanced Growth

Bunny ear cacti don’t require frequent pruning because they grow pretty slowly. However, overgrown ones need regular pruning—ideally in spring—to prevent them from spreading too much. 

It can also prevent the plant from drooping and improve air circulation. Moreover, it’s a perfect opportunity to remove damaged pads. 

Cut the damaged or undesirable segments right at the base using a sterile knife or pruning shears. Be sure to cut evenly on both sides to prevent the plant from leaning over to the heavier side.

Final Thoughts

Bunny ear cacti lean due to numerous reasons, and identifying the underlying cause can help you come up with an appropriate solution. Sometimes, there can be multiple reasons leading to the issue. 

Addressing every one of them will not only prevent your plant from drooping but also ensure that it’s in optimal condition.

Dr. Moritz Picot

Dr. Moritz Picot is a horticulture enthusiast and the founder of TheGrowingLeaf.com, where he serves as the lead content writer. He established the website in 2022 as a valuable resource for both gardening aficionados and beginners, compiling all the gardening tips he has accumulated over the past 25 years. Alex has a passion for nurturing plants, transforming backyards into inviting spaces, and sharing his knowledge with the world.

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