Why Is Your Bunny Ear Cactus Falling Apart?

The Bunny Ear cactus is famous for its modified stems or pads resembling a rabbit’s ears, hence the name. Like most cacti, you can propagate Bunny Ear cacti with stem cuttings. However, some of the stems or pads might fall apart before propagation.

Your Bunny Ear cactus is falling apart mainly due to poor watering practices. Underwatering your plant results in dry stems, causing them to fall off. On the other hand, habitual overwatering can damage the roots and eventually kill your plant. 

Water is one of the vital requirements for any plant to thrive, and watering problems can significantly affect a plant’s life. Read on to learn more about how it affects the Bunny Ear cactus. I’ll also share the best ways to prevent your plant from falling apart.

How Poor Watering Practices Affect the Bunny Ear Cactus

Cacti and several other succulents are popular among plant enthusiasts as gifts, since they are relatively low maintenance and don’t typically require as much attention as other types of plants. 

Opuntia microdasys has adorable bunny ears, giving it the moniker Bunny Ear cactus. Under suitable conditions, this plant is known to produce beautiful yellow blooms in the spring. However, it’s best to be cautious around these spiny succulents, since their spines can cause rashes or severe irritation upon skin contact.

Nonetheless, it’s still one of the most popular cacti species for gifting because it grows very slowly and doesn’t require frequent watering. It may come as a surprise, but poor watering practices remain the primary reason this otherwise sturdy plant falls apart. 

Here’s how:


The Bunny Ear cactus originally came from the deserts of Mexico, making it a drought-tolerant plant. Therefore, it’s pretty hard to underwater it.

Still water is necessary for the Bunny Ear cactus’s modified stems or pads to remain plump and hydrated. This is where the plant gets the moisture it needs to thrive during days when it can’t source water from the soil.

The plant also has modified leaves called glochids, which are hairy spines common among members of the Opuntia genus. These structures help minimize water loss from evaporation and also contribute to the absorption of moisture from the environment.

These traits developed over centuries to adapt to their natural environment have made Opuntia species resistant to low-water conditions. However, habitual underwatering and extended periods of neglect can cause even the most drought-tolerant plant to fall apart.

Here are some signs your Bunny Ear cactus is underwatered:

  • The pads are shriveling or drooping.
  • The pads are turning yellow.
  • The spines are falling off.
  • The pads/ears are falling apart.


On the other hand, overwatering can cause just as much damage to the Bunny Ear Cactus as underwatering.

The following symptoms indicate that your Bunny Ear cactus is overwatered:

  • The soil remains moist for several days after watering.
  • The roots are black and mushy.
  • The pads are shriveling and falling over.

To learn more about how watering problems can affect Bunny Ear cacti, you can read my other article: Why is Your Bunny Ear Cactus Shriveling? 7 Causes

Other Reasons Why Bunny Ear Cacti Fall Apart

Poor watering habits can also bring about other problems that can damage your Bunny Ear cactus.

Pest Attack

Pests like aphids, mealybugs, and scale insects are common among indoor plants, but a healthy plant can easily remain unaffected. 

However, poorly-watered Bunny Ear cacti are much more sensitive to pests, making them more likely to succumb to pest damage. When left untreated, they can suck the sap out of your Bunny Ear cactus and leave it severely damaged.

Freezing Temperatures

During the winter, you can limit watering your Bunny Ear cactus to once a month under warm conditions indoors. However, when left outdoors, you may need to stop watering altogether before the first fall frost.

The plant needs enough time to dry out its pads, preventing the moisture from freezing and thawing repeatedly over winter, which can significantly damage them.

Can You Still Save a Bunny Ear Cactus That’s Falling Apart?

You can still save a Bunny Ear cactus even if it appears to be falling apart. You just need to identify the underlying cause and address it accordingly.

How to Fix an Underwatered Bunny Ear Cactus

Follow the steps below to revive your underwatered Bunny Ear cactus:

  1. Remove the dried-out and browning pads. Chances are these pads won’t be able to recover anymore, so it’s best to remove them entirely.
  2. Water your plant deeply. Place the pot on the sink and allow the water to drain out of the drainage holes. Place the pot on the plant saucer after 30 minutes.
  3. Place your plant next to a curtained window. Light curtains will suffice to filter the light. Although your Bunny Ear cactus loves bright light, underwatering has weakened it, so it’s best to keep it in mild conditions, away from direct sunlight.
  4. Water the cactus when the soil’s top two inches (5 cm) is dry. Don’t wait until the soil is completely dry. The plant needs to make up for the moisture lost from its pads.

How To Fix an Overwatered Bunny Ear Cactus

If you’ve overwatered your Bunny Ear cactus, follow the instructions below to revive it:

  1. Gently remove the plant from the soil.
  2. Inspect the roots for signs of root rot.
  3. Snip off the black, mushy roots with a sterile pair of scissors.
  4. Rinse off the remaining soil from the roots.
  5. Let the cactus dry on a clean towel for 2-3 days.
  6. Re-pot the plant in a fresh, sterile, and damp cactus potting mix.
  7. Wait for the soil to completely dry out before watering.
  8. Go back to a regular watering routine after four weeks.

How To Eliminate Pests from Bunny Ear Cactus

If you’ve noticed a pest infestation causing your cactus to fall apart, here’s how to fix the issue:

  1. Place a sticky trap on the soil around the cactus.
  2. Remove the insects from the pads using tweezers or a cotton swab. Be careful not to touch the spikes to avoid skin irritation.
  3. Drop some insects into a bowl of soapy water, and let the others stick to the trap.
  4. Spray a diluted neem oil solution on the pads or wipe them with a cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol. Remember to do this during the night to avoid burning the pads.

How To Fix Winter Damage

Some gardeners grow Bunny Ear cacti in pots, making them easier to move indoors when the temperatures drop below favorable levels. Other gardeners living in warmer regions leave their cacti outdoors all year round. 

However, some years can be unexpectedly colder than others, putting heat-loving plants at risk. As such, there are different ways to deal with winter damage.

Potted Bunny Ear Cacti

  1. Move your plant indoors as soon as possible. Place the plant next to an east-facing window. Bunny Ear cacti still need sunlight, even during winter.
  2. Keep it in a room where the temperature is between 50 and 65°F (10 and 18.3°C) and the humidity stays below 30%.
  3. Don’t remove the discolored pads yet. Wait for them to recover by themselves. 
  4. Remove the pads when they turn black.
  5. Only water your Bunny Ear cactus when the soil feels completely dry.

Bunny Ear Cacti Grown in Garden Soil

  1. Wipe away water droplets from the pads. Remember to wear gardening gloves to avoid injuring yourself on the spines.
  2. Wrap the plant in burlap. Tie the bottom carefully to protect it from the wind.
  3. Apply mulch to the soil. Two inches (5 cm) of bark or straw should be enough.
  4. Inspect the cactus weekly for a month. This helps ensure the injured pads are recovering well. If they turn black, remove them right away. If there are no signs of damage after a month, you can leave the plant wrapped snugly in burlap throughout the winter.

Tips To Prevent Bunny Ear Cactus From Falling Apart

Although Bunny Ear cacti are relatively easy to care for, it still helps to remember some essential care tips to ensure they stay happy and healthy.

  • In the summer, water the plant when the top 2 inches (5 cm) of the soil is dry. Bunny Ear cacti need to store more water in their pads during hot and dry seasons.
  • In winter, wait until the soil is completely dry before adding water. For Bunny Ear cacti grown outdoors, leave them unwatered throughout winter. Resume watering during the growing season in spring.
  • Use a special cactus mix or sandy soil with excellent drainage. This can help prevent all issues with overwatering.
  • Remove pests as soon as you find them. Pests reproduce rather quickly and can easily move from one plant to another. If your cactus is near infested plants, move it away to avoid infection. 
  • Keep the temperatures above 70°F (21.1°C) in spring and summer. Above 50°F (10°C) is safe in fall and winter.

Final Thoughts

Watering mistakes can lead to severe problems for any plant, and drought-tolerant plants like the Bunny Ear cactus are no exception. This plant can fall apart with too much or too little water. Moreover, they can be more susceptible to pest attacks and winter injuries if your watering schedule isn’t correct.

You can still save Bunny Ear cacti that are falling apart, depending on the extent of the damage. However, it’s always best to observe proper watering practices to prevent problems from happening.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of TheGrowingLeaf.com, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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