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fallen saguaro cactus

How to Tell if My Saguaro Is Sick or Dying

The saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) is a species of extremely large cactus in Arizona and western Sonora, Mexico. Many homes keep one of these spiny beauties as a landscaping feature in front of their homes.


Under the right conditions, a saguaro can keep growing for up to 200 years, reaching heights over 30-50 feet. But what happens if your saguaro is sick or starts to lean over? Is there anything you can do to save it, or is it time to look into saguaro removal services?


To answer those questions and more, read on for our expert guide on how to handle diseases in saguaro cacti and when it may be time to get a new one.

Is My Saguaro Cactus Ill?

Let’s start by answering the first and most important question: is my saguaro cactus sick, and if so, why?


Thankfully, there aren’t many different diseases to watch for. The only one most cactus owners will ever notice is saguaro necrosis. This disease, caused by the presence of Erwinia cacticida bacteria in a saguaro, spreads through insects and contaminated soil.


The first sign of infection is the development of small, lighter-colored spots. They may show up anywhere on the branches or trunk and often appear wet around the margins. Over time, these spots will blacken, crack open, and may leak a dark-colored, foul-smelling fluid.


When left untreated, the bacteria will spread throughout the rest of the cactus. It will continue eating away at the healthy tissue until you’re left with large, exposed areas of the internal woody “skeleton”. These weak points can cause your saguaro to lean and eventually topple over.

Prevention and Treatment of Saguaro Necrosis

Most bacterial necrosis infections come from external tissue wounds in your saguaro. If you treat these immediately, it’s more likely to stay healthy. The other most important preventative measure is to avoid planting a new saguaro in the same place as a previously infected one.


To treat necrotic lesions that are under 2″ across, use a sharp, disinfected knife to excise the area and then treat the tissue wound. Spots larger than 2″ often mean the infection has spread past the point of treatment. As such, it’s important to examine your cactus for damage regularly.

Alternate Reasons for an Unhealthy Saguaro

What about when your saguaro is sick but doesn’t have the telltale symptoms of necrosis? Other reasons for an unhealthy saguaro aside from disease include:


  • overwatering
  • excessive cold
  • harsh weather conditions
  • growing outside of its normal temperature/elevation range

Drastic color changes are some of the best early signs that your saguaro is unhealthy. If your cactus changes from a subtle blue/green/gray color to yellow, especially if it’s also floppy or shriveled, it may be suffering from root rot. To avoid this, only water your saguaro once the soil around it has completely dried out.

My Saguaro Cactus Fell Over, What Now?

When it’s hydrated, a full-grown saguaro can weigh upwards of 3,000 lbs. Because this shallow-rooted plant can reach such massive sizes, a saguaro cactus falling over can do massive damage to property (and people, if they’re nearby).


As such, you should never ignore a saguaro cactus leaning to one side, as it could be a sign that it will fall soon. Instead, call a saguaro removal expert to examine the plant and determine whether it can be safely left in place.


Can a fallen saguaro cactus be saved? Perhaps—it all depends on the reason it fell and how much damage was done.


If it fell due to substantial damage from bacterial necrosis, it can’t be saved. Cacti that topple over due to substantial root rot from overwatering or frost damage from a cold snap may also be at the end of their lives. The best course of action in these cases is to have it removed from your property and disposed of per Arizona law.


If your perfectly healthy saguaro blows over in a rainstorm and doesn’t sustain much damage, there’s still hope. Call the experts for help replanting it or moving it to another location. If the trunk is damaged, you may be able to re-root a healthy arm and propagate a new cactus.

How to Handle a Dead Saguaro Cactus

If you realize that your saguaro isn’t salvageable, it’s best to remove it and start fresh.


Before you jump into action, though, make sure you have a saguaro removal permit from the Arizona Department of Agriculture. While you’re legally allowed to remove any plants on your land, you have to notify the AZDA ahead of time for protected species like saguaro and yucca. Removal without a permit can result in felony charges.


For obvious safety reasons, you shouldn’t try to remove a saguaro on your own. Instead, find cactus removal companies in your area who have the specialized skills and equipment for the job. They can take care of the problem legally and without danger of injury.


If you decide on buying a new saguaro to plant in the old one’s place, make sure you’ve removed all the surrounding soil and replaced it with new soil. Pathogens can live in the dirt and infect a healthy cactus after it’s planted, so if you can’t replace the dirt, move the new plant to a different area.

Follow This Guide if Your Saguaro Is Sick or Dying

If your saguaro is sick, don’t give up hope. Taking preventative measures and treating the problem as soon as you notice it can help your beautiful giant recover and keep growing for decades to come.


If your saguaro is past the point of no return, it’s time to call the cactus removal experts at Jose Knows Trees for help. We can take care of saguaro removal in Phoenix and the rest of the East Valley. Give us a call or contact us online today to get a free estimate for our services.

Free East Valley Saguaro Maintenance + Removal Quotes


If you need help removing a saguaro, Jose Knows Trees (J&M Landscaping Services) can help! We have provided the best tree removal services in the east valley for a decade, and we specialize in cactus removal, too.