By Bonnie L. Grant
Barrel cactus are the classic desert denizens of lore. There are two genus types, the Echinocactus and the Ferrocactus. The Echinocactus has a fuzzy crown of fine spines, while the Ferrocactus are ferociously thorned. Each one can be grown as a houseplant or in less common situations the arid garden and are attractive additions to a succulent display. Growing barrel cactus requires a sunny location, well-drained potting soil and minimal watering.
How to Grow Barrel Cactus
Barrel cactus plants are characterized by their ribbed, cylindrical shape. The cacti come in many sizes and may be low and squat or as tall as 10 feet in height. The barrel cactus cares for lost travelers in the desert because it habitually grows tilted to the southwest. Caring for barrel cactus is quite easy and it makes a great plant for the beginning gardener. Site, water, soil and container are the key to how to grow barrel cactus.
Potted cactus should be kept in the warmest room of the home in a bright sunny location. Direct southern sunlight may burn the plant in the height of the summer, so you should move them back from the window or turn the slats on your blinds to diffuse the light.
Soil for barrel cactus is mostly sand with a little topsoil, perlite and compost. Prepared cactus mixes are suitable for growing barrel cactus. Unglazed pots are best for potted cactus because they allow the evaporation of excess water.
Water is a very important component to caring for barrel cactus. The plants are native to arid desert regions and usually have only rainfall to supply their moisture needs. Water your barrel cactus once per week in summer. The barrel cactus doesn’t need much water in winter when it is dormant. Water once between December and February. Adequate water in spring may cause the plant to produce a large yellow flower. Rarely the plant will then grow an edible fruit.
The cactus naturally grows in low fertility areas so their nutrient needs are low. Fertilize the barrel cactus once a year in spring when it leaves dormancy and begins growing again. A low nitrogen liquid fertilizer is a good formula for the barrel cactus. The amount of fertilizer will depend on the size of your container and plant. Consult the packaging for guidance on the exact amount.
Growing Barrel Cactus from Seed
Barrel cactus can be easily grown from seed. Fill a flat with commercial cactus mix and sow the seeds on the surface of the soil. Sprinkle a thin layer of sand on top of the seeds and then the soil needs to be evenly misted. Cover the flat with a lid or plastic wrap and keep it in a warm location. The seeds readily germinate and can be transplanted when they are big enough to a larger container. Always use gloves when handling barrel cactus, which also go by the name “fish hook cactus.”