Image by Joshua Ludwig
By Bonnie L. Grant
If you are looking for a houseplant with a lot of character and personality, consider growing old man cactus (Cephalocereus senilis). While it isn’t wrinkly or on social security, the plant does have fluffy white tufts of hair over the surface of the cactus body. The appearance is reminiscent of senior citizen pates, lightly cushioned by sparse, long billowy hair. Indoor cactus growing is most suitable in the majority of the United States growing zones. Learn how to grow an old man cactus and bring the cute little plant with the fuzzy white hairdo into your home.
Old Man Cactus Houseplants
This cactus can go outside in USDA zones 9 and 10. Native to Mexico, they need hot, dry climates and bright sunlight. The long hair is used by the plant to keep itself cool in its natural habitat. As an outdoor plant, they can get 45 feet tall but are generally slow growing as potted plants.
Old man cacti are mostly grown as houseplants and stay small and easily kept in a container for their entire lives. Indoor cactus growing requires a southern- or western-facing window and temperatures of at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit. For best growth, give it a winter hibernation period in an area where temperatures are below 65 degrees.
How to Grow an Old Man Cactus
Use a cactus mix or blend of sand, perlite and topsoil for indoor cactus growing. Also, use an unglazed pot for growing old man cactus. This will allow the pot to evaporate any excess moisture. Old man cactus houseplants like their soil on the dry side and overwatering is a common cause of rot and disease.
Old Man Cactus Care
Allow the top couple of inches of soil dry out completely between waterings. In winter, reduce watering to once or twice during the season.
Fertilize with a cactus food in early spring and you might be rewarded with thick pink flowers. In the plant’s natural habitat it grows a 1-inch long fruit, but this is rare in captive cultivation.
There is very little leaf or needle drop and no reason to prune as part of old man cactus care.
Growing Old Man Cactus Seeds and Cuttings
Old man cactus is easy to propagate from cuttings or seed. Seeds take a long time to grow into something recognizable as a cactus, but it is a cheap and fun project for children.
Cuttings need to lie out on the counter in a dry location for a couple of days to callus. Then insert the cut end with the dry, white callus into a soilless medium, such as sand or perlite. Keep the cutting in moderate, but not scalding, light where temperatures are at least 70 degrees F. for best rooting. Don’t water until the little cutting has rooted. Then treat your new old man cactus houseplants as you would a mature specimen.