Mammillaria Powder Puffs: Growing Powder Puff Cactus

powder puff cactus
Image by shihina

By Bonnie L. Grant

You would not really want to use these little cacti as powder puffs, but the shape and size are similar. The family is Mammilaria, powder puffs are the variety, and they are a very common group of ornamental cacti. What is a powder puff cactus? The plant is a succulent and the name results from the compact round shape with small spines covered in wool. Read on to learn how to grow powder puff plants and bring this unique and adorable little cactus into your home.

What is a Powder Puff Cactus?

These plants (Mammillaria bocasa-na) are only suitable for outdoor life in USDA plant hardiness zones 8 to 10. The plants need plenty of sunlight and warm temperatures.

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The cactus grows rapidly and produces small round offsets, which cluster around the parent plant. Mammilaria powder puffs will produce small white or red flowers depending on the cultivar grown. The body of the cactus is bluish green, stocky and made up of short stems that hug the ground.

The entire plant is covered in silky white hairs that cover the red or yellow curved spines that also coat the entire cactus. The effect is similar to a powder puff but resist the urge to try it or risk damage from those sharp spines!

How to Grow Powder Puff Plants

Mammilaria powder puff cactus grows from seed like almost any other plant. Seedlings take a long time to form adequate plants, so the best way to start some new plants is from division. The little offsets that cluster around the parent plant are easy to pull away. Lay the offset on the counter in a warm, dry location for a day to form a callus.

Plant it in cactus mix or sandy potting soil. Growing powder puff cactus from these offsets is almost foolproof as long as you do not overwater the plants. Apply regular moisture in summer but water sparingly in all other seasons.

Caring for Mammillaria Powder Puffs

Cacti are one of the easiest plants for the home gardener. Caring for Mammillaria is nearly as simple as providing lots of light and forgetting to water. That sounds too simple, but really, this family is happy as long as temperatures are around 70-80 F. (21-27 C.) and at least eight hours of sunlight.

During the winter, cacti become dormant and can be held in a dry, cool room of the house. The exposure to temperatures around 60-65 F. (16-18 C.) helps encourage flowering in spring. Move powder puff cacti outside in summer.

Other than that, you need to watch for some pests such as whiteflies and mites.

Growing Powder Puff Cactus in Pots

For gardeners in most zones, only indoor potted cacti are an option. Cacti like to be a little pot bound and only need repotting every three to five years.

Fertilize powder puff cactus in spring with a 5-10-5 liquid fertilizer. Continue to feed the potted plant from June until September, every month. Suspend fertilizer in fall and winter, when the plant is dormant.

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