How To Care For Cholla Cactus (Jumping Cactus)?

Cholla cactus plants, also called jumping cholla, are a type of cactus that has spread throughout the southwest in recent years. How do you grow this cholla cactus? Look to the ultimate guide to caring for a cholla cactus plant.
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Having plants throughout your house or apartment can add a nice, homey touch, but most require a bit more attention. So if you find yourself constantly on the go, traditional flowers and plants might not live as long without the proper care they require. However, if you want a little piece of the southwest, having a cactus could solve your problem of wanting a plant and does not demand as much time and attention from you. 

Not many people have a cactus sitting on their windowsill or anywhere in their house for that matter, so it can add a nice touch of something different to your overall environment and ambiance. Although there are specific needs that a cholla cactus has, it is not as time consuming as most plants once things get rolling. Continue reading to learn how to properly grow and take care of your cholla cactus!

How to Properly Care for a Cholla Cactus

The key to a successful and healthy cholla cactus is making sure there is a good foundation and the basic starting requirements are met. Like most things, a good start will yield a fruitful future for your new home plant. Overall they have fairly low maintenance, and with the proper little care that they do need, you can expect to have a big, beautiful cactus.

Container and Soil

When most people plant flowers, they just want a clay pot or some type of flower bed that looks nice and is aesthetically pleasing with the rest of their landscape and interior of their home or apartment. With growing and caring for a cholla cactus however, you will want to get a container or pot that has a little more purposeful function.

As a viable container for your cactus, you will want to purchase a well draining base so any excess water leaks out. Sitting water is not good for a cactus, and will actually start to rot if it is immersed in water for too long. As can be expected for most cacti species, a little bit of water can go a long way. Once your cactus has been properly started, it will only need roughly one inch of water per month to survive and continue its process of photosynthesis.

Get well-draining pots for your cholla cactus to prevent its roots from rotting.

In terms of getting the proper soil for your cactus, it is best to have a desert like and dry soil, but it would not hurt if it also contained some amount of fertilization to it as well. When first starting out, it is recommended that you loosen up about 8 inches of soil at the time of planting your cactus, and you can add extra grit and sand to increase its porosity. 

Having about 30% of the soil be sand will help reduce the chance of rot and will allow the roots to dry. Planting a cactus in a deeper and wider base of soil will ensure that the roots of the plant are surrounded and packed well.

It may seem like a daunting task to simply start planting and taking care of a cactus, but if you treat it well at the very beginning and take the time to start it properly, it will undoubtedly grow in abundance.

Sunlight and Temperature

With a cholla cactus, it is going to be best to have it in direct sunlight the majority of the time, and in a warmer climate. Your new pet cactus will not do well in a wintery climate, so make sure that if it does experience colder weather, it is a very short period of time. The coldest temperature that a cactus can survive is about 5 degrees fahrenheit (-15 degrees celsius), but it will not last in longer durations of time. 

Cholla cactus loves direct sunlight and thrives in warm climates.

Indoor Sun

If becoming more of a domestic plant where it will be indoors most of the time, it is best to place your cholla cactus in southeast or south-facing windows. Doing this will ensure that your new cholla plant will receive enough sunlight to grow properly. If you do not get as much sunlight that is needed, then you can resort to artificial light as well and that will suffice just fine.

Outdoor Sun

Now, if you happen to be quite the green thumb and have a garden or landscape where you have a plethora of diverse plants, a cholla cactus might fit just nicely, particularly if you live in more of a desert-like climate.

If you plan to plant them outdoors, then you will need to place them in a spot where your cacti will receive at least 6 hours of natural sunlight per day. So if you have a larger backyard or areas around your property that offer open and direct sunlight without too much coverage, then that would be the perfect spot to plant your cactus to give it the best chance at survival.

They are relatively low maintenance, but the cholla cactus family might not seem like it. They are picky about sunlight. Too little and it will die, and if there is too much water, it will die. Other than that, they are very easy to take care of and maintain. 

Water

As mentioned before, the cholla cactus does not need a ton of water. When you first plant your cactus is probably the time that it will drink up the most, but afterwards very little is needed. If you accidentally pour too much water up front, the container fit to drain properly will take care of the excess to ensure the cactus does not rot.

Cholla cactus needs just a little bit of water to grow healthy and gorgeous.

Keep an eye on things, but each month your cholla cactus will likely need about an inch or so of water to keep it alive and well. It is funny to think about watering a cactus because we get so accustomed to the fact that they need and thrive in the desert. Even so, a cholla cactus needs a little bit of water here and there in order to keep its natural processes as a plant like photosynthesis to continue living. Since they thrive in the dry and desert climate, it is important to still try to recreate their natural habitat to ensure they grow properly.

Cactus Pruning and Trimming

So if you do not want your cactus growing to be the full 10 or more feet, you might be wondering what you can do to keep it within reasonable limits so it stays a domestic plant. It would not be very enjoyable if you added a great looking cactus to your place and then all of a sudden have to get rid of it because it got too big. Although, there could be worse things to own that can grow too big (some people have pet sharks). 

Timing

In terms of when to prune your cactus, that kind of depends on how big you want it to be or not to be. If you have the space and want it to grow a little bigger, becoming a more focal point in a given room, then you can probably let it go longer without a trim. If you are keeping it as some windowsill decor, then you will want to keep an eye on it and be sure to trim it when it starts to get too big in any regard. You do not want your new cactus falling off the windowsill.

You should trim your cholla cactus once it gets too big for the area.

With trimming and pruning, there are tools that you can use to trim and prune plants as well as your cholla cactus. Since a cactus has sharp spines and can really leave a mark, it is best to wear gloves and be very careful while treating your plant. Depending on the size of your cactus will determine the size of your tools and how aggressive you need to be with the caretaking of it. However, once you finally get started, it will become easier and not feel like much of a burden at all. In fact, it might even be meditative and soothing to do so.

Neglect goes a long way with a cholla cactus, but if you want to keep it domesticated, then you will have to take upon a little more responsibility. You probably were never thinking you would be one to prune and trim your plants, that is for movies and tv shows. But, it is a lot more common practice to keep exotic plants in a domestic setting. Doing so just takes a bit more learning and taking care of. 

Overall, the time commitment is still extremely low, and could even be a nice introduction to see if you want to get a live pet such as a dog or cat down the road.

What to Do With Pruned Off Cactus Parts

Once you cut some of the limbs and parts of your cactus, you might be wondering what to do with them. Can you just throw them in the trash? Is there a special way to dispose of cactus parts? 

With certain parts of the cactus (like the pads or offsets), they can and will become brand new plants if laid on top of good soil. This means that you will want to be wary about not just throwing away parts of the cactus randomly. If you are cutting stems and trunks, then you should let them sit for a few days so they can callus at their ends

You can use the pads and offsets of your cholla cactus to propagate the plant and grow new cacti.

When you are dealing with dead flower stalks and leaves, you can treat those as traditional compost. For the most part, you can throw your trimmed and pruned cactus parts in the trash, but you will want to make sure that you use multiple trash bags, and it might not be a bad idea to use the heavy duty ones as well. You do not want yourself or a family member taking the trash out and then all of a sudden getting scratched by the leftover cactus parts. 

Trimming and pruning your cactus does not take much time, and can be done fairly infrequently. Since the cholla cactus has such a long life span (30 years), you do not have to worry about cutting it down too frequently because it will grow at a much slower rate. Doing so will also take a lot less time than you might be anticipating. Invest in the proper tools and you will be able to take care of your new plant to the best of your abilities and not risk it getting too out of control.

Background of the Cholla Cactus

The cholla, or jumping, cactus is a common (part of the genus family) species of cactus that is originally found in northern Mexico and the southwestern part of the United States. The cholla cactus serves as a source of food, water and safe haven for an array of different animals. It is considered one of the largest and most beautiful species of cactus in the desert.

Life Span and Size 

An interesting fact about the cholla cactus is the fact that it is a different shape than most other cacti species. Where most cacti within the same family of species have flattened stems, the cholla will appear to have more tubular ones. The entire plant itself can take the shape and form of a shrub, tree or creeper. 

So, if you find yourself shopping for a cactus or hiking through the desert in the southwest, you can tell similar looking plants apart by looking at the size and shape of the overall plant as well as the stems.

Cholla cactus grows up to 15 feet in height and can live for around 30 years.

In terms of size, the cholla cactus has quite a vast range for how large it can grow up to, which is anywhere between 7 and 15 feet. It is also not out of the ordinary for a cholla cactus to live for as long as up to 30 years! With the proper room and care, a cholla cactus can grow to be the true size of larger trees, so you want to be careful which ones you buy and how you grow it if you plan on having one inside your house or apartment.

Unless you live by them or have been around them much before, we often do not think of a cactus growing to be so big. Even though we see them at southwestern restaurants and act as good decor, they can grow into massive plants.

Protector for Other Wildlife

The cholla cactus has been given the nickname the “jumping cactus” because of its protective nature of easily detaching from the main root of the tree and latching quickly onto an animal (whether that be wild or other humans) as a response of its defense mechanism. It does not literally just jump off, but rather detaches with the faintest and lightest of brushes against it. Since it does not have many other capabilities, that is its best chance at deterring predators.

Cholla cactus features blooms and fruits that are edible to desert wildlife.

If you happen to pick up one of these spines from a cactus, it has been recommended to use a larger tooth comb to help get them off clothes and skin. Outside of this, not only does it protect itself, but the cholla cactus can act as a safe haven for other animals such as birds. The spines are just wide enough that they can land without hurting themselves and set up camp until their predators have gone away.

The cholla cactus also blooms in the spring and summer months, providing flowers and fruits. This particular fruit is edible to desert wildlife life like bighorn sheep and deer. The cholla cactus is a surprising plant and can offer various benefits to other surrounding animals within its given region.

In Review

If you are interested in a little different type of decor, live in the southwest region, or just enjoy different plants, a cholla might be the next best thing to implement into your home or apartment. Although they can grow to be massive trees, if you take care of your cholla cactus just right, it can be a great domestic addition to your overall ambiance.

Remember the following steps to properly care for your cholla cactus: 

  • Use a container or pot that has holes so it can adequately drain any excess water
  • Plant in at least 8 inches of soil mixed with a little bit of sand 
  • Prune and trim to the size of your liking, and change out the pot if necessary
  • Place in an area that your cactus can receive at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day
  • Hydrate your cactus with about 1 inch of water per month

Taking care of a cholla cactus does not take much work, making it easy for you to add a good looking plant to your lively collection. Having a cactus says a little something different because they are fun, have a little novelty aspect to them even, and can be just what your windowsill needs to add that little something extra to the room. 

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