How To Keep Your Golden Barrel Cactus Fresh, Full And Healthy

Growing golden barrel cactus in your home or office is an easy way to add some spiny texture to your space, and it's a fairly low-maintenance plant as well. Also known as the mother-in-law's cushion, this sun-loving plant will perform well if you keep in mind these few tips and tricks.

Although the golden barrel cactus is now quite rare in the wild, it is common in homes and backyard gardens across the United States and other Latin American countries. Its unique spherical appearance and dark green color make a striking ornamental accent for rock gardens and desert landscapes. This succulent can reach up to three feet in diameter and five feet in height with proper care and attention. It can also produce beautiful flowers. The golden barrel cactus offers an attractive, eco-friendly and perfect décor solution for your garden, even if you live in an area that is prone to drought.

So, how can you care for golden barrel cactus? The golden barrel cactus requires at least six hours of direct sunlight to survive and thrive. So, you need to position it on a south-facing windowsill for better results. Provide well-draining potting mix and water it at least once during the growing season (spring and summer). Ensure the soil is completely dry between watering sessions and maintain the growing temperature between 50oF and 70oF. Don’t let your golden barrel cactus sit in temperatures below 40oF during winter.

This blog post discusses everything you need to know about growing the golden barrel cactus and provides you with practical tips that will help you achieve better results. Read on to learn more.

Golden Barrel Cactus: A Quick Overview

The scientific name of the golden barrel cactus is Echinocactus grusonii. It is also known as the hedgehog cactus, barrel cactus, mother-in-law’s pillow or mother-in-law’s cushion.

The cactus is native to the Chihuahuan desert in Mexico and the surrounding southern states of the USA.

It has a distinctive spiny exterior that is an adaptation to escape from predators. These spines are harmless if they come in contact with your skin, but the branches are quite fragile and easily break off.

Golden barrel cactus can survive for decades under ideal conditions, with some specimens known to have survived for 300 years.

However, it is now an endangered species due to overcollection in the wild and vanishing habitats.

A golden barrel cactus in a bron pot.
The golden barrel cactus is also known as the hedgehog cactus, barrel cactus, mother-in-law’s pillow

Even so, these plants are common houseplants across the United States and other Latin American countries.

Golden Barrel Cactus: How to Care for It?

The golden barrel cactus generally grows best outdoors under certain conditions. However, it is also possible to grow a potted barrel cactus indoors.

Generally, the succulent will do well when you provide it with the right conditions and take care of it.

So, what can you do to ensure your golden barrel cactus is healthy and happy? Let us find out:

1. Soil Requirements

Everything starts with ensuring your barrel cactus is rooted in the right type of potting mix. Being succulent, this plant does well in well-draining soil.

You can add sand or perlite to the mixture to ensure good drainage and aeration. In this way, you won’t have problems with rotting roots.

Your golden barrel cactus needs a potting mix that provides enough nutrients while still draining excess water effectively. Ideally, a standard cactus mix will do the trick. You can also use a loam-based potting mix for success.

2. Pot Size Requirements

Your golden barrel cactus should be planted in a minimum of 16 inches deep and wide container.

But you must ensure that the entire root system is buried in the soil to avoid it drying out quickly due to exposure to air.

Golden barrel cactus in a pot.
Make sure the pot can accommodate its growth without roots getting damaged.

It is important to note that barrel cacti grow slowly. So, if you are growing it in a container, make sure the pot can accommodate its growth without roots getting damaged against the edges of the container.

3. Sunlight Requirements

The golden barrel cactus requires bright sunlight for healthy growth and flowering. To do well, it should receive six hours or more of direct sunlight per day.

If your barrel cactus isn’t getting enough light, it will have yellowish discoloration, and its spines may fall off easily. However, if you provide too much sun exposure, the plant might grow lopsided and expose delicate roots to sunburn.

Keep it on a south-facing window during the growing season, and it will be happy. However, you shouldn’t let it sit on the windowsill if you are experiencing intense sunlight or a heatwave.

Golden Barrel cactus exposed to sunlight.
Excessive heat could scorch your plant and cause unsightly burned patches on sections of the plant.

Excessive heat could scorch your plant and cause unsightly burned patches on sections of the plant. The only way to get rid of sunburned areas is by pruning the sections.

Young golden barrel plants are particularly prone to sunburn. To protect them, ensure you keep them away from direct sunlight until they are relatively mature. Instead of exposing them to direct sunlight, ensure they receive a good amount of indirect sunlight.

4. Watering Requirements

Golden barrel cactus thrives in soils that drain well, so it does best when watered moderately. Allow the top layer of the soil to dry out between watering sessions and keep it away from other plants growing nearby to avoid water competition.

The barrel cactus doesn’t like being waterlogged. Don’t let the roots sit in excess water for too long, as soggy soil can lead to root rot and cause problems with nutrient absorption.

You should water your golden barrel cactus once or twice a week during spring and summer, but reduce the frequency to once per month in winter. This will depend on your conditions and climate, as well as the size of your pot.

A water can and a cactus.
Allow the top layer of the soil to dry out between watering sessions.

If you can detect even a hint of yellow color at the base of the plant, it is time to water again. The golden barrel cactus thrives if roots are kept slightly moist at all times.

5. Feeding Requirements for Golden Barrel Cactus

The golden barrel cactus doesn’t require much feeding. You can fertilize it with a standard houseplant fertilizer every two to three months during spring and summer, but reduce the frequency to once per month in winter.

Default fertilizer rates should be satisfactory for this plant, so you don’t have to go overboard with the amount of fertilizer you give.

When feeding your golden barrel cactus, don’t fertilize the soil unless roots are exposed. Instead, place fertilizer in a saucer next to the pot. This will ensure enough nutrients reaches the plant’s roots while preventing root rot by keeping excess water away from them.

6. Temperature Requirements

The barrel cactus does well in temperatures between 50-90 degrees Fahrenheit. However, avoid exposing it to temperatures lower than 45 degrees in winter, or your golden barrel cactus may develop leaf drop problems.

If possible, keep your golden barrel cactus above 60 degrees Fahrenheit at all times. Temperatures below this threshold can cause significant stress, leading to a wide range of issues.

When moving your potted barrel cactus outdoors after winter, don’t do it suddenly, as this could shock the plant and cause massive stress.

Instead, gradually acclimatize it by taking it out for a couple of hours in a relatively shaded area before you transition to exposing it to full sunlight.

7. Pests & Diseases for Golden Barrel Cactus

The golden barrel cactus isn’t prone to pests and diseases. However, when infestations do occur, they can cause considerable damage to your plant’s appearance.

If you notice any powdery white substance collecting on the surface of your cactus, it could be mealybugs. Mealybugs are sap-sucking insects that cluster together in colonies on your plant.

Eradicating them requires you to remove infected parts of your plant with care. After removing mealybugs, spray the barrel cactus with insecticidal soap to prevent reinfestation.

If the cactus has dark scars on its skin instead of powdery white substances, it could have scale, which are insects similar to mealybugs. However, unlike mealybugs, scale insects are wingless and do not cluster.

Eradicating them is also more difficult as spraying your cactus with the methods used to remove mealybugs would be useless. Instead, you’ll need to use a strong insecticide.

Aphids are another common pest for golden barrel cactus, especially during summer. While aphids may not cause significant damage to your plants, they can multiply rapidly if left untreated.

Simply wipe them with a wet cotton ball soaked in alcohol to eradicate them. Make sure the infected parts of the plant are dry before you move it back indoors.

8. Propagating Golden Barrel Cactus

You can propagate your golden barrel cactus using its offsets. Just remove them from the main plant using a sharp, clean knife and allow them to dry at room temperature before planting.

A small cactus barrel.
You can propagate your golden barrel cactus using its offsets.

If you want to propagate your golden barrel cactus from seeds, it is best if they are fresh. Otherwise, sow the seeds in pots filled with soil mix and cover them up to around ½ of their depth.

Keep the soil damp and place it in a warm, brightly lit area to ensure the seeds germinate quickly. Once they do, remove all but the strongest seedling from each pot.

Summary

The golden barrel cactus is a very easy plant to grow. While it’s sensitive to significant changes in temperature, it does well if you know what you are doing.

If you do everything right, your golden barrel cactus should reward you with lots of healthy green growth and vibrant flowers.

It gets tall and lean as it grows older. Just make sure to plant it in a large enough pot and avoid positioning it near other plants as it can grow at a rapid pace.

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