Old Man Cactus – How To Grow A Cephaocereus Senilis Cactus

If you have decided to grow an Old Man Cactus in your garden, you should first learn how to take proper care of it. Cephaocereus Senilis will make your garden look alluring if the plant receives enough sunlight and is watered adequately.

Old Man cactus, or Cephaocereus Senilis in its Botanica name, is one of the great-looking cactus plants you’ll desire to have in your garden. The plant grows long white hairs covering its entire body, making it appear like a senior citizen; hence, its name. Don’t be tempted to try candling the white hairs because the old man also protects himself with some sharp spines that can prickle your hands.

To grow old man cactus, you should try to mimic its natural habitats.  This cactus is native to Mexico and grows in hot and dry climates. It can thrive both in containers and on the ground. When grown indoors, the old man has the potential to portray a lot of character and personality. Whether you grow it indoors or outdoors, make sure it receives lots of sunlight.

If you’re wondering how you can grow your old man cactus the right way and see it thrive, here is a guide for you. Read through to help you get started with your old man cactus.

Old Man Cactus Growing Needs

Old man cactus needs sunny and warmer locations to thrive. You can use a cactus mix, a blend of sand, and topsoil in a container. Make sure you get an unglazed pot so it can easily evaporate to get rid of excess moisture. Too much watering of this plant is the main cause of rot and other diseases. You should also watch out for pests which easily hide on the hairs and kill your cactus without you noticing.

Old Man cactus requires warm conditions and infrequent watering.

The plant is very heat and drought tolerant; hence, it won’t die easily under such conditions. It can make a very xeric landscape plant when it reaches its large, impressive size.  But make sure you plant it away from the play area because of the sharp spines. When taking care of it, you can wear some gloves and protective eyewear. You should also understand that the plant may need some attention at its young age, but this reduces as it continues to mature.

Should You Grow Old Man Cactus Indoors or Outdoors

Old man cactus will reward you with its beauty if you add it to the collection of your indoor plants. Just make sure the temperatures are hot, and you put it near the windows where it can receive lots of sunlight.

While growing this cactus outdoors, especially at its young age, can be challenging, you can do it. Just make sure it gets the right outdoor conditions. If you’re lucky enough to mimic its natural habitats, old man cactus can grow pretty large and will likely flower easily. It will adorn your garden with its beautiful white hairs and its pretty flowers.

If you can’t mimic its natural conditions, then it’s advisable to keep it indoors where it will be easier to control the temperatures.

Growing Old Man Cactus from Seeds

Growing old man cactus from seed can take a long time before you can get something recognizable, but you’ll get the satisfaction of growing your cactus from scratch. Growing them from seed is the best solution, though you can also cut or graft. If you prefer going the seed way, you can order the seeds online or from a nursery nearby.

Growing an Old Man cactus from seeds is a relatively slow process, so you should also consider purchasing a grown cactus.

To plant the Cephalocereus Senilis seed, you should prepare a shallow tray or some good potting soil. Spread the seeds openly on the surface and spray some water using a spray bottle. Use plastic wrap to cover the soil and prevent moisture from escaping. Place your tray or pot in a warm place and make sure it gets indirect light. Make sure the soil remains moist throughout the three months until the seeds start to spout.

If you’re not patient enough to ensure the slow germination period and the slow growth, then growing cactus from seed is not your thing. Try purchasing one which has already grown instead. Make sure you understand how a healthy old man cactus should look like so you don’t end up purchasing one with root rot. Also, make sure you get one grown from a nursery and not those poached from the wild.

Old Man Cactus Fertilization and Care

The old man of Andes will really appreciate and reward you if you give it some extra care in the form of TLC. At its young age, the old man will appreciate some fertilization and a little bit more attention. Of course, this will reduce gradually as the cactus continues to grow. You need to apply the fertilizer once or two times during summer. Use all-purpose plant fertilizer with low nitrogen for your plant.

It will also need you to pay special attention to very specific environmental conditions and soil types. Make sure it receives bright light and heat as it grows. During summer, give your cactus full sun. It will appreciate a window space with southern or western exposure to receive the desired sunlight. You should ensure the topsoil in the container dries out completely before your next watering. Drench the soil completely when watering.

As your Old Man cactus grows, do not forget to give the plant enough direct sunlight during summer months.

When it’s winter, reduce watering. You can do it only once or twice throughout the season. Monitor the pot to ensure it’s completely dry before you water it next. Give it a bright, dry, and cool setting throughout the cold temperature period. It will appreciate temperatures of around 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Your cactus may appear dormant during winter because of the unfavorable conditions. Don’t do anything to it since it will regain back its shine when winter ends. It’s also advisable to encourage dormancy at this time so it can survive the harsh winter weather.

Old Man Cactus Soil and Repotting

There’s specialty potting soil made to suit different kinds of cactus.  The soil needs to have high mineral content to sustain it for a long time. You can mix cactus, potting soil, sand, and some pumice and perlite. This mixture will ensure good water drainage and proper ventilation.

Always pot your Old Man cactus in a pot which offers enough drainage to get rid of excess water.

When it comes to potting, make sure the pot enables good drainage of the soil. Drill one or more holes at the bottom of the pot to ensure this. This way, excess water will escape and leave the soil well-drained to support the cactus. Consider an unglazed pot or terracotta as they come in good sizes and capable of soaking up excess water. Don’t report your cactus often. Take at least three to five years before changing the pots so that the roots can be strong enough.

Old Man Cactus Blooms

Old man cactus can also adorn your home garden with some pretty pink flowers in early spring. It produces its first flowers after 20 years of growth. The sweet flowers only open at night from the head of the cactus and close by down.

When your Old Man cactus is mature enough, it will start producing beautiful pink flowers in spring.

If you want to see the beautiful blooms, you must give your old man cactus the care it deserves. It might fail completely to produce the flowers, especially the ones that have grown indoors. You might consider fertilizing it to get the blooms. The cactus can also produce some long fruits, but this is quite rare in cultivated cactus.

Pruning Your Old Man Cactus

Once the old man cactus is grown enough and stable on the ground, it will become less demanding in terms of care. But this doesn’t mean you should neglect it. You don’t need to prune it because it grows very nicely in one straight line. Its long, soft, and white hairs act like protection from excess heat and cold. It also helps the cactus retain moisture for a very long time, even in very dry conditions. This makes the plant appear healthy and beautiful throughout the year.

Old Man Cactus Disease and Pest Attack

Like any other plant, old man cactus is prone to attack by pests and diseases. Its long, soft hair gives a very good hiding ground for several pests, so you won’t notice them until they’re done an immense distraction.

Another problem you may experience with this cactus is rots which mainly occur when you overwater your plant. The long, soft hair also attracts mildew to the plant, and this can endanger it.

One of the ways to protect your old man of Angles from these dangers is to ensure correct watering. Never give mildew a chance to attack your plant because it’ll spread very quickly and kill your precious plant.

A common pest problem with cactus is spider mite infestation or cactus mealybugs. The pests hide in the long hair. You need to check from time to time, and when you notice any signs of a problem, re-pot your cactus plant. Consider purchasing mild insecticidal soap or insecticide that will help kill mildew. You can also treat your cactus using shampoo. Keep inspecting your cactus to catch any re-infestation that can end up killing your cactus.

Why Shampoo Your Old Man Cactus

Apart from getting rid of pests that hide in the long hair, shampoo is also a perfect way to ensure your cactus stays clean and beautiful.  The fuzzy white hairs capture dirt and dust over time and might not look white anymore.  Mix a liquid castile soap with water to give your cactus some cleaning.

Mix unscented organic castile soap with water and use the solution to clean your Old Man cactus.

It’s important to use organic and unscented castile soap, so you don’t leave any chemicals on your plant. Make sure you carefully wash off the detergent from your cactus, so it doesn’t seep into the soil. Comb the hair upwards and allow it to dry. You’ll love the clean, neat, and new look of your old man cactus.

Old Man Cactus Offsets

Another important part you should never overlook when propagating this cactus is the offsets. Old man cactus grows in clumps, so you need to separate individual cacti, so they grow better. The process can also involve uprooting some offsets from the clumps. Make sure you use a sharp, clean knife while doing this, and wear protective gloves for yourself.

Allow the offsets you’ve uprooted to dry out in the open for some days. The clumps will have some open wounds that can get infected by bacteria and fungi if not well taken care of. The drying process allows the wounds to callous. This will protect them from infections and give them a better chance of surviving when you plant them back.

Old Man Cactus Frequently Asked Questions

Can you grow Cephaocereus Senilis where there are pets?

If you love both animals and plants, you need to find ways for both to cohabit. Luckily the old man cactus and your pets, such as cats and dogs, can cohabit comfortably in one house. The plant is not poisonous to these animals. The animals will also not move near it because of the sharp spines.

What can cause Cephalocereus Senilis to die?

When you plant your old man cactus, you always expect it to thrive and adorn your garden. But that doesn’t happen all the time as your Cephaocereus Senilis can also die instead of growing. But what can be the cause of death?

  • Overwatering

One of the biggest causes of death in many cactus plants is too much water than they need. Cephalocereus senilis is an easy-to-care cactus that can survive very hot temperatures with a little watering. But it only needs a fraction of water; hence, too much water will cause the roots to rot.

Overwatering your Old Man cactus will cause root rot and your plant might even die.
  •  Infections

Fungi and bacteria can also attack your plant, and if you don’t realize it early, it will be too late to save it. If you give it too much water and fertilizer, it will develop a fungal infection known as phytophthora. The cactus will start to wilt and develop green discoloration.

Make sure the fungal doesn’t attack your plant by ensuring good drainage and following the correct fertilization method. If you don’t redeem it early enough, the infections can kill your plant.

  • Pest Infestation

Sometimes your plant will get attacked by all kinds of pests. The hairs act as good protection for the plant but can also harbor spider mites and mealybugs. These pests eat your cactus slowly, and you might not notice until the damage is done. Use mild insecticides on the plant from time to time to keep the pests away.

How fast does old man cactus grow?

Old man cactus is a slow-growing cactus that needs a lot of patience from your side. The seeds take time to germinate, and even after growth, the plant will not achieve much over a long period. You’ll also have to wait 10 to 20 years before you can see the old man cactus bloom. Sometimes it might never bloom, especially when planted indoors.

How big does old man cactus grow?

If you’re going to grow your old man cactus indoors, it’s natural to worry about how big it can get. Will it outgrow the pot soon? Will the indoor space accommodate it? Well, old man cactus is a slow-growing cactus that you can have indoors for a very long time without the need to take it outside. It grows up to 20 feet before flowering and can grow up to twice more height after its first blooms.

How do I make my cactus grow straight?

At times, you may notice your cactus leaning, yet you want it to grow upright. The leaning might not be disease or an unhappy cactus; hence, easy to solve. You can solve this problem by replanting the cactus in dry soil. Alternatively, you can add more soil around the base of a layer of small rocks and gravel on the topsoil.

How do I clean my old man cactus?

The hairs from the old man cactus can trap all kinds of dust and dirt, making it look brownish instead of white. You need to clean it to restore its sparkling white look.  You can use water and mild detergent for this. Make sure you mixed the solution well, brush on the air and rinse well with plain water.

You can also shampoo the hairs of your old man cactus. Just make sure the shampoo or the detergent doesn’t get to the soil.


Cephaocereus senilis is one of the best cacti to grow if you want to adorn your garden with beautiful white hairs. Someone with zero knowledge about cacti will not even realize this is a plant once it’s grown enough.

But for you to achieve its beautiful look, you must learn how to grow and care for this cactus. Make sure the soil conditions are favorable; it receives enough sunlight and appropriate watering. You can also give it some TLC and extra attention if you want it to reward you with beautiful blooms.

It’s also important to note that your beautiful old man cactus can rot if the conditions around don’t favor its growth. Identify the things that can cause rot and death, such as too much water, infections, and fungi. When you do everything right, the old man cactus will appreciate your effort by adorning your garden with its beauty.

Last update on 2024-02-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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