Add the Classic Barrel Cactus to Your Collection

The Barrel Cactus, Echinocactus grusonii, is native to North America–specifically Mexico and the south-west United States. Also known as the Golden Barrel Cactus or Golden Ball Cactus, this cactus rarely grows wild in its natural habitat. Thankfully, its low-maintenance needs make it an excellent houseplant.

Echinocactus grusonii

Barrel Cactus Appearance

Young Barrel cacti begin as ball shaped but lengthen into an oval as the plant matures. Rows of evenly spaced spines appear on pronounced, ribbed lobes. The Golden Barrel Cactus has a slow growth rate but reaches a height of 6 feet ( 1.8 meters) if given enough time.  Blooming indoors is rare unless its growing conditions are optimal and the plant is 15 or more years old. Yellow flowers appear in spring or summer at the top of the cactus. 

Barrel Cactus Light Requirements

Place your Barrel cactus in full sun near a south-facing, sunny window. More sun exposure encourages indoor blooming. Avoid low-lighting conditions as this inhibits the plant’s already slow growth rate and leaves the plant susceptible to pests and disease. The Golden Barrel cactus will thrive outdoors in USDA zones 9 to 12.

Water Needs

Water the Barrel cactus once every two weeks during the spring and summer. Reduce watering in the fall  to once every four weeks as the plant’s growing season comes to an end. Withhold water in the winter to mimic the cacti’s natural dormancy period. Slowly increase watering to once per month at the beginning of spring, then revert back to the once every two weeks watering schedule. 

Temperature and Humidity

Temperature and Humidity

Keep the indoor temperature for your Barrel cactus between 50 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit ( 10 to 26.6 degrees Celsius). Growth will be optimal if the temperature is kept on the high end of this scale. No added humidity is required for the Golden Barrel cactus as it prefers dry conditions. Avoid placing the plant near vents or air conditioners. A clay pot is recommended for growing this cactus to allow for wicking of extra moisture.

Soil and Fertilizer

Allow the soil to dry completely between waterings to avoid root rot. This cactus requires a well-draining soil. Create your own soil mix by combining  a peat-based soil with sand or perlite to improve drainage. A soil designed for cacti or succulents will also provide the proper growing medium. Encourage growth and blooming by feeding the Barrel cactus a liquid fertilizer high in potassium once every four weeks during spring and summer. Do not feed the plant during fall and winter months.

Barrel Cactus Propagation

Propagation of the Golden Barrel cactus is achieved through both seed and cuttings. To propagate by seed, collect the seeds from expired blooms and soak them overnight. Plant the seeds shallow in a cactus soil mix and keep the soil moist until growth begins, then revert to the recommended watering schedule. To propagate by cuttings, cut a “pup” from the base of the mother plant with a sharp, sterile knife. Let the cutting sit one day to allow the cut end to form a callus. Plant the cutting, cut side down, into a cactus soil mixture and water immediately. After the initial watering, provide water sparingly until roots form, then water with the same schedule as the mother plant.

Barrel Cactus Pests and Diseases

Infestations of pests are rare with the Barrel cactus but mealybugs or scale may appear if the plant is not healthy. Remove visible pests using a cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol for minor infestations. Full-plant treatments for more serious cases include using either insecticidal soap or neem oil to kill the pests. If using an insecticidal soap it’s recommended to test a small portion of the plant first to ensure the treatment does not damage the plant. 

Barrel Cactus Propagation

Root rot is the most common disease of the Golden Barrel cactus and is caused by overwatering the plant. Cut back on the amount of water given immediately and allow the soil to dry. Remove the plant from its pot using gloves to protect your hands. Trim away any dark or mushy roots using sharp, sterile gardening shears. Return the plant to its original pot and treat the soil with a mixture of one part 3 % hydrogen peroxide and two parts water. Pour the mixture into the soil to kill the bacteria causing the rot. 

The Barrel cactus is easy to care for and a great choice for beginner or busy plant growers. If its care needs are met, this plant will be around for you to enjoy for many years to come. The Golden Barrel cactus features a classic cactus appearance and compliments any decor. 

Barrel Cactus FAQ

When Should I Repot My Golden Barrel Cactus?

Repot your cactus in the spring or summer every few years or when it has outgrown its current pot. Let the soil dry out before repotting and always wear protective gloves. Fan the roots out when placing the plant in its new pot and withhold water for one week.

Are the Thorns of the Barrel Cactus Toxic?

No, the thorns of the Golden Barrel cactus are not toxic but the plant should still be kept away from children and pets. Being pricked with the Barrel cactus thorns can cause skin irritation. The thorns are encased in microscopic sheaths that may stay behind, in the skin, after the thorn is removed. 

What are Other Varieties of the Barrel Cactus?

Other varieties of the Barrel cactus include the California Barrel cactus, the Fishhook cactus, the Arizona Barrel cactus, and the Blue Barrel cactus.

At What pH Level Should I Keep the Soil for a Barrel Cactus?

Keep the soil’s pH level between 6.1 and 7.5 for optimal growth.

Are Barrel Cactus Expensive to Buy?

As young plants, the Barrel cactus is inexpensive and typically easy to find at many gardening centers. Due to its slow growth rate, larger specimens can be pricey.

Cindy McKie
About Cindy McKie
Cindy McKie provides helpful, easy-to-follow care guides for plant lovers of all experience levels. She has written for several online gardening publications and has self-published her own guide to growing herbs under the pen name Sophia Darby. When not writing about plants, she can be found in her gardens or reading a good book.

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