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Let a Rat Tail Cactus Hang Around Your Home

The Rat Tail Cactus, Aporocactus flagelliformis, is native to south-west Mexico and Central America. This cactus is considered a low-maintenance plant but has a unique appearance that attracts many cacti enthusiasts.

Rat Tail Cactus

Rat Tail Cactus Appearance

The Rat Tail plant produces orchid-like blooms in the spring or early summer of either violet-red, pink, or orange. Individual flowers only live two days, at most, with the blooming time lasting several days in total. If grown outdoors, the blooms attract hummingbirds and other pollinators. The bright-green stems feature bristly hairs and brown thorns. The tubular stems grow to a length of 5 feet and earn the plant’s name because they resemble a rat’s tail. 

Rat Tail Cactus Light Requirements

The Rat Tail plant prefers bright, indirect light from a south or west-facing window all year long. All day sun exposure is not recommended. The Rat Tail Cactus will thrive outside when temperatures at night reach a minimum of 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius). Avoid full-sun exposure as it will scorch the plant and inhibit growth.

Water Needs

Temperature and Humidity

The rat tail cactus requires regular watering to keep the soil moist, but not soggy. More water is needed in the spring and summer growth months. In winter, water lightly when the soil has become dry. The Rat Tail plant’s growth habit suits a hanging basket to accommodate its trailing stems. Retain moisture between waterings by lining the  basket with sphagnum moss.

Temperature and Humidity

The Rat Tail Cactus prefers temperatures of between 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit ( 15.5 to 21 degrees Celsuis) in the spring and summer. The plant will tolerate temperatures up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit ( 32 degrees Celsius) but water needs will increase. In the winter, to mimic the plant’s dormant period in nature, proper Rat Tail Cactus care requires lower temperatures of between 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit ( 7 to 10 degrees Celsius). Average household humidity levels are sufficient for this cactus. Too much humidity will encourage root rot, while too little humidity leaves the plant susceptible to spider mite infestation.

Soil and Fertilizer Requirements

Grow your Rat Tail Cactus in potting soil amended with sand or perlite. A soil designed for cacti or succulents is also sufficient. Feed your Rat Tail plant in the spring and summer with a liquid fertilizer. Dilute the fertilizer to half strength and give twice per month to encourage blooming. Do not feed during fall or winter to allow the plant to go dormant and rest.

Rat Tail Cactus Propagation

Rat Tail Cactus Propagation

The Rat Tail Cactus is easily propagated through cuttings. Use a pair of sharp and sterilized shears to cut a 6 inch, healthy stem. Allow the cutting to air dry for three days and form a callus at the cut end. Fill a pot with cactus soil and poke a hole in the soil with a pencil or stick. Insert the cut end into the hole and secure the cutting with a wooden skewer for initial support. Place the cutting in bright, indirect sunlight and keep the soil moist. Roots will form within a few weeks.

Pests and Disease

Spider mites and scale are common pests associated with the Rat Tail Cactus. Remove visible adult insects with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. Follow up by treating the entire plant with an insecticidal soap or neem oil. 

Root rot is the most prevalent disease to watch for and is caused by overwatering your Rat Tail Cactus. Early intervention halts the spread of the bacteria causing the rot. Remove the plant from its pot and trim any dark or mushy roots. If the rot is significant, trim all affected roots and spray the remaining roots with a mixture of one part 3 % hydrogen peroxide and two parts water. Repot the cactus in fresh soil. 

Rat Tail Cactus FAQ

How Often Should I Repot My Rat Tail Cactus?

Repot your Rat Tail plant once every year to replenish its soil and nutrients and accommodate its fast growth rate. Wait until flowering is finished and remove any expired flowers or dead stems at this time.

How Can I Encourage My Rat Tail Cactus to Bloom?

Providing fertilizer in the spring and summer will encourage blooming. Also ensure the plant receives the recommended amount of sunlight.

Can I Grow My Rat Tail Cactus in a Pot?

While the plant can be grown in a pot, proper Rail Tail Cactus care suggests growing it in a hanging basket to accommodate its trailing growth habit. As the plant grows, it often becomes too heavy for a standard pot and is prone to tipping.

How Fast Does A Rat Tail Cactus Grow?

On average, the plant grows one foot ( 30 cm) per year.

Is the Rat Tail Cactus Rare?

While the plant is not rare as a houseplant, destruction of the Cloud Forest in parts of its native Mexico are threatening its existence in the wild.