Echinocactus grusonii, also known as the Golden Ball Cactus, and even sometimes called the Mother In Law’s Cushion, the Barrel Cactus is a funky globe-shaped succulent.
A deep green color, the Barrel Cactus gets its “Golden Ball” pseudonym due to the yellow spikes that grow over it. This gives it a golden hue.
The spikes can be sharp though, and if you don’t fancy that, you can opt for the spineless version!
Native to Mexico and the surrounding southern states of the USA, you will need to adopt a care process that helps the Barrel Cactus feel like it is in its home environment. Let’s check out what to do with this little ball of fun.
Golden Barrel Cactus Care
The Golden Barrel Cactus needs around 6 hours of direct sunlight to thrive. Make sure it is in a sunny window such as a south-facing one, but also protect it if the sun is particularly strong. Provide well-draining soil using general potting mix, sand, and stones. Water once a week during the growing season in Spring and Summer. Ensure the soil is dried out on the top before watering again. The Barrel Cactus grows best in temperatures between 50-70 degrees Fahrenheit (10-21 degrees Celsius). Ensure it doesn’t sit in temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) in Winter.
The Barrel Cactus loves a good level of sunlight. Keep it in a sunny window during the growing season and it will be very happy.
To get maximum growth on this slow-growing cactus, 6 hours of direct sunlight per day would be best.
Make sure however to not let it sit in the window if you are experiencing a heatwave or particularly intense light. This could scorch your cactus and also cause unsightly burned patches on the flesh.
This is particularly true for young plants. Keep them out of direct sunlight completely until they are mature. To compensate, make sure they get good indirect light until they are well established.
The advice for the Barrel Cactus and many other cacti is the same when it comes to watering schedules and tips.
The roots on the Barrel Cactus need to be protected from overwatering, excessive sogginess, and dampness.
If you water your cactus and see the water sitting or “pooling” in the soil, then you are either watering too much or have a drainage problem.
Water once a week, when the soil is dried out, to ensure the cactus gets enough water but is not exposed to the risk of root rot, which can be fatal for the plant.
This watering schedule will need to be eased up over the winter months. As the cactus goes into a natural resting period, growth will slow and the watering needs will reduce.
You may find that the cactus needs only watered once a month at this point. You can pick up the more frequent watering schedule in the spring.
To help with drainage and to continue to battle the threat of the dreaded root rot, your Barrel Cactus needs just the right soil.
A gritty blend of potting mix and coarse sand will do. You can throw in additional stones if you wish to.
There are products on the market advertised as “cactus soil” although it can be more fun to make your own!
Make sure too that your pot has a couple of drainage holes at the bottom. And don’t be tempted if you are going on vacation to leave the pot sitting in a large plate of water.
A couple of weeks without water will not harm your cactus. But, a couple of weeks sitting in a pool of water likely will!
The ideal temperature range for a Golden Barrel Cactus is 50-70 degrees Fahrenheit (10-21 degrees Celsius).
The Barrel Cactus tolerates a good range of temperature but it certainly will not like frost. Keep it at over 40 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure it doesn’t get damaged by cold.
In terms of the upper range, the cactus will not be comfortable with excessively high temperatures. 75 degrees Fahrenheit will be the maximum to which it should be exposed.
The Golden Ball Cactus, in its native habitat, will yield cute yellow flowers, usually in the summer. It is however pretty difficult to get this ball-shaped succulent to flower when kept indoors.
In order to do so, you will need to make every effort to replicate the native habitat of the cactus. Maybe you will get lucky and be able to get it to flower!
The key to this will be to give the cactus a drought period over the winter. Ease back on the watering noticeably.
Also, do not feed it any food or fertilizer. This might give the cactus the push it needs to be able to flower.
Whilst the optimal conditions for the Barrel Cactus will be arid and low humidity of 50% or less, it won’t be harmed with the usual levels of humidity in the standard home.
Particularly in winter, the indoor environment is pretty arid anyway. Probably not the best idea however to leave it in the bathroom at any stage of the year.
The main method of propagation of the Golden Barrel Cactus is by seed. Unfortunately, though, you may struggle to get seeds off your cactus, as the flowering process is somewhat hampered by indoor living.
You may have to purchase them! But bear in mind that the cactus is endangered in the wild. Make sure the seeds you source are procured from a sustainable source.
Propagation by seed – Step by step guide
You will want to get the pots ready for propagating your seeds with propagating soil. Here, you will want to start with wet soil. This is required to help the seeds take hold.
Push them gently into the soil, but ensure they are very close to the surface and still visible to the eye.
Maintain the moisture levels of the soil and keep the little seeds in indirect light. It will take around just under a week to germinate.
Keep the new growth in the same conditions until they reach about 0.4 inches (five centimeters) tall and then you can move them to their own pots.
Then it is time to follow the standard care guide indicated in this article.
Once a year, usually in spring and just after the cactus begins to wake up from winter, you should inspect the soil.
The Golden Barrel Cactus is a slow grower, so you may not find that when you unpot it that it is getting cramped.
But even if the roots do not look tangled and the space in the pot seems ok, it is still a good idea to refresh the soil annually.
Check out our guide for how and when to repot succulents.
The Golden Barrel Cactus won’t grow super tall if you keep it indoors. And it won’t grow fast either. Don’t be disappointed! This is a cactus that is bought for its quirky appearance, not its height.
Expect it to get to around 8 inches (20 centimeters) if you are keeping it in a pot indoors. Surprisingly though, if it is an outdoor cactus growing in the soil, it can reach 51 inches (130 centimeters)!
It is not thought that the Golden Barrel Cactus has any toxicity concern. So, if you have children or curious pets, you won’t need to worry about any rushed trips to the ER or the vet!
However, the spikes can be pretty sharp! Only handle it with a gloved hand and make sure your little ones can’t accidentally insure themselves on it. Best to keep it out of the way.
Common Problems with the Golden Barrel Cactus
Give the Golden Barrel Cactus what it needs, and will be quite an easy cactus to care for. Although the flowering part can be a bit tricky, generally it will be happy enough if you follow this guide.
But, there are a few little things you will need to keep an eye on to ensure your new spiky friend survives. Check them out below so you know what to look for.
A frequent problem with cacti is the dreaded root rot. This can quickly ruin your plant, so you need to be aware of what it is and how to avoid it.
The root structure of many cacti is not as strong as in other plants. Whilst the roots need a good drink once a week, they do not like to be wet.
If the soil is too damp the roots will be at risk of fungal infections that quickly rot the tissue. On top of that, if the soil is too wet, vital oxygen pockets are plugged with water.
The issue with root rot is that symptoms really only appear above the soil when the infection is advanced. The cactus may appear soft at the base, discolored or – worse – fall over or lift right out of the soil.
Keep the risk of root rot low by watering the soil only when dried out, and checking the roots now and again for any signs of fungal infection.
Pests and Insects
There are a few unwelcome visitors that you can expect to make a visit. Many of these intruders will show up in winter when the rooms indoors are warmer than outdoors.
Spider Mites are annoying and can be spotted by checking for their tiny webs that they weave in between the spines.
Removing these guys is hard, but you can cover the plant with a clear, sealed plastic bag and leave it for a couple of days to stop the infestation.
Keep your cactus away from other plants during this process, as they can quickly move from plant to plant in your collection.
Mealybugs are another common cactus pest. They feast on the fleshy part of the cactus and cause infections. You can remove them by washing the cactus down with a soapy mixture.
Whilst the Golden Barrel Cactus simply adores the sun’s rays and needs at least 6 hours a day as an adult, you will need to be careful that it doesn’t become scorched or sunburned.
Keep young plants out of direct sunlight completely. For adult plants, move them away from the window during heat waves or if the sun is particularly strong.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Golden Barrel Cactus
Should I fertilize my Golden Barrel Cactus?
You can apply fertilizer once a month to the cactus. This should only be done in the summer months. During winter, do not give the cactus any food or fertilizer, just water it occasionally.
How can I help my Golden Barrel Cactus to flower indoors?
It is tricky to get an indoor version of the Golden Barrel Cactus to flower. It happens much more common to those that are grown directly outdoors, in optimal conditions that replicate its natural Mexican habitat. To encourage it to flower, make sure it gets a period of simulated drought over the winter. Likewise, give it no food or fertilizer.
Why is my Golden Barrel Cactus turning yellow?
Check your cactus has not been exposed to excessive sun, is receiving just the right amount of water – not too much, not too little. Ensure it is not being infected with root rot. Check the roots for signs of fungal infection.
The Golden Barrel Cactus is known for its stout shape and golden hue caused by its yellow spikes. If you look after this little fellow well, it will give you a beautiful deep green color and become a focal point in your collection!
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Daniel has been a plant enthusiast for over 20 years. He owns hundreds of houseplants and prepares for the chili growing seasons yearly with great anticipation. His favorite plants are plant species in the Araceae family, such as Monstera, Philodendron, and Anthurium. He also loves gardening and is growing hot peppers, tomatoes, and many more vegetables.