How to Grow and Care for Chin Cactus (Gymnocalycium)

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Chin cactus is commonly grown by cacti and succulent lovers. There are around 50 species but many more cultivated varieties available. These cacti are small and often globose or cylindrical. Most species have quite sharp spines that grow from the areoles on the ribs.

One of the most popular cultivars is the moon cactus (Gymnocalycium mihanovichii) which is bright red and considered a mutant variety. It needs to be grafted onto a normal cactus because it lacks the necessary chlorophyll to provide food for the plant.

These delightful little cacti flower well and their flowers are quite large when compared to the size of the plant itself. The flowers are quite showy and can come in colors of white, red, pink, or salmon.

History

The name Gymnocalycium comes from the Greek word that means “naked calyx”. This alludes to the fact that the flower buds have no spines or hair but are instead “naked”.

Plant Facts

Scientific nameGymnocalycium spp.
Common namesChin cactus, moon cactus
GenusGymnocalycium
FamilyCactaceae
Height7 inches
Width12 inches
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone8b to 11b
OriginSouth America including Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia, and Brazil
Flower colorsWhite, cream, pink, yellow, red
Blooming seasonSpring
Plant/Flower special featuresVery showy flowers with naked calyxes

How to Plant and Grow Chin Cactus

Chin cacti are ideal for growing on bright windowsills indoors because they love the sunlight and their small size makes them ideal for growing in small, ornamental pots. They are easy to care for and don’t have any special requirements. 

The only important thing to remember is not to overwater them.

gymnocalycium

How to Propagate Chin Cactus

As a cactus plant, one of the easiest ways to propagate chin cacti is by collecting the seeds after the plant flowers. This means that you don’t have to handle the cactus itself and saves you from those sharp spines.

Seeds germinate best when propagated in early spring due to the warmer temperatures. It’s really easy to do this. Just fill a small container with cactus mix and sow the seeds into this. 

Place this container in a sunny spot and keep the mix moist until you see the seeds starting to germinate. You might need to exercise a little patience as the seeds can take a while to germinate.

Some chin cacti species can also be propagated from the small offsets that the mother plant produces. Once you see these offsets, carefully remove them from the main plant using a sharp knife. Be sure to wear gloves when you do this.

Leave these offsets to dry out for a few days until you see the cut-end callus over. Then, you can plant these into a small pot that contains cactus mix. You can also dip the ends into rooting hormone if you wish as this will help to speed up the rooting process.

Once planted, you can treat these cuttings the same way that you treat your mature plant.

chin cactus

Care and Maintenance

Chin cacti require very little care once you have them growing on a bright windowsill. They prefer warm temperatures and are extremely drought-tolerant. The main thing to remember is not to overwater them.

Soil

You must grow chin cacti in a very gritty mix. A commercially available cactus mix is ideal. This is because these plants require very good drainage and do not tolerate soggy soils.

Water

These cacti require very little water as they have a shallow root system and are extremely sensitive to overwatering. Make sure that the pot you have your cactus growing in has a drainage hole and always allow all the excess water to drain away when you’ve given the plant some water.

In wintertime, watering once every couple of months is sufficient. In the warmer weather, you can water your plant once a fortnight as these plants are very drought-tolerant. However, during very hot weather, you might have to give your plant a little extra water.

The best idea is to get a moisture meter to test the moisture level in the soil. Then, only water the plant when the soil is completely dry.

Fertilizer

Chin cacti are not heavy feeders and generally only need a tiny amount of fertilizer if they’re not growing at all. Use a good quality cactus fertilizer in late spring. However, if your plant is growing vigorously, you don’t have to give it any fertilizer.

Sunlight

Chin cacti prefer bright, filtered sunlight all year round. Place your cactus on an east or south-facing windowsill and it will do well. It should receive around 4 to 6 hours of morning sun every day if possible.

If you don’t receive very much sunlight in the winter, you can consider placing your cactus under a fluorescent grow light to ensure that it gets enough bright light.

Temperature and Humidity

These plants prefer warmer temperatures and don’t like anything below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius). When the temperature starts to drop, the cactus will turn a reddish color. 

It’s best to grow these cacti indoors except in areas that have warm temperatures all year round. They do not tolerate frost but can handle short periods of colder weather.

Chin cacti prefer dry heat rather than a lot of humidity. 

Pruning

These plants do not require any pruning.

Pest and diseases

Chin cacti are generally not plagued with any pests or diseases. However, on rare occasions, you may see evidence of mealybugs. You can control these easily by killing them with a cotton swab dipped in isopropyl alcohol.

Uses of Chin Cactus

Chin cacti are mainly grown for their ornamental value and the lovely showy flowers that they produce.

Common Varieties and Cultivars

There are around 50 species of Gymnocalycium with a further number of cultivars. The most commonly known Gymnocalycium varieties are:

  • G. albiareolatum
  • G. ambatoense
  • G. amerhauseri
  • G. andreae
  • G. anisitsii
  • G. baldianum
  • G. baryrianum
  • G. berchtii
  • G. bodenbenderianum
  • G. bruchii
  • G. calochlorum
  • G. capillaense
  • G. cardenasianum
  • G. castellanosii
  • G. catamarcense f. Balance
  • G. chacoense
  • G. chiquitanum
  • G. curvispinum
  • G. denudatum
  • G. horstii
  • G. mihanovichii ‘Hibotan”
  • G. paediophilum
  • G. pflanzii
  • G. ochoterenae
  • G. ragonesei
  • G. saglionis
  • G. stellatum

Conclusion

Chin cacti are very easy to grow and extremely popular with cactus growers. They require no special care and are ideal for growing in small ornamental pots on a bright windowsill that gets mostly morning sun.

They have extremely showy flowers that appear in spring and can vary in color from red to pink and yellow, white, or cream.