How to Grow and Care for Echinocereus Cacti (Echinocereus spp.)

Spread the love

Echinocereus cacti are fairly hardy and easy for beginners to grow. In temperate climates without frost, these can be grown in the garden. However, as they’re fairly slow-growing and only reach a height of around 12 inches, they’re much better suited to growing in pots indoors on a bright windowsill. 

Echinocereus cacti are cylindrical in shape and have many ribs and sharp spines. These cacti will mostly bloom in spring and their flowers are quite spectacular. The flowers come in a range of different colors depending on the species.

Currently, there are over 130 species in the Echinocereus genus. Some of these are subspecies or cultivars. This means that there are plenty of different species to choose from if you’re a collector of cacti.

History

The name Echinocereus comes from the Greek word “echinos” which means porcupine or  hedgehog and the Latin word “cereus” which means large wax candle.

Plant Facts

Scientific nameEchinocereus spp.
Common namesHedgehog cactus
GenusEchinocereus
FamilyCactaceae
HeightUp to 12 inches
WidthUp to 3 inches
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone5 to 11
OriginNorth and Central America
Flower colorsWhite, yellow, red, pink & purple
Blooming seasonSpring
Plant/Flower special featuresThe fruits of many Echinocereus cacti are edible and very tasty but you just have to remove the spines first.

How to Plant and Grow Echinocereus Cacti

As these cacti are slow-growing and don’t get too big, you can plant your Echinocereus in a small pot. Make sure that the pot has drainage holes because, like most cacti species, these plants don’t tolerate being waterlogged. You can use a shallow pot because these cacti don’t have deep roots. 

Choose a nice, warm and sunny spot indoors and never overwater your cactus and it should give you many years of pleasure. The only maintenance required is a little fertilizer in summer and you only need to repot when the plant has outgrown its container.

How to Propagate Echinocereus Cacti

You can propagate Echinocereus cacti either by using offsets or by collecting and planting the seeds. 

To propagate using offsets:

  • Carefully remove the offset from the mother plant using a sharp knife. Try to retain a few roots on the offset.
  • Leave this in a cool, dry spot until a callus forms on the cut end.
  • Plant the offset in a small pot that you’ve filled with cactus mix.
  • Place your plant in a bright spot and only keep the soil slightly moist until you see new growth.

To propagate using seeds:

  • Fill a propagating tray or small shallow pot with a sandy mix.
  • Scatter the seed over the mix and only lightly cover.
  • Put the tray or pot in a warm spot and keep only slightly moist.
  • It should take around two weeks for the seeds to germinate.

Care and Maintenance

This range of cacti require very little maintenance as long as they’re growing in a nice bright spot with a little warmth. They only need watering once every 2 weeks in summer and once a month in winter. Then, it’s just a case of giving the plant a little fertilizer in summer.

Soil

It’s best to use a proprietary cacti or succulent mix that is free-draining. You want to ensure that the mix doesn’t hold water. This is one of the most important aspects of growing this type of cactus because overwatering can easily kill the plant.

Water

It’s vitally important to let the soil dry out completely before you water your Echinocereus. In the warmer growing months of spring and summer, your cactus should only need to be watered once every two weeks. In the winter, when the plant is dormant, you should only need to water it once a month.

When watering, always remember to drench the soil and then let any excess water drain away. Never let your plant sit in a saucer of water.

Fertilizer

Echinocereus cacti will benefit from a feed in summer. It’s best to select a specific liquid cactus fertilizer and apply it as per the instructions on the pack. You can also use a normal liquid fertilizer but you should only apply it at half-strength. Feeding your plant in summer will mean that it can produce more flowers the following spring.

Sunlight

An Echinocereus cactus needs at least 6 hours of sunlight daily. Therefore, consider putting your cactus in a west-facing window that lets plenty of light in. This will keep the plant happy and ensures that it rewards you with plenty of bright blooms.

Temperature and Humidity

Most Echinocereus species are fairly cold tolerant but, in general, they do prefer warmer temperatures. Anything above 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) is ideal for the plant to thrive and grow. These cacti also don’t need extra humidity to grow well. 

Pruning

This cactus does not need any pruning.

Repotting

Echinocereus cactus only needs repotting when it’s outgrown its pot or the roots start to come through the bottom of the pot. This shouldn’t be necessary too often because these plants are known for being slow-growers.

When you’re going to repot your Echinocereus, be very careful not to break the roots as these can be a little fragile. Also, remember to wear gloves to protect your fingers from the sharp spines.

The best way to repot is to take the plant out of its current pot and very gently brush off the soil from the roots. Then place into a slightly larger pot with a new cacti mix. Make sure you place the  plant at the same depth as the pot you took it out of.

Then, give the plant a drink of water and ensure that all the excess water is allowed to drain away before putting the cactus back onto your windowsill or growing area.

Pest and diseases

The only pests that you have to look out for are scale and mealybugs. These sap-sucking insects will feed on the flesh of the cactus. If you spot any, you can either spray with an insecticidal soap mixture or dab the individual insect pests with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol.

Uses of Echinocereus Cacti

Although many people grow these cacti for their ornamental value and their gorgeous flowers, many species also have edible fruit.

For example, the Kingcup cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) was used by native Indians of the Southwest of America. They removed the spines by burning and then ate the fruits raw. In fact, Echinocereus cacti reportedly have the most flavorsome fruits of all cacti species and many taste like strawberries.

If you live in an area where you can grow these cacti outdoors, the flowers are highly attractive to many pollinators including hummingbirds.

Common Varieties and Cultivars

There are around 130+ species of Echinocereus cacti. Some of these are sub species while some others are cultivars. Here are just a few types of Echinocereus that are available.

  • E. stramineus (Strawberry hedgehog cactus)
  • E. engelmannii (Engelmann’s hedgehog cactus)
  • E. triglochidiatus (Kingcup cactus)
  • E. parkeri
  • E. viridiflorus (Nylong hedgehog cactus)
  • E. pulchellus
  • E. rigidissimus (Arizona rainbow cactus)
  • E. enneacanthus (Strawberry cactus)
  • E. pectinatus (Rainbow cactus)
  • E. poselgeri (Dahlia cactus)
  • E. coccineus (Scarlet hedgehog cactus)
  • E. scheeri
  • E. viereckii
  • E. pentalophus (Lady finger cactus)
  • E. dasyacanthus (Texas rainbow cactus)
  • E. reichenbachii (Lace hedgehog cactus)

Conclusion

Echinocereus cacti are super easy to grow, even for beginners. They require minimal care and don’t grow too large. These plants are ideal for growing in small pots on a bright windowsill.

In spring, these small cacti will produce abundant blooms that are almost as large as the plant itself. These come in a range of colors depending on the species.

If you can handle removing the spines, the fruits of many of these species are also edible and quite tasty.