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growing a barrel cactus

Growing A Golden Barrel Cactus

Growing a golden barrel cactus is easy especially in pots.  However, this drought tolerant cacti is hard to find in the wild.  Evidently Its pulp was commonly used to make cactus candy.  Who knew cactus candy was a thing and actually popular thus depleting its supply.  As a consequence it’s been classified by the IUCN as an endangered species so you’re more likely to see it planted in gardens and less in the wild.

Equally important the cacti fruit has some pretty awesome health benefits.  In addition it’s high in fiber which helps the body eliminate dietary fat thus helping you lose weight.  

In fact other benefits are:

  • lower blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol
  • boosts the immune system
  • protects from heart disease
  • cleans the colon
  • prevents liver damage
  • reduces chances of strokes and the frequency of migraines
  • Cures hangovers
  • Provides anti-aging benefits
  • Eliminates dark circles
  • Heals wounds
  • Nourishing for the hair and can be used as a conditioner

And if you’re following a keto diet, cactus is a great source of micronutrients.  Any cactus with red and purple fruit is high in antioxidants and that has anti-inflammatory benefits.

Barrel Cactus: aka Golden barrel, Candy barrel cactus or Mother-in-law cushion

Botanical Name & Family: Echinocactus grusonii of the Cactaceae-Cactuses family

Other popular barrel cactus plant species include: Ferocactus cylindraceus “California Barrel,” Ferocactus wislizenii “Fishhook Cactus,” Ferocactus glaucescens “Blue Barrel,” and Ferocactus emory “Colville’s Barrel.”

Photo: Shutterstock

How to care for your golden barrel cactus

  • Light: Full Sun
  • Best Grown: If outdoors in Zones 9 and above
  • Benefits: Some species can produce edible fruit but check with an expert to ensure food safety protocols.  Also in a pinch if you need to draw on your survival skills the pulp from the stem can be chewed as a food source as well as for extracting water.
  • Soil: Growing a golden barrel cactus won’t require much water since it’s a native plant to the desert.  Because of this it thrives best in sandy and rocky soil consisting of 60% Vermiculite + 20% coco coir or peat moss + 20% sandy soil  with a pH value of 6-7( a small amount of potting soil can also be added)  Soil should be loose so air and water passes through quickly.
  • Watering: Typically if this plant is outdoors it will do well with rainwater or distilled water because tap water typically contains a lot of calcium magnesium and other mineral salts.  Or you can give it a good watering once a month.  If Indoors I water mine 2x a month.  Remember this plant can survive in a very dry environment so it can handle under watering just make sure the soil is completely dry between watering.

Photo: Shutterstock

Other ways to care for your golden barrel cactus are:

  • Fertilizer: Use a low concentration phosphate-potassium liquid fertilizer once 2-3 months before and after blooming in the spring, summer and fall.
  • Repotting: If outdoors you want to loosen the soil once a year to make sure air flow is appropriate. 
  • Toxicity: Most cacti are not poisonous.   But the sap can cause gastrointestinal issues like vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, stomach pain, excessive salivation and nausea.
  • How big it will grow:
    It can grow up to 4.5 feet high and 2.5 feet wide with the prickly spines growing up to 4 inches long in a zigzag pattern.
  • Propagating: Can be done with seeding or by using the division or grafting method
  • Temperature: The optimal temperatures are 68°F-95°F and shouldn’t be in temperatures lower than 50°F.  If in temperatures that exceed 95°F spray around the plant making sure to avoid getting water on the stems.
  • Exercise Care: Cactus typically have spines that can be extremely painful if they prick the skin.  Therefore it’s best to use leather protective gloves when handling this type of plant.  Other options are wrap it in a towel or use tongs.


If you need some inspiration for growing something inside the home, check out my blog post on another favorite, the monstera plant