Golden Barrel Cactus: Growing The Hedgehog Cactus [CARE GUIDE]

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The “Golden Barrel Cactus” (Echinocactus grusonii) or hedgehog cactus is so-called because if you squint at it and hold your mouth just right, you can imagine it looks like a hedgehog.

This beautiful cacti goes by a few other common names, including:

  • Mother-in-Law’s Cushion
  • Mother-in-Law’s Pillow
  • Barrel Cactus
Golden Barrel Cactus growing in a cactus gardenPin

The popular Golden Barrel cactus has an appealing, round shape and is covered with golden spines and a few longer golden hairs at the top, which eventually develop into flowers.

Echinocactus Grusonii Profile:

The Golden Barrel cactus is an easy-care, robust plant requiring little and has a good chance of thriving, even for very inexperienced gardeners.

Here are its vital statistics:

  • Family: Cactaceae
  • Genus: Echinocactus
  • Origin: Mexico desert
  • Height: About 8″ indoors or a little over 4′ feet tall outdoors.
  • Flowers: Yellow flowers may form on mature plants.
  • Structure: Depending on growing conditions, this golden cactus may be ball-shaped or barrel-shaped.

Golden Barrel Cactus Care

What Are The Light & Temperature Requirements For Echinocactus Grusonii?

These sturdy desert plants like bright sun and warm temperatures. Moreover, the Golden Barrel Cactus needs at least 6 hours or more of direct sunlight per day to thrive.

However, cooler temperatures (to 50° degrees Fahrenheit) can be tolerated. Plants kept in a cooler setting tend to develop a barrel shape.

Younger Golden Barrel cacti should be kept in very bright, indirect sunlight. They will also need light shade daily. In contrast, Mature plants can tolerate full sun.

Placing it in a sunny window with southern exposure to provide its needed light.

What Is The Best Soil For The Golden Barrell Cactus?

Echinocactus grusonii cacti favor dry conditions, so plant in well-draining soil. A standard cactus mix will do, or combine potting soil and sand and/or perlite 50/50.

More in our article: How To Make Cactus Potting Soil ‘Recipe.”

When planting outdoors, mix in some sand and/or small gravel into the soil to help with drainage. Be sure to plant at a slight elevation so rainwater will run off.

5 Tips For Success Planting Small Barrel Cactus Outdoors

  • The distance between the cactus and other plantings should be a little over twice the circumference of the cactus.
  • Top the soil surrounding the cactus with gravel or quartz sand to facilitate good drainage.
  • Tamp down the soil around the plant to prevent hollow spaces.
  • The size of the hole should be double the size of the root ball.
  • Begin with generous watering.

Can Indoor Cactus Stay Outdoors In Summer?

The hedgehog cactus can stay outdoors year-round in areas where the temperature never drops below 50° degrees Fahrenheit.

In cooler climates, if you want to set your potted cactus out for the summer or transfer it into a garden bed for the summer, wait until the nighttime temperature is consistently above 50° degrees Fahrenheit.

Remember to introduce your cactus to the outdoors gradually. Set the pot outside in a sheltered setting, with filtered sunlight, for a few hours a day.

Gradually increase the time and move the plant into brighter, less sheltered settings.

After a week or two, your cactus should be ready to stay outdoors for the spring and summer months.

If you are going to transplant your barrel cactus plants into the garden for the summer, be sure to give them plenty of space to grow.

Good air circulation is also important to help prevent problems with dampness. An open, airy setting also allows for the best exposure to sunlight.

Remember, younger plants will not be able to tolerate the heat of the midday sun and full sun. Position young plants so they receive very bright, indirect sunlight.

How To Overwinter Hedgehog Cactus?

From December through February, your cactus will appreciate a period of dormancy.

Hedgehog cactus, beauty and adaptability to arid environmentsPin

Bring your Golden Barrel cactus indoors to an area that has bright light and a cool temperature. A steady 50o degrees Fahrenheit is best.

The temperature should never drop lower than 41o degrees Fahrenheit during the dormancy period, and not for any extended periods of time.

Water very little or not at all during the winter months.

Alternately, you can keep your Echinocactus grusonii cactus as a houseplant during the winter months. Keep it in a bright setting at a comfortable room temperature. Water extremely sparingly.

Check frequently for house plant bugs, as indoor settings tend to make cacti more susceptible to insect infestation.

Is A Dormancy Period Necessary?

The Golden Barrel cacti naturally go dormant in the wintertime in the wild, so it is healthier for them to have a period of rest.

Additionally, in mature plants, dormancy stimulates flower production in the springtime.

How Do You Know When It’s Time To Repot?

Repotting is stressful for the Golden Barrel, so it’s good to keep this activity to a minimum. Repot (or transfer) your plant no more than once a year.

If you have a container cactus, do not plan to plant it in your outdoor gardens, and don’t repot unless the plant has outgrown its pot.

How Do You Know Your Echinocactus Grusonii Is Too Big For Its Pot?

If you see strong roots poking out of the drainage holes or rising above the soil’s surface, it’s a dead giveaway that your cactus needs repotting.

When repotting, be sure to gently clean all the old substrate off the deep roots and use fresh cactus soil to give your Golden Barrel plenty of nourishment and avoid problems with rot.

When cleaning the roots, inspect them for signs of rot or damage and carefully cut away any unhealthy roots.

What Kind Of Pot Is Best?

Potted cacti tend to do better in smaller pots. Choose a new pot that is only an inch or so bigger than the old one.

Golden barrel cactus do better in smaller shallow pots (azalea pots) than taller ones.

How Much Water Does The Golden Barrel Cactus Need?

These naturally drought-resistant cacti do better with long water-free periods than with frequent, light watering.

During the growing season, water thoroughly and wait until the soil dries before watering again.

From May through September, moderate watering is called for. You should only water when the top three-quarters of an inch of the soil feels dry.

Starting in the month of October, reduce watering to help your plant prepare for the cooler winter months.

From November through February, water very sparingly or not at all as your plant will be in a period of dormancy.

In addition, make sure to provide adequate drainage so that the excess water won’t accumulate. 

Ensure the plant roots will not sit in excess water because soggy soil can lead to root rot.

Do Hedgehog Cacti Need Fertilizer?

Between the months of May and September, you can provide a specially prepared cactus fertilizer about once every six weeks.

For an established plant, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. If you have just repotted the plant and it has rich, fresh soil, prepare the fertilizer at half strength.

For cactus planted outdoors, mix in some seasoned compost into the soil once a month instead of using fertilizer.

Golden Barrel Hedgehog Cactus Care Grooming?

This Golden barrel requires no grooming or pruning other than removing spent flowers in the rare event your cactus blooms.

More Cactus & Succulent Topics You May Like:

How Do You Propagate The Hedgehog Cactus?

Seed germination is the best and easiest way to grow these cacti. Seeds are readily available online and at specialty nurseries.

Because the hedgehog cactus is so popular, cactus poaching has been a problem and is considered now considered “Endangered”.

Be sure to purchase your seed or cactus from a reputable grower who does not gather either in the wild. [source]

How Do You Plant Cactus Seed?

  • Use sterile soil for seed propagation.
  • Moisten the soil thoroughly.
  • Sprinkle the seeds lightly over the soil and press them down.
  • Leave the seeds exposed to light. Do not cover them.
  • Lay clear plastic wrap over the pot.
  • Lift the plastic up for a few minutes every day.
  • Place the tray in a bright, warm setting.
  • Keep the soil constantly moist.
  • Keep the temperature at 77° degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Your seeds should sprout in 3-5 days.

When your little cacti are a couple of inches high, transfer them to their own small pots with the fresh, clean cactus mix.

Related: More on Propagating Cactus Plants

Are Golden Barrel Cactus Subject To Problems And Pests?

For the most part, these hardy little troopers resist plague and pestilence.

The main problem for these and most cacti originate with overwatering and excessive fertilizing. If you tend to overindulge in your plants, you can expect trouble.

Root rot will develop if you keep your soil too moist.

If you notice a moldy smell and/or the flesh of your cactus seems soft, remove the plant from its wet soil, trim off soft, rotten parts, and leave the remaining plant open to the air to dry out.

After several hours (or overnight), place the plant in a clean, dry cactus mix. Provide just a very small amount of water, and be sure not to overwater in the future.

The three pests most likely to bother the hedgehog cactus are:

  • Spider Mites
  • Mealybugs
  • Greenflies

These can be dealt with through commercial insecticides or DIY methods.

Spider Mites On Golden Barrel

Spider mites are especially problematic when your plant is indoors for the winter. They are especially fond of the warm, dry air produced by indoor heating.

They can be hard to see on a cactus because they hide under the thorns and suck the moisture out of the plant.

Examine your cacti regularly and quarantine any plants infested with spider mites or any other pest.

To kill off spider mites, you can spray your cactus thoroughly with water and place the entire plant into a sealed plastic bag.

Put the plant in a warm, bright setting for about four days. This treatment should kill off the spider mites because they cannot tolerate high humidity. [source]


Mealybug infestation may cause your plant to turn brown. If you notice this problem, quarantine your plant and try giving it a thorough rinsing with clean water.

Follow this up by spraying the cactus with an insecticidal soap solution on alternating days for a period of 7 or 8 days.

Greenflies (Aphids)

Greenflies (aphids) cause dark dots (black and/or brown) on the green surfaces of your cactus. Young cacti are especially subject to infestation by aphid pests, which survive by sucking the juices from plants.

Greenflies reproduce very quickly, so you must take action right away if you see them.

Quarantine the affected plant and begin treatment immediately. Commercial pesticides will work, but they may stress your cactus.

To treat aphid greenflies, try spraying your cactus with a 50/50 mixture of isopropyl alcohol and water to kill the flies.

Rinse the plant thoroughly to knock the dying insects off. Follow up by treating with insecticidal soap as you would for mealybugs.

How Can You Avoid Pest Infestation?

Keeping the humidity level surrounding your cactus a little bit higher will help as all of these pests thrive in the hot, dry, indoor winter air.

Mist your cactus daily, or keep a humidifier nearby. Alternatively, you can set your cactus plants atop a pebble tray filled with water.

Don’t let the bottom of the plants’ pots touch the water. The idea is to keep the air hydrated without getting the substrate soggy.

Are There Different Varieties Of Echinocactus?

The Hedgehog cactus is just one of six different species of Echinocactus that are all native to Mexico.

All of these cacti are rounded in shape and grow to be a couple of feet high and about a foot wide. You can recognize members of this genus by their multiple, wavy ribs.

The golden barrel cactus is most commonly grown as an ornamental plant because of its very attractive golden spines. This fascinating, easy-care plant (like other easy-care cactus plants) adds lasting color and interest to your cactus collection indoors and outdoors.

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