How to Grow and Care for Cholla Cactus (Cylindropuntia)

A cholla cactus (Cylindropuntia) in a terracotta pot on a white shelf indoors with small pots and a mirror around it.

The Spruce / Krystal Slagle

Cylindropuntia is a genus of about 20 cacti native to Mexico and the American southwest. They are primarily shrubby or groundcover cacti, but can also grow tree-like. These cacti are highly segmented with many joints separating their cylindrical stems, and their spines are known for being quite nasty. Previously, the Cylindropuntia genus was classified as a subgenus of Opuntia, although they have since been separated. Still, you will see some varieties of Opuntia commonly referred to as cholla cacti as well. Cholla cacti are some of the most common cacti growing naturally in deserts across the southern United States and Mexico.

Fun Fact

Several species of cholla have earned themselves the nickname “jumping cholla” due to a unique trick. This nickname comes from the ease at which their stems attach to passersby at the slightest touch as if they jump out at you. No, these cacti stems can’t really jump, but you should definitely still exercise caution around them anyways!

Botanical Name  Cylindropuntia 
Common Name  Cholla 
Family  Cactaceae 
Plant Type  Cactus 
Sun Exposure  Full 
Soil Type  Sandy, well-drained 
Soil pH  Acidic, neutral 
Bloom Time  Spring, summer 
Flower Color  Green, red, pink, yellow, orange 
Hardiness Zones  5-11, US 
Native Area  North America, South America
Close up shot of the spiky stems of a small cholla cactus indoors in front of windows.

The Spruce / Krystal Slagle

A small cholla cactus (Cylindropuntia) in a terracotta pot in a corner next to two windows.

The Spruce / Krystal Slagle

Close up shot of a cholla cacti's pink flowers.

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Cholla Cactus Care

Cholla cacti are known for being hardy, and as long as you can provide them with lots of sunlight, they will be pretty happy. If there is one thing to stay away from when it comes to growing cholla, it’s moisture. These cacti are highly drought-tolerant and can easily succumb to overwatering, especially if they aren’t receiving enough light. 

Cholla cacti rarely bloom when grown indoors, but if they do, you can expect blooms to show up from April to mid-July. Flowers are cup-shaped and vary in color depending on the species, but often appear in shades of yellow, orange, red, pink, or even green.


Cholla cacti have many long, sharp spines that are covered in small barbs—which makes them extremely painful and difficult to remove, should they get lodged in your skin. Exercise caution when handling this plant, and be sure to keep it in a safe location if you have pets or small children at home.


Cholla cacti need direct sunlight in order to thrive—and lots of it. Ideally, choose a location that receives between 6-7 hours of direct sun every day. Because they need so much sunlight, cholla cacti grow best outdoors where they can receive unfiltered sunlight, but they can be grown indoors as well. Just make sure you have your cholla cactus in a west- or south-facing window, and that the sun’s rays are hitting the plant directly. 


These cacti are highly susceptible to root rot, and need a dry and well-draining soil in order to prevent it. Sandy soil is best for these desert-dwellers. If you are growing a cholla cactus indoors, choose a cactus or succulent soil mix, or amend standard potting soil with plenty of sand to increase drainage.


Cholla cacti are extremely drought-tolerant and do not need frequent watering. Ensure that the soil dries out completely between waterings. 

Temperature and Humidity

Warm, dry conditions are best for cholla cacti. In fact, Cylindropuntia are known to be one of the most heat-tolerant species of cacti in the Cactaceae family. That being said, some varieties of cholla are also extremely cold-tolerant if needed—withstanding temperatures as low as -5 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 degrees Celsius). If possible, it is still best to avoid such dramatic cold exposure though, these cacti really will thrive in warm temperatures. 


Cholla cacti are not high feeders and do not need regular fertilizing. A fertilizer designed for cacti and succulents can be applied once monthly from the early spring to late summer if desired, but this is not necessary.

Types of Cholla Cactus

There are more than 20 species of cholla cactus, with varying different growth habits, sizes, and shapes. These 5 species are among the most common and frequently grown. 

  • Teddy bear cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii)
  • Silver cholla (Cylindropuntia echinocarpa)
  • Buckhorn cholla (Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa
  • California cholla (Cylindropuntia californica)
  • Chain-link cholla (Cylindropuntia cholla)


Pruning is not necessary when it comes to caring for cholla cactus, but you might choose to prune your cactus occasionally in order to control its size or clean up its appearance. Ensure you are wearing a thick pair of protective gardening gloves before you start pruning. It is best to make cuts where the cylindrical stems meet one another as the stems will easily separate from one another in these spots.

Propagating Cholla Cactus

Propagating cholla cacti is relatively straightforward and easy. They propagate readily through stem cuttings, and can be put directly into soil to root. Propagating is a great way to create new cacti plants to share with friends, or fill out an existing pot to create your own little cholla garden. To propagate your cholla cactus, follow these simple steps.

  1. Using a pair of sharp pruners or scissors, separate a stem or pad of the cactus from the top of the plant.
  2. Set the fresh stem cutting aside in a dry location for 24 hours to allow the cut part of the stem to callous over. 
  3. Next, prepare a small pot with some sandy, well-draining soil mix. Ensure the pot has a drainage hole. Terracotta works great for cacti.
  4. Plant the cholla stem cutting in the soil by pressing the cut edge down into the soil until it is fully buried and the stem cutting can support itself.
  5. Place the potted cutting in a location that receives plenty of direct sunlight.
  6. After 3 to 4 weeks, roots should be starting to grow and you can water the cutting for the first time. Don’t drench the soil, just water it enough that the soil is evenly moist. Wait until the soil dries out completely before watering again. 

Potting and Repotting Cholla Cactus

Cholla cacti can tolerate being a bit rootbound and don’t need to be repotted very frequently. Depending on their growing conditions, repotting your cholla cactus every two to three years should suffice. Ensure that you repot during the spring or summer months which is the active growing season, and choose a container that is only 1 to 2 inches larger than the previous container. 

Before you start repotting your cholla cactus, ensure that you are wearing a thick pair of protective gardening gloves to shield your hands from the cholla’s spiky spines. You may also want to use some tools like tongs, or even a large blanket or towel, to help you remove the cactus from its pot. During repotting, remove as much of the old soil as possible without damaging the roots and refresh with new soil. 

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

For the most part, cholla cacti have few enemies when it comes to common pests and diseases. However, they are easily susceptible to root rot if they are grown in consistently moist soil. Also keep an eye out for mealybugs which can occasionally get past the cacti’s spiky exterior and take up residence against its fleshy stems. If you notice signs of mealybugs, simply spray the cactus down with rubbing alcohol or an insecticide. Just ensure that you move it out of direct sun before you do so, and wait to put it back until it has dried completely.

Common Problems With Cholla Cactus

Cholla cacti are hardy and rarely encounter problems. Any issues that you notice with your cacti is usually an indication that one of the following may be going on: improper watering, temperature issues, or pests.

Drooping Stems

Drooping stems can mean a couple of different things, but ultimately indicate that something in the cacti’s environment is off. Temperature shock, lack of water, or a mealybug infestation can all lead to drooping stems. Some cacti don’t recover well from temperature shock, so if you suspect this is the culprit, you should attempt to save the plant by propagating any of the remaining healthy stems.

Mushy Stems

Mushy stems on your cholla cactus are not a good sign and usually mean that your plant is suffering from root rot. Quick action is required to ensure the rot doesn’t spread to the entire plant. Take a pair of pruning shears or scissors, and make a swift cut to the stem above where the rot is located. Then, follow the propagation stems to root the remainder of your cholla plant in fresh soil.

Shriveled Stems

Shriveled stems are usually a sign of underwatering. Yes, this cactus is drought-tolerant, but it does still need water sometimes. If it doesn’t perk back up after a good watering, the roots themselves may have dried up from the lack of water, which means you should attempt to propagate a stem from your cactus in order to save it.

  • What are cholla used for?

    Cholla cacti are an important source of food and shelter for animals in their native environment. Their wood or skeletal husk is commonly used as driftwood in aquariums or vivariums.

  • Can I buy cholla cactus?

    If you are looking to grow a cholla cactus, it is best to source one from a local nursery or garden center. Removing cacti from their native environment for personal use is not a good idea and is illegal in many places.

  • Are cholla cactus fast-growing?

    Some species of cholla grow faster than others, and generally, cacti in this genus are considered to be relatively fast-growing.

Article Sources
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  1. Journal of the Arizona-Nevada Academy of Sciences. Vol.32, No.1. “Cactaceae Cactus Family, Part Three: Cylindropuntia (Engelm.) Knuth Chollas.” JSTOR, 40024914. Donald J. Pinkava. 1999. Web.