How to Grow Golden Ball

golden barrel cactus on a mantel

The Spruce / Krystal Slagle

The aptly named golden ball (Echinocactus grusonii) is now quite rare in its native habit, but it is frequently grown in cultivation as a houseplant. Less frequently, it is used in the outdoor garden in dry climates where temperatures never fall below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (zones 10-11). However, the cactus is less likely to flower indoors than when it's grown in a garden or yard. If it does bloom, flowers come in the spring.

Also known as a barrel cacti, as the name implies, they are almost perfectly round when juvenile, so they make excellent display plants. They are highly attractive, with evenly-spaced rows of spines on their deeply ribbed lobes. As they grow, it's not uncommon for them to stretch out so they are more oval than circular. As with most cacti, the secret to successful indoor growth is nearly perfect drainage, as opposed to letting them dry out.

This can be quite a large plant when fully mature (as much as 6-feet tall), but they grow very, very slowly, so indoor specimens will remain manageable for many before becoming a problem.

closeup of a golden barrel cactus
The Spruce / Krystal Slagle
Botanical Name Echinocactus grusonii
Common Name Golden barrel cactus, golden ball
Plant Type Perennial cactus
Mature Size 3.5 ft. tall, 2 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Dry, well-drained soil, or cacti/succulent potting mix
Soil pH 6.1 to 7.5 (slightly acid to slightly alkaline)
Bloom Time Summer (does not bloom until the plant is quite old)
Flower Color Yellow
Hardiness Zones Zones 10-11 (USDA)
Native Area Rocky volcanic slopes of Mexico, SW United States

Golden Ball Care

The genus Echinocactus includes about six species of barrel cacti, including the golden variety, native to Mexico and the southwestern United States. These are true desert plants that cannot handle standing water when growing. Plant them in very well-draining soil or potting mix, and water no more than once a month. When grown indoors, these plants will need the brightest, sunniest location you have.

Light

A golden ball does best in a very sunny window, perhaps with southern exposure. Plants that do not get enough sunlight will grow slowly and fail to thrive.

Water

Water infrequently (every month or two) and ensure that the soil drains completely. Do not leave any water sitting in the tray or allow them to sit in water. Golden ball are prone to root rot.

Soil

A cactus soil mix is ideal. If you use a regular peat-based mix, be sure to add sand or extra perlite to enhance drainage. Repot the plant when the soil begins to break down. Encourage drainage by adding a few inches of gravel or small pebbles to the bottom of the pot. When grown outdoors, this plant needs dry, very well-drained soil.

Fertilizer

Feed these plants every four weeks with a high-potassium fertilizer.

Temperature and Humidity

While the plant favors warm conditions, the cactus can tolerate temperatures down to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It does best without humidity.

Varieties

  • 'California barrel' (Ferocactus cylindraceus): Also known as California barrel cactus, desert barrel, or miner's compass, is a tall variety with yellow flowers and downward-curving spines.
  • 'Fishhook cactus' (F. wislizenii): Also known as Arizona barrel cactus, candy barrel cactus, or Southwestern barrel cactus, it has more colorful flowers than other species of barrel cactus.
  • 'Blue barrel' (F. glaucescens): Commonly called glaucous barrel cactus or Texas blue barrel, it has blue-green stems and long-lasting lemon-yellow flowers.
  • 'Colville’s barrel' (F. emoryi): Often known as Emory’s cactus, Sonora barrel, traveler’s friend, or nail keg barrel, it features spines that may turn gray or pale gold as the plant matures. The flowers are yellow, orange, or maroon.

Growing Golden Ball From Seed

Golden ball is typically propagated by seed. A mature cactus will bloom in the summer with flowers that grow in whorls around the top of the plant. To seed a cactus, plant the seeds shallowly in a cactus mix and keep them warm and very slightly moist.

Barrel cacti may also sprout "pups" at the base of the plant. Remove the soil from around the baby plant then slice it away from the mother plant using a sharp knife. Let the pup sit for a day or so until the cut area forms a slight callus, then plant it in a container filled with coarse cactus-mix potting soil. Water immediately, but then limit water until the new plant roots itself.

Potting and Repotting Golden Ball

Barrel cacti should be repotted every few years. It's best to repot at the beginning of the growing season, or in summer. To repot a cactus, make sure the soil is dry, then gently extract the plant from the pot while wearing thick leather gloves for safety. Knock away the old soil from the roots, making sure to remove any rotted or dead roots in the process. Treat any cuts with a fungicide.

Place the plant in its new pot and backfill with a potting mix designed for cacti, spreading the roots out as you repot. Leave the plant dry for a week or so, then begin to water lightly to reduce the risk of root rot.

Common Pests and Diseases

Problems with a golden ball are rare, but occasionally they may become infested with mealybugs or scale. Spraying with water and then coating with insecticidal soap is the best remedy.