How to Grow and Care for Golden Barrel Cactus Indoors

golden barrel cactus on a mantel

The Spruce / Krystal Slagle

The aptly named golden barrel cactus or golden ball (Echinocactus grusonii) rarely grows in its native habit, but it is frequently cultivated as a houseplant. It is sometimes used in the outdoor garden in dry climates where temperatures never fall below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (zones 10 to 11). This cactus rarely blooms indoors, but it is possible if you mimic its ideal growing conditions and the plant is at least 15 years old. If it blooms, flowers come in the spring or summer.

It's called a barrel cactus because, as the name implies, they are almost perfectly round when juvenile. They are beautiful, 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 instead of letting them dry out.

This cactus can be quite a large plant when fully mature (as much as 6 feet tall), costing hundreds of dollars to buy at that size. They grow slowly, so small 3-inch indoor specimens will remain manageable for many years before getting too large.

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
Soil Type Well-drained soil or cacti/succulent potting mix
Soil pH 6.1 to 7.5 (slightly acid to slightly alkaline)
Bloom Time Spring, summer
Flower Color Yellow
Hardiness Zones Zones 10-11 (USDA)
Native Area North America

Golden Barrel Cactus Care

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. When grown indoors, these plants will need the brightest, sunniest location you have.

They can produce flowers but usually won't start doing that until they are at least 6 inches wide, which can take about 15 years. Blooms get to about two to three inches wide and grow near the top of the barrel for about two to six weeks in the spring or summer.

The trick to getting a golden cactus to bloom is to ensure it has full sun exposure during its growing season. It also needs a phosphorus-rich fertilizer given at least once per month to encourage flowers from April to September. Also, withhold water for a few months before the growing season. A simulated drought mimics its natural growth cycle in the wild. To encourage blooms, give it water once a week if it grows inside. This plant needs well-draining soil since soggy soil leads to root rot, potentially killing the plant.


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


Golden barrel cactus are prone to root rot. From fall to spring, water infrequently (every month or two) and ensure that the soil drains completely. Do not leave any water in the tray or allow it to sit in water.

In winter, simulate drought conditions, giving no water. In early spring, gradually provide some water, increasing water to once per week in spring and summer, ensuring the water drains completely.


When grown outdoors, this plant needs dry, very well-drained soil. A fast-draining cactus soil mix is ideal. If you use a regular peat-based combination, 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.


Feed these plants every four weeks with a low-nitrogen 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.


  • 'California barrel' (Ferocactus cylindraceus): Also known as California barrel cactus, desert barrel, or miner's compass; 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; has more colorful flowers than other species of barrel cactus
  • 'Blue barrel' (F. glaucescens): Commonly called glaucous barrel cactus or Texas blue barrel; 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; features spines that may turn gray or pale gold as the plant matures; flowers are yellow, orange, or maroon

Growing Golden Barrel Cactus From Seed

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

Barrel cacti may also sprout "pups" at the base of the plant. Remove the soil around the baby plant, then slice it away from the mother plant using a sharp knife. Let the pup sit for a day 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 Barrell Cactus

You should repot barrel cacti every few years. It's best to repot at the beginning of the growing season, or in summer. To repot a cactus, ensure the soil is dry, then gently extract the plant from the pot while wearing thick leather gloves for safety. Knock away the old dirt from the roots, removing 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, then begin to water lightly to reduce the risk of root rot.

Common Pests and Diseases

Problems with a golden barrel cactus 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.