How to Grow Echinocereus Cacti

Echinocereus cacti

The Spruce / Kara Riley

In This Article

The Echinocereus (Echinocereus) genus contains around 70 cacti species that come in various sizes and shapes. In general, these cacti tend to be small, not typically reaching more than a foot tall. They often have a cylindrical shape and tight spines. These cacti bloom mostly in the spring with colorful, showy flowers, though they occasionally bloom at different points in the year as well. Echinocereus cacti generally like sunny, warm climates, but certain species have some cold tolerance. Overall, they are quite hardy plants and good for beginners to grow both in the garden (in the proper climate) and as houseplants. The cacti tend to live for many years and have a slow growth rate. They are best planted in the spring once the weather has warmed.  

Botanical Name Echinocereus spp.
Common Names Echinocereus cactus, hedgehog cactus
Plant Type Cactus
Mature Size Up to 12 in. tall, 3 in. wide
Sun Exposure Full
Soil Type Sandy, well-drained
Soil pH Acidic, neutral
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Red, yellow, pink, purple, white
Native Area North America, Central America
Hardiness Zones 5–11 (USDA), varies by species
Toxicity Nontoxic
closeup of echinocereus cactus
The Spruce / Kara Riley

Echinocereus Care

If you’ve successfully grown any species of cactus in the past, you most likely can grow an Echinocereus cactus. Besides providing your plant with warmth and light, one of the most important parts of its care is avoiding any hint of soggy soil. Overwatering can easily kill an Echinocereus cactus.

Otherwise, these cacti are quite low-maintenance. They require feeding in the summer and repotting only when they’re very cramped in their container. They don’t have any serious issues with pests or diseases, though you should be on the lookout for mealybugs and scale, which can damage the cactus flesh and even its roots. An infestation can cause a cactus to become pale. Treat any issue with an insecticide as soon as possible, and replant container plants in fresh soil.

Light

These cacti need full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days, to grow and flower their best. They can tolerate a bit of shade, but this can reduce flowering. When grown as a houseplant, place your Echinocereus cactus by your brightest window. A west-facing window is best.

Soil

A loose, sandy soil with sharp drainage is recommended for Echinocereus cacti. For container plants, a potting mix made specifically for cacti and succulents will provide ideal growing conditions.

Water

Water needs vary somewhat among the Echinocereus species. But in general, these cacti don’t need much moisture to thrive. And too much water can easily lead to root rot, especially if the soil isn’t fast-draining as well as during the winter months when the plant is dormant and requires less water. So be sure to let the soil dry out between waterings. From spring to fall, water roughly every two weeks unless your plant has received rainfall. Over the winter, reduce watering to monthly.

Temperature and Humidity

Temperature preferences vary among Echinocereus species. Many of the cacti are quite tolerant to cold and even freezing temperatures. In general, they thrive in temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Humidity typically isn’t an issue for them as long as they have adequate soil drainage. 

Fertilizer

These cacti don’t need rich soil, but they will appreciate a bit of food. Feed them during the summer with a liquid cactus fertilizer, following label instructions. For the rest of the year, there’s no need to fertilize. 

Propagating Echinocereus

Echinocereus can be propagated either through offsets or by seed. To take an offset (a small plant growing from a mature plant), carefully remove it while keeping some roots attached. Let it dry in open air until a callous forms over the cut end. Then, plant it in cactus potting mix, and put it in a bright, warm spot. Keep the soil just barely moist until new growth emerges. To propagate by seed, shallowly plant the seeds in the spring in sandy soil that’s kept barely moist. Put the seeds in a warm spot. It can take up to two weeks for them to germinate.

Potting and Repotting Echinocereus

Any container you choose for an echinocereus cactus should have ample drainage holes. An unglazed container is best, as it will allow excess moisture to escape through its walls as well as via the drainage holes. Select a fairly shallow container, as the cacti don’t have deep roots. 

Because these cacti grow slowly, they won’t need repotting often. Once the roots are starting to grow out of the pot and the plant has become too top-heavy for its container, then it’s time to move it to a slightly bigger pot. Be extra careful removing it from the old container, as Echinocereus cacti tend to have weak roots. Gently knock off any loose soil. Then, plant it at the same depth in the new container, filling in around it with fresh cactus potting mix.

Echinocereus Varieties

There are many popular Echinocereus species that are grown for their interesting shapes and flowers, including:

  • Echinocereus stramineus: Also known as the strawberry cactus or straw-color hedgehog, this species is notable for its large, tan (or straw-color) spines. 
  • Echinocereus engelmannii: Often referred to as the strawberry hedgehog cactus, this plant features bright magenta flowers and is common in deserts of the Southwest.
  • Echinocereus triglochidiatus: This species is known as kingcup cactus, claretcup, and Mojave mound cactus. Its large blooms are funnel-shaped and bright red to orange in color.
Echinocereus acifer
 ChuckSchugPhotography / Getty Images
echinocereus brandegeei
Maria_Ermolova / Getty Images