How to Grow and Care for Ball Cactus

parodia cactus

The Spruce / Krystal Slagle 

The Parodia magnifica genus includes a multitude of showy and easy-to-grow small ball cacti. Their round appearance is to credit for their shapely name, and they can grow in pots in clusters up to over a foot wide. Ball cacti are moderate growers, adding about 4 inches to their height each year. Older plants will frequently produce flowers in beautiful shades of yellow, red, orange, or pink, and all varietals feature ridges of spikes that start white and grow to a yellow-brown with age.

Common Name Ball cactus, balloon cactus, silver ball cactus, blue ball cactus, rounded ball cactus
Botanical Name Parodia magnifica
Family  Cactaceae
Plant Type  Cactus
Mature Size  3–12 in. tall, 3–18 in. wide
Sun Exposure  Full sun, partial shade
Soil Type  Sandy, well-drained
Soil pH  Acidic
Bloom Time  Summer
Flower Color  Yellow, pink, red, orange
Hardiness Zones  9–12 (USA) 
Native Area  South America
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Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for a Ball Cactus

Ball Cactus Care

Native to central South America, they are easy to care for, making them excellent beginner cacti. If you can grow cacti and succulents successfully, you can likely grow the popular ball cactus without too much trouble. It's important to remember that the ball cactus doesn't like direct sunlight and is accustomed to more water than many other cacti species. Additionally, the cactus mustn't be exposed to prolonged dampness or sitting water. Never let your cactus sit in a dish of water, and take care to ensure its soil is very well-draining.

While they prefer a warm and dry climate, they are more adaptable than some of their cacti cousins, able to withstand temperatures that hover around freezing as long as they're kept dry.

To encourage better flowering, allow the plants to enjoy a cooling period in the winter and dramatically cut back on watering cadence. Lastly, make sure to fertilize during the growing season for the best results.

parodia cactus closeup
The Spruce / Krystal Slagle 
overhead of a parodia cactus
The Spruce / Krystal Slagle 

Light

Ball cacti like lots of light—just not too much of it. Don't let that confuse you, though—it's actually simpler than it seems. Essentially they can take direct sunlight in the softer hours of the mornings and afternoons but should be kept in partial shade throughout the hottest hours of the day. If your yard or garden can't account for both, consider planting your cactus in a pot that you can move into a shadier spot during high noon. If you're planting your cactus indoors and are sitting it at a window sill for sunlight, be sure to rotate it periodically to ensure even (not skewed or crooked) growth.

Soil

Like many cacti, the ball cactus prefers a mix of airy, dry soil. Drainage is especially important as well, so if you're opting for a store-bought blend (cacti or succulent-specific mix is your best bet), consider adding coarse sand, perlite, or pumice to the mixture to help aerate the soil. Overall, the soil's pH level isn't important to the ball cactus. However, it thrives best in a slightly acidic mixture with a pH between 6.1 and 6.5.

Water

Ball cacti are drought tolerant but they do like water during their growing season. Provide regular water during the spring and summer months, but only when the soil is dry to the touch, thoroughly soaking the soil through when you do water. In the winter the cactus will go dormant and need very little water, so you can cease complete cut back watering and let the soil almost dry between waterings, but do not let it completely dry out. If planted in a container, make sure there are several holes in the bottom of the pot to aid in drainage.

Temperature and Humidity

True to their nature, ball cacti prefer warm, desert-like conditions. That being said, they can survive in below-freezing temperatures as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit, though it's not recommended that they're kept that cold for very long at all.

Dry heat is the key to keeping any cactus, and ball cacti will not do well if exposed to too much moisture—either from watering or in the form of humidity. Therefore, it is unnecessary to spritz them or increase the humidity in their environment.

Fertilizer

Though not necessary, the ball cactus will respond well to fertilizer. During the growing season fertilize with a cacti fertilizer mix and suspend feeding during the dormant winter period.

Types of Ball Cactus

Parodia magnifica is one of many types of ball cacti. Here are a few more popular types:

  • 'Golden ball': This is one of the larger ball-type cacti that can grow to about 6 feet tall when fully mature.
  • 'Powder puff': This round gem produces fine hairs on its spines plus the possibility of yellow or pink flowers in the spring, and is a shorter ball that grows wider as it matures.
  • 'Red Tom Thumb': Its dark green globe grows wider (to 5 feet) rather than taller (to 3 feet) and may flower in the spring and summer with orange or red blossoms.

Propagating Ball Cactus

Ball cacti can be propagated easily from offsets, which readily form in clusters around the base of the mother plant. Do not repot in the winter because the cold temperatures, even indoors, can shock the roots. To propagate, follow these steps:

  1. Carefully remove an offset and allow the cut section to dry on a paper towel for a few days.
  2. Depending on the size of the cut area, a callous will form over the cut surface.
  3. Once the callous has formed, place the new plant in a pot with a cactus or succulent soil mixture and keep it in a warm place until new roots emerge.
  4. Once the cactus is established, repot it into a regular-sized container.

Potting and Repotting Ball Cactus

Repot your ball cactus as needed, preferably during the warm season. Always place the plant in a pot with a drainage hole. Make sure the soil is very dry and crumbly before repotting, then gently remove the cactus and surrounding soil from the pot. 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 potting soil, 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

Luckily, this plant won't typically fall to disease, but it can be a favorite for sucking pests like whiteflies, mealybugs, and aphids. Mealybugs may appear any time of the year. Aphids and whiteflies will crawl on the plant in the spring and summer. To eliminate both, spray the cactus with a mix of equal parts rubbing alcohol and water.

Common Problems With Ball Cactus

The ball cactus is quite a forgiving plant. But it can face a couple of challenges in its environment.

Cactus Going Soft

If the entire body of your cactus is going soft, that could mean your plant is experiencing root rot from overwatering or sitting in poorly draining soil. It's best to repot the cactus in fresh medium and cut away damaged roots if possible.

Nicks in the Flesh

If you spot openings in the plant's flesh, bacteria and fungus could be entering the plant through those small wounds. If the spot around the wound has become mushy or is oozing liquid, use a sterilized cutting tool to dig out that part of the flesh and let the area dry out. Make sure that no moisture touches the area so that the spot can heal and stay completely dry.

FAQ
  • How long does it take before a cactus blooms?

    It could take about three years for a cactus to begin producing flowers. Sometimes you can be surprised by a huge bloom on top of the cactus that seems larger than the plant's body.

  • Is the ball cactus an endangered species?

    According to The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Parodia magnifica is still listed as endangered. However, that may mean that growers are pushing to increase the numbers of this cactus. The good news: You can still find and buy this cactus without a problem.

  • Is ball cactus a cold-hardy plant?

    Though as mentioned it can withstand some freezing weather, ball cactus is not a cold-hardy plant like the Eastern prickly pear which can thrive in zone 7, for example. The ball cactus should only be planted in the ground in USDA zones 9 through 12.

  • Is Parodia magnifica the same as Notocactus magnificus and Eriocactus magnificus?

    Yes, all three names refer to Parodia magnifica. The ball cactus was once referred to as other scientific names but the plant's botanical nomenclature shifted.


  • Will the ball cactus stay perfectly round as it ages?

    This cactus can actually turn a bit oval, barrel-shaped, or tubular as it gets older. It depends on the plant.