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Wow, you must agree that this cactus has an exciting name, the cholla cactus or the jumping cholla cactus.
Another exciting thing is that this cactus and other plants give a homey touch to any living space, don’t you agree?
Of course, today if you have the cholla cactus or plan on getting one, we will help you care for this unique plant. You may not believe us, but it is super easy.
What are Cholla Cactus Plants?
The cholla belongs to the Cylindropuntia genus growing in its natural habitat in Mexico and American Southwest. It is a shrubby cactus or groundcover cactus that can grow as a tree. The cactus you find is highly segmented with joints separating the cylindrical stems.
Yet, do not underestimate those spines as they are nasty. The Cylindropuntia used to be classified as the Opuntia genus. A separation took place, but you can still see some of the cholla varieties sold under this genus.
A fun fact is that the cholla cactus is commonly called jumping cholla because it has a nifty trick. Those cholla spines or barbed spines attach to passersby, and with the slightest touch, they jump onto you. Of course, the sharp spines cannot jump, but you must be careful around them.
Now, you may wonder why the two genera became separated. The reason is that the Cylindropuntia bigelovii grows cylindrical stems while the Opuntia produces flattened stems known as pads. This cactus is believed to be the most hazardous cacti.
Another interesting fact is that the fruit you can eat while the cholla wood people use as a substrate to grow different air plants or bird perch. Furthermore, some tribes harvest the buds to dry and roast to add flavor to food.
The cholla cactus can grow up to 15 feet high with a five-foot width depending on your species. When you grow cholla, the flower color varies from pink, red, and orange to yellow-green.
The blooming season is April to June, and the cactus is highly drought tolerant.
Cholla Plant Care
It needs a good foundation to grow to keep your cholla cactus healthy. Overall the cactus is low-maintenance, and you need not be an expert to grow healthy cholla cacti.
Cholla Cacti Preferred Soil Mix
When you grow hardy plants like the cholla cactus, you need a container with enough drainage holes for excess water to run out. You do not want your jumping cholla standing in water, leading to root rot.
When you have your pot, it is time to get the proper soil for your cactus. You want desert-like soil that is dry but also needs some fertilizer. When treated as an outdoor plant, it helps to loosen up the soil by about eight inches.
You can add some grit or sand to make well-draining soil. For growing indoors, provide your cholla cactus with succulents soil mix, or you will need to amend the potting soil with sand to improve the drainage.
Light Requirements for Cholla Cactus Plants
For the best environment for growing cholla, it needs direct sunlight most of the time in a warm climate. Unfortunately, your pet cactus does not do well in cold climates as it only can experience freezing temperatures for a short time.
Your plant indoors needs at least six hours of full sunlight, and it is best to place it in a south or southeast-facing window. If not enough sun is present, it helps to invest in artificial light. Outdoors the cholla cactus grows well in a desert-like climate.
The same rule applies to providing your cacti with six hours of natural light daily. So, choose a perfect spot with direct sunlight without too much coverage. The cholla species is picky; too little sun will make it wilt away, and the same applies to too much water.
How Often to Water Cholla Cactus
The cholla cactus, with proper care, can flourish, especially with watering. If you plant your cactus for the first time, it drinks a lot of water, but after that, it needs little water. The best is to keep an eye on the soil.
Whether you grow the cactus indoors or outdoors, it does not need frequent watering. The best is to check if it has dry soil before watering. You may find you will water cholla cacti during summer more than in winter.
Fertilizing Your Cholla Cactus
Your cholla cactus is not a heavy feeder; you can use fertilizer made for cacti and succulents. You can apply it once a month from early spring to late summer but not needed.
Temperature and Humidity Level Needs
As long as your see that the soil dries, it is in a sunny location. All the cholla cactus needs is a dry, warm temperature. You can find some of the cholla cold-tolerant standing in temperatures as low as -5°F. But it is best to avoid dramatic cold drops.
For humidity, while it is succulent, it does not need high humidity.
Pruning and Trimming Cholla Cacti
If you do not want your cholla cacti to grow more than 10 feet, then you might wonder how to prune this cactus with its nasty habit. So, trimming your cacti depends on your available space and how big you want them to grow.
But you will need special tools to handle those cholla spines. You must wear gloves and get the right-sized garden shears to achieve this. Once you get to pruning, you may wonder what to do with the stem cuttings.
Certain parts of your cactus, like the pads and offsets, can become a brand new cactus when laid on top of the soil. But it would be best to leave the cuttings and trunks standing for a while to callus at the ends. Still, when you deal with dead flowers and stalks to leaves, you can use them as traditional compost.
Other trimmings you can trash but place them in multiple trash bags as you do not want someone else to end up hurt.
Propagating Cholla Cactus
To propagate the cholla cactus, use the stem cuttings placed directly in the soil. Here are some steps you can follow:
With some gloves and sharp pruners, you can separate a pad or stem from the mother plant at the top.
Place the cutting in a dry location for up to 24 hours to callous.
Prepare a small container with a well-draining soil mix and ensure it has enough drainage holes.
Next, place the cut end side into the soil until buried.
Place your container where it can receive direct light.
After four weeks, you should notice the roots growing, and you can give the stem cutting water for the first time. But do not drench the soil and only leave it moist. When the soil dries, you can water it again.
Cholla Cactus Varieties
The fascinating thing is that you can find different cholla varieties to grow in your garden or home.
Teddy Bear Cholla
The Cylindropuntia bigelovii has a fuzzy look with cute-looking bear ears. Yet, do not be fooled, as those spines can hurt. The flowers of the teddy bear cholla have a buttery yellow hue with a rose-red tip.
Chain Fruit Cholla
The chain fruit cholla grows ropy but pendant-looking strands looking like a face.
The diamond cholla has pencil-thin stems that are lined with glittering fine toothpicks.
Cholla Cactus Diseases and Pests
When it comes to common pests and diseases, you can still find the cholla cacti having some problems. Still, your cactus is more susceptible to root rot when left in soggy soil. Some pests to keep an eye on are the cochineal scale insects or mealybugs.
If you notice pests, you can spray your cactus with rubbing alcohol or some insecticide. We recommend taking your plant out of direct light before spraying them and leaving them to dry before putting them back in their place.
If you notice drooping stems, there are a few things that could be wrong. It can result from temperature shock, a lack of water, or a mealybug infestation. Mushy stems on a cholla cactus are a sign of root rot.
Use pruning shears to cut the stem above the rot for fast action. Then you can follow the above propagation methods to save your plant. If you notice shriveled stems, it results from underwatering.
If you provide your cactus with water and it does not perk up, attempt to propagate your plant as the roots might have dried up.
Frequently Asked Questions
Cholla cacti are drought-tolerant plants and require infrequent watering. Water them sparingly, approximately every 2-4 weeks, or when the soil is completely dry. Overwatering can cause root rot and damage the plant.
It can vary depending on species, growing conditions, and the environment it inhabits. Generally, cholla cacti are long-lived plants and can survive for several decades to over a century in the wild. With proper care and an ideal habitat, some cholla species can thrive for 50 to 100 years or more.
However, in cultivation or as houseplants, their lifespan may be shorter. These cacti are well-adapted to arid regions and have developed various survival strategies, such as water storage in their segmented stems, to withstand harsh desert conditions and ensure their longevity.
Cholla cacti typically bloom once a year, with their flowering period occurring in spring or early summer, depending on the species and growing conditions.
Cholla cactus provides a habitat and food source for various desert wildlife, including birds, insects, and rodents. Additionally, some indigenous communities use parts of the cholla cactus for traditional medicinal purposes and as a source of food and water in arid regions.
Yes, you should water your cactus when it is blooming, but do so sparingly and ensure the soil dries out between waterings. Overwatering during blooming can lead to root rot and harm the plant’s overall health.
Cholla cacti do not have poison. However, they have sharp spines covered in tiny barbs that can cause skin irritation and discomfort if touched, so it is essential to handle them with care.