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Do you want a plant with a lot of character and personality? Then it is time to invest in the old man cactus. Yes, we are still journeying in the cactus plant kingdom, learning how to care for these unique species.
And believe us, the old man cactus is unique and sure to become an eye stopper in your home. So, whether you already have one or planning to get one, brace yourself for a magical journey in caring for this plant.
More About This Hairy Cactus
Yes, the old man cactus is a hairy cactus that gives him his personality. The hairy old man cactus has a fancy botanical name Cephalocereus senili. I had to giggle now, sorry, as even the botanical name gives you a hint of the feebleness of an older man.
The spiky body you find covered in fine hair resembles a frail senior citizen giving you the common name. For this reason, this cactus, with its odd look, deserves a place in your indoor or outdoor collection.
The bearded cactus is another common name; others are the old man cactus of the Andes, old man of Mexico cactus, and much more. Another remarkable thing about the old man cactus Cephalocereus senilis is that it lives very long.
So your cactus might even outlive you. While it is not your average small houseplant, the indoor cactus growing outside can reach up to 20 feet tall. The main reason the cactus lives so long is the long soft white hair protecting them from cold and heat to retain moisture.
Still, do not think you can touch those soft hairs as you did as a child with grandpa. No, you need to handle this older man delicately as those spines are sharp (ouch). Yet, with those sharp spines, it remains a succulent plant.
You find the Andes cactus growing in Hidalgo, Guanajuato, and Mexico. It grows with a columnar shape with unbranched stems. When the cactus is young, you see silvery white hair; as the plant matures, it loses its covering.
The old man cactus flower is white, red, or yellow but can take up to 20 years to bloom.
Old Man Cactus Care
The old man cactus makes for an exceptional indoor plant collection to become a conversation piece. Still, it thrives well as an outdoor plant in the proper climate. Yet, this older man is picky and needs special requirements to flourish. The important thing is to provide your cactus with the right environment.
The Best Soil For The Hairy Old Man Cactus
When you compare the natural habitat of the Peru cactus to your home or outdoors, it needs a light soil mix of garden soil, perlite, and sand. It is a typical soil mix found in its native habitat.
For container planting, you can keep the cactus mix the same as outdoors. But you can also use a cacti soil mix made for potted plants. An ideal pot is an unglazed terra cotta to help the water evaporate.
Thus providing your man cactus Cephalocereus senilis with well-draining soil and drainage holes is essential to allow excess moisture to evaporate from the container.
Light Exposure for Bearded Cactus
Whether grown outdoors or indoors, the old man cacti love bright sunlight. That fuzzy white hairdo can take full sun exposure. So, the more light most cacti receive, the better they grow. Thus, if you see long thick hair like spines, you know your plants are getting enough sunlight.
Indoor cactus growing requires placing the old man cactus in a spot with direct sunlight during the day. A great place is a south-facing sunny window, depending on where you live. The important thing is to provide bright light for at least six hours and indirect light for eight hours.
Furthermore, if your cute little plant is standing in one spot with direct sunlight, we recommend rotating it to provide the same exposure on all sides. Luckily it is a slow-growing cactus, but with more sun exposure, it will develop more flowers.
Your mature specimen can develop up to twenty thick pink flowers.
Watering an Old Man Cactus
One thing you will be happy about is that growing old man cactus is a pleasure to have when watering. The cactus does not need much water and only water when the soil is dry. When you follow this technique, you will not have problems with root rot.
The watering schedule is similar for indoor and outdoor cacti. We recommend the soak and dry method, allowing the water to drain from the soil. If you live in dry climates, you may water more during the summer.
Still, in winter, refrain from watering and always check the soil first to see how dry it is.
Fertilizing Old Man Cactus
The old man cactus is generally slow growing and does not need much cactus food. When you do use a fertilizer, it helps to choose a balanced one like a 20-20-20 that is water-soluble. You can then apply the feed during the growing season.
We recommend diluting the feed in half to apply weekly or every two weeks. A word of warning is not over-fertilized. While these are tough plants, too much nitrogen produces soft, shaggy hair.
There is no need to feed your cactus when cold as the winter hibernation period starts for the old man cactus.
Temperature & Humidity
To provide the right temperature and humidity, you can keep your old man in daytime temperatures ranging between 71LF – 82° F (22°C to 28°C). At night there can be a slight variation in the temperature.
The plant likes cool conditions as low as 59°F (15°C) but is not cold hardy. For this reason, growing old man cactus indoors is best if you have freezing temperatures. The cacti grow well in dry climates outdoors and indoors. It needs 50% humidity.
So, the rule of thumb is to keep this older man warm during the winter hibernation period. If your cactus grows outside and it happens to snow. Please remove all the snow from the plant surface to prevent root rot.
Maintaining Your Old Man Cactus Cephalocereus Senilis
With weather conditions permitting growing your cactus outdoors, it needs no repotting. But when you grow your cactus in a container, you need to keep the size intact. Hence, you need to provide your cactus with a huge pot.
When planting your cacti, you can add some broken ceramic pieces at the bottom of the pot to allow excess water to drain through. You can expect to replant your cactus every three to eight years once the max size is achieved.
The good news is you need not prune your cactus, and if it grows too large, you can use sharp shears to cut the main bottom branch when it becomes too top-heavy. Nevertheless, as the white hair protects the plant, it can become dirty.
While you will not want to give it an occasional shampoo, you can brush the branches with a soft paintbrush to remove dust buildup.
Propagating Old Man Cactus
Now, you may wonder how to propagate your spiny friend as those hairs are spikey. The fantastic thing is the old man is easily propagated when you purchase seeds. Unfortunately, this is the only technique to use compared to using cuttings.
So using the seeds is a cheap and fun project instead of putting on gloves to try and remove the offsets. When you receive the seeds, you can place some potting mix or sand into the container.
Moisten the soil and press the seeds hallway into the cactus soil mix. Then cover it with a thin layer of the soil and moisten it again. Place your container in bright sunlight or direct light. Keep the soil moist by spraying it once a day.
You should notice new plants within 14 days to three months, depending on the time of sowing. After that, you must keep the soil moist; once the seedlings develop, strong roots cut back with the watering.
Once they grow a bit bigger, you can transplant them into separate containers or outside.
When you look at the old man cactus, some people have started calling it the Bernie sanders cactus. You may think, wow, there is no other cacti as spectacular as this one. Wrong, as you find two different Cephalocereus varieties that also look amazing.
The cactus has a tall grey columnar that can reach exceptional heights. But cultivated in home landscaping, it does grow lower with a clambering bent apex tapering form. The plant hides underneath all the spines. It forms enormous stands looking like a forest or even telegraph poles in its natural habitat.
The cactus grows in Mexico to tall heights; folks call it the Philosereus palmeri. It has a tall blueish silver stem, or as some people refer to it, the trunk with multiple ribs. The spines are brown, covered with white hair, and look like wool all over the plant.
Old Man Cactus Diseases & Pests
The Andes cactus you may find become the home to different bugs like spider mites, aphids, and mealy bugs. You can quickly take care of infestations using a cotton swap with alcohol. Or you can use insecticidal soap found at most garden centers.
Furthermore, as the man cactus prefers drier soil, it can get stem and root rot from overwatering. Another disease it can get is Trichocereus fungal disease. To prevent this from happening, it helps to water your plant on the outer edges instead of pouring water from the top.
The only option with these diseases is to remove as much as possible of the infected foliage and replant your cactus in fresh soil.
Frequently Asked Questions
This is a slow-growing cactus. It can grow up to 20 feet tall in its natural habitat before flowering. It would take 10 to 20 years before you can achieve that height.
Multiple reasons. The most common are: weak root systems, overwatering, lack of sunlight and underwatering.
Weak root system: Check the mix. Make sure to use a cactus mix with compost and use a pot with excellent drainage.
Overwatering and Underwatering: Cactus are drought-tolerant types of plants. They have the capacity to store water in their stems and leaves. Easy on your watering. Only water if the soil is completely dry.
Lack of sunlight: The old man cactus is native to the desert of Mexico, they are accustomed to full sun. If you treat your old man cactus as an indoor plant, place them near a sunny window for optimal coverage.
Sun exposure, watering and cleaning will do the trick. If the hair is too dusty, wash the hair with water with a mild mixture of organic soap.