Tips For Growing Pincushion Cactus In The Garden

Tips For Growing Pincushion Cactus In The Garden

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By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Growing pincushion cactus is an easy gardening project for the novice gardener. The plants are drought tolerant and native to the arid upper Sonoran desert. Pincushion cactus plant is a perennial that is most often found in heavily grazed pastureland and woody scrub.

Pincushion Cactus Plant Varieties

Pincushion cactus is a member of a family called Mammillaria, which includes 250 species of cactus. Some of the species of pincushion have colorful names.

  • The Giant Snake or Crawling Log cactus (Mammillaria matudae) produce long stems.
  • Snowball cushion cactus (Mammillaria candida) is a ball-shaped plant with white felt or fuzz on the skin of the plant.
  • Old Lady cactus (Mammillaria hahniana) is a solitary cactus with white fuzzy hair-like spines and purplish red flowers.
  • There are also Powder puff (Mammillaria bocasa-na) and Rose (Mammillaria zeilmanniana) among many others.

Cactus and succulent stores can provide you with more pincushion cactus information.

Pincushion Cactus Information

Pincushion cacti are small, squat plants that usually don’t grow more than 6 inches (15 cm.) in height. They can be ball or barrel shaped, and are native to the warmer regions of the United States. The pincushion cactus plant is most commonly grown indoors but it can tolerate some chilling temperatures if grown outside. Pincushion cactus is so called because it is covered in white spines over the entire surface of the plant. It is a very prickly little specimen that is best handled with thick gloves.

Growing Pincushion Cactus

Pincushion cactus care is very simple and suitable for the beginning gardener. Cactus plants are used to dry conditions and limited fertility. The soil for a pincushion needs to be well drained and gritty. The soil needs to dry out between watering, which is best accomplished with a sandy topsoil. The cactus goes dormant in winter and needs no additional irrigation until spring. Potted plants do well in unglazed clay pots, which allow any extra moisture to evaporate.

Temperatures should be between 50 and 75 F. (10-24 C.). Small gravel spread around the base of the plant out to the root zone will act as a mulch to deter stem rot.

The cactus produces offsets when it is mature. These can be divided from the mother plant and potted in a sandy soil mixture. You can also start the plants from seed in spring. Plant seed in a flat filled with cactus mix. Surface sow and then sprinkle sand lightly over the top and moisten the soil evenly. Place the flat in a warm location of at least 70 F. (21 C.). Keep seeds wet when growing pincushion cactus. Seedlings are transplanted when they can easily be moved.

Flowering Pincushion Cactus

If optimum heat and watering conditions are met, the pincushion cactus may reward you with flowers in spring. Enhance the chance of blooming by holding off watering until several weeks into spring. You can also apply a cactus food in early spring to give the plant the nutrients it needs to produce blooms.

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Plant Library

Pincushion Cactus flowers

Pincushion Cactus flowers

Other Names: Beehive Cactus

Pincushion Cactus has fuchsia trumpet-shaped flowers with yellow throats and white anthers at the ends of the stems in mid spring, which are interesting on close inspection. Its attractive succulent round leaves remain dark green in color with pointy white spines throughout the year. The fruit is not ornamentally significant.

Pincushion Cactus is an open herbaceous evergreen perennial with a more or less rounded form. Its medium texture blends into the garden, but can always be balanced by a couple of finer or coarser plants for an effective composition.

This is a relatively low maintenance plant, and should never be pruned except to remove any dieback, as it tends not to take pruning well. It has no significant negative characteristics.

Pincushion Cactus is recommended for the following landscape applications

Pincushion Cactus will grow to be only 4 inches tall at maturity, with a spread of 3 inches. Its foliage tends to remain low and dense right to the ground. It grows at a slow rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for approximately 5 years.

This plant should only be grown in full sunlight. It requires an extremely dry, well-drained growing location, and will usually die in standing water. It is considered to be drought-tolerant, and thus makes an ideal choice for a low-water garden or xeriscape application. It is not particular as to soil pH, but grows best in sandy soils. It is somewhat tolerant of urban pollution. Consider covering it with a thick layer of mulch in winter to protect it in exposed locations or colder microclimates. This species is native to parts of North America.

Taking Care Of Mammillaria Bombycina “Silken Pincushion”

Ideal conditions

Like many cacti, Mammillaria Bombycina “Silken Pincushion” thrives outdoors due to its high light needs. Outdoors is where access to sunlight is the easiest for the cactus.

Growing the Silken Pincushion cactus indoors is possible as well. But if you want this cactus to get big, then indoor growing may not be optimal for it – growing up to around a foot tall and 3 feet wide, this cactus will occupy a lot of space when mature.

In terms of temperatures, the Silken Pincushion cactus is fairly frost-hardy (down to 20 degrees F/-6.7 degrees Celsius), but prolonged exposure to low temperature is undesirable.


Only water your Silken Pincushion cactus when its soil is dry to the touch. This cactus is drought-resistant and doesn’t require much water, and it also develops root rot if overwatered.

In winter, suspend watering since the cactus will be dormant and will require much less water than in summer.

Where to plant

Plant your Mammillaria Bombycina “Silken Pincushion” in fast-draining cactus soil. To encourage drainage further, add perlite, pumice, or coarse sand to the mix in a 1:1 ratio.

If you want to allow this cactus to grow big, then planting in garden soil will be optimal for it since the cactus won’t be restricted by any pots. However, this option is reasonable only if winters are warm in your area since otherwise, you will have to pot the cactus and bring it indoors.

Mammillaria Bombycina “Silken Pincushion” prefers partial to full sun, which makes outdoor growing ideal for it. If you want to grow it indoors though, it’s still possible – just make sure to place the pot with the cactus on a sunny window sill.

On very hot days or during heatwaves, you should temporarily move the cactus to a shaded location to protect it from sunburn.

General care information

For optimal growth, fertilize your Mammillaria Bombycina “Silken Pincushion” throughout spring and summer with a cactus fertilizer diluted to half strength. Depending on your fertilizer mix, fertilize your cactus once every 4 to 8 weeks.

Another thing you’ll have to do for good growth is repotting.

You may repot your Silken Pincushion cactus only when it has outgrown its pot, which will probably happen every year or two. But keep in mind that annual repotting allows you to inspect the roots of the plant and treat/remove damaged parts. Besides, introducing the cactus to fresh soil full of nutrients may boost the plant’s growth.

Before repotting your Mammillaria Bombycina “Silken Pincushion”, be sure to allow the soil to dry – this will make removal easier. Once the cactus is out, knock soil away off the roots, remove rotted or dead roots, and treat cuts with a fungicide. After placing the cactus in its new pot, leave the plant dry for around a week and then begin to lightly water it.

13 things you may not know about cactus plants

A cactus is a great addition to the home thanks to its striking shape, size and flowers. Seeing as no cactus plant is the same, this houseplant is a unique, decorative way to add interest to your living space, whether it's perched on your windowsill or styled on a shelf.

The name cactus (official name Cactaceae) is derived from the Greek word 'kaktos', which means 'spiky plant'. Native to the Americas (a large territory in North and South America with a strong concentration in Mexico) and typically found in areas subject to drought, cacti or cactuses are perfectly adapted to live in the intense heat and environment of the desert, which means they can most definitely survive the warm and dry conditions of a centrally heated home.

For plant lovers, a cactus is perfect for the less green-fingered as you only need to water moderately – in fact, it's actually better to underwater than it is to overwater.

Although slow-growing, a cactus plant is fairly self-sustaining as it stores moisture in its roots, leaves and stems, and so largely regulates its own food intake. A cactus plant likes a light, airy and warm spot – but not too hot, around 18°C is ideal – and can cope well in direct sunlight.

Find out why there's a lot more to these striking houseplants than just their prickles!

1. Are cactus plants indestructible?

No, if you've ever killed a cactus you are not alone. The easiest way is by over watering, poor drainage and using the wrong compost. Ordinary potting compost holds water well, which is a huge bonus for most plants, but not for cacti, as they need very good drainage. If you want to keep them alive it's best to use specialist cactus soil instead.

Growing Cactus: Pincushion Cacti

Growing cactus doesn't have to be a difficult task, especially if you decide to grow the pincushion cactus. This spiny variety of plant is tiny and round, and tends to grow naturally near boulders or in the grass. This cactus plant is also called the Arizona fishhook because of its long, black central spines that curve in the manner of a fishhook.

Growing and Maintenance

The pincushion cactus is fairly easy to grow and maintain. It requires full sun and bright light to grow properly, and must be drenched during watering, although you should allow the soil to dry completely between watering. The average home humidity should be perfect for growing the pincushion cactus indoors, with a cool to cold temperature. Use a high phosphorous fertilizer for the plant and a cactus potting mix. You can propagate the plant through division or by using seeds.

Tips and Trivia

Pincushion cacti are perfect for a table setting, to add a nice decorative touch. The care can be quite demanding for an indoor potted plant. The plant has many long, white spines, which provide a dense covering to protect the plant from the desert heat. It is found in nature from southern Arizona to west Texas.

Types of Rain Forest Cacti

Thanksgiving & Christmas Cacti (Schlumbergera truncata & S. x bridgesii): Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti flower anytime between those holidays on 1-to-2 year-old plants. The Christmas cactus has smaller, smooth-edged stems. Thanksgiving cacti have segments with toothed or jagged edges. Flowers appear earlier under natural light conditions than those on S. x buckleyi. Many cultivars are available.

Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) is a popular holiday plant.
Photo by Joey Williamson, HGIC, Clemson Extension

Easter Cactus (Rhipsalidopsis species): Easter cactus bears flowers at the stem joints and at the ends. They should to be treated the same as other holiday cacti but at different times of the year. The resting period for this group is from December through late March when plants should be kept cool and dry until the flower buds form. Once the buds form, the plants can be give more water and light. The plant flowers from early April until late May. Numerous cultivars are available.

Orchid Cactus (Epiphyllum species): Orchid cacti prefer temperatures that range between 45 and 70 °F. They will tolerate extreme heat if well-shaded and the humidity is high.

Plants should receive balanced fertilizer once a month from spring to fall. It is always better to use too little fertilizer than too much. To encourage flowering use an application of low nitrogen fertilizer once at the end of February and again in early November. Do not fertilize plants during December or January.

The major flowering season for day-flowering orchid cacti is from April to June. Night-blooming species flower in late summer and early fall. Epiphyllums will flower when they are 2 to 3 years old. Make sure that your plants have a nighttime temperature of 40 to 50 F during the winter. Plants like to be rootbound before flowering.

Orchid cacti have flattened, fleshy stems, often deeply toothed, with a trailing growth habit. Flowers are 6 inches long or more and of many colors. They are often sweet-scented and night-flowering. There are hundreds of cultivars.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at [email protected] or 1-888-656-9988.

Original Author(s)

Karen Russ, Former HGIC Horticulture Specialist, Clemson University
Al Pertuit, PhD, Emeritus Faculty, Horticulture, Clemson University

Revisions by:

Barbara H. Smith, HGIC Horticulture Extension Agent, Clemson University

This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement of brand names or registered trademarks by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied, nor is any discrimination intended by the exclusion of products or manufacturers not named. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.



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