By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden
The golden barrel cactus plant (Echinocactus grusonii) is an attractive and cheerful specimen, rounded and growing to as much as three feet tall and three feet around much like a barrel, hence the name. As with many barrel cactus plants, the stiff yellow needles grow in clusters along ribs of the cactus.
How to Grow a Golden Barrel Cactus
Think carefully before locating the golden barrel in your yard, especially if you have children or pets. In that circumstance, use a container or find a safe spot, as punctures from the spines are painful and, in some cases, these punctures may require antibiotics. Conversely, you can choose to use the plant as part of your home security system, locating it under low windows as a defensive planting.
Plant it in a safe spot in the water-wise landscape or in a container. Don’t crowd it in, leave room for new offsets, called pups. These babies grow from a well-established root base, sometimes in clusters. They may be removed for planting elsewhere or left to fill in the bed. This cactus may also expand by branching. Sources say it is most appealing when planted outdoors in groupings, as an accent, or even a focal point in the landscape. Sometimes, the golden barrel cactus grows happily in a large container.
While most say full sun is necessary, this plant does not like the hot southwestern sun during the hottest days of summer. When this cactus is planted, it situates itself to avoid this as best it can. Full sun from other directions is appropriate, though, and sometimes encourages pale yellow, bell-shaped blooms on top of the cactus.
Care for Golden Barrel Cactus
Golden barrel care is minimal. An Echinocactus, this specimen needs water infrequently. However, regular watering encourages growth and is practiced on those field-grown by nurseries. Drench the soil and let it dry completely between waterings. This plant does not like wet feet and will rot if it remains wet. Plant in any well-draining soil.
Fertilization for this Mexican native is not necessary, as info about golden barrel cacti states, but may stimulate the unusual flowers. Only older, well-established golden barrels bloom.
Take care if pruning the cactus or replanting. Hold the plant with crushed newspapers and wear double gloves.
Learning how to grow a golden barrel is easy. While the plant is endangered in its native habitat, it continues to grow in popularity in United States landscapes.
This article was last updated on
Read more about Barrel Cactus
Week In Review: Containers, Xeriscapes, Cactus Flowers & Orange Blossoms
Spring in the desert Southwest is a busy time of year. While those that live in colder climates countdown the days until March 20th, the spring season often begins a full month earlier in the low to middle desert.
As a horticulturist / landscape consultant, my days are quite busy in spring assisting people with their gardens.
Today, I thought that I would show some glimpses of a typical week in spring filled with creative containers, new xeriscapes, cacti flowers and the heavenly fragrance of orange blossoms.
The weather this past week has been warm, in the low 80’s. Spring-flowering plants were in full bloom such as this sweet acacia tree which produces small, golden, puffball flowers. I love how the deep yellow looks against the blue sky, don’t you?
Often, in my travels assisting clients, I see some great examples of beautiful xeriscapes.
This is a newly planted landscape which stood out from the surrounded homes with its mature plants, the selection of desert-adapted plants and the nice design.
The vibrant purple flowers of the verbena (Glandularia pulchella) demanded attention from passersby. I also liked how the golden barrel cacti looked in the raised bed.
Another landscape that I saw this week was filled with countless different types of plants. Often, when you have too many kinds of plants, the effect can appear ‘messy’ visually. But, not with this landscape filled with succulents of all sorts including aloe, artichoke agave and golden barrel cacti.
While driving by a church landscape that I had designed previously, I stopped to take this photo of the damianita (Chrysactina mexicana), which was in full bloom. I absolutely love this plant and have several in my own garden.
I took a few moments to stop by a small, local nursery in Fountain Hills, AZ – Verde Valley Nursery. My visits always last longer than I plan because I love looking at all the new plants in stock.
During visits to a few of my regular clients, who have me come by on an annual basis, I saw some great examples of container plants, including this one filled with Blue Elf aloe, golden barrel, small variegated agave and totem pole ‘Monstrosus’ cactus.
This looks so nice, it almost makes it easy to skip planting high-maintenance annual flowers.
I really liked this container. Many people have problems growing flowers in entryways where there is not enough sun. In addition, there is the burden of having to water frequently that can lead to stains on the concrete.
This colorful container is filled with dried, flowering agave stalks – I love it!
One of the joys of my job is when clients invite me back to see their landscape and sometimes recommend a few ‘tweaks’. It was during one of these repeat visits that I saw this trio of Blue Elf aloe, which looks great when planted next to boulders, don’t you think?
Sometimes, I see things that are somewhat unusual, like this Mexican fence post cactus (Pachycereus marinatus) that was forming flowers. They do not always flower in the low desert, so this was a really neat to see close up.
Visions of purple-flowering plants filled my week. While on a date night with my husband, we strolled through our local outdoor mall and I saw these lovely sea lavender (Limonium perezii). They do best in areas with filtered sunlight in the desert garden.
Although I do not have lavender in my garden, I enjoy seeing lavender in other people’s gardens. This Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas) looked beautiful.
I came upon this gorgeous blue hibiscus shrub in an unlikely place – the supermarket parking lot.
While not quite purple, the dark pink of Parry’s penstemon looks so beautiful in the spring landscape, as evident in a landscape as I drove by.
Today as I drove home from an appointment, I rolled down the windows so that I could smell the heavenly fragrance of the orange blossoms from the surrounding orchards.
After beautiful weeks like this, I feel so blessed to work outdoors…
Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a horticulturist, certified arborist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."
Taking Care Of Echinocactus Grusonii “Golden Barrel Cactus”
The golden barrel cactus is like many other cacti – it requires a good amount of light (full sun, to be precise), not too much water, and warm temperatures.
In terms of temperatures, the ideal temperature for echinocactus grusonii is from 50 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 23.8 degrees Celsius). The golden barrel cactus isn’t cold-hardy, so make sure to keep it away from frost.
The golden barrel cactus requires little watering and is drought-tolerant. With that said, until the plant has established a deep root system, you should be a little more consistent with the watering.
Water the cactus once the soil is dry to the touch. Don’t water the plant too much to prevent rot and waterlogging.
In winter, you should only barely water the plant. Overwatering in winter causes rot much easier than in summer, which is why you need to reduce the amount of provided water.
Where to plant
The golden barrel cactus can be kept either indoors or outdoors, but given that it requires full sun, it’s arguably a better idea to keep it outside. However, if you live in an area with cold winters, you will have to think about repotting the plant and bringing it indoors to protect it from cold.
If keeping the plant inside, then be sure to keep it closer to a window that receives sunlight all day long. But on hot days, use a shade to protect the plant for sunburn.
As it is with many other cacti, the ideal soil choice is a potting mixture that drains well. This is necessary to avoid waterlogging and root rot. You may place some gravel and small pebbles at the first few inches at the bottom to encourage drainage.
General care information
Aside from the care steps described above, there’s not much else that you’ll need to do with the golden barrel cactus.
In summer, feed the soil with a high-potassium fertilizer every two weeks. Besides, keep in mind that you will need to replant the cactus sooner or later due to the growth of the plant.
Repotting is usually done once a year when the cactus is young. Do the repotting in the spring. Once the cactus matures, you may repot it once every 2-3 years or whenever necessary.
As mentioned above, also repot the cactus if you are keeping it outdoors and if winters tend to be cold in your area.
Keep in mind that this cactus is slow-growing. The golden barrel cactus tends to grow relatively quickly when young, but the growth rate slows down with time. Generally, it will take about 10 years for the cactus to get 10 inches in diameter, so don’t worry if the plant doesn’t seem to significantly change in size over time.
On Gardening | The point of a Golden Barrel Cactus
Gardeners are often fascinated by the Golden Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus grusonii), which has unique characteristics as feature plants in the landscape.
First, these are the only common plants that are spherical in form, which immediately makes it a standout in garden.
There are a couple plants that resemble the Golden Barrel Cactus. The Glaucous Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus glaucescens), which grows nearby in nature also has a spherical form, but it’s not nearly as attractive. Another similar plant is the Lemon Ball cactus (Parodia leninghausii), which is a native of Brazil. It is globular in youth, but columnar in maturity.
Another important characteristic of the golden barrel is its intricate pattern of sharp spines, which protect it very effectively from predators searching for a meal.
Then, there the bright yellow color of its spines. This color can be found in the blossoms of many garden plants, but the Golden Barrel Cactus presents is splash of color on a year-round basis.
The plant does have satiny yellow flowers that whorl around the plant’s crown, but they don’t appear until the Golden Barrel is about fourteen years old. These plants are grown for their architectural qualities, not their flowers.
This plant’s natural habitat is on rocky slopes at an altitude of about 4,600 above sea level, in east-central Mexico. It is a rare and endangered species in the wild, largely because of the loss of habitat that resulted from the construction in the 1990s of a dam and reservoir in the state of Hidalgo.
Because this slow-growing plant takes about thirty years to reach its full mature size of up to 3.5 feet in diameter, it is quite possible that poachers of larger specimens also have helped to make the plant rare and endangered. This is not an easy task: even a specimen 2 feet across can weigh over 100 pounds.
If you come upon a Golden Barrel Cactus in garden center and decide to add it to your Monterey Bay area garden, install it in a location where it has full exposure to the sun. This exposure will produce spines of the darkest gold. Another placement consideration is to keep it away from where children or dogs might play: they won’t enjoy the spines.
It is important to tilt the plant slightly towards the sun. They grow naturally with that slight tilt, which lets rainwater to drain away, rather than collecting in the crown. If a purchased plant already has a tilt, install it with the same tilt toward the sun.
The plant will grow faster if it receives an occasional deep soaking during hot summer days. Water at the base with a hose or drip system, not from the top.
Golden Barrels in the Landscape
I have a small collection of golden barrel cacti growing in my garden. They were all acquired from garden centers and are now about eight years old. I have them growing in a small bed with good soil, drainage and exposure, but in what could be called an uninspired arrangement from a design perspective.
Although Golden Barrels Cacti prefer to remain in place throughout their lifetime, I intend to move these plants to new locations.
Relocation can be accomplished safely by using a shovel to elevate the plant’s shallow roots, and then using an old, soft garden hose or folded newspapers to protect the spines from the gardener (and the gardener from the spines) during transportation, The roots can break easily, so handle them with care and give them two weeks to settle into their new home before watering.
Attractive placement is a different challenge. To achieve a natural look, spacing a series of plants equally or arranging them in a row does not succeed. In nature, golden barrels typically grow in clusters, so emulating that arrangement probably should be the primary plan for the garden.
To see examples of golden barrel cacti in the landscape, browse to YouTube.com and search for “golden barrels.” You will find numerous websites about the cultivation and garden uses of this interesting. plant. In particular, scroll to the page titled, “The Huntington Botanical Garden Desert Garden, August 31, 2013 (Golden Barrel Fever!).” which shows hundreds of these plants in this amazing garden.
If your garden vision includes a spiny and beautiful cactus, consider the Golden Barrel Cactus for a long and interesting presence in your landscape.