Guide to Cholla Cactus: How to Grow & Care for “Cylindropuntia”

Read our complete guide to the Cholla Cactus for everything you will ever need to know! Tips for growing & caring for “Cylindropuntia” Cactii
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Cylindropuntia is a genus that contains species of cacti, commonly referred to as chollas. Cholla cacti belong to the Cactaceae family and can be found in the arid zones and deserts of the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico.

At first, Cylindropuntia was considered a subgenus of the larger Opuntia genus. But nowadays, this genus is autonomous and includes about 33 species. If want to make sure that you’re getting a Cholla cactus, and not an Opuntia one, check its stems. While Opuntia cacti have flattened stems, Chollas have tubular ones.

Cholla cacti serve as a source of food and water for many desert animals. The fruit of the Jumping Cholla species is edible for bighorn sheep and deers. Moreover, Cholla wood is used for bird perches or in vivariums as a substrate for moss or many air plants.

About Cholla Cacti

  • Species like C. Acanthocarpa (Buchhorn Cholla) and C. Fulgida (Jumping Cholla) can live for decades in their natural habitat.
  • They thrive in bright and direct light. For both indoor and outdoor growing, you should place your Cholla cacti in a location where they can receive plenty of sunlight.
  • The best thing you can do for Cholla cacti is to leave them alone. They are very tolerant of drought, so you do not need to water them frequently. Over-watering can result in root rot and this may cause irreversible damage to your cacti.
  • Plant them in a desert-like soil or look for a well-draining potting mix that is suitable for cacti and succulents. When growing them in a container, you should opt for a pot that has drainage holes.
  • Maintain the fresh look of your Cholla cacti by pruning any unhealthy parts with sterilized loopers or pruners.
  • Cholla cacti will not hesitate to cling onto fur and skin. Their spines are not toxic, but they can be painful to the touch. Make sure you grow them in a place where curious cats, dogs, and children are not tempted to go.
  • If you want to pair your Cholla cacti with other plants, succulents like aloe, agave, yucca, and many other cacti make excellent companions for them.
Cholla Cactus
Cholla Cactus

Cholla Cacti Features: An Overview

  • The species of Cholla cacti have an interesting diversity of shape. Most of them are trees and shrubs, but some are creepers.
  • Depending on the species, they can reach between 5 and 15 feet (1.5-4.5 m) in height.
  • They have succulent stems that store large amounts of water. These stems are modified branches responsible for the photosynthesis, blooming, and fruit-bearing.
  • Cholla cacti have barbed spines with a nasty habit of attaching to clothing, skin, and fur. They are covered by a paper-like sheath and, in some species, these can be pretty colorful and glamorous.
  • Their leaves are actually their spines. However, some species may produce regular leaves right before blooming.
  • From April to June, they produce star-shaped bloomings that come in various warm colors such as pink, red, yellow-green, or orange.
  • Some species, such as C. Fulgida (Chain Fruit or Jumping Cholla) and C. Biglovii (Teddy Bear Cholla), can bear fruits. The new fruits of C. Fulgida are green, hanging down from branches, and growing from aureoles on the older ones. The flowers of C. Biglovii give rise to spineless fruits that generally have fertile seeds.

Growing Cholla Cacti

Handling Cholla cacti can be a real challenge, as they are completely covered with spines. But eventually, with a little patience, you will manage to care for them and love them.

Like all cacti, these species love days with lots of full sunlight. If you want to grow them outdoors, you need to plant them in a spot where they can be exposed to the sun for at least six hours per day.

Indoors, place them in a sunny location, such as a southeast-facing or south-facing window, in order to offer them plenty of direct light. If you cannot provide them with adequate natural light, they can also do well under artificial grow light.

Cholla cacti are hardy plants that prefer warm temperatures. They can tolerate cold temperatures that drop as much as 5 °F (-15 °C) but only for short periods. It is better to bring them indoors during the winter.

Flower on the Cholla Cactus
Flower on the Cholla Cactus

On average, these cacti will do well in temperatures of 50 °F (10 °C). If you want your cacti to thrive and produce flowers, you need to keep them in warm temperatures that rise above 70 °F (21 °C).

In their natural habitat, they are used to dry conditions. To ensure your Cholla cactus feels like home, make sure you plant it in well-draining soil with average pH.

Look for a potting soil mix that is specially designed for cacti and succulents. You can also increase the soil’s porosity by adding some extra grit or sand in the first 8 inches (20 cm).

For optimal growth, you should feed your Cholla cactus regularly. A balanced granular fertilizer that is made for cacti and succulents or any diluted water-soluble fertilizer can get the job done. These cacti do not need frequent fertilizing, as this may cause them to grow very weak and they will not survive cooler temperatures or winter.

Usually, gardeners choose to grow these cacti in plastic or clay pots. If you live in a hot area, it is better to use a plastic container, as it will maintain the soil damp for a longer period. Clay pots are a good option for taller species of Cholla cacti. They absorb the excess water and protect these cacti from over-watering and root rot.

Depending on the species, it can be necessary to repot these cacti. When your cactus is growing in a container, you should repot it periodically. Take the cactus out of its pot and remove the old potting soil. Fill another container with fresh potting mix and plant your Cholla cactus in the new environment. However, if you grow Cholla cacti in your garden, they do not require replanting at all.

Cholla cacti are susceptible to invasions from cochineal scale insects. These pests are white and sticky and produce a red substance. You can treat your cacti by spraying them with a mixture of half water and half alcohol. Also, when growing them outdoors, you can remove them using a garden hose.

Cholla Cactus Live Plant, From Amazon

Watering Cholla Cacti

Watering a cactus is one of the easiest processes in gardening. They are very tolerant of drought, so they will not mind if you occasionally neglect them. As a general rule, it is always better to under-water a cactus than to provide it with too much water.

Over-watering Cholla cacti may result in root rot. You should remove the rotting cactus from your garden to prevent the possible spread. Trim the unhealthy parts of your cactus and repot them in a fresh cacti soil mix.

When you plant a Cholla for the first time, you should water it regularly until it becomes used to the new conditions. Once your cactus has settled in, you can water it less often.

They are susceptible to root rot, so you need to make sure the soil has dried out before watering them again. During the growing season, Cholla cacti will benefit from a nice soak once every week. If you live in a hot region, these cacti may need frequent watering since the soil will dry out faster. In cooler regions or during the winter, they require less to no water.

Even if they thrive in dry climates, Cholla cacti still need some moisture to photosynthesize. If the air around your cactus is not very humid, you can mist them once in a while.

Teddy Bear Cactus
Teddy Bear Cactus

Propagating Cholla Cacti

You can propagate cholla cacti from seed, but this process may not be the best option if you want immediate results. There is also good news! You can propagate these cacti using stem divisions. This can be a simple and fast process, as they are dropping their stems naturally and they can grow roots in the same pot.

If you want to propagate Cholla cacti in a separate container, you can cut the stems from the mother cactus and allow the joints to dry out for about one or two weeks. Replant them in fresh well-draining potting soil, making sure you do not damage the stems in the process. You need to wait a few weeks before watering the baby Chollas, then water them thoroughly.

For your safety, you should wear gardening gloves or wrap the cactus with a tough cloth to avoid hurting yourself with its stingy spines.

In Conclusion

Chollas are pretty chill cacti that can do well in almost any environmental conditions. They love warm days of full sunlight, regular watering, and growing in succulent and cacti soil mix. With proper care, these cacti will grow healthy and produce cute bloomings that can bring a dash of color to both indoor and outdoor landscapes.

If you thought about adding a new cactus to your collection, you should go for a Cholla cactus. Why? For starters, they are low-maintenance plants that can easily forgive busy or forgetful owners. And the most important part: you have a lot of adorable species to choose from!

Miruna Secuianu

Miruna is an experienced content writer with a passion for gardening. She is the proud owner of an outdoor rose garden and an indoor collection of tiny succulents. She bought her first succulent 10 years ago - an adorable Echeveria Setosa. Now she owns more than 100 succulents and cacti of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Miruna is a versatile writer and, as you might have guessed, her favorite topic is gardening. Contact

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