Most people picture the cactus as a lone ranger, dominating the desert and keeping predators away with its prickly spikes.
Though this is accurate, many types of cactuses operate in different ways. Did you know that there are more than 1500 species of cactuses? And they all have one thing in common ― a slow growth rate.
A cactus belongs to the succulent family, which makes them very low maintenance. They store water in their leaves, roots, and stem, which allows them to survive for years.
Despite offering gardening enthusiasts an easy way out on care, they are not fast growers; this has nothing to do with cheap soil or underwatering.
Having a cactus in your garden or home creates an eye-catching visual. Moreover, it’s an interesting décor that adds a little pizazz.
However, if you are picturing a large cactus that demands attention in the room, you might want to consider other plants.
Succulents are slow growers, and a cactus is one of them; it is the slowest. Even a cactus such as Saguaro, known for its height, grows pretty slowly.
It can take up to 10 years for it to rise just 1 inch above the ground.
So, if you are planting a cactus for the first time or have had it for a couple of months, don’t worry if the growth is not noticeable.
Your plant is still alive and will grow at its own pace. Though some species grow quickly, that too is slow compared to plants other than succulents.
Now that you know your cactus is thriving even if it hasn’t grown much, let’s look at how this plant grows and its growth stages.
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Cactus Growth Rate
Cactuses usually grow too low in the early stages. It can take about 3 years for them to measure only a few centimeters.
However, once the sprouts appear, and their roots have taken hold, they grow around 3 cm every year.
Some grow 4 to 5 times faster, such as Pereskiopsis and Harrisia pomanensis.
What Slows Down a Cactus’s Growth?
Cactuses are adorable, but that’s not what has made them a popular houseplant. As a part of the succulent family, they are hard to kill.
If you have a brown thumb, you can get this plant as a beginner because it is extremely adaptable to neglect.
Since cactuses are native to deserts, they are equipped to handle extreme heat, insufficient nutrients, and unpredictable rainfall.
Their survival tactics allow them to focus on saving energy, which, as explained earlier, is used for growth.
Without this feature, a cactus won’t be able to survive in extreme hot and cold climates.
This is why it is important to always know more about the species you are buying so that they thrive in your area and acclimate to the changing weather easily.
This also increases their chances of reproducing.
A Cactus Without Leaves
The only way a cactus is able to adapt to the harsh desert climate is because of no leaves. Leaves are used in transpiration.
This occurs when a plant’s roots absorb water, which evaporates via the leaves.
Since leaves are important for photosynthesis and a cactus does not have any, all the energy absorbed by it is used for rapid growth.
The larger the leaves, the more chlorophyll the plant will have. This is why a cactus does not have that bright green pigment.
The absence of photosynthesis slows down the growth rate. With no plant food to rely on, the cactus grows slowly.
A cactus has spines and areoles. They don’t assist in the production of energy, but the strategically angled ridges of the plant provide shade, which allows the cactus to survive under direct sunlight.
Cactus Growth Timeline
From the moment you plant the seeds to when the cactus sprouts, there are there stages in a cactus’s growth timeline. Let’s take a look at them:
It can take between weeks and months for the seedlings to sprout above ground.
You might notice a few spines growing within five weeks, which is not the case with every cactus, especially the ones that don’t have spines.
No need to panic if there is no sprouting after a month or two. To speed up the process, you can cover the cactus at night.
However, uncover it during the day so it can breathe and absorb sunlight. Check the soil regularly to make sure it is not dry.
Seedling Stage 1
When your cactus sprouts and is the size of your thumb, remove it from the propagation tray and into a pot. From here onwards, your cactus will probably stay the same size for a year.
Seedling Stage 2
After a year, your cactus will grow from 1 cm to 3 cm every year. This growth rate depends on your cactus’s species.
Common Cactus Species Growth Rate
Golden Barrel cactus is the most common cactus in the US. It grows more solely than any other cactus species. It has an average of 2 cm/year.
Other cactuses include the Ferocactus and the Saguaro cactus.
The Ferocactus species, which belongs to the Barrel family, also grow 2 cm/year. As for the Saguaro cactus, it grows around 15 cm/year if you purchase it in its seedling stage.
The Opuntia cactus is one of the fast-growing varieties. It grows from 2 cm to 8 cm every year. However, its growth depends on environmental conditions.
Plant this cactus in a large pot to accommodate its rapid growth. Opuntias love sunlight and are drought-resistant.
This cactus grows faster because it has multiple segments (cladodes), which help with photosynthesis. Since they photosynthesize faster, they consume more energy and store it for survival, which grows towards new growth.
One thing to keep in mind is that Opuntias don’t grow straight. They will grow tall but might start to tilt after a while. This is nothing to be worried about.
The Christmas cactus is a great option if you want an indoor cactus with a burst of color. This cactus grows on rocks and trees and generally loves shady areas with high humidity.
What sets it apart from its desert-dwelling cousins is its appearance. The flowers of the Christmas cactus have a droopy appearance.
They hang down from the pot and give the appearance that the plant is spreading out. It has white or red flowers and, in rare cases, yellow.
Cactus Growth Stages
A cactus can grow up to more than 78 ft. This growth can be achieved over hundreds of years. Following is a list of cactuses with their average height and growth years:
- Barrel Cactus: 8.2 ft. in 100 years
- Saguaro Cactus: 16 ft. in 100 years
- Prickly Pear Cactus: 20 ft. in 100 years
- Dragon Fruit Cactus: 20 ft. in 100 years
- Cholla Cactus: 10 ft. in 100 years
The First Month
The germination process in cactuses is very slow. As a result, the seedling does not grow fast. After a month, you will see signs of green that will peek out from the soil. The spine swill form soon after. In some cases, you will see the spines first and then the seedling.
The First 6 Months
By this time, your cactus would have grown the size of a human’s thumb pad. It might seem that the plant is growing at an abnormally low rate, but it’s completely fine. If the seedling hasn’t grown at all, you need to change the soil.
The First Year
By this time, your cactus will be the size of your fist. You can now shift your cactus into a pot. If you can spot the difference in your cactus’s growth, it means the plant is healthy.
In 30 Years
If you have managed to keep your cactus alive for 30 years, it should be at least 2 ft. to 5 ft. tall. As mentioned earlier, a cactus can grow more than 78 ft., so be patient.
If your life allows, you might be able to see it as tall as you.
Without going into much detail, let’s take a look at some ways you can make your cactus grow fast:
- Choose a Proper Container: Your pot should be at least 4 inches larger in diameter than the cacti. This way, it will have more room to breathe and spread.
- Use Well-Draining Cactus Soil: A basic soil for cactuses should include perlite, coarse sand, and potting soil. Make sure to mix the right amount and add a suitable fertilizer.
- Avoid Overwatering: Overwatering makes your plant squishy and susceptible to diseases and pests. So, make sure that you have a watering schedule that keeps the soil not too dry and not too wet.
- Provide Sunlight: Just because you saw in the movies that a cactus exposed to direct sunlight stays standing doesn’t mean that you do the same. Some cactus species need shade.
If you haven’t seen your cactus grow in a year, there is no need to bring out your bag of fertilizer.
It’s just the way cactuses are. They add an aesthetic appeal to your space, no matter how small they are.
A cactus growing large in just a year is impossible. For it to achieve a height of more than 20 ft. would require 100 years or more.
The seedlings reach maturity in 3 years with just a few centimeters in height. After that, it’s all about patience and taking care of your cactus.