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How Fast Do Cacti Grow? (& Factors That Influence Growth)

Farmer hands checking dead Astrophytum Myriostigma cactus caused of rotten

Cacti vary a lot. However, they all tend to grow pretty slowly. In most cases, they only grow a few centimeters a year. To survive, these plants have a very slow growth rate. Otherwise, they would run through their water too fast in their natural environment. Therefore, they evolved to grow very slowly.

A single cactus may only grow a few centimeters a year. Some faster-growing options grow closer to 15 centimeters a year. However, this is rarer and only occasionally because a cactus typically won’t grow 15 cm every year.

If you begin growing the cactus from a seed, it typically grows very slowly. However, the growing speed may speed up as the cactus ages. It all depends on the species and the particular conditions. Sometimes, a cactus may grow a substantial amount one year and then hardly any the following year.

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Cactus Growth Stages

Cacti have different stages of growth. They will not grow an even amount throughout the whole year. In the wild, cacti growth is linked to water, which is often linked to specific seasons. Therefore, cacti aren’t made to grow evenly constantly like some other plants.

There are about five stages that cacti go through when they grow. Some of these produce a lot of new growth, and others do not.

cactus in pot
Image Credit: congerdesign, Pixabay

Germination

If you’re growing a cactus from a seed, it must first germinate. For this to happen, the seed has to meet specific environmental conditions. In the wild, these conditions help ensure that the cactus starts growing opportunistically. Different species have different needs, though. Usually, sunlight and water are involved.

This stage of growth is often slow. Most cacti require sufficient water to break the seed coat, which makes the seed start growing. However, too much water may prevent the seed from growing altogether, so it is important to still treat the cacti as succulent.

Vegetative Reproduction

Some plants can also start from cuttings. This strategy helps plants reproduce faster and survive even if they are damaged. Being able to produce multiple plants from one seed is helpful for a species’ survival, especially in the desert.

While germination is slow, many cacti can reach maturity quickly if grown via a cutting. This stage of growth does create a new plant, but it is much faster than via a seed.

man planting cactus
Image Credit: Ladanifer, Shutterstock

Flowering

Most cacti will flower. However, this will only occur after they reach maturity. For many species, it takes years of growth before they meet the requirements for producing flowers. However, other species stay relatively small and produce flowers early.

Producing flowers takes a lot of energy for a plant. Therefore, cacti won’t produce flowers unless the conditions are correct. Overwatering or underwatering may cause a plant to skip producing flowers altogether.

Some plants produce flowers seasonally, while others will continue to produce as long as they have the right resources. This stage is highly species-dependent. No matter what, flowers usually don’t last very long.

Pollination

In captivity, not all cacti end up being pollinated. Some cacti are self-pollinating, which means they can pollinate their own flowers. However, others require a cactus of the same species nearby. Either way, bugs or the wind is necessary to move the pollen from one flower to the other, which doesn’t usually occur in captivity.

If you want your cactus to produce seeds, you’ll need to take steps to help with pollinating. Sometimes, this means pollinating by hand.

man getting prickly pears cactus
Image Credit: Lucigerma, Shutterstock

Seed Formation

After being pollinated, the cacti will produce seeds. These seeds can produce new plants if the conditions are correct. However, other cacti produce fruits, which can also be eaten. These have seeds inside and can still be planted if you want to produce more plants.

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Helping Your Cactus Grow Faster

You may be able to help your cactus grow faster with a few simple steps. However, it is essential to remember that growth is very closely linked to the species of the plant. Therefore, some plants may simply grow slower than others, and there won’t be a whole lot you can do about it.

There are about 2,000 different cactus species. Therefore, if you want one that proliferates, you’ll need to choose one. Learning about your cactus species may help you figure out the specifics of helping your plant grow well.

planting cactus
Image Credit; Boyloso, Shutterstock

Select a Proper Container

Your cactus container should be slightly bigger than the cactus. Otherwise, the cactus won’t have much room to grow, which can cause different problems. You don’t want to repot your plant too often, so be sure the one you pick is suitable for at least a few years of growth.

Furthermore, larger pots allow the plants to secure more nutrients and stay stable. Therefore, they may help with growth, as well.

Choose a Succulent Soil

You’ll need to choose well-draining soil to ensure that your cactus has healthy roots, which is vital for growth. Often, you’ll need to choose an option explicitly designed for cacti. In the wild, these plants evolved to grow in sandy, rocky soil where other plants cannot. Therefore, you’ll need to purchase a similar soil for your cactus.

You can purchase a commercial soil option or make your own. Either way, be sure it is well-draining and designed to support your plant.

propagated Christmas cactus plant
Image Credit: Bilalstock, Shutterstock

Don’t Overwater

Often, we think that more water will help our plants grow faster. However, when it comes to cacti, this simply isn’t true. You do need to water your plant regularly, depending on the species. Yet, you don’t want to overwater it, leading to root rot. A sick plant isn’t going to spend energy growing. Therefore, root rot and similar issues can prevent growth (and kill your plant).

Always get a pot with holes for extra water drainage. You’ll also need to ensure that you choose well-draining soil.

Don’t Forget Fertilizer

Eventually, your plant will need fertilizer of some sort. Usually, liquid soluble fertilizer is the best option. Cacti don’t usually need much nitrogen, so you will need to purchase a cacti-specific fertilizer for the best results.

However, you should avoid using fertilizer outside of the growing season (usually in the summer), as the plant won’t use the nutrients during this time.

hand scooped fertilizer from the sack
Image Credit: ronstik, Shutterstock

Sunlight

Cacti typically need quite a bit of sunlight to grow properly. Therefore, you’ll need to ensure that you put your plant by a bright window or outside if the weather is suitable. In the wild, these plants usually spend much of their time in the sun, as there is little shade. A south-facing window is preferable for this reason.

You should turn your cactus plant every week, as well, to ensure that it gets an even amount of sunlight on all sizes. Otherwise, your plant may grow strangely.

Maintain the Proper Temperature

You’ll need to keep the temperature at the proper level for your cactus. The temperature in the desert stays about the same throughout the year, though it does drop in the evening. Therefore, you should keep the temperature similar in your home.

However, the exact temperature will depend on the cactus. Therefore, you’ll need to check your plant’s specific needs to ensure that the temperature promotes growth.

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Conclusion

Your cacti require perfect conditions to grow as effectively as possible. There are lots of factors that affect how fast a cactus grows. For instance, the soil, water, temperature, sunlight, and other conditions can make your plant grow faster or slower.

However, in the end, cacti simply grow slowly. Therefore, you can’t expect your plant to grow too much, even if perfect conditions exist.


Featured Image Credit: Boyloso, Shutterstock

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