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How to Care for a Parodia Cactus (So it always looks great)

Beautiful parodia cactus with soft yellow spines

Genus Parodia

Growing cacti is one of those hilarious plants that either you get, or you don’t get. Personally, I don’t get it. I have yet to meet a cactus that I could keep happy, and only after I wrote this article did I finally understand what I had been doing wrong all these years.

One of the first cactus species I ever tried to grow was the parodia cactus. If only I had learned all of this information before! This is a fast growing, easy care cactus that any gardener could maintain once they learned the rules.

The genus parodia is comprised of around 50 species of flowering cactus species that was named after Domingo Parodi, who was one of the earliest investigators of the flora of Paraguay. These plants have been awarded the award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society as well!

Members of the parodia genus are more commonly know as ball cactus (due to its comically round shape), whereas smaller species are known as snowball cactus, or silver ball cactus. Throughout this article I’ll go over some specific species, how to care for your own parodia cactus, and some other neat tidbits to get those brain juices flowing.

What do Parodia Cacti Look Like?

Columnar parodia cacti growing in a rock garden

Growth Habit

Having over 50 species within a genus means that the growth habit of a parodia cactus can vary. However, knowing they share a common name of “ball cactus” may give you a slight indication of their overall vibe.

A young parodia cactus will usually have a globose shape to it, and it will eventually mature into a taller, more columnar-shaped cactus. Many of them are deeply ribbed.

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Another distinguishable feature of parodia cacti are their spines! They are known for being very spiny specimens, with either very long and sharp spines, or shorter spines that are interlaced with long hairs.

These are moderately fast growing cactuses and once a pup is properly planted, it can easily achieve 4 inches of height per year if its ideal growing conditions are maintained.

Flowers

Cacti aren’t usually grown for their flowers, but the parodia cactus is known for having an explosively huge cactus flower.

A parodia cactus flower doesn’t have a very specific bloom period. There are some that bloom in the summer, and there are some that bloom in the winter.

Regardless of the bloom time, a single, large, parodia flower will be borne near the crown of the cactus. This huge, cup shaped flower will be a very brightly colored cup shaped flower of either yellow, red, pink, or orange.

Where are some Parodia Species?

Cluster of adorable small ball cacti growing in gravel

Balloon Cactus (Parodia Magnifica)

The balloon cactus goes by several other names, including green ball cactus or blue ball cactus (please, withhold your laughter), and was once known under the scientific names notocactus magnificus or eriocactus magnificus.

Parodia magnifica can be identified by its solitary stem comprised of 11-15 sharply lined ribs adorned with thin, golden, bristly spines. As this parodia species grows it will take on more of a blue, glaucous tone to it, hence the name “blue ball cactus” (again, restrain yourself from laughing for the sake of the children). All throughout the summer and fall it will grace your garden with a singular, huge and lovely, shiny yellow flower.

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Yellow Tower Cactus (Parodia Leninghausii)

Parodia leninghausii is more commonly known as the lemon ball cactus or the yellow tower cactus because it is a tall growing cactus that bears a bright yellow flower in the summer time!

This parodia species is native to Rio Grande in Southern Brazil, and is known for being able to survive some harsh winter conditions. The yellow tower cactus can be identified by its very tall height, sometimes obtaining 4 feet or more, its columnar shape adorned with yellow spines, and very bright yellow flowers.

Where is the Parodia Cactus a Native Plant?

Beautiful ridged and spiny parodia cactus growing in sandy terrain

We’re talking about a cactus here. If you know anything about cacti, you know that they live in desert biomes. Their unique plant parts are what helps them survive in those harshly hot and dry conditions.

Not only do they survive there, they thrive! Parodias are native plants to South America, and grow prolifically throughout Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Uruguay, Brazil, and Paraguay. There are certain subspecies that are native to South Africa as well.

Parodia cacti can live outdoors all year long within USDA zones 9 through 12, but should absolutely be brought indoors for the colder months outside of those zones. These are mainly grown as indoor houseplants and are semi tolerant of a temperate climate.

What are the Ideal Growing Conditions of Parodia Cacti?

It is an absolute lie when people tell you that ignoring a cactus is the best way to care for it. I have killed many a cactus by ignoring it and thinking it would get better all by itself.

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Please, please please take these tips when it comes to growing your next cactus. It’s not as simple as placing it in the sun and walking away, but it is rather close.

Columns of lovely parodia cactus plants in the sunshine

Soil Type

Knowing anything about the desert, you will know the type of soil that a cactus will prefer to grow in. Chances are that it will be sandy, dry, and well draining soil mix.

If you’re growing your plant in the garden, amend your soil with a ton of sandy to achieve that proper quality. If you’re growing it indoors, there are tons of cactus and succulent plant potting soil available.

Otherwise, you can take regular potting soil and simply mix in a ton of coarse sand to achieve the same thing. Just bring a bucket back the next time you spend a day at the beach.

Water Level

So the most important thing I learned about cactus care is that not watering it was some seriously bad advice! Deserts experience rainy seasons, and though parodia cacti are drought tolerant, they still need moisture.

Your plant should actually be watered regularly throughout its growing season. Soil should be kept moist, but never ever soggy. That is the worst thing you can do to a cactus.

Outside of their growing season, it is absolutely fine to let the soil dry out completely. This is because the plant goes dormant and has stored all of the necessary moisture required to keep alive while it is dormant.

Remember, this is a desert native. It prefers to live in climates that are dry, do not (or very rarely) experience humidity, or periods of flooding.

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Sun Exposure

Again, if you know anything about desert species, you know that they love sunshine! A cactus growing in shade will not be a happy cactus, but when it comes to the parodia cactus, the don’t actually want direct sunlight exposure..

Especially when living in very hot climates, a parodia cactus will do best when it receives full sun in the morning and evening, but it should receive partial shade in the heat of the afternoon.

Close up of beautiful yellow parodia cactus flower in bloom

Temperature

Though people usually think of cacti as being heat loving plants, these species are actually remarkably tolerant to cold weather. When you think about it, the desert gets mighty cold once the sun goes down!

These plants are incredible tolerant of short periods of frost and cold, though they won’t be too happy at all if they are exposed to temperatures under 50 degrees Fahrenheit for extended periods of time.

Parodia cactuses can exist outdoors all year long in USDA growing zones 9 through 12, but should be brought indoors to live as a house plant for the winter months outside of all of those zones.

Fertilizer

Though they by no means require fertilizer in order to grow properly, sometimes houseplants could use a little bit of help during their growing season.

Since sandy soil sometimes isn’t the highest in nutrients, you can incorporate a fertilizer specific to cacti and succulent plant species during its active growing season, and desist once winter rolls around.

Pruning

Wanna know the coolest part about parodia cactus care? Absolutely nothing is required of you in terms of pruning. There are no leaves to pick away, no branches to snip, maybe only a single spent flower to remove, but you can do that while multitasking several other things.

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How do you Propagate a Parodia Cactus?

Gorgeous mound of parodia cactuses growing in a pot by a window

Now that you’ve learned the actual way to care for a cactus, it is time to learn how to plant one of your very own. The easiest way to do this is by grabbing the offset of an existing plant. Here are some simple steps to help you propagate a new plant:

1. Offsets will grow at the base of a mature plant. Simply pull away or cut away a small offset with scissors.

2. Place your offsets (or sometimes called pups) on a paper towel and let them dry out in a sunny and dry place for a few days. Once the snipped part has formed a callous, it will be ready to plant.

3. Place those offsets in a small terracotta pot filled with cactus mix amended with sand.

4. As the plant is first getting established, make sure to maintain soil moisture. Once it is established, lay off on the watering.

Beautiful ornamental parodia cacti growing ornamentally in the garden

FAQs

Are parodia cacti deer resistant?

Something really cool about cacti (and probably pretty obvious) is that they are completely resistant to larger pest grazing from deer, rabbits, and squirrels. Why? Because of those enormous and spiky spines of course! Additionally, biting into the side of a fleshy and bitter cactus isn’t the most favored snack by many.

What are the damaging agents to parodia cacti?

The most damage you could do to a cactus is planting it in soil that isn’t well draining and then proceeding to water it so that it becomes waterlogged. In these conditions it is not only susceptible to root rot, but can very easily die.

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Can a parodia cactus be grown indoors?

The parodia cactus is actually a very common indoor house plant, and is more commonly grown indoors than it is outdoors. This is because it’s far easier to mimic a desert-like climate indoors since you can better control the elements.

Can you grow a parodia cactus from seed?

It is absolutely possible to grow a parodia cactus from seed, but it is a far lengthier process than planting offsets.

Are parodia cacti annuals or perennials?

Parodia cacti are long lived perennial cactus species that will continue to blossom year after year as long as its ideal growing conditions are maintained.

When do parodia flowers bloom?

A parodia cactus flower doesn’t have a very specific bloom period. There are some that bloom in the summer, and there are some that bloom in the winter.

Regardless of the bloom time, a single, large, parodia flower will be borne near the crown of the cactus. This huge, cup shaped flower will be a very brightly colored cup shaped flower of either yellow, red, pink, or orange.

Is a parodia cactus cold hardy?

Though people usually think of cacti as being heat loving plants, these species are actually remarkably tolerant to cold weather. When you think about it, the desert gets mighty cold once the sun goes down!

These plants are incredible tolerant of short periods of frost and cold, though they won’t be too happy at all if they are exposed to temperatures under 50 degrees Fahrenheit for extended periods of time.

Parodia cactuses can exist outdoors all year long in USDA growing zones 9 through 12, but should be brought indoors to live as a house plant for the winter months outside of all of those zones.

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Do parodia cacti prefer full sun?

Again, if you know anything about desert species, you know that they love sunshine! A cactus growing in shade will not be a happy cactus, but when it comes to the parodia cactus, the don’t actually want direct sunlight exposure..

Especially when living in very hot climates, a parodia cactus will do best when it receives full sun in the morning and evening, but it should receive partial shade in the heat of the afternoon.

Can you easily propagate a parodia cactus?

A super easy and fast way to propagate a parodia cactus is by simply grabbing an offset from an existing plant. Let that little guy dry out on a paper towel in a sunny location and it will be ready to be planted once a callous forms on the cut side.

How tall do parodia cacti get?

With over 50 species is the parodia genus, there isn’t an exact height that they will grow to. There are smaller more rounded plants that will only grow to be about 12 inches tall, whereas there are other columnar plants that can achieve over 4 feet in height.

How fast does a parodia cactus grow?

These are moderately fast growing cactuses and once a pup is properly planted, it can easily achieve 4 inches of height per year if its ideal growing conditions are maintained.

Do parodia cactuses need fertilizer?

Though they by no means require fertilizer in order to grow properly, sometimes houseplants could use a little bit of help during their growing season.

Since sandy soil sometimes isn’t the highest in nutrients, you can incorporate a fertilizer specific to cacti and succulent plant species during its active growing season, and desist once winter rolls around.

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How often should a parodia cactus be watered?

So the most important thing I learned about cactus care is that not watering it was some seriously bad advice! Deserts experience rainy seasons, and though parodia cacti are drought tolerant, they still need moisture.

Your plant should actually be watered regularly throughout its growing season. Soil should be kept moist, but never ever soggy. That is the worst thing you can do to a cactus.

Outside of their growing season, it is absolutely fine to let the soil dry out completely. This is because the plant goes dormant and has stored all of the necessary moisture required to keep alive while it is dormant.

Remember, this is a desert native. It prefers to live in climates that are dry, do not (or very rarely) experience humidity, or periods of flooding.

What are some other common names for a parodia cactus?

The genus parodia is comprised of around 50 species of flowering cactus species that was named after Domingo Parodi, who was one of the earliest investigators of the flora of Paraguay. These plants have been awarded the award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society as well!

Members of the parodia genus are more commonly know as ball cactus (due to its comically round shape), whereas smaller species are known as snowball cactus, or silver ball cactus. Throughout this article I’ll go over some specific species, how to care for your own parodia cactus, and some other neat tidbits to get those brain juices flowing.

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What is the ideal soil type for a parodia cactus?

Knowing anything about the desert, you will know the type of soil that a cactus will prefer to grow in. Chances are that it will be sandy, dry, and well draining soil mix.

If you’re growing your plant in the garden, amend your soil with a ton of sandy to achieve that proper quality. If you’re growing it indoors, there are tons of cactus and succulent plant potting soil available.

Otherwise, you can take regular potting soil and simply mix in a ton of coarse sand to achieve the same thing. Just bring a bucket back the next time you spend a day at the beach.

Does a parodia cactus need to be pruned?

Wanna know the coolest part about parodia cactus care? Absolutely nothing is required of you in terms of pruning. There are no leaves to pick away, no branches to snip, maybe only a single spent flower to remove, but you can do that while multitasking several other things.