Growing Saguaro Cactus

Saguaro (pronounced sa-wah-roe) cacti are the plants that most of us think of when someone says "cactus." Think of the arms thrust up in the air. Think Road Runner cartoons.

Saguaro cactus is a slow growing plant, sometimes taking 10 years to grow its first six inches. It takes a saguaro cactus 35 to 40 years to show its first blooms and about 75 years before it sprouts those famous arms. A saguaro cactus may live to 200 years or more and grow to be 40 to 60 feet high.

Arizona law protects mature saguaro cacti, so you can't dig one up from the desert. Most homeowners must grow them from seeds or buy them from a nursery that grows them from seed. Given the excruciatingly slow growth rate of saguaro cactus, expect to pay a premium for larger plants.

Home Grown
The key to growing saguaro Cactus is patience. You may spend weeks staring at an empty pot, only to be rewarded with a few spines sticking up that will take a year to grow an inch tall. Stick with it. After all, how many plants can you grow that you will have to put into your will?

To start saguaro seeds, prepare a small to medium pot with a soil mixture of 1 part potting mix, 1 part clean sand and 1 part coarse gravel or pumice. Punch several 1/8-inch deep holes about an inch apart using a sharpened pencil. Place a seed in each hole and cover with a pinch of soil. Water the soil lightly with a spray bottle and cover tightly with some plastic wrap. Set the pot in bright, but indirect sunlight.

Keep the pot covered for four to six weeks, watering lightly with a spray bottle every ten days. Once you remove the plastic wrap, you should only need to water your saguaro cactus once a month.

For Those with Less Patience
Larger plants are available form specialty nurseries and online. Saguaro cacti are hardy in zones 8 to 11 and prefer dry winters. Soil requirements are the same for outdoor plants, so be sure to provide plenty of drainage.

If you keep your plant in a container, move it inside in the winter as your cactus is vulnerable to freeze damage. Inside the home, place a saguaro cactus in bright but indirect sunlight.

In the yard, your saguaro cactus will appreciate generous watering during hot summer months, but water it sparingly (or not at all, if it's wet out) in the winter.

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