Teddy bear cholla is not difficult to grow if you know how to do it. Unfortunately, gardeners unfamiliar with cacti are usually left puzzled.
Why, if it grows naturally in the Southwest, does it fail to grow in home gardens? The answer is, it doesn’t. With the right information, gardeners don’t have to worry about overwatering or dehydration. The headache of guesswork is not necessary.
Teddy bear chollas need dry soil with plenty of natural light. Although humidity is problematic, warm temperatures are necessary for the cactus to thrive. Granular fertilizer will provide nutrients, but should only be used sparingly. Under the right conditions, these plants can live for 20 years.
The teddy bear chollas are one of the most unique plants in the cactus family. Because of its distinct yellow flowers and soft appearance, it’s frequently planted for a low maintenance garden. The right care ensures these plants will attract desert birds like cactus wrens for long-term nesting.
As an avid bird watcher, I’ve used the teddy bear chollas for several seasons to attract wildlife. If the plant does not have adequate soil drainage, cactus wrens cannot nest in their “fuzz”. By following garden instructions from New Mexico State University, my teddy bear chollas have lasted over a decade.
Southwest gardening is different from anywhere else in the country. Whether you’re growing vegetables or flowering cacti, soil preparation and pest control are important. For a healthy garden, consider the growing zones first.
There are three main types of growing zones in the South West. Depending on the topography, temperature and soil may vary. The Southwest includes valleys, deserts, and bush. The lower elevations are often best for exotic cacti.
The Low Zone
The growing season is practical throughout most of the year in this zone. This is the hottest zone so plants that survive are extremely hardy. It does freeze during the wintertime, but rarely does it dip below 28 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Mid Zone
The middle zone may have a few hard freezes during the winter season, but is typically hot and dry. The yearly rain estimate is around 10 inches and is perfect for semi-hardy cacti. The middle zone is typically found in Tucson, Arizona, Barstow California, and Boulder City, Texas.
The High Zone
The high zone is not necessarily the hottest zone. On average this area is rated an 8 on the climate zone map. Though the winters are short, these areas do experience hard freezes. Typically high zone locations can be found in Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and California. Teddy bear cholla grows best in this climate.
What Is Teddy Bear Cholla?
Teddy bear cholla is technically known as cylindropuntia bigelovii. It is known as teddy bear cholla because it appears soft like a stuffed animal. Unlike a plushie, this plant can actually grow up to 5ft.
With age, the lower branches on the teddy bear cholla will fall off and the trunk will appear darkened. This usually forms a dramatic contrast between the silver and white leaves that form along the stem.
Desert flowers are unique because of their contrast. Vibrant colors against a mostly-brown backdrop are noticeable from far away. This could be one of the reasons why birds like to nest in the teddy bear cholla. These plants have yellow and green flowers that produce seedless fruit.
May and June are the typical flowering months. Several plants can be found in groups along the Colorado River Valley. In this rocky territory, the smaller plants look almost like furry animals.
How To Grow Teddy Bear Cholla
To propagate a teddy bear cholla, first check the soil. The right soil is the most important step to successfully growing a cylindropuntia bigelovii. Just because the air is dry, does not necessarily mean the soil is the correct pH level.
Soil pH Level
The pH level measures acidity in the ground. A soil pH scale is rated from 0 to 14. If a pH is measured at zero, this means the soil is at its most acidic. A pH of 7 is the neutral point. The reason this scale matters is because acid will affect the amount of nutrients found in the ground.
For teddy bear cholla, the ideal pH is just below neutral. If the soil is too acidic, gardeners can add lime to help balance the scale. For soil that is rich in alkaline, adding sulfur is recommended.
Loose soil is recommended. New plants should have approximately 8 inches of depth. Gravel and additional dirt can actually improve growth, but only to an extent.
Even cacti needs a certain amount of water. Teddy bear cholla does best with a thorough watering directly after it’s planted. Once it reaches maturity, minimal irrigation is recommended.
During the summertime, teddy bear cholla needs weekly watering. This may come as a surprise for new gardeners. Although the conditions need to be dry and bright, dehydration will still cause the plant to die.
Soggy soil (especially during the winter months) can cause roots to rot. There are ways to avoid this that do not involve heavy chemicals. Many gardeners will take their cactus indoors during the winter. During the summertime, compost and sand will help prevent root rot.
Sun exposure is extremely important when planting teddy bear cholla. Regardless of fertilizer, the sun will provide optimal development. A bright location where there is uninterrupted light is preferable to partial shade.
A minimum of six hours in direct sunlight is needed. This is not usually difficult to find in the dry climates it thrives on. Rocky areas rarely have overarching trees to get in the way.
How To Care for Teddy Bear Cholla
Teddy Bear Cholla are forgiving plants. As long as they have plenty of sunlight and dry soil, they will rarely wither and die. This is partly due to their slow demise. For teddy bear cholla to die, weeks worth of devastation would be required.
Bugs are the primary issue with teddy bear cholla. Although this has little to do with where it is planted, there are ways to prevent infestation.
Mealybugs are tiny white bugs that look like cotton. They are very slow moving and sometimes can be mistaken for a fungus. Not only can they infest the flowers, but they’re also known to eat at the roots.
If the infestation is not taken care of they can cause a number of problems. Mealybugs can stunt the plant and suck the nutrients from their stems. This is one reason teddy bear cholla wilt even with the right soil.
You do not need to buy heavy duty toxic bug poison. While the bugs will wreak havoc, they can be eliminated relatively easily. All you need to end an infestation is a basic insecticidal soap and a hose. Insecticidal soap usually comes in powder form and can be submerged through the force of pressurized water.
Is Fertilizer Necessary?
There’s no real need for fertilizer. Unlike tropical plants, teddy bear cholla is hardy and does not need a lot of extra nutrients to thrive. The most important part of the planting process is finding the correct amount of light.
Fertilizer will not hurt the plants, however. If you want to use fertilizer for extra nutrients and fuller flowers, only use a small amount. This can be done throughout the growing season.
Home Care Tips
Growing teddy bear cholla inside the home is more than possible. It is encouraged during the winter.
Adding clay to a plastic container will help keep the teddy bear cholla upright. This is perfect for plants who have already grown and need a secure way to be stabilized. Clay also absorbs water which is ideal for protection against moisture and rot.
Since it can be difficult to know how much to water a potted teddy bear cholla, adding clay will also prevent over watering. This miniature irrigation system is well known for indoor cacti.
Peat-based soil is not recommended for indoor growing. This can encourage bug infestations and may ultimately hurt the plant. Instead, add a small amount of sand. This is also recommended for succulents.
If you don’t have a conservatory or greenhouse, I recommend placing these plants directly onto a window Sill. This best placement is toward the southeast for the maximum amount of sunlight. If you live outside of the Southwest, grow lights are another option. These can be used in any room to facilitate growth.
The Cycle of Growth
There are plenty of benefits when it comes to teddy bear cholla. The cholla cactus can help soothe burns or wounds and is also filled with high protein. To grow additional cylindropuntia bigelovii, propagation is quite easy.
The propagating process involves using seeds or cuttings. Since cuttings produce faster results, I primarily use this method.
The stem offshoots can be cut or plucked from a weak spot in the plant. Once they’re fully detached, they can be placed in sulphur. This will ensure healthy root growth. One or two days after a sulphur soak, they are ready to be planted.
You can replant teddy bear cholla as often as you’d like. Even without your help, plants will reproduce from their sticky stems clinging to animal fur and people. Teddy bear cholla is one of the most popular plants for a reason.
About THE AUTHOR
As an experienced gardener & landscaper on my own property over the last 20 years, I'm excited to share the things I've learned along the way, as I continue to learn.Read More About Elsie Moore