Monday, February 7, 2011

Repotting a large golden barrel cactus

Last month I found a large golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) on the clearance rack at Lowe’s. It was in a 7 gallon container and measured 13 inches across. Since it was filling the nursery container with no room to spare, I knew I would have to repot it fairly soon—although admittedly with a slow-growing cactus like this one, there is no real sense of urgency.

However, when I woke up on Sunday morning and saw how gorgeous the weather was, I decided that it was the perfect day to tackle this job.

Golden barrel cactus in its nursery container

Everything I needed was on hand: The weekend before, I had found a great ceramic pot at 50% off at Silverado Building Materials, and since the my coir had finally rehydrated I was able to make the potting mix I needed. As described in yesterday’s post, I used 50% pumice, 25% coir and 25% regular potting soil.

I’d spent some time researching the methods other people use for transplanting large cacti and combined their recommendations into the procedure described below. My main goal was to make sure the cactus wouldn’t be damaged. I knew I needed help, so I enlisted the whole family. There’s no way I could have done this by myself, considering how heavy the cactus was.

Step 1: I laid a luggage strap on the grass and, on top of that, several blankets.


Step 2: I wadded up a whole bunch of newspaper to provide extra padding and to prevent damage to the spines. Since it was a relatively windy day, I asked my daughters to hold down the newspaper so it wouldn’t fly away.


Step 3: I pounded on the sides of the nursery container with a rubber mallet to loosen the root ball a little. Then I carefully laid the cactus on its side, right on top of the wadded up newspaper.


Step 4: I wrapped the blankets around the cactus and cinched the luggage strap tight.


Step 5: I carefully removed the nursery container (it actually slid off quite easily). As you can see, the root ball looks great. The cactus certainly wasn’t pot bound.


Step 5: My wife and I lifted the wrapped cactus into the new pot. I’d already put some potting mix into it, but it was too much so we had to lift the cactus out again—easy to do thanks to the luggage strap. After some trial and error we finally had the right amount of soil in the bottom of the pot. The rest went quickly: We centered the cactus in the pot, unwrapped it, and I filled up the container with potting soil.


Result: Perfect! Thanks to all the padding from the newspaper and the blankets, not a single spine got broken and not a single drop of human blood was spilled.


I’m very happy with the way our golden barrel cactus looks in its new home on our front porch.


  1. Thanks for this. I'll probably need to repot the one cactus I have in a few years, and now I'll know a good way to do it.

    I still can't believe you got that perfect plant on clearance!
    It's not work, it's gardening!

  2. Very Interesting and ideal way to transplant your Cactus! The new pot almost looks like an Olsons! Lovely!

  3. Alan, I still can't believe it either. I haven't been back to Lowe's since then but will try to swing by some time this week. Who knows what else might show up on their clearance rack?

    Becky, I was very lucky to find this pot at 50% off. The shape is perfect and I think the colors go really well with the golden barrel cactus. Yes, I can definitely see the similarity to Olson Stoneware. I don't think they do flower pots though.

  4. You guys did a great job! And that pot is amazing! Love the color!

  5. I like the color combo of the cactus with the pot. Jeannine

  6. It looks very happy in it's new pot! Great tips. I'm curious, what would you do if it had of been pot bound? I have one that I suspect is and I don't want to damage it when repotting.

    1. Kirstie, I would treat a pot-bound golden barrel the same. If the roots look alive but are compacted, I would simply repot without trying to untangle the roots. Root damage opens the door to rot, which you want to avoid at all costs.

      Use dry soil when repotting and wait a few weeks before watering.

      Late spring would be better than now, actually.

      I hope this helps.