Turk's Cap Cactus Indoors (Melocactus species)
The Turk’s cap cactus, sometimes also known as the melon cactus, is found throughout the Caribbean and Central and South America. It is a small and unusual species, with a globular shape and starbursts of spines on its curved ribs. Once this cactus reaches a certain age, a cephalium, or bristly red cap resembling a Turkish fez, forms at its top. From this, crimson flowers of up to 2″ (5cm) will form in spring and summer.
Globular shape and unusual, colorful top give these cacti a modern, sculptural appeal. Makes a good gift plant for someone experienced with succulents. Great for a sunny windowsill in a home or office.
Apply a balanced liquid fertilizer when plant is in active growth.
Keep soil evenly moist but do not overwater.
Light, well-drained soil.
Basic Care Summary
Do not allow soil to dry completely, even in the winter months. Can be finicky and not grow well in poorly drained soil or too little sun. Best for those experienced in raising succulents.
Start with a good quality, commercial potting soil for Cacti and Succulents. That will ensure that the soil is sterile and pest-free. Many are available with a mild starter fertilizer in the mix. If you choose to make your own soil mix, combine equal parts sand and general purpose potting soil.
Select a container with a drainage hole or be prepared to drill holes for drainage if there are none.
Prepare the container by filling with potting soil up to 2” (5cm) from the rim of the planter. Make a hole in the center of the soil large enough to hold the root ball of the plant.
If the plant is spiny be sure to wear gloves for protection. Rubber gloves should be fine if handling small-spined plants but if the plant has long or sharp needles, leather gloves offer more protection.
Small plants may be safely moved using kitchen tongs. For moving larger plants, a good method is to wrap the plant with paper towel or tissue paper. For exceptionally large or spiny plants follow with a layer of newspaper or wrapping paper for extra protection. Wrap gently, not too tight, so as not to crush the spines. Tape the outer layer of paper closed at several points to hold snug. Once the plant is moved to its new pot and secure, then the wrappings can be carefully removed.
Remove the plant from its pot. Place it in the planting hole and press soil firmly around the roots, just covering the root ball. For spiny plants, use a stick, spatula, or other utensil to move the soil and to keep distance between your hands and the spines.
Repot every 2 years. Unless the roots are pot-bound the same container can be used. If a larger pot is needed choose one not more than 1-2” (3-5cm) larger in diameter than the existing pot.
Apply water at the soil level if possible to avoid wetting the plant. Water the entire soil area until water runs out the base of the pot. This indicates that the soil is thoroughly wet. Discard any excess water that has accumulated in the pot’s saucer.
Don’t water again until the top 1-2” (3-5cm) of soil is completely dry. Check the soil moisture with your finger. Plant may require less water during the winter months when it’s growing more slowly because of lower light levels. Some species may even go dormant for a few months in winter.
Cactus and succulent plants can be pruned to remove dead or damaged parts or to maintain a specific size or shape. Pruning encourages new growth, branching, and provides plant pieces that can be used for propagating more plants. Keeping the plant trimmed also encourages more side-shoots and reduces the demand for the plant to develop a larger root system. This is important since the roots are in a confined space.
Depending on the growth habit of the plant: long succulent leaves can be cut back to the base of the plant. Side stems can be cut back to the main trunk. If trimming to shape, cut off smaller segments just above a joint.
Baby cacti that grow on the main plant are known as “pups”. They can get very thick on some types of cacti. Pups can be cut off with a sharp knife at a 45-degree angle. Allow the cut area on the pups to air dry until a callous forms and they can be set in moist sand to root and eventually form new plants.
Some cacti and succulents produce “offsets”. These are plants that grow next to the mother plant by short rhizomes. These can be cut off at the rhizome and used to start new plants just like pups.
Fertilizers are available in many forms: granulated, slow-release, liquid feeds, organic or synthetic. Determine which application method is best for the situation and select a product with a nutritional balance designed for cactus and succulent plants.
Too much fertilizer can damage plants so it’s important to follow the package directions to determine how much, and how often, to feed plants.
Slow-release fertilizers are an especially good, care-free choice for container plants. A single application can often provide plants with the proper level of nutrition all season long.
A general-purpose fertilizer for house plants can be used for feeding cacti or succulents but it must be diluted to one quarter the strength of the normal rate.
|Height Metric Range||3-10cm|
|Space Metric Range||8-13cm|
|Companion Plants||Mother of a Thousand, Sedum, Jade|
|Lowest Temperature||50° to 80°F|
|Lowest Temperature Metric||10° to 27°C|
|Bloom Time||Spring and summer|
|Plant Light||Bright Light|
|Hardiness Zone||11, 12|