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How to Care for an Ocotillo Plant

ocotillo blossoms image by Brenton W Cooper from

Ocotillo is a slow-growing plant native to the Southwestern United States. Although it is often mistaken for a cactus, this plant is related to the Boojum tree, according to the University of Arizona. These plants feature tall, slender canes that bloom with huge, foot-long clumps of bright red, trumpet-shaped flowers. Culture of the ocotillo plant is simple, but you should be careful when handling the plant, as each cane is covered with thorns.

Plant your ocotillo where it will receive full sunlight. If the plant is heavily shaded, transplant it to a location where it will receive at least six hours of sunlight per day. Transplanting is best done March through May, according to the University of Arizona. Plant in dry, sandy, loose soil.

Support your ocotillo if the roots are not yet well-established, and particularly if you live in a windy area. Place large, heavy rocks around the base of the plant to stabilize it and prevent it from tipping over and becoming uprooted.

Water by spraying the canes of the plant rather than at the level of the soil. Too much groundwater will cause the roots of the plant to rot. Aim a hose right at the canes and give them a good soaking. While this plant is highly drought tolerant, it grows better with regular watering. Water newly planted ocotillos once a day. Water established plants once every month or so, if the weather is hot.

Wait patiently. These plants often look like they are dead, especially in periods of drought when they shed their leaves to conserve water. Test a cane by bending it. If it bends and does not snap, your ocotillo is still alive and with time, will leaf out and bloom again.


Pruning, mulching or fertilizing this plant is not recommended, according to the University of Arizona.


This plant will die if exposed to freezing temperatures, so only plant it outdoors if you live in a climate that does not have winter freezes.

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