How to Care for a Totem Pole Plant
Totem pole cactus (Lophocereus schottii f. monstrosus) is not a pretty plant. Its lumpy, bumpy and sometimes twisted branches make it look like something out of a horror movie. This spineless cactus can grow to 10 feet high and 10 feet wide. Its pink flowers produce red, edible, seedless fruits. Native to Baja California in Mexico, it is not tolerant of cold weather and should not be planted outdoors in any area where temperatures regularly drop below freezing. It grows well in containers, given the right conditions.
Place 1 inch of small pebbles into the bottom of a clay or terracotta pot no more than one size larger than your totem pole plant's present container. Remove your plant from its container and tease the roots loose with your fingers. Cacti bloom better when rootbound.
Place the cactus into the new pot, and add cactus soil to the bottom until the top of the root ball is approximately 1 inch from the top of the rim. Continue filling the pot with soil, packing it down with your fingers, until it is level with the top of the root ball. Place a stake in the pot if necessary to stabilize your plant.
Spread 1/2 inch of pebbles on the top of the pot to stabilize the totem pole plant. Mix liquid special cactus fertilizer or general purpose 20-20-20 liquid fertilizer to 1/4 strength, and water the plant well, pouring the solution through until it runs from the bottom of the pot.
Place your totem pole cactus in the brightest sun available. Indoors, a southern window is ideal. Outdoors, place it in semi-shade and gradually acclimate it to full sun over the course of a month.
Fertilize monthly from March until October with a special cactus fertilizer or 20-20-20 liquid fertilizer. Alternatively, apply a balanced timed-release pelletized fertilizer, such as a 14-14-14, at the rate of 1 teaspoon per gallon of pot size. A standard 6-inch clay pot is considered a gallon. Allow the soil to dry completely between waterings. Do not water or fertilize during the winter.
Protect your potted totem pole cactus from freezing temperatures by bringing it indoors or moving it at least 3 feet away from windows and doors where cold air may leak in. Protect large outdoor container plants by watering them well before a freeze and covering them with several blankets. Wrap the bottom of the trunk and container of larger outdoor totem pole cacti with securely tied blankets.
- Plants grown in outdoor containers too large to be moved conveniently may be covered with a portable, heated greenhouse during cold spells if temperatures are expected to drop into the lower 20s.
- Clay or terracotta container
- Cactus soil
- Stakes (optional)