The Rat Tail Cactus: Everything You Need To Know

Perhaps you’ve come across a hairy looking cactus with long stems that look like rat tails. Or perhaps not…

The popularity of rat tail (Aporocactus flagelliformis) cactus has grown more profoundly in homes than in the wild over recent years. They are actually almost termed as a threatened cactus variety in their native land of Mexico.

With the growing popularity, there is obviously a need to learn how to grow and care for them.

In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about the rat tail cactus— from its origin to how to care for it. If you have one passed down from a friend who also got it from a friend, here is an opportunity to learn.

The Rat Tail Cactus: Everything You Need To Know
Rat Tail Cactus growing in the street @cactinaut

Disocactus Flagelliformis—the Rat Tail Cactus

The Rat tail cactus is scientifically known as Disocactus flagelliformis (L.) Barthlott. It belongs to the Disocactus genus of the Cactaeae family.

As far as where it’s from, the Rat tail cactus is a native of Mexico, just like many cacti. It is largely found in the southwestern and central parts of America. Learn more about the cacti community in Mexico by going here.

Rat tail cacti have a very distinctive look. The plant itself is green in color when young but turns to beige as it ages. It has long trailing stems that go as long as six feet at maturity and half an inch in diameter. This is why they are often planted on hanging baskets or pots, kind of like this one we have in our office.

The stems have tiny reddish yellowhairy’ spines that can be trained into different forms and shapes.

Its flowers, which bloom in spring and early summer, are bright pink to red and sometimes pale pink or orange. They can grow up to two meters wide and 3 inches long. The flowers only grow and bloom for a few days and shade off. In some cases, they rarely even grow.

The stem’s grow is at a rate of about a foot every year.

In the wild, Aporocactus flagelliformis do not grow on soil. They either grow on other tree structures, rocky crevasses, and tree crotches or on top of the soil.

The Rat Tail Cactus: Everything You Need To Know
a great gift @houseplantslove

The Right Conditions for Growing Your Rat Tail Cactus

The rat tail cactus, just like other cacti plants, does not require much attention or special growing conditions. With the right soil type and climatic conditions, your rat tail cactus should thrive.

Below are conditions that rat tail cactus will thrive best in:

Light Requirements

Given that this plant is adaptable to desert conditions it thrives best under direct sunlight. Therefore place your plant where it can access full and bright sunlight. You can take it outside when the weather is sunny and warm. If your house has not enough sunlight, you can use indoor LED plant lights to supplement the small amounts of natural light it can get.

The Rat Tail Cactus: Everything You Need To Know
hanging out @plantsyall

Temperature & Climate

The best temperatures for rat tail cactus are between 45° to 50° degrees Fahrenheit but it can tolerate temperatures of up to 90° degrees Fahrenheit.  During the summer, early autumn, and spring the Rat Tail cacti do great at normal room temperatures. However, during the winter time, the rat tail cactus enters its dormancy stage and therefore you will need to relocate your plant to a place with cooler settings for it to rest.

The Rat Tail Cactus: Everything You Need To Know
spread the cacti @ropeandroot

Best Soil to Grow the Rat Tail Cactus

The Rat tail requires rich potting soil to thrive best. Well-draining soil meant for cactus or succulents is most recommended for rat tail cactus. A perfect mixture of soil for this cactus would be four parts of loam, one part vermiculture and one part sand for drainage. Lining the pot or basket with organic materials, such as sphagnum moss, will help the cactus thrive even better.

The Rat Tail Cactus: Everything You Need To Know
rat tail cactus @worldofsucculents

How Much Water Does the Rat Tail Need?

Water your succulents regularly during their active growing season. You can then cut back on the watering as it matures. Reduce watering during Fall and don’t water at all during Winter unless you notice excessive drying of the soil. And even then, just water it very slightly-— just enough to dampen the soil.

Fertilizer Needs

Apply fertilizer onto the stems of the rat tail cactus every couple of weeks. Use a liquid fertilizer for ease of use. The liquid fertilizer should be diluted to a mild strength. Do not use any fertilizer on your cactus during the winter season!

The Rat Tail Cactus: Everything You Need To Know
family gathering @appetiteshop

How to Successfully Propagate the Rat Tail Cactus

Propagating is the easiest way to quickly grow your rat tail cactus. They can grow from any of the six-inch stems.

You can either cut an entire stem into sections of an inch each or cut off the tip of a stem if you only need to plant a single cactus. For cutting, try these shears and see how they perform. Place the cuttings out in the air to dry for at least three days before potting.

To plant, poke the bottom end of the cuttings into the soil. Do not poke the cuttings too deeply into the soil, just about an eighth of an inch (2 cm) deep. You can use a stick to hold it firmly so that it doesn’t fall over. You should notice some root forming within two to three weeks of planting.

The Rat Tail Cactus: Everything You Need To Know
indoor decorations @plants_everywhere

Repotting Your Rat Tail Cactus the Right Way

Since rat tail cactus grow pretty quickly, you are better off repotting them once every year but only after their active growing season and flowering.

Repotting greatly helps to replenish nutrients for a flagelliformis as it quickly uses up the nutrients. When repotting, the best basket size to use for a rat tail is a 9” – inch basket and the best pot size is a 6” – inch pot.

When the cactus overgrows the pot or the basket size, it is time to discard the overgrown plant. Before discarding though, propagate and start a new plant. You can reuse the pots you already have but you will need to thoroughly clean it first.

The Rat Tail Cactus: Everything You Need To Know
repotting @shed_bkk

Common Pests and Diseases for Rat Tail Cactus

Rat tails have a high resistance to pests and diseases, however, they easily get attacked by red spider mites and a host of scale insects, so keep a pesticide nearby!

Spider mites are tiny almost invisible to the naked eye insects that cause damage to rat tail’s tissue. They do this by sucking up the sap from the leaves. You can easily spot them by their webbed nests. The best way to deal with spider mites is to immediately quarantine the affected plant as you treat it. Use a neem- oil- based insecticide if the infestation is heavy, otherwise just washing it under running water should suffice.

Scale insects are larger than spider mites so they can easily be spotted, as they are dome-shaped. Scale insects invade rat tail cactus by attaching themselves to their surface. To remove them you have to forcefully scrape them off or wipe off with a cotton swab dubbed in alcohol.

Another common concern for rat tail cactus is root rot. This is caused by overwatering or by poor drainage, so be sure you have this in check!

The Rat Tail Cactus: Everything You Need To Know
cactus selfie @smartplantapp

There you have it, everything you need to know about the Rat Tail Cactus.

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Want to continue expanding your succulent knowledge? Head over to our articles How to Successfully Grow Indoor Succulents and How Long Do Succulents Live.

If you’d like this read you’re going to love our full in-depth ebooks! With so many of our succulent lovers asking for more, we listened and can’t wait to share it with you here! With our very detailed ebooks, you’ll get more information than these short articles, some ebooks are 30+ pages, perfect for a weekend read.

Thanks for reading, happy planting! 💚

The Rat Tail Cactus: Everything You Need To Know
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