Balloon cactus is also known as Notocactus Magnificus or Parodia Magnifica is a gorgeous, bluish-green globular cactus that has a regular pattern and grows in a cluster. When viewed from above, this plant has a rusty gold spot at the middle, pale yellow spines and attractive ribs.
Balloon cactus has shiny yellow flowers that are about 2.2 inches long that appear during the summer. The stem can reach up to 8 inches and has a diameter of up to 6 inches as well.
How can you care for your balloon cactus?
1. Best Lighting for Balloon Cactus
Indoor lighting requirement
For the balloon cactus to survive and thrive, it needs plenty of bright light. When growing this plant indoors, make sure you provide it with the brightest light possible. A window to provide light is preferred or you can put the plant in a place that receives the light. If this is not applicable, try to provide outdoor time for your plant during the warmer months. The outdoor sun will provide a more intense and brighter light than indoor lighting. Be cautious when taking your plant out and avoid an abrupt change in sunlight. A plant that grows in accustomed indoor lighting may suffer from sunburn if exposed to strong sunlight at once. If you keep your plant indoors all year round, consider using a grow light to supplement the lighting required by the plant. This plant does not do well in the environment with poor lighting.
Outdoor sunlight requirement
Balloon cactus will do well in partial shade to full sun. You can do this by placing your plant next to taller trees or use sunshades to protect your plant from extreme heat. The morning sun is ideal for the plant as it has less intensity compared to the afternoon sun. mature plants or the plants growing outdoors can tolerate heat and full sun without having any problem.
2. Frost tolerance
Balloon cactus can tolerate frost for a long period. It can tolerate frost up to around 20 F (-6.7 C). If the temperatures fall beyond this point, the plant will suffer from the frost. If you live in an area that’s climate consists of mild winters, you can leave the plant outdoors or even plant them in the ground. However, if you live in an area that experiences extreme winter conditions, it is advisable you grow these plants on containers. This will enable you to move the plants indoors or take them into a greenhouse during winter to protect them from freezing temperatures.
If you have to leave your plant outdoors during winter, make sure you provide protection from frost by using frost cloths or a blanket. You can also set a small greenhouse for your tender plants.
3. Soil requirement
Well, drained porous soil offers an optimum growing environment for this plant. The type of soil the cactus is planted on is determined on how the water is retained. Whether growing these plants indoor or outdoor, in-the-ground or in the containers, consider choosing a potting mix that has the ability to drain well. The medium needs to be porous for it to drain well and dry out completely.
These plants do well on soil that is considered poor to other houseplants. Good soil allows easy root growth as it allows fast air and water exchange. The soil is supposed to be a rich organic and inorganic material.
4. Fertilizer requirement
When you have just repotted the plant in a fresh potting mix, it is not necessary to apply fertilizer. However, over time these nutrients get lost. You need to replenish the lost nutrients in the soil by adding fertilizer during the growing season. Use the recommended dosage for your plant at least once in a month. Balloon cactus grows slowly and doesn’t need to be repotted very often. Provided the plant does not overgrow the container it may not need to be repotted at all. All you need is to replenish the nutrients lost from your soil by adding fertilizer.
5. Watering requirement
The water needed by this plant varies according to the season and size of the plant. Younger plants need more water compared to an established plant. During the summer it is important to water the plant thoroughly and deeply while you wait for the soil to dry before watering the plant again.
Since the plant suffers from excess water, watering once in ten days is an ideal option. If there is extreme heat, you may be required to water your plant more. When the weather gets cooler during spring, reduce watering. Water once every two weeks but if the soil feels moist when touched you can avoid watering completely.
During winter it is advisable that you keep your plant dry and you should only water the plant to prevent it from drying out. If you live in an area that receives rain during winter, do not water at all. Provide protection for your plant from too much rain by putting the plant in the shade. If your area experiences dry winter watering once in 3-4 weeks is more than enough. If you want to gauge the watering needs of your plant, you can use tools to help measure the moisture of your soil such as moisture meter and hygrometer.
Balloon cactus diseases and pests
1. Balloon cactus rotting
There are many causes that might cause your plant to rot. Bacteria and fungi are the main reasons for rotting. Rotting can be a slow process. If you realize that your cactus does not grow actively or even does not respond to watering, the problem might be in the roots. Generally, the rotting process starts with the roots. It is advised that you do regular checks of the roots as this can help you to spot rotting early. There are several types of rotting this include;
Dry cactus rot caused by fungi
Phyllosticta concave, Diplodia and other fungi cause black spots on the cactus leading to the dry rot. If you notice these spots on your cactus surrounded by brown rims, they mean rotting of the cactus. You should act immediately to save the cactus by removing the affected part of the plant. If you notice that the spots get larger, cut the affected part and quarantine your plant so it does not to affect others. Try fungicides also, they may fail to completely treat your plants but they will help you to control the fungus.
Wet rot due to bacteria
This type of rotting is usually as a result of bacteria in the balloon cactus. This rot follows any damage or cuts to the cactus and that’s how the bacteria enters your plant. The common symptom is the softening of the stem that might become dark in color accompanied by black spots. The remedy to this problem is just cutting off the affected area to treat your plant.
2. Yellowing of your cactus
If you notice that your cactus is yellowing, there might be few causes of this. It might be due to a lack of nutrients. If you notice that your plant is turning yellow, especially the top part of the plant, apply fertilizer to feed the plant.
More yellowing might be a sign of viral/bacterial disease known as cactus jaundice. There is no current treatment for jaundice and this will lead to the rotting and eventual death of your plant. If fertilizer does not help then it is most likely jaundice and the affected plant will deteriorate and die.
3. Corking and sunburn
Corking is brown cork at the base of the plant and this should not worry you. If corking appears on the top, this can be another problem such as mites. It can also result due to improper conditions and care.
Sunburn, on the other hand, occurs when your cactus faces direct sunlight after the rest period. This can also happen when you use pesticides or alcohol on the cactus and let it sit under the sun. The sun usually burns plant epidermis preventing it from breathing and growing. While corking is just natural you need to treat burnt plants.
When you notice your balloon cactus becoming brown and weak, consider putting it in the shade as soon as possible. Spray it with water and cover it with a small bag. Leave your plant there for a few days before taking it out again. Try to protect your plant from direct sunlight as you prepare it for summer.
Pest affecting balloon cactus
1. Red spider mites
Red spider attacks your plant and kills it by sucking its juice. They are small and red in color. They can’t be seen but they form a web on your plant. Your cactus will start to dry and turn brown as mites will suck the juice from the stem. The affected area will turn rusty brown. Red mites reproduce quickly in a dry area. To treat your cactus from mites, quarantine your plant in a hot house as mites hate humidity.
Pick correct insecticide for mites and spray your plant and remember to shield your plant from direct sun to avoid burns.
2. Mealybugs on balloon cactus
These are common pests that attack the roots, stem and spine of your cactus. They reproduce quickly and can kill your plant if they are untreated. They have a white residue or spots that look fluffy. When you realize these symptoms start the treatment immediately before your plant dies. Quarantine your plant and spray it with pesticides until the plant is free from them. You can also wipe them using alcohol as it will dissolve their outer layer killing them quickly.
Now that you have decided to grow balloon cactus, knowing all the requirements and the problems that might affect your plant and how to deal with them will help you avoid any problems and grow a healthy, beautiful and long lasting plant.