How to Grow and Care for Mammillaria Elongata

Mammillaria Elongata is also called the Lady Finger Cactus or gold cactus, and it’s a pretty cacti species that you can’t miss out on. It’s an important member of the Cactacea family, and it is originally from the central portion of Mexico. It’s part of the Mammillaria genus, and it’s one of the most popular ornamental cactus plants you can get.

What makes this plant stand out and be unique is how great it looks and how low-maintenance it can be. This cactus doesn’t look like a traditional cactus, and it comes with several harmless spines that form pretty yellow, white, or brown carpeting. The spines are so plentiful that it’s difficult to see mammillaria elongata’s green, cylindrical stems.

When you consider the growing needs and environment, this cactus makes a great addition to your desk plants or window sills for a new gardener. Most grows adore this plant for how easy going it is with a forgiving nature. So, this means that it’ll keep the unique shape even if it experiences growing conditions that may not be perfect for it.

Plus, mammillaria elongata can tolerate long periods of drought without harm, so you can forget about it from time to time without it dying. Are you curious to learn about a few popular mammillaria elongata cultivars and how to keep them all happy? If so, this guide will outline everything you need to know below.

1 Mammillaria Elongata in Bloom
This small cactus is very nice to sit on your desk or windowsill for a pop of color and texture. Lady Finger Cactus by Renee Grayson / CC BY 2.0

Popular Mammillaria Elongata Cultivars

Just like any other succulent or plant, mammillaria elongata has several different cultivars or types available that you can buy. We’ve picked out four great options that you can find in most local garden centers below for you.

Mammillaria Elongata Copper King

As a fast-growing plant, the Copper King Cactus will top out at roughly eight inches tall. It’s a very eye-catching succulent with a cylindrical shape and coppery, dense spines. This cactus is hardy in zone 10, and it can’t survive temperatures that dip at or below 30°F (-1.1°C). It’s suitable for growing outdoors in hotter environments, and it requires full or partial sun to thrive. You can also plant it inside if you give it indirect but bright sunlight for a few hours each day. Copper King is a cultivar that requires less water, especially during the dormant period in the winter months. Also, it will produce pretty pinkish-white flowers in spring and summer.

Mammillaria Elongata Cristata

This is the most commonly found mammillaria elongata cultivar available, and it offers finger-like, cylindrical stems as it grows that makes propagation very easy. Also, many people choose to grow this as a grafted succulent. They bloom in pink to white coloring throughout the spring months. Although this cultivar is a much slower grower, plant lovers adore it. To keep it healthy, you want to water it sparingly during the spring and summer months and cut back the watering frequency during the winter. It’s hardy in zones 9 to 11, and it can’t survive temperatures that drop below 23°F (-5°C). It has a very unique and exotic look to it.

Mammillaria Elongata Cristata Copper King

As part of the Cactaceae family, this plant requires exposure to plenty of bright light to stay happy. It is better known as the Brain Cactus ‘Copper King Crested Form’. This is a more globular cacti that you can grow in the ground or in a container, and they make great houseplants. They are also heat-tolerant, and they need little water to do well.

Mammillaria Elongata Pink Nymph

This plant is commonly called the Lady Finger ‘Pink Nymph’. It’s one that is native to Mexico, and it produces conical stems that develop many offsets. It prefers to be in a space that gets direct, bright sunlight, like you’d get in a south or west-facing window is great. This plant will produce pink-colored flowers under the best growing conditions in late winter to early spring. They are adaptive to drought conditions, and they need infrequent watering coupled with a well-draining potting soil mix to keep them free of root rot and healthy. It will get up to several inches tall to make a small showpiece for your room.

How to Grow and Care for Mammillaria Elongata

Mammillaria elongata is a slightly slower-growing succulent that is very easy to care for. It’s very similar to other Cactacea family, and it doesn’t require any special treatment outside of more frequent watering in the summer months with regular sunlight exposure to thrive.

Fertilizer

As your mammillaria elongata starts to grow, adding fertilizer is very important. You want to avoid feeding the plant when it goes dormant for the season. If the compost is fresh, don’t fertilize. Don’t feed it in September. Instead, feed your plant in May. Having a fast-draining soil mix is best for fertilizing this plant so the residue doesn’t sit on the roots. You want to use liquid fertilizers and dilute them to half strength before you apply them to avoid burning the roots.

2 Fertilizer 2
You want to be very careful about fertilizing your plant in the fall months as you want it to go dormant so it has energy to produce flowers next year. Bags of Fertilizer by UGA CAES/Extension / CC BY-NC 2.0

Humidity

Mammillaria elongata will usually do fine as a houseplant. The most optimal conditions for it are an arid environment like you’d find in Mexico, it will survive indoors with few issues. During the winter months inside, you’ll usually get much more arid temperatures and setting. In the summer, if you think it’s too humid, you can reduce how much you water. It’s also popular to keep cacti in your bathroom for aesthetic purposes, but you want to avoid this trend. The bathroom is far too humid to support a healthy cactus.

Light

Your mammillaria elongata will enjoy a few hours or bright, direct sunlight each day. It can also do well in partial shade. Try to find a window that gets as much sunlight as you can. Ideally, a mature plant will require six hours of sunlight a day, so you should keep this in mind when you’re trying to pick out a spot for it to go. A window sill in a south or west-facing window is usually good.

However, when your plant is young, you will need to give them protection from the sun’s direct rays as they can’t handle it. You want to put your baby cacti in a space that gets indirect but bright sunlight for four to six hours a day. As the plant matures, you’ll gradually expose it to more direct light later.

Soil

Plant mammillaria elongata in a sandy, well-drained, gritty soil. One of the biggest mistakes people make with any succulent is to put them in store-bought planting soil and assume it’s best for this plant. To avoid making this mistake, go buy cacti potting soil that has no fertilizers and plant it using this soil. If you buy your cactus from a garden center, you should repot it in the appropriate soil as the soil is often not ideal for long-term usage or life.

Also, any pot you pick out has to have excellent drainage to help ensure that any excess water drains out of the pot and that your plant’s root system doesn’t suffocate. This plant is very prone to issues with root rot due to being planted in a space without enough drainage. If the pot you buy doesn’t have enough drainage holes, it’s easy enough to drill a few more on your own.

Temperature

Mammillaria elongata is hardy in zones 9b to 11b, and they love warmer, more arid conditions. So, the best temperature range is between 64°F to 86°F (18°C to 30°C). If you’re someone who lives in a planting zone with a minimum temperature range of 21°F (-6°C), consider planting it indoors.

Watering

Ideally, to keep this plant happy, you’ll follow the general watering methods for any succulent or cacti plants. The soak and dry method works well as this helps to ensure you never water them too much. Don’t follow a daily watering schedule as you would for other house plants or flowers as this is far too much. They won’t need water every day. Instead, you can touch the soil to check it each morning. If the soil is damp to the touch, don’t water the plant. However, if the soil is 100% dry, it’s time to water it.

You may find yourself watering mammillaria elongata once a week during the summer and once a month during the winter. This is completely fine. This cactus will go dormant over the winter months and news much less water, care, and attention during this dormant period.

3 Watering
Underwatering your plant is much better than adding too much water as it can survive periods of drought without an issue, but too much water can lead to root rot. Watering Plants by chaim zvi / CC BY-NC 2.0

Planting Mammillaria Elongata

Soil is one of the biggest things to consider when it comes to planting mammillaria elongata and keeping it healthy. It will grow best as long as the soil has excellent drainage. You also want to get a more acidic substrate that has a pH level of 6.1 to 6.5. The ideal growing medium for the cacti is usually a commercial-grade succulent or cactus potting mix. You can also plant it in a mix of one part clean sand, one part perlite, and two parts peat moss.

The roots of mammillaria elongata can easily get waterlogged if your pots don’t have the best drainage. Because of this fact, it’s wise to plant them in a container that has several drainage holes at the bottom. You also want to ensure the plant has great air circulation to help avoid issues with fungal diseases.

During the active growing season, this plant will need more attention regarding fertilizer. We recommend that you pick out a liquid fertilizer that is rich in potassium and phosphorus, and fertilize it once a month from spring through summer, stopping in September. Look for a fertilizer that has a lower nitrogen content as this can impact the overall health of your mammillaria elongata.

As time progresses, your cactus will start to grow and spread out. And, since great air circulation is necessary for your plant to grow and thrive, you’ll get in the habit of repotting it once every two or three years. This process gives your plant enough space to develop properly and stay healthy. When the time’s right, and this is usually early in the spring months, all you have to do is transplant the cactus into a slightly larger pot than it’s currently in with fresh potting soil.

Propagating Mammillaria Elongata

Propagating this plant can be easy if you’re willing to take your time and go slow. The best way to do so is by using cuttings or seeds, but you can also do so with offshoots. These methods are all relatively easy for people who don’t have a lot of gardening or succulent-specific experience to take on in your home.

Cuttings

If you want to use cuttings to propagate your mammillaria elongata, this is a quick process. However, you’re only supposed to take cuttings from the cactus when it produces offsets, and you’ll see these at the base of the plant. They’re a cluster that are ⅓ the size of the parent plant. As long as you can wait for them to develop, you should be fine.

This is also a good propagation method for your plant if it’s starting to look cramped or overcrowded due to the offset growth. If you don’t have any more space on your window sills for this plant, they make excellent gifts for your friends or family.

To start, look at the stems that you want to use for propagation and cut them off using sterilized, sharp scissors or a knife. Once you have them, you want to allow calluses to form on the cut ends in a dry and warm spot before you plant them. Once the stems develop the thick calluses, you can plant them in individual pots filled with coarse grit and cactus soil. You should dip the cut ends into the coarse grit to plant them instead of burying the stem.

The trick to ensure your cuttings get the proper nutrients is to add a bit of compost as it’s necessary for root growth. As a clumping cactus species, a single stem will quickly produce smaller offsets that you can gently separate and put in their own containers.

Offsets

The most common way of propagating your mammillaria elongata is using offsets. Since this is a clumping species, it’s common for it to form smaller offsets that surround the main stem. You can separate them and put them in containers. You can separate most offsets by tugging them gently away from the mother plant. You do want to be careful to protect your hands from the spines. Whatever you do, just be sure to get them as close to the mother plant as you can.

Once you separate the offsets by tugging them off, you should put them in a dry, warm space and allow them to dry out for a day or two. This will also give time for a callus to form to prevent infection from taking hold and increasing the survival risk. You can treat them just like you would the mother plant once you get them in their new containers except being careful about direct sunlight exposure.

4 Mammillaira Elongata Propagation
It’s very easy to propagate this plant using offsets, and you can double or triple the amount of plants you have by doing so. Baby Mammillaria Elongata by i05 / CC BY 2.0

Seeds

To start your mammillaria elongata from seed, you have to wait for your current plant to produce flowers. Once it does, you can collect the seeds and prepare to start propagating. You’ll start by sowing the seeds just above a layer of moist potting soil. For the best chances of successful growth, you need to germinate the seeds inside a glass cover where the temperature stays between 70°F and 80°F (21°C and 27°C). If the seeds have these temperatures, they’ll germinate within one to two weeks.

As your plant develops, you’ll want to remove the cover for the tray and ensure they have good ventilation. Do this gradually instead of all at once. You’ll have to be very patient during this process because you don’t want to disturb the seedlings until they start producing roots. However, once the root system is strong, you can remove the seedlings and plant them in containers. You can then treat your baby cacti like you would adults.

Common Problems with Mammillaria Elongata

We think that this is a great choice for more novice cactus collectors as it requires very little care other than the basics, and you can generally leave it alone except to water it periodically. Having said that, you can easily have issues with this plant if you neglect the basic outline be have in this article. The following are problems that can crop up if you don’t pay attention to your mammillaria elongata once in a while.

Pests and Insects

Generally speaking, mammillaria elongata is usually pest-free. However, it can end up with the odd unwelcome bug. Mealybugs are one of the most common pests that like to appear. You want to get rid of them right away to prevent a lot of damage. These insects work to penetrate your plant’s fleshy core and extract nutrients from the stems.

It’s a good idea to take a close look at your mammillaria elongata each day to catch pests early. If you don’t, you’ll have to use an insecticide to get rid of them. You can make your own or try an application of neem oil.

Root Rot

One common thing you’ll find if you look at any of our cacti or succulent guides is references to root rot. This is a very common problem that can be fatal to yoru plant. Poorly draining soil or excessive water are the two most common factors that contribute to the development of root rot. Any water clogged soil will lack oxygen, and this causes the plant’s root to rot. The issue with this problem is that once it’s apparent, it’s usually to late to save the plant.

At the point where you finally see sogginess around the base of your plant or stem browning, the roots are likely too rotten to save.  The entire cactus can fall over if it keeps going, and there is little you can do to save it. Keep this plant safe from root rot and any fungal infections by keeping the environment dry. Also, make a point to water it sparingly and keep a sharp eye out for any base discoloration or softness.

Sunburn

Mammillaria elongata loves the sun. However, this hardy small cactus can have issues with sunburn if you’re not careful. You want to move it to a shaded spot if you think the sun is too strong on a specific day. Also, younger cultivars need bright but indirect sun to avoid sunburn.

Mammillaria Elongata FAQ

Even though this is a pretty straightforward cactus to grow, it’s common to have a few questions about it. The two most common ones include:

1. How do you get my Mammillaria elongata to flower?

To get your plant to flower, you want to monitor your fertilizing and watering schedule during the growing season to ensure you get flowers the next year. Mammillaria elongata produces white and pale yellow flowers. You’ll want to water and fertilize your cactus throughout the summer as this is the growing season and stop in September so it can start to go dormant for the winter.

2. How do you repot Mammillaria Elongata?

You’ll repot this plant as needed, during the spring months if necessary. To repot it, the soil should be dry before you start this project. You want to gently remove it from the pot, knock away any old soil from the roots, and remove any dead or rotted roots you see. Treat any cuts with fungicide before putting it in a new pot with fresh soil.

Bottom Line

Mammillaria elongata is a pretty little plant that makes an excellent desk companion. They’re easy to grow and great for novice gardeners, and you can easily propagate new plants using offshoots. We recommend you go out and get this small plant and see how much luck you have with it.

Mammillaria Elongata 1 Mammillaria Elongata 2

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