Dog Tail Cactus – Care and Propagation Guide

Dog tail cactus (Strophocactus testudo), also known as Pitaya De Tortuga, is an epiphytic plant with long tail-like trailing stems dotted with tiny spines. It is native to tropical South American forests and grows on tree branches. 

This plant blooms in summer or early fall, producing fragrant white flowers that open at night. It is often confused with rat tail cactus, which looks similar. The main difference is that the rat tail cactus blooms in late spring and early summer with violet-red or pink flowers.

Dog tail cactus is easy to grow indoors and outdoors. Because of its trailing nature, It makes a  perfect plant for hanging baskets and containers. In summary, here is what to know about the dog tail cactus.

Common NamePitaya De Tortuga, Dog tail cactus
Scientific namesStrophocactus testudo, Selenicereus testudo
Plant typePerennial succulent
Size 8-10 ft. long and 1-2 ft. wide
Sun exposureFull sun to partial shade
Soil typeSlightly acidic or neural well-drained soils
Soil pH4.0 – 5.0 or 6.0 – 7.0
Hardiness zonesUSDA zones 7-11
Bloom timeSummer or Early Fall
Bloom colorWhite flowers 
ToxicityNot toxic to pets and humans
Dog tail cactus care

How to care for dog tail cactus

Like any garden plant, dog tail cactus needs some care and the right growth conditions to remain healthy and happy.

Here’s what you need to provide:

Full to partial sunlight

Dog tail cactus thrives in full to partial sun but not direct scorching sunlight. It should get at least 6 hours of bright indirect sunlight per day. It can be grown near a south-facing window in homes, but when grown outside, dog tail cactus should be protected from direct sunlight.

It’s important to acclimate plants from shade or greenhouse before introducing them to full sun to avoid the problem of cactus sunburn

Well-draining soil

Pitaya De Tortuga prefers a constantly moist soil that is not waterlogged. You need to grow it in fast-draining and drying soil to prevent the problem of root rot. Soil that retains water limits air from reaching the roots, which makes them suffocate and die.

If you can’t make your own soil for cacti, use a soil mix formulated for succulents in growing and repotting cactuses. Additionally, use a pot with drainage holes at the bottom. 

Infrequent watering

As said, the dog tail cacti require more water than other cactus species and will need regular watering. However, you have to ensure the soil is dry between the waterings. As a rule of thumb, water any cactus whenever the top inch of the soil feels dry.

When watering, drench the soil until you see the excess water draining out through the holes at the bottom of the pot. However, dont allow the plant to sit in any standing water. Bacteria and fungi that cause root rot thrive in damp soil conditions.

Temperature and humidity

Dog tail cacti can survive in temperatures between 40˚F and 85˚F (4°C – 29°C), but they won’t stand frosty conditions. Bring it indoors or protect it from frost during a cold winter. This plant prefers humid air, so keep humidity to about 50%.

You can also increase humidity for your houseplants without a humidifier by placing them near a water tray. As the water evaporates, the moisture level in the air gets boosted. Misting the plants with water is another option, but not for plants that don’t like water on their leaves or stems.

Fertilizer requirements

A well-established dog tail cactus can benefit from the regular application of houseplant fertilizer during growth. Fertilizing at least once monthly helps promote healthy foliage that stands strong against pests and diseases. Do not fertilize a newly repotted or dormant cactus.

Pruning requirements

Dog tail cactus does not need pruning unless you want to remove some dead stems or overgrown foliage. If you have to, use clean pruners to remove unwanted sections without cutting into the main stems of the plant.

You may use healthy cuttings to propagate the cactus for more plants to add to your collection or gift family and friends.

While this plant is not toxic or poisonous to pets and humans, the stems are lined with some sharp spines that can painfully pierce the skin. Be sure to wear protective hand gloves when pruning or handling the plant.

Potting and repotting

Dog tail cactus is unlikely to get root bound when grown in the right pot size. It grows slowly, and you don’t have to repot it yearly. However, you must repot the cactus when it starts forming aerial roots or when the roots pop through the pot’s drainage holes.

Repotting gives the plant more space and nutrients that come with fresh soil. Use a soil mix formulated for cactuses and a pot with drainage holes.

The dog tail cactus propagation

How to propagate dog tail cactus

The easiest way to propagate a dog tail cactus is through stem cuttings. Seed is an alternative, but the success rate is low. Spring is the best time to propagate as the conditions allow the cuttings to root faster. 

Here is how to do it:

  1. Choose a healthy stem and cut a section 8 to 12 inches long, preferably at a junction. You can use a clean, sharp knife or a pair of scissors.
  2. Place the cutting on a paper towel in a cool, dry place and allow it to callus over for two to three days. The callus prevents the cutting from rotting or infection by fungi or bacteria in the soil.
  3. Prepare a soil mix or your preferred growing media and insert the cuttings to a depth of 3 to 4 inches. You may use a rooting hormone, but it’s not essential for this plant.
  4. Mist the cutting, but don’t overwater the soil, then place the container where the cutting will receive bright indirect sunlight. 
  5. Monitor the cutting for any progress and mist again whenever the soil feels dry.
  6. The cutting will root in three to four weeks, so be patient as you wait to transplant or relocate your new cactus.
How to repot and propagate the dog tail cactus – Plantluxxe

Common pests and diseases

Dog tail cactus is a hardy plant resistant to many pests and diseases. However, like any other plant, it’s not completely immune to the problem. Some insect pests to watch include mealybugs, scale insects, and spider mites.

When present, pests can damage or kill the cactus. As they suck the sap, they expose plants to bacterial and fungal infections. Control strategies vary based on the pest type, but keeping the plant clean, healthy, and well-monitored can prevent infestations.

Treatment with neem oil or insecticidal soap can save the cactus from a pest problem. When using insecticide, be sure to read to follow the label instruction. Always wear protective gear, including a mask and hand gloves, when applying chemical plant treatments.

Final Thought

Although dog tail cactus grows slower, it doesn’t demand so much. Just provide about 4-6 hours of full sun, a temperature range of 40ºF-85ºF, and 50% humidity. Also, grow it in well-draining soil, water it whenever the soil feels dry, and fertilize it monthly during spring and summer.


“Growing cactus,” Texas A&M University

“Safe and Poisonous Garden Plants,” the University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.“Care of Non-Hardy Cacti & Succulents,” CORNELL Cooperative Extension

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