Rat Tail Cactus – Care and Propagation Guide

The rat tail cactus (Aporocactus flagelliformis) is an epiphytic plant native to Mexico. It has long trailing stems with short sharp spines. The plant is green when young but becomes a beige at maturity. It blooms in spring and early summer with just a few violet-red, pink, or orange flowers.

In the wild, rat tail cacti grow on tree crotches, rocky crevasses, or on the ground. They are adapted to warm climates, and only gardeners in warm zones can grow them outdoors successfully. However, they are easy to care for houseplants outside their hardiness zones.

It is easy to confuse the rat tail cactus with the dog tail cactus because they almost look similar. The main difference is that the dog tail cactus blooms in summer or early fall with white flowers. However, they are all beautiful and great plants for hanging baskets and containers.

In summary, here is what to know about the rattail cactus:

Common namesRattail cactus
Scientific nameAporocactus flagelliformis
Plant typeSucculent cactus
Mature plant size3-6 ft. long and 
Sun exposureFull sun
Soil TypeSlightly acidic and well-drained
Soil pH5.0 and 6.0 (Acidic)
Hardiness zonesUSDA zone 10a -11
Bloom timeSpring to early summer
Flower colorViolet-red, pink, or orange
Temperature60°F- 75°F 
The rat tail cactus

Rat Tail cactus care and maintenance

Rat tail cactus is a fairly hardy plant, and it can survive long periods of heat and drought with little care. While it’s not toxic to pets and humans, you need to grow it in a place you won’t accidentally brush against its excruciating spines.

For this plant to thrive, you must provide the following:

Bright direct sunlight

Dog tail cacti are adapted to desert conditions and prefer bright indirect sunlight. Place the plant in a south or west-facing window to receive direct sun when grown indoors. The cactus can also be taken outside during summer to enjoy the warmth and sunny weather.

In places without enough sunlight, it’s important to grow the dog tail cactus under artificial lights. Otherwise, it may grow spindly thin and weak.

Well-drained soil

Like all cacti, grow rattail cactus in well-draining soil. You can make your own cactus soil or use a commercial mix formulated for succulents. Regular potting soil retains moisture for longer and is thus not suitable for the cultivation of cactus plants.

Cactus plants need their roots to breathe. Excess water in the soil limits the air circulating the roots, making them suffocate and die. Bacteria and fungi that cause root rot also thrive in damp soil conditions.

Less watering

Water the rattail cactus regularly but less often. Excess watering may cause root rot. The soil has to be completely dry between the waterings. As winter approaches, cut back on watering as the cactus enters dormancy. Just water it a little when the soil gets completely dry.

Ideal Temperature

Rat tail cactus does well in average room temperatures but can tolerate temperatures as low as 45°F and as high as 90°F. However, this plant is not cold hardy; you must protect it from freezing temperatures.  During winter, keep this cactus to rest in cooler temperatures (40°F – 50°F).

Fertilize during growth

Fertilize the cactus once every two weeks during the growth period with liquid houseplant fertilizer diluted to half-strength. This will help replenish the nutrients for better growth. Do not use any fertilizer on the cactus during the winter period.

Repotting needs

Repot the rattail cactus after every one or two years. Remove the pot, discard the soil, and use a fresh one. You may use a slightly bigger pot, but make sure it has drainage holes at the bottom. Repotting gives the plant more room for growth and also provides nutrients to the plant.


Rat tail cactus hardly needs pruning. However, you may cut off the plant’s dead stems and wilted flowers. Wear protective gloves and be careful when handling this cactus due to its sharp spines.

How to propagate the rat tail cactus

Rattail cactus is easy to propagate from stem cuttings. Growing it from seed is not recommended as the success rate is low. To propagate Aporocactus flagelliformis, here is what you need to do:

  1. Obtain a 6 inches long cutting from a healthy plant using a clean, sharp knife. Make sure to protect your hands.
  2. Place the cutting in a cool, dry place for two to three days to form a callus at the cut end. This prevents the cutting from rot or fungal diseases.
  3. Fill a pot or small container with cactus potting mix and poke a hole in the center with a pencil. 
  4. Insert the cutting into the holes to a depth of 2 inches and secure it with soil. You may apply a rooting hormone at the bottom end of the cutting before placing it in the soil.
  5. Water the pot in a place with bright indirect sunlight and mist the soil whenever it feels dry.
  6. The cactus cutting should root in three to four weeks, and you can transplant it or relocate the pot to your preferred location.
How to propagate the rattail cactus

Common pests and diseases

Under the right care, rat tail cacti hardly experience major issues, including pests and diseases. However, root rot can be problematic if you are overwatering the plant. Overcrowding and poor inspection can encourage pests like spider mites, mealybugs, and scale insects.

Insect pests can damage the plant as they suck juices. They also expose the cactus to fungal and bacterial infections. Pest can be controlled with insecticidal soap or neem oil. Ensure to read and follow label instructions before use.

Final thought

The rat tail cactus is a great plant for hanging baskets and containers. It is a hardy plant tolerant to drought, pests, and diseases. Like other cacti, grow it in well-drained soil, water it whenever it gets dry, and keep it in bright direct sunlight. Also, fertilize every two weeks during spring and summer and repot it every one to two years.


“Hanging Baskets, From Houseplants to Herbs,” NC Cooperative Extension

“Growing Cactus,” Texas A&M University

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