Basic Guidelines for Growing San Pedro Cactus, Trichocereus Pachanoi

   The San Pedro cactus, Trichocereus Pachanoi (syn; Echinopsis Pachanoi) is grown for its beautiful emerald green columnar form and fragrant dinner plate sized white flowers that bloom at night and are pollinated by bats, moths and bees that make it before they close in the morning (or by hand). This sacred cactus also has a long archaeological history of ritualistic use among South American shamans and indigenous peoples dating back over 3000 years and is still highly regarded as an important and sacred plant medicine today. 

   First, increase your enjoyment considerably by wearing thick safety gloves when handling. I always keep a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers nearby just in case as well.

   Growing from a cutting is done by simply cutting off a section of San Pedro cactus and placing it back into the soil. However, a curing process must take place first. It is best to wait two to three weeks atleast before replanting. This gives the cutting time to heal the wound created when it was cut off. Many of the cuttings sold by have been cured for less than a week and additional curing may be required before planting. As the cutting heals over, a dry callous is formed (see photo) which seals the exposed cut area.

   Cuttings planted during colder months will not begin a growth phase until triggered by warmer conditions. If you cut a part from the cactus, always use a sharp and sterilized knife (a dip into rubbing alcohol will do fine). If you don’t sterilize the knife the cutting could suffer an infection.

   The San Pedro cactus parent plant from which a cut was extracted will develop new shoots where the cutting was removed. After a while these new shoots can be used as cuttings, too.

   Indoor growing of potted San Pedro cacti at home is actually quite easy and enjoyable. It is important to keep them away from freezing cold in winter and excessive moisture at all times. Additionally, you will need to supply as much lighting as you can in winter to keep your San Pedro cactus healthy. In hotter areas shade should be provided from the midday sun and regular watering will be required. A layer of organic mulch to keep the roots cool and slow evaporation is a good idea. Plants grown in the ground under ideal conditions can become very, large, however beautiful specimens may be easily grown in pots as well. Effective drainage is actually the most significant property of a soil mix made for cacti. A well aerated soil rich in living organic matter is best. A mix of 50% perlite and 50% rich garden soil with a yearly surface mulching each spring. Bagged cactus soil mixes sold at your local nursery may work OK if you add some extra pumice or perlite to them.

   While selecting pots for planting your cactus, Think; “bigger is better” to allow them as much room as is convenient for you.

   San Pedro cacti like to send out far ranging
lateral root systems near to the surface, so they
should be placed in very wide pots. Deep narrow pots will stunt their growth. Clay pots are preferred for proper drainage. The use of large clay pots can be preferable to planting directly in the ground, because the soil, moisture, drainage, and feeding can be controlled more precisely. Starting with a large enough pot to begin with minimizes the need to re-pot later. Re-potting San Pedro’s should be done seldom because it shocks the root system and injures the
cactus and they can be slow to recover fully.
It is best to choose the correct pot and stick with it.

 Terracotta, stone and concrete pots are good choices. Ensure that your pot contains drainage holes. As previously stated, the wider and larger the pot that you can provide, the better. However, direct planting in the ground in temperate climates will result in the largest plants.

   It’s simple! just cover the drain hole with the help of a fragment of broken ceramic or perhaps a piece of window screen. After that, fill the pot with the soil mix that you have selected and then place the cactus cutting into the pot (see below).

   Outdoor planting of San Pedro cactus without protection is best done in Climate Zone 9 where the cactus’s basic needs are naturally met. Use this link  USDA Plant Hardiness Chart for a simple and detailed climate zone map of your area.
Many people successfully grow their San Pedro cactus outdoors, outside of climate zone 9 by re-creating the required conditions. This can be done in many ways depending upon circumstances, from simply mulching around the plants to inexpensive homemade greenhouses depending upon your specific conditions. Generally temperatures as low as 26 degrees Fahrenheit may be tolerated.

   Cured tip cuttings and trunk cuttings may be placed on end (either end) or on their sides, in firm contact with the soil surface. The portion that is in contact with the soil will develop roots and new growth will form on the exposed portions of the cactus. The soil should not be bone dry but should NOT be kept too moist, until some roots have formed. To much moisture before roots have formed may cause the cutting to rot. After roots have formed a light watering may be given occasionally until a root mass has been established. You will know when roots have formed when the ribs begin to swell. New growth often appears even before roots have formed. During colder months, cuttings may remain relatively dormant until growing conditions are favorable. Potted plants grown indoors may not experience a dormant phase at all if the growing conditions do not induce one.

   After your San Pedro cactus has established itself and is actually in a growing phase, fertilize it with my favorite, “San Pedro Cactus Feed ~ Liquid Plant Fertilizer Concentrate” It’s blend of 4-6-8 NPK plus 1% Calcium and 0.5% Boron works great when diluted per the directions.

   Infrequent deep watering of your San Pedro’s is better than frequent sprinkling. In hot areas in summer, they may need weekly watering but always water when the soil is seen to be dry. Provide a little shade and a mulch around the plant bases to retain moisture. Hold back water during the wetter months of the year. Continue normal watering only when the growing period gets started and the soil has dried some from the winter rains.

For additional information about the Shamanic aspects of the San Pedro cactus, click here.

Good Luck!