Cacti are prickly, but they are incredible plants to have in the garden. They are an easy-to-grow and exciting choice despite their appearance, many yield beautiful flowers, and some even yield fruits. They’re an excellent choice for landscaping and even ensure your garden’s safety from unwanted visitors like raccoons. Whether you’re a novice or an expert, cacti do not disappoint.
Cacti come in various sizes and shapes, ranging from tall to tiny. All cacti are succulents, an adaptation from growing in inhospitable climates like deserts (though not all cacti are native to deserts; some even live in jungles). This is also why cacti do not have leaves; instead, many have spines that act as a defense against animals that would try to eat them and help prevent water loss. Without further ado, here are five types of cactus perfect for planting in the garden!
Things to Consider Before Choosing a Cactus
Even though the cactus is an easy plant to care for, there are certain things you will need before you can invite these stalwart protectors home.
- Pot or Not: Are you going to put your cactus in a pot or directly into terra firma? Knowing this will help you going forward about how you’re going to manage your cactus after.
- Light, temperature, and humidity: Jungle cacti are better off inside your home and require more humidity, warmth, and even moisture, and cannot tolerate direct sunlight, while desert cacti are used to dry and arid environments. Since their natural habitats are generally deserts, they require bright direct sunlight. They can usually handle heat and cold very well; however, many varieties of cacti can get frostbite from snow. You can avoid this by simply moving those cacti to a covered location during the snow or covering it up just before the snow starts.
- Soil: Cacti need sandy and well-draining soils. Cacti roots generally do not run very deep, an evolutionary trait from being in the desert and needing to absorb rainwater before it is lost in the sands.
- Pets and kids: Most cacti are not poisonous to humans or animals, but ingesting them can cause some side effects. Some might be allergic to the needles of the cactus, and pets or children might hurt themselves on the needles.
1. Prickly Pear Cactus
The prickly pear cactus is a part of the Opuntia genus, which also contains other species of the prickly pear. The plant is easily identifiable by the broad and flattened structure of the leaf pads, which may or may not have thorns.
The prickly pear grows in well-drained sandy or gravelly soils and won’t fall to either rabbits or deer. It’s also cold-tolerant.
Outdoors, the prickly pear can grow to a height of 16 feet and yields bright yellow flowers. Blooming months are through June and July, and the plant bears edible fruit. Most parts of the plant are edible but take care while harvesting as the thorns may injure you.
Fun Fact: The prickly pear is also the state cactus of Texas!
2. Golden Barrel Cactus
The golden barrel cactus is a round and cute-looking cactus that grows individually or in clusters. This native of Mexico is endangered as a consequence of industrialization. This adorable and resilient plant has still survived to become popular in many botanical conservatories and gardens alike.
Nicknamed mother-in-law’s cushion, the plant can grow up to 24 inches in height and up to a width of 30 inches. A slow-growing plant, the golden barrel thrives in well-draining sandy or gravelly soils and direct sunlight.
The globe-shaped plant has thorny spines up to an inch in length, which impart its golden color. The blooming season is generally in summer when tiny yellow flowers bloom on the flat crown of the plant.
The saguaro is famous for being the tallest cacti in the world. It is a slow-growing cactus and can take many years to achieve maturity and live for a very long time, almost 200 years. So if you get a saguaro, you’re in it for the long haul! Interesting enough, it happens to be the only cactus in its genus reaching a maximum height anywhere between 40 to 60 feet.
The saguaro is a bit tricky to grow, being one of the few cold-intolerant cacti. It requires sandy or gravelly, well-draining soil and needs direct sun. It does well in dry climates.
The saguaro blooms during late spring through early summer and has white flowers which sprout on the crown. These flowers turn into red fruits in summer and they’re edible!
4. Silver Torch Cactus
The silver torch is a slim but tall cactus that gets its name from the tiny spikes that line it giving it a silvery look. A single column can grow up to almost 10 feet in height but has a width of only 1 or 2 inches. The cactus is a native of the mountains of Bolivia and Argentina.
The silver torch cactus needs well-draining sandy soil with a bit of loam or in a standard cactus potting mix and grows in clusters. The spread of the clusters might be up to 6 feet. This cactus is quite cold-tolerant and requires direct sunlight.
The plant is unique in that it has reddish-pink flowers that bloom horizontally!
5. Christmas Cactus
The Christmas cactus is a good choice if you’re looking for a cactus but don’t want the thorns that go with it. It’s a long-lived jungle cactus with beautiful flowers in various colors and is easy to maintain.
Plant the Christmas cactus in a well-draining mix of one part sterile potting soil, two parts peat moss, and one part sharp/builder’s sand or perlite. Don’t plant it in the ground; use a pot instead, as it does better when it is slightly root bound.
The plant is frost intolerant and cannot sit in direct sun so place it in an area with shade. Water consistently, but keep the soil moist and let it dry out completely between waterings.
Remember to bring the plant inside to overwinter it once the growing season is done! The cactus’s growing season is between March to September.
A Unique View
Cacti are a fantastic way to add some diversity to your landscape. They are fun and hardy plants that also add personality to your garden. They are notoriously hard to ruin, making them a fun way to test your gardening skills.
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