Cactus Varieties for Cold Weather Climates

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prickly pear cactus

Cacti are gorgeous plants that tend to thrive in hot, light-filled and fairly arid environments. Although cacti invoke visions of southwestern deserts, these succulent plants can actually be grown in colder climates such as those experienced in the northern states and even into Canada. Learn which cactus varieties are suited for these climates, and how to successfully cultivate them in your garden with our short guide.

Cacti belong to the succulent family, meaning that they grow by storing water in their leaves, stems and roots. Unique to cacti are areoles, which are the small bumps from which the spike spines, branches, leaves and flowers of the plants grow. Cold weather cacti varieties thrive in similar conditions to hot weather cacti, but can withstand colder daytime temperatures and smaller amounts of light. Nonetheless, plant them in the sunniest and driest location in your yard, especially if you are looking forward to seeing their beautiful blossoms.

To plant cacti, make sure you choose a spot with well-drained soil, or add coarse sand to loosen it up (especially if your planting spot has clay soil). Raised beds, grow bags or pots are always an option, as they provide good drainage. If you live in a wetter climate, make sure your cacti are in a spot where you can easily place them under rain cover. If cacti receive too much water, they will rot and die.

Cacti won’t generally need watering unless your environment experiences a drought of 3 weeks of more. Do not water cacti in the late fall or winter even if they look wilted or yellowed, as this is their hibernation mode. If the plant receives too much water and temperatures drop, the water will freeze inside the plant and kill it. Your cacti plant also won’t need much fertilization, and especially avoid nitrogen rich fertilizer. Rock or coarse wood chip mulch will help keep the soil temperatures around your cacti even, and will prevent weed growth which can damage the fragile roots of cacti.

Varieties to try:

Opuntia fragilis - This is probably the hardiest of cacti varities, and can withstand temperatures as low as -35 degrees F.

Opuntia compressa – Also known as the eastern prickly pear, this variety is native to northeastern states and southern Ontario, and produces edible, juicy red fruits.

Escobaria vivipara – The beehive or pincushion cactus gets its name from its squashed cylinders with wooly stems. Growing only 5 inches tall, this tough little cactus can grow in temperatures as low as 0 degrees F.

Echinocereus triglochidiatus - This cactus variety is also called the Claret Cup cactus and covers most parts of the Rocky Mountains. As such, it cay survive in temperatures as low as -10 degrees F.

Cylindropuntia – Also called cholla, this relative of the prickly pear cactus can reach up to 10 feet tall and tolerates temperatures as low as -30 degrees F.

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