Check out these tips on how to cultivate cacti in your backyard.
Cacti have a reputation for being a lazy gardener's dream come true, but they're not entirely no-maintenance plants. "If you're willing to do some gardening but don't want to work continuously, a cactus garden — once it's well established — is not a lot of work," says Patrick Quirk, a horticulturist at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.
In the low desert, natives like the saguaro are by far the easiest to grow. But if you live in cold climates, odds are there's a cactus perfect for you; just choose a plant adaptable to your area. In fact, 47 states claim at least one native cactus species.
"If you live in other parts of the nation, you may find that some of the cactus varieties that come from South America, the high mountains or coastal regions may be easier for you to grow — especially ones that come from places that have severe frosts," says Quirk.
A healthy cactus will flower — eventually. The secret is good care and maturity. "If the plant is in good health and mature, it will flower," he says. "Some cacti mature in three years; some may take 50 or more years. It just depends on the species. But if you take good care of these plants and make them fat and happy, they'll bloom."
The foundation of good cactus care is soil. In the desert, the norm is sand, gravel, silt and such — a mineral-based medium without a lot of organic content. And that's the recipe that Quirk likes to duplicate in containers.
"Peat and cactus don't mix," he says. "I use a mixture of forest mulch for organic matter in the cactus soil."
three scoops of fine-sand mineral soil
one scoop of forest mulch
A final tip: Never let a cactus remain in standing water; that's another reason why well-drained soil is so very important. And in winter, if you notice your cactus shriveling up, don't worry; that's a protective measure the plant takes to make sure the water it has stored doesn't freeze. As the weather warms and the plant begins to grow actively, it will smooth out nicely.
And a final tidbit: Is the plural of this plant's name "cactuses" or "cacti"? Says Quirk: "'Cactus' comes from a Greek word, not Latin, so the English rules of pronunciation would call for 'cactuses.' But the custom among most growers has been to say 'cacti' — a pseudo-Latin plural."