Whether for their looks or their ease of maintenance, the cactus has won a favored place in gardens around the world. And fortunately, a cactus garden can thrive in any climate – there are some varieties native to Canada, Scandinavia, and other not-so-desert regions.
Planning a Cactus GardenAlmost any location — a sunny corner, the space in front of a wall, or an open space — will do. In cooler climates, cacti will do better on the south side of a building. Planting on a hill provides the good drainage that cacti need.
Cacti require eight to twelve inches of well-drained sandy soil. If your soil isn’t this type, a raised bed with cactus soil (see further in this article) will also work well.
When you’ve settled on a location, decide on a size and shape — more-or-less geometric shapes are easier to work. Even if your garden design is casual, the edges of the bed can be left natural. Plan the bed somewhat larger than you think you’ll need — some “flat-padded” types can grow up to four feet around within a few years.
Choosing CactiCactus choice depends on your climate, so although desert areas will have a wider selection, colder areas can also find cacti that will thrive. Cold-hardy cacti include: eastern prickly pear (Opuntia compressa), brittle/fragile cactus (Opuntia fragilis), beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris), and grizzly bear Prickly pear (Opuntia erinacea).
If temperatures in your climate fall below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, however, simply grow the cacti in pots and take them indoors to overwinter.
Preparing the GroundWhether you’re direct planting into existing soil or building a raised bed will determine how you prepare the location. Also see “Materials”, below this section, for more on constructing the bed.
After marking the borders of the garden onto the ground, dig out 6″-12″ of earth. Starting at upper end of your planting bed, remove several inches of earth up over the entire base of the garden to take out grass and weeds that could end up harming the cacti.
Even out the soil, as large lumps will impede drainage and cause root rot. Measure off the border and dig out between 6 inches to 1 foot of soil. If you’re working on a hill, build several level terraces into the hill.
Raised bed Planting
There are several methods for building raised beds. The simplest is to create a raised area of cactus soil approximately two feet high and build walls of dry stack rock or brick right against the soil itself.
Rocks and Tile
Outdoor tile blocks or ordinary rocks can be used to build a wall around a raised cactus bed. Placing larger rocks or boulders within the bed will reflect more sun to the cacti and protect them from the wind.
A plastic lining is optional, but it eliminates weeds and it will save you a lot of time and backaches. Any heavy plastic material that covers the length of your garden, such as an old tarp, will do. If it isn’t quite the right shape for your planting bed, it can be cut into strips.
If your soil isn’t the sandy, well-drained type, then cactus soil is a must. Because you’ll need enough to fill your garden to the top of the wall, wait until the bed is completed to buy the soil. If you cannot find cactus soil, you can make your own by thoroughly mixing two parts potting soil, two parts sand and one part gravel.
Building a Terraced hill Cactus Garden
Liner and soil
When you’ve formed the area of your planting bed, cover the area
with the plastic liner, laying the liner in strips if needed. Then build the wall of the planting bed (a foot to a foot and a half high) with dry stacked rocks or edging block around of the garden bed, with drainage holes left in the first layer of the wall.
For a brick or other mortared wall, soil can be added when the wall is finished. For a dry-stacked rock wall, it will be easier to add one level of soil after each level of rock, to hold the rocks in place. Also, of course, if you plan to plant the cacti among boulders, it will be easier to place the boulders before adding the soil. Smooth the soil out, but don’t pack it.
Planting the Cacti
Needless to say, planting cacti calls for thick, preferably rubber, gloves. Leave them in the pots and set the on the beds, rearranging them until you get the look you want. Before planting, supplement your bed with a small handful of compost or shredded wood chips, in the planting hole of your cacti, which will provide nourishment for several years.
Leave the cacti in the pots so you can move them around until you find a pleasing design. When you’ve found the right arrangement, plant the cacti, pot and all, in the ground. (Doing this means that in winter they can be removed and stored).
If you choose to remove them from the pots, take care not to disturb the roots, which are quite sensitive roots. Slide the plants in and firm the soil around them. On top of your cactus bed provide an inch and a half of pea gravel mulch.
Do not water in! Wait two to three weeks for root damage to heal and then water well.
Cactus Garden Maintenance
In most areas, cacti require watering or irrigation only occasionally.
Unless there’s a serious drought, the rainfall will be enough. Feeding the cacti with 10-10-10 fertilizer every spring will help keep them strong. Do not water in winter. In areas where snow is likely use a place under a glass or fiberglass roofed pergola or a glazed sunroom.
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