Monday, October 22, 2012

Cacti in Landscaping

Cacti indoor landscape at Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah

 When it comes to using cactus there is no better way to make your yard, apartment, or even office a better place when it comes to introducing cactus into your landscape.  Cacti, yucca, and other desert plants make great landscaping plants because they require so litter maintenance. They also can go about anywhere.

If you have little kids they will quickly learn that cacti landscaping is not for play. Having raised three boys and no a little girl she knows that the cactus says "ouch."

Cacti can be arranged like any other house plant inside. They need a good source of light, usually a window that faces the sun, and regular maintenance.  Using cacti inside may require slightly and I underscore, slightly, more water. Air inside homes usually tends to be dryer.  There is also more heat generated by windows, central heating, space heaters, etc.

Cacti, even during the winter, require light. They still carry on photosynthesis all year round. They tend to go "dormant" during the winter months even inside. This means major growth stops and metabolism slows down. But like all plants during a winter season "dormant" is a loosely used word. Even trees with leaves that are lost in the fall will carry on photosynthesis, just to a lesser degree.

Cacti are good for indoors because they clean the air, replenish oxygen, and can produce nice flowers.  Many if potted and you have a true four season climate in northern regions can be moved to outside between April and October. Cold hardy cacti are good year round in USDA Zones 5 and above due to the fact they are buried in deep snow during the winter and can be very high in altitude, 8,000 feet in elevation.

Warm desert cacti should be brought in to a nice mild spot with light. You can add plant lighting as well if windows are not sufficient.  While outside cacti can be arranged in pots, put into the ground for the season, or left above it. Make sure they continue to be well drained wherever they are.

Microclimates are great for some borderline cold hardy cacti. The sun facing side of the house near a foundation is great due to radiating heat and can raise temps both day and night. So a cacti that would succumb to cold out in the open could easily survive in the right microclimate.

Cacti gardens outside are beautiful, even to cactus haters, when the flowers bloom on the plant. Good flowering cacti such as barrels or prickly pear can produce a number of beautiful colored flowers over the July weeks, earlier in some cases depending on heat and season.

For example I had a large barrel that in the Mojave would have flowered in late April or early May. Instead, it flowered in June or July and did produce seeds.  Prickly pears flower anywhere from May to August depending on the species and location.  Cholla are excellent for landscaping.

Fast growing cacti should be trimmed back like cholla and prickly pear. Throw away extra pads, but always leave new growth as well. Soil should be a mixture of soil, rocks, and sand. This is true if you live in clay soil areas where water retention is greater.

Flowering cacti in Lehi, Utah

Also the soil should be stirred up once a year to put nutrients on top of the soil down under and aeration purposes, just as with any other plants. If you have kids, teach them that cacti are pretty, but not to play with them. Many barbs can be a nightmare to your kids, let alone you. 

Treat your cacti nice and they will produce great flowers. Some species produce edible fruit as well that can be harvested for eating or making jams or jelly.  Enjoy the show and have fun!

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