How to Grow an Unconventional Cactus Garden
Growing an unconventional cactus garden can be a fun and unique way to showcase your gardening skills. With some planning and care, you can create a striking display of unusual cacti. Here are some tips for growing a successful unconventional cactus garden:
Selecting Uncommon Cactus Varieties
When planning your unconventional cactus garden, look for cacti that have unique shapes, colors, or features. Some ideas include:
Old Man Cactus – Also called the “old man of Mexico,” this cactus has long white hair-like strands covering its green body. The strands help shade and protect the cactus.
Red or Pink Cacti – Look for cacti with reddish or pink hues on their spines and bodies, like the pink torch cactus. These vibrant colors will stand out.
Crested Cacti – These have mutated growth that makes them grow in wavy or twisted crests rather than straight up. Examples are the crested saguaro and crested myrtillocactus.
Woolly or Hairy Cacti – Opt for cacti with prominent hair-like spines like the Espostoa lanata, also called the “old man cactus.”
Small Globe Cacti – Tiny round cacti like mammillaria make great unique additions. Their small, spherical shapes contrast nicely next to larger columnar cacti.
Choosing the Right Location
Most cacti need full sun to thrive. Select a sunny, well-draining spot for your unconventional cactus garden. Avoid planting cacti in low-lying areas or where water collects after rains. Raised beds and higher elevation areas are ideal locations.
South or west-facing exposures are excellent choices for maximizing light exposure for the cacti. Just make sure the area is not too exposed to strong winds, which can damage the plants. Putting your garden behind a windbreak like a wall or shrubs helps reduce harsh winds.
Preparing the Soil
Cacti prefer fast-draining, sandy soils. Enrich existing dirt by mixing in sand, small gravel, decomposed granite, or pumice. You can also build up mounds or raised beds and fill them with a cactus potting mix or 50/50 blend of potting soil and sand.
Make sure the soil drains readily and does not stay soggy after watering. Good drainage helps prevent rot in cactus roots.
Planting and Spacing Cacti
Carefully plant each cactus at the same level it was growing in its nursery pot. Planting too deeply can lead to rot.
Space cacti 12-24 inches apart depending on their expected mature size. Give larger specimens like saguaros more room to grow. Arrange them creatively with smaller cacti in the foreground and larger ones toward the back.
Group some cacti with similar needs like light and watering together in beds. For example, plant very drought tolerant varieties together, and separate ones that need more moisture.
Watering Your Unconventional Cacti
The key to watering cacti is to provide a good soaking when needed, then allow the soil to fully dry out before watering again. The frequency depends on factors like temperature, humidity, soil type, and the plant variety.
In warm weather, most cacti may only need water every 2-4 weeks. In winter, reduce watering to once a month or less.
Always water in the morning so the plants have time to absorb it before nightfall. And check soil moisture before watering – don’t water on a fixed schedule.
Cacti have low nutrient needs, but regular light fertilization helps them thrive. Use a cactus-blend fertilizer or a balanced 10-10-10 formula. Dilute it to half or quarter strength and feed plants every 2-4 weeks during spring through fall.
Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers that can burn cactus roots. Do not fertilize dormant cacti in winter.
Preventing Pests and Diseases
Cacti have relatively few pest or disease issues, but here are some potential problems to watch for:
Mealybugs – Fluffy white insects that suck plant juices. Remove them with a spray of water, alcohol, or insecticidal soap.
Fungal issues – Watch for signs of fungal diseases like root or stem rot if cacti stay too wet. Improve drainage and water less.
Sunburn – Scorched, brown spots. Move plants into slightly more shade and introduce to sun gradually.
With proper siting, soil, watering, and general care your unconventional cacti should thrive and add unique beauty to your garden. Be creative and have fun designing eye-catching displays with these remarkable succulents.