If you’re looking for a low-maintenance yard or just want to keep water bills low, cacti are the way to go. From the splayed-out elegance of the prickly pear to the towering solemnity of the saguaro, cacti are surprisingly versatile when it comes to creating a beautiful yard.
Why Use Cacti?
Most of the benefits of cacti come from the fact that they’re already adapted to this environment. This means they offer several advantages over other kinds of plants. First of all is the issue of water. While cacti do indeed need water—everything does—they need much less of it than most plants. This keeps your water bill low and means you don’t have to worry about tending to them so often. If you’re a snowbird who is gone for months at a time, cacti might be the choice for you.
Secondly is the issue of sun. Cacti can adapt to the harsh sunlight here in both summer and winter, and their lovely blossoms will not wilt in the desert heat. Note though that cacti are diverse, and some prefer shade. Make sure you do some research on the particular variety of cactus you want.
Where Should I Put Cacti?
Consider positioning for the cactus’ health foremost and worry about aesthetics second. Cacti cannot handle too much water—the barrel cactus has been known to continue storing excess water until fatally bursting. This means that they should have a place with adequate drainage, preferably with other low-water plants so that it doesn’t get too hydrated. Planting a cactus uphill helps protect it from excess water.
Another problem, again, is sun. Cacti adapt to as much sun as they are given; since many are raised in shaded nurseries, this means they need to be gradually acclimated to increasing amounts of sunlight by specialized shade cloths. The nursery should mark on the cactus which way it was facing as it grew up too. If an un-acclimated cactus is not protected, it can sunburn, causing wrinkling and discoloration.
Provide enough room to erect covers if needed, not only for new cacti getting used to the sun, but also for the winter months when cacti can be at risk for freezing.
Aesthetically, cacti have a lot to offer, but keep a few tips in mind. First of all, yes, cacti are spiky, so keep adequate distance between them and any major thoroughfares through the yard—when doing this, keep the cactus’ future growth in mind. Secondly, use variety to your advantage. Many short species of cactus together look cluttered and unappealing, but several short barrel cacti in front of a broad ocotillo or mighty saguaro will complement each other. Finally, find a balance between too much plant life and too little. A mix of cacti will make the yard look well-cared for and scenic, but used too sparingly, a lone cactus or two can create a barren look.
Let us Help!
If you’re not sure if cacti are a great idea for your yard or don’t think you could imagine them working, let us know—we bet we can change your mind with some gorgeous design plans!