Whether you’re a beginner gardener or a seasoned green thumb, cacti and succulents make great landscaping plants because they are so simple to take care of and can grow and thrive practically anywhere regardless of the climate you live in. Cacti also come in a variety of unique sizes, shapes, and colors, and produce beautiful blooms and interesting fruits, making them a fun plant to not only grow but research and learn about as well.
What are the best cacti to grow outdoors? The 10 best cacti to grow outdoors are:
- Beavertail Cactus
- Turk’s Cap
- Rat Tail Cactus
- Claret Top Cactus
- Old Man Cactus
- Orchid Cactus
- Peanut Cactus
- Totem Pole Cactus
- Star Cactus
- Prickly Pear Cactus
Choosing the best outdoor cacti will depend greatly on the climate you live in, what type of soil you have, and where you intend on planting cacti. The best way to find cactus plants that are sure to thrive where you want them is to read plant tags and decide if you can give them what they need.
The 10 Best Types of Cactus to Grow Outdoors
Read on to learn about the 10 best species of cacti to grow outdoors, types of cacti, how to transplant and plant cacti plants, tips for ensuring your cacti thrive, and more.
1. Beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris)
The beavertail cactus is a low spreading prickly pear cactus whose pads are wide and flat, resembling a beavertail. This cactus is blue, green, and gray in color that produces large bell-shaped bright pink flowers that smell like watermelon in the early summer. After the blooms come and go, this cactus will produce a small brown/gray fruit that birds love to eat.
The beavertail cactus requires full sun and grows roughly 6 – 12 inches tall and up to 4 feet wide. This cactus is low-maintenance, making it ideal for desert landscaping in rock and/or cactus gardens. Beavertail cacti require little water and are very drought tolerant. Plan on watering this cactus eerie 2 – 3 weeks during the spring and summer, then reduce watering during the winter months. It’s important to note that this cactus is susceptible to root rot and should never sit in soggy soil.
There is no need to fertilize this cactus, nor is it necessary to prune. Simply remove dead pads. If you’re keeping the cactus in a limited space, you can prune to prevent overcrowding. The beavertail cactus is deer and rabbit resistant and attracts songbirds, hummingbirds, and bees. The type of soil recommended for this cactus is a well-drained loam or sand.
2. Turk’s Cap (Melocactus matarizarius)
The Turk’s Cap cactus is native to the Caribbean and is unique because it has a wool-covered sphere that grows on top of its body that looks like the traditional Turkish fez hat that was worn during Ottoman rule. This cactus grows roughly 2 – 4 inches tall and 3 – 4 inches wide.
The spheres that are grown on top are known as cephalium. As the cephalium begins to form, the body of the cacti stops growing. The cephalium is red or white in color and grows small pink blooms, and produces tube-shaped fruits that appear waxy.
The Turk’s cap cactus loves sunshine and needs to be in temperatures above 70 degrees; this cactus will not survive cold or frost. Unlike most cacti, the Turk’s cap cactus loves moist environments; however, it does not love sitting in soggy soil as this will rot the roots. A general rule for cacti is to let the solid dry, then water, but these guys like to stay watered, so avoid letting them dry out completely between waterings.
This cactus enjoys fertilizer during the growing months of spring and summer. The Turk’s cap cactus is considered a bit more high-maintenance than most species. The suggested soil for this cactus is a basic cactus and succulent soil mix.
A fun fact about this cactus is that it’s believed to have been discovered by Christopher Columbus in the West Indies, among other plant species, then brought back to Europe.
3. Rat Tail Cactus (Aporocactus flagelliformis)
The rat tail cactus is native to southwest Mexico and parts of Central America and is known and recognized for its unique long trailing stems that can grow to be 4 – 6 feet long; as well as it’s long, tubular violet-red blooms in the spring. While this cactus produces many flowers, the flowers only live for a couple of days.
This cactus loves bright sunlight and afternoon shade and can be grown in hanging pots, hanging baskets, or tree branches. During the spring and summer, this cactus will need regular watering, cut back watering during the fall, and unless the plant is excessively dry, it doesn’t require watering during the winter. The rat tail cactus can handle temperatures as warm as 90 degrees, and as cool as 40 degrees, but will not handle frost. This cactus requires rich potting soil.
If you opt to plant this cactus in any kind of container, it will need to be repotted once a year after it has flowered. While this plant is pretty low-maintenance, it does enjoy a diluted liquid fertilizer once every couple of weeks during the spring and summer and is susceptible to red spider mites. It’s a good idea to keep a pesticide nearby as spider mites can cause damage to the plant’s tissue. While these are hard to spot, you’ll know if your cactus has an infestation if you spot their webbed nests. Like most cacti, the rat tail cactus is susceptible to root rot, so avoid letting it sit in soggy soil.
4. Claret Top Cactus
The claret top cactus is also known as hedgehog cactus, Mojave mound cactus, kingcup cactus, and/or strawberry cactus. This cactus grows to be about 3 feet tall and 6 feet wide and produces a juicy fruit that turns bright orange as it ripens and tastes like strawberry.
The claret top cactus is a low-maintenance plant that enjoys full sun, thrives in heat, and is very drought tolerant. After planting, give the cactus a good soak; then for the first month, it will need to be watered every 5 – 7 days, every 2 – 4 weeks during the spring and summer, less frequently during the fall, and can be kept dry all winter. The claret top cactus will thrive in soil in volcanic regions.
5. Old Man Cactus (Cephalocereus senilis)
The Old Man cactus is also known as the Old Man of Mexico or, in reference to the Addams Family, Cousin It. This cactus is uniquely covered in long wooly white hairs and can grow up to 49 feet. Old man cacti produce flowers that bloom at night around mid-spring, but only after reaching approximately 20 feet in height. These flowers are pink and fragrant.
Old man cacti are drought tolerant and love full sun. In fact, the hairs on the cactus will grow longer and thicker in full sun. Some plant owners like to wash the hair on their old man cactus; if you notice the hair is dirty or discolored, you can “shampoo” your cactus with soap and organic soap. Be sure to rinse all the soap off, then comb hair upwards to dry. It’s important to make sure cactus dries completely as it is susceptible to mildew, and mildew can spread very rapidly.
This cactus is also susceptible to root rot, as well as spider mites and mealybugs. Both spider mites and mealybugs will hide in cacti’s hair, so be sure to check through hair occasionally and keep a mild insecticide on hand just in case you should find either of these pests. The old man cactus does best in a cactus mix of soil.
6. Orchid Cactus (Epiphyllum hybrids or phyllotactic)
The orchid cactus is native to the tropical rain forests of central and South America. This cactus can grow as long as 225 feet and produces 4-inch blooms in pinks, reds, whites, yellows, and oranges. Orchid cacti can grow in hanging baskets or from large tree branches, and like bright light, but not direct sunlight. Blooms from this cacti appear mid to late spring and into summer.
During the fall, winter, and spring, this cactus likes a diluted fertilizer until flowering begins, then you may discontinue fertilizing until the next fall. During the winter, this cactus needs exposure to cooler temperatures around 50 – 60 degrees for a couple of weeks to encourage future blooming. The orchid cactus is susceptible to root rot and tends to attract fungus gnats. The best soil for this cactus is standard potting soil mixed with peat and sand.
7. Peanut Cactus (Echinopsis chamaecereus)
The peanut cactus is a branched cactus that grows up to 6 inches tall. This cactus consists of several stubby stems with white bristles and produces vase-shaped flowers that bloom orange and red. You will notice several flowers appearing late spring to early summer. Flowers are open during the day, close at night, and are unscented. It’s important to note that buds drop off the plant if it experiences movement or extreme temperature changes after flowering begins.
During the spring and summer, this plant will need to be watered thoroughly, but you may discontinue watering during the winter. Don’t be alarmed if your cactus begins to shrivel and turn a reddish-brown; this is normal and once springtime arrives, cacti will plump up and return to its normal color again.
If you live in a hot and dry climate, this plant will need partial shade, while if you live in a cooler climate, full sun is fine. The peanut cactus is ideal for rock gardens or shallow containers. If being added to a rock garden, this cactus will grow and spread quickly and fill up space in a matter of a couple of years.
The peanut cactus is a pretty low-maintenance plant and only needs to be fertilized once a year at the beginning of the growing season. The best soil type for the peanut cactus is a well-drained gritty soil.
8. Totem Pole Cactus (Lophocereus schotti forma monstrosus or pachycereus schotti)
The totem pole cactus is a unique knob shaped cactus with no spines or ribs and can grow upwards of 10 feet tall and 3 – 6 feet wide. This cactus is a great statement piece to add to landscaping plans as it is smooth-skinned, and has no needles but is covered in lumps and bumps. The totem pole cactus does not flower.
This cactus is drought tolerant and loves full sun. When watering, water deeply but allow to dry completely before watering again. The totem pole cactus also likes fertilizer about once a month. The main thing to keep in mind when caring for this plant is not to over-water and not to expose to cold temperatures. The recommended soil for totem pole cacti is a cactus and succulent blend.
An interesting fact about this plant is that it is believed to be discovered on a dirt road in 1931 by American plant explorer Howard Gates near Playa El Areo.
9. Star Cactus (Astrophytum ornatum)
The star cactus, also known as monkshood, grows roughly 12 – 39 inches tall and 6 – 12 feet wide. This cactus is unique because it’s 5 – 8 ribs actually twist into a spiral; the body of this cactus is green with yellow and brown spines and yellow flowers on top while fruit forms a star pattern.
The star cactus likes full to partial sun and will not tolerate frost. This cactus requires little water and can, in fact, go all winter without water, possibly needing water 1 – 2 times per month at most. This cactus is susceptible to root rot, so the soil should be dry before adding moisture.
The plant will need to be fertilized once every 4 – 8 weeks during spring and summer months; while this plant is a slow grower, fertilizing will speed up the process. The star cactus is low-maintenance but does require patience. The best soil type for a star cactus is a sandy composite soil mix.
It may be a good idea to keep a mild pesticide on hand as these cacti may encounter aphids or scale. You can also opt to simply wipe these pests away should you find them.
10. Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia ficus indica)
The prickly pear cactus is also known as barbary fig, mission cactus, or tuna cactus, as it grows fruits known as tunas. These tuna fruits are red or yellow in color. Plant will grow to be about 15 feet tall and 6 feet wide. These cacti are ideal for desert gardens and, if grown outdoors, do not require any fertilizing.
The prickly pear cactus likes full sun with some partial shade throughout the afternoon. During the winter months, the pads may appear shriveled and/or wilted, but this is totally normal and come springtime, cacti will plump up once again. The best soil for a prickly pear cactus is a well-drained sandy or gravely mix.
The pads of this cactus can be harvested at any time; however, it’s important not to remove more than ⅓ of the pads to ensure the cactus will continue to produce fruits.
For the ultimate flavor, remove in the mid-morning as this is when acid content is at its lowest. Next, carefully scrape pads and peel fruit. While holding the pad with tongs, remove all spines and glochids. You can choose to eat raw or cooked; either way, the fruit will taste citrusy. Red fruits are ripe when glochids fall off, around September, to harvest these fruits, simply twist off. These can be eaten raw or used for making jams and jellies.
Types of Cacti
Cacti come in a variety of sizes, colors, and shapes. Here are a few of the most common types of cacti.
- Prickly pear. Prickly pear cacti have flat padlike stems, and most have yellow, red, or purple flowers. All parts of these cacti are edible.
- Barrel. Barrel cacti are shaped like a barrel with numerous ribs and long spines.
- Cholla. A cholla cactus has many thin round stems that make this plant one you don’t want to accidentally brush up against.
- Pincushion. Pincushion cacti are small ball-shaped spherical plants that resemble a pincushion. This is typically a flowering cactus that has small buds that are white, pink, or red in color and appear in a ring around the top.
- Totem pole. Totem pole cacti are short trunked cacti with branched stems that grow tall and are spineless.
- Organ. Organ cacti have several columns rising from the base, and are covered in brown spines.
Cactus Care Tips
Cacti are generally pretty low-maintenance plants, but there are a few things to keep in mind as you’re caring for them to ensure your plants are thriving.
- Watering. It’s super important to avoid overwatering cacti, as they can typically survive drought-like conditions, but will suffer greatly from too much water. Overwatering can be hard to spot as plants may appear healthy and plump on top, but could be suffering from root rot on the bottom. Before you add more water to the soil, make sure the soil is dry a good 2 – 3 inches below the surface.
Overwatering creates a number of issues with cacti, including plants losing the ability to absorb nutrients, root rot, and excess moisture attracting pests. If you notice your cactus has gone limp or soft, root rot may have gotten the best of your plant.
- Root rot. If your cactus is suffering from root rot you will first have to remove the entire plant from the soil, then scrape the rotted roots off, and change soil before replanting.
- Soil. Drainage is another important variable that contributes to how happy and healthy your cactus is. If the soil holds too much moisture, this will cause root rot, so the soil you plant cacti in should allow plenty of drainage. If your garden or yard doesn’t naturally have the proper soil, you can create it based on the needs of your specific plant.
- Lighting. Most cacti love direct sunlight and lots of it, but certain species prefer some shade, especially during the hottest part of the afternoon, so make sure where you plant your cacti, you’re accommodating your specific plant’s needs. Too much sunlight for a plant that prefers filtered sunlight can be damaging to your plant.
- Hail. Hail can be extremely damaging to cactus plants, so if there is a chance of hail, you can cover plants with a cardboard box to protect them. If plants are outdoors, but in containers, you can simply move them to a different area until the storm passes.
If cacti do suffer from hail damage, it’s likely they won’t heal from it though there is a good chance they may grow out of the damage slightly.
Transplanting and Planting Cacti
It is recommended to transplant cacti during the spring and summer so roots can get established in their new home before the dormant seasons of fall and winter.
For smaller cacti, begin by loosening the soil with a garden trowel, then after slipping the trowel under the roots, go ahead and llift the cactus. To protect yourself from needles, it’s best to wrap the cacti up in newspaper and to wear thick gloves and long sleeves. Once you’ve successfully and safely lifted the cactus, inspect the roots for damage and trim off ones that need to be removed, then set the cactus in a shaded area to allow the roots to dry before planting.
For larger cacti, you’ll begin by loosening the soil approximately 4 – 6 inches from the base. Next, tie an old rope or old hose around the cactus to make it easier to pull on and lift while another person carefully tends to the roots with a spade. Again, trim the damaged roots and allow roots to dry for a couple of days before replanting. It’s important to protect yourself from these needles as well by wearing thick gloves and long sleeves.
To plant your cacti, you’ll begin by digging a hole deep enough for the plant’s roots. After you have a hole that is deep enough, you can set your cactus in the hole. For the next month, you’ll need to water your cactus enough so that the soil is moist; this will ensure that the new roots are getting established.
Is Cacti a Good Outdoor Plant?
Cacti are great for outdoors as long as you know what your cactus needs and can provide that for your plant. If your yard is prone to flooding, make sure to find an area with good drainage or consider growing plants in containers. Cacti grow pretty uniquely, while some grow tall, others tend to spread. Make sure you allow enough space between plants, so your garden or yard doesn’t become overcrowded. If plants begin to crowd each other, you risk losing your cacti.
However, not every cacti species can be grown outdoors, so the number one way to ensure successful outdoor cacti is to do your research and make sure you’re buying cacti that thrive outdoors and that you can provide everything they need. Luckily cacti are generally pretty low maintenance.
When shopping for plants and ultimately choosing cacti to bring home, look for any bruises or scarring, and check to make sure the flesh is firm. These are all signs of a healthy cactus.
Cacti and succulents are great for landscaping because they’re so easy to take care of and are super unique to look at. Choosing the best outdoor cactus will depend on a number of things, such as the climate where you live, the soil you have, and where you plan on planting, among other things. The best thing you can do is research cacti and learn which species will thrive where you live.
There are a number of species of cacti that do great outdoors, including the beavertail cactus, the claret top cactus, the old man cactus, and the prickly pear cactus.
Understand cacti terminology will better help you understand the characteristics of a cactus such as size, color, and shape. For instance, the term prickly pear refers to a cactus that has flat padlike stems, and a totem pole cactus refers to a plant that is spineless and grows tall.
While cacti are pretty low-maintenance, there are a few things to keep in mind, such as watering and being extra careful not to overwater your cactus; Cacti are pretty drought tolerant, but will suffer and die from root rot. Soil, lighting, and potentially damaging storms are all other variables to consider as you plant your cacti.
Transplanting and planting cacti is a process that is recommended to take place during spring and summer so roots can get established before their dormant season. When planting or transplanting, it is super important to make sure you’re taking safety precautions against the needles by wearing thick gloves and long sleeves. During this process, it’s important to trim damaged roots off and allow the new roots to dry before planting.
As long as you know what the cactus needs and can provide that for your plant, you’ll have a successful garden though not every cacti species can be grown outdoors. Make sure to research and only purchase cacti for outdoors that will thrive in that environment.
Cacti are fun and unique plants to grow. As long as you can meet their needs, your plants will thrive.