Want to spruce up your yard in a cheap and colorful way? Cacti will do it!
For people who enjoy bright blue skies, warm sunbeams and minimal rain, Tucson is paradise. But for popular yard plants such as roses, hydrangeas and marigolds that require more water than Tucson’s annual 12 inches of rain, the Sonoran Desert is not suitable.
But there’s plenty of good news for those who still want a visually interesting and colorful yard.
“Unlike other plants, cacti are not struggling here,” said Mark Sitter, owner of the B&B Cactus farm. “They are thriving here.”
Sitter sat down to talk about how these low maintenance and inexpensive succulents can make a beautiful, flourishing, unique and inexpensive garden.
Sitter and his wife bought the pre-existing B&B nursery in 2003. Before becoming an owner of the farm, Sitter was a horticulturalist studying plant physiology at the Tucson Botanical Gardens.
Sitter, originally from Portland, Oregon, is intrigued by the unique structure of the cacti. But that fascination also means getting pricked by cactus spins at least 20 to 30 times a day.
B&B Cactus Farm, established in 1981, grows and sells a variety of cactus and succulents in pots. According to Sitter the average cactus big enough to be planted in the yard, ranges from $25 to $50.
The farm is open Tuesday to Saturday, from 8 a.m. till 4:30 p.m., 11550 East Speedway Blvd.
“Some people think cacti are only green, but our most popular cactus is the Golden Barrel which is a brilliant yellow. People buy it for its beautiful form and color. It only gets better with age.”
- The Golden Barrel. Provides a pop of color with its yellow spines evenly scattered across the globular cactus.
- Santa Rita Prickly Pear, specifically Opuntia Macrocentra. The purple hue from the flat cactus pads is a subtle touch of color.
“Cacti can bloom a multitude of shocking colors of flowers — pink, yellow, white, red and orange. They can have very large showy flowers,” Sitter says. Different cacti bloom at different times of the year, so the yard continually changes throughout the spring and summer months.
- Hybrid Torch Cactus (Trichocereus). Blooms with many different colors of flowers from April through May, ranging from three to five inches in diameter.
- Bloom typically in May and June with large, waxy, white flowers.
- Pincushion Mamillaria. A small cactus that is thickly covered in spikes that makes it appear almost white, will typically bloom small pink flowers in the spring.
- Teddy Bear Cholla. This cactus blooms in May and June with small yellow and green flowers.
Because of the spines on cacti, bunnies and javelinas don’t typically eat them —though they do love the softer succulents. So cacti are an investment that won’t be eaten right away. Instead, they attract other wildlife.
“Cacti need pollinators, making them popular for hummingbirds, bats, bees and moths,” Sitter says. “If you sit still and quiet outside near a flowering cacti you will likely see a hummingbird.”
- Claret Cup Hedgehog. The bright red tea cup shaped flowers that bloom on the short cactus attracts colorful hummingbirds and night pollinators.
- Red Yucca. It looks like a rigid bush at the bottom with long thin leaves. Its tall thin stalks with rose color flowers protruding out from the bunched bottom attracts hummingbirds.
“One of the most intriguing things about cacti are their unique structures,” says Sitter.
- Totem Pole. A skinny bumpy cactus that looms high above. It can grow ten feet tall and is spineless.
- Columnar Cactus. A tall skinny cactus that when placed together can create a cactus type forest. The ridges protrude creating interesting shadows.
One concern about cacti are their many spikes. What if pets or children get poked?
“The thing people need to realize is dogs and children will quickly learn that it is spiky. They will touch it once and learn,” says Sitter. But for those who still have concerns about cactus spikes there are spineless varieties.
- Bishops Caps. Typically, a five ribbed cactus almost making it look like a rounded star. Tiny white dots spread across the cactus. Some will produce small yellow flowers.
- Echeveria “Lipstick” Cactus. A small succulent that looks like an extra full lotus shape cactus. While it is mostly green the tips of the leaves look as if they have been dipped in red.
- Ice plants. Small bundled plants that look like short bushes crowded with small thick leaves. Depending on the day and time of the year they will produce flowers that open and close. The flowers can be yellow, red, purple, pink or orange.
Tips for planting
A common factor people are worried about while planting their cactus is getting pricked. However, Sitter said with the help of heavy-duty gloves, plastic bags and newspaper the gardener and the cactus will be safe.
“Take two plastic bags and stuff them with newspaper. Put on your heavy duty gloves and using the newspaper-filled bags move the cacti. You are recycling material and that way you are not pulling the spikes off of the cactus.”
Cacti are ‘low water’ not ‘no water’, says Sitter. They must receive a half-inch of water per month by rain or watering.
“A rain gage is helpful for this process. A rule while watering is to water the cactus until the water begins to drain, or else the water instantly evaporates,” says Sitter. If the cactus is in a pot it needs a hole in the bottom of the pot or its roots will be soaked in water and cacti don’t like their feet wet.
Finally, if your cacti are from a greenhouse, they need to be acclimated or they will permanently sunburn. To help acclimate a small cactus, keep them inside until they are strong enough for the outdoors, plant in a shadier area, or give it a shade cloth to shelter it from the intense Arizona sun.
Tips to make your cactus yard even better
For an even more intriguing yard, Sitter suggests:
- Having the same type of cactus in various sizes.
- Using rocks instead of soil or grass for your yard.
- Install lights against the cactus to highlight the beautiful structure in the evening hours.
- Plant the cacti in colorful pots for more pop.
- Use repetitive patterns in your yard.
Places to Buy Cacti
B&B Cactus Farm Inc. 11550 E. Broadway Blvd
Bach’s Greenhouse Cactus Nursery, 8602 N. Thornydale Rd.
Green Things, 3235E. Allen Rd.
Lowe’s Home Improvement
The Home Depot
Sara Cline is a reporter for El Independiente, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org