21 Best Cactus Plants to Grow in Your Garden
Using cactus and succulents in planters and outdoor landscaping is a smart way to include drought-tolerant, low-maintenance plants in your garden. It’s not surprising that cactus and succulents are enjoying overwhelming popularity in the garden design world; in fact, their fruits and pads are featured in cocktails, salads, and even jellies. These sculptural plants can be easily integrated with other drought-tolerant trees, shrubs, perennials, and ornamental grasses for a beautiful and natural-looking garden design.
Cactus specimens with spines need to be handled carefully—avoid getting stuck by wearing thick gardening gloves.1
Take a look at these 21 attractive and popular cacti that you can work within a landscape design, whether it is a few containers, raised planting beds, or an entire yard.
Beavertail Cactus (Optunia basilaris)
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Beavertail is a prickly pear cactus with pads that are mostly blue-green. It grows to about 20 inches high and up to 6 feet wide. Beavertail has dark cherry pink flowers that almost glow and smell like watermelon. It blooms late winter to early summer and is ideal for desert landscaping and drought-tolerant gardens. Beavertail looks great teamed with Angelita daisy and barrel cactus. Potted plants benefit from a diluted cactus fertilizer once a year, but plants in garden settings do not need to be fertilized.
USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 10Color Varieties: PinkSun Exposure: Full sunSoil Needs: Well-drained loam or sand
Blue Flame Cactus (Myrtillocactus geometrizans)
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Blue flame cactus is also known as bilberry cactus, garambullo, or whortleberry. It can grow to 15 feet high and 6 to 10 feet wide. Crested species are usually smaller. In its natural habitat, blue flame forms dense, cactus forests. It is most recognized for its upright candelabra shape, blue-green color, and purple fruit that looks and tastes like a cross between a blueberry and cranberry. Like many cacti, blue flame is stunningly staged with gravel mix and rocks in a container. If you live in a region that can support it in-ground, this cactus can be the focal point of a drought-tolerant cactus or succulent garden.
USDA Growing Zones: 9a to 11bColor Varieties: Greenish white with blue berriesSun Exposure: Full sunSoil Needs: Well-drained soil mix with gravel
Candelabra Cactus (Myrtillocactus cochal)
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Candelabra cacti can reach about 10 feet tall and wide. Their cup-shaped flowers open during the day and close in the evening; the fruits are edible, although somewhat acidic. In its native habitat, candelabra cacti grow on hillsides, so planting on slopes gives it a natural look. It is also beautiful in xeriscape and rock gardens with other succulents and drought-tolerant plants. Like most cacti, candelabra cactus has good drought resistance, but it will grow faster if you give it extra irrigation during the hottest part of the summer.
USDA Growing Zones: 9b to 11bColor Varieties: IvorySun Exposure: Full sunSoil Needs: Impoverished soil intended for cacti
Claret Cup Cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus)
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Claret cup cactus is also called hedgehog, Mojave mound cactus, and kingcup cactus. It has the potential to grow to 3 feet high and up to 6 feet wide. Its fruit is juicy, tastes like strawberries, and turns bright orange as it ripens. In landscaping design, consider planting claret cup cactus with sage, poppies, yucca, penstemon, and native grasses. Claret cup cactus prefers a soil that contains more gravel than traditional cactus/succulent mixes.
USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9Color Varieties: Bright redSun Exposure: Full sunSoil Needs: Prefer soils of volcanic origins
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Golden Ball Cactus (Parodia leninghausii or Notocactus leninghausii)
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Golden ball cactus also goes by the name lemon ball cactus or yellow tower. It grows about 3 feet tall. Golden ball forms in clusters making it a smart choice for fire-resistant landscaping like many other cacti. Single specimens are striking in containers. Not to be confused with golden barrel cactus, golden ball starts out globular in shape, then becomes more columnar. It is an excellent choice for beginning cactus gardeners. Golden ball cactus does best if it gets some shade during the hottest hours of the day.
USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11Color Varieties: Yellow with spinesSun Exposure: Full sun to partial shadeSoil Needs: Rich, fast-draining cactus mix
Golden Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)
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Golden barrel cactus can grow up to 4 feet tall. This iconic round cactus is easily recognizable and probably the most popular type used in drought-tolerant areas. Plant several in a grid for visually striking landscape design in a front or backyard. Younger plants prefer some light shade, but once mature, golden barrel cactus thrives in full sun.
USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11Color Varieties: Golden yellowSun Exposure: Full sunSoil Needs: Rich, fast-draining cactus mix
Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus engelmanii)
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Strawberry hedgehog cactus can go by many names: strawberry cactus, saint’s cactus, purple torch, or Engelmann’s hedgehog cactus. Hedgehog cacti are small and have free-branching clusters or mounds of erect stems that are sometimes prostrate. It grows to about 28 inches tall. All Echinocereus have ornamental spines that densely cover the surfaces of the plants and are especially sharp. It looks attractive in rock and drought-tolerant gardens with other succulents and wildflowers. Outdoors, strawberry hedgehog cactus tolerates light shade, but if you grow it indoors as a container plant, give it the sunniest spot you can find.
USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9Color Varieties: Purple-magentaSun Exposure: Full sunSoil Needs: Typical fast-draining cactus mix
Mexican Fence Post Cactus (Pachycereus marginatus, sometimes sold as Stenocereus marginatus)
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Mexican fence post cactus can grow up to 16 feet high. Individual stems are 3 to 8 inches in diameter. Its blooms appear in mid to late spring and are evident along the cactus’ ribs near the growing tip and down its sides. Pachycereus marginatus responds well to frequent watering when it is hot outside. During frost, protect the plant by placing Styrofoam cups or burlap over growing tips.
This showy columnar cactus has upright growth that is actually used as a living fence in Mexico and other regions where it grows well. Plant it near a brightly colored wall for a dramatic effect or in containers with native flowers. If you have ever visited the home of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Mexico City, you might recognize these cacti as the same type that borders their property.
USDA Growing Zones: 9b to 11bColor Varieties: Reddish pinkSun Exposure: Full sunSoil Needs: Well-draining soil
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Photography by Alexandra Rudge / Getty Images
Most of the 300 species of Mammillarias are native to Mexico, with the others native to southwestern United States, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. Mammillaria polyedra grows up to 12 inches tall and 5 inches wide with 1-inch blooms. Mammillaria polyedra starts out as an individual plant, then eventually forms dense clusters. Pair them with other taller cacti, succulents, native grasses, native shrubs, and flowers. Unlike most cacti, mammillaria doesn’t like more than about 4 hours of direct sun each day; bright, indirect light is best.
USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11Color Varieties: White or redSun Exposure: Strong indirect sunSoil Needs: Rich, fast-draining cactus mix
Old Man Cactus (Cephalocereus senilis)
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Old man cactus is also called the old man of Mexico or Cousin It—a reference to a character in The Addams Family television show. One of the most popular cacti, this genus can be identified by tall, columnar or branching growth and is often covered by long, woolly hair. Species propagate easily from seed or cuttings. Some collectors wash the “hair” of this species to keep it white. Old man cactus can reach heights of up to about 40 feet, and its side stems produce blooms at night in mid spring after it reaches heights of 20 feet or more. In drought-tolerant gardens, the “old man” looks good in clusters or when planted on either side of an entryway.
USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 10Color Varieties: Yellowish-pinkSun Exposure: Full sunSoil Needs: Cactus mix
Orchid Cactus (Epiphyllum hybrids or Phyllocactus)
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In their native habitats of the tropical Americas, orchid cacti can grow as long as 225 feet. Unless you live in a tropical climate, however, you do not have to worry about this plant growing to epic proportions. The flowers of this cactus are admired for their stunning 4-inch blooms and are primarily grown in hanging baskets. Try hanging orchid cacti from branches of large trees; they will benefit from the fresh air and light.
USDA Growing Zones: 10 to 11Color Varieties: Pinks, reds, whites, yellows, oranges, and shades in betweenSun Exposure: Filtered sunlightSoil Needs: Standard potting soil amended with peat and sand
Organ Pipe Cactus (Lemaireocereus thurberi)
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Organ pipe cactus is also known as pitayo dulce or Arizona organ pipe. Besides looking like old-fashioned organ pipes, the stems of this cactus resemble sausage links. These tall, columnar plants branch slightly above-ground into several ribbed stems. Native to the Sonoran Desert regions of North America, these plants require sun and minimum winter temperatures above 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Organ pipe cactus can reach up to 30 feet high with clumps as wide, although they tend to be smaller in most gardens. Its flowers bloom in the evening and close at dawn during the spring. Organ pipe cactus makes an attractive statement in a courtyard patio garden and can also be used in raised planters or as hedges.
USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11Color Varieties: White, pink, and purpleSun Exposure: Full sunSoil Needs: Well-drained, gritty soils
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Peanut Cactus (Chamaecereus silvestrii or Echinopsis chamaecereus)
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Peanut cactus is a low-growing, cylindrical cactus that reaches about 1 foot in height. Its vase-shaped blooms appear in the spring through early summer. Peanut cactus prefers shallow containers and grows well in rock gardens and xeriscapes. Offsets (pups) drop off and are easy to propagate.
USDA Growing Zones: 10 to 11Color Varieties: Bright redSun Exposure: Full sun (partial shade in extreme heat)Soil Needs: Well-drained, gritty soils
Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica)
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Prickly pear cactus also may be known as barbary fig, mission cactus, or tuna cactus. Its flowers are about 4 inches in size, and the cactus is easily identifiable by its fruits, also known as tunas, which are red or yellow and highly decorative. It can grow to 15 feet tall and up to 6 feet wide. While it is a given that prickly pears are at home in drought-tolerant and desert gardens, think about adding them to meadow or prairie-themed gardens. Companion plants include blue grama and side-oats grama grasses. When grown outdoors, prickly pear cactus does not require any fertilizing.
USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 11Color Varieties: YellowSun Exposure: Full sun to partial shadeSoil Needs: Well-drained sandy or gravely mix
Rat Tail Cactus (Aporocactus flagelliformis or Disocactus flagelliformis)
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Rat tail cactus typically grows 3 to 5 feet long. It produces beautiful tubular flowers in the spring. It is best grown as a hanging plant and likes afternoon shade. Consider displaying rat tail cactus on a porch, covered patio, or tree branch. It is quite easy to keep rat tail cactus as a potted plant in colder climates, moving it indoors for the colder months.
USDA Growing Zones: 10a to 11Color Varieties: Bright pink to redSun Exposure: Bright direct sunSoil Needs: Rich potting soil
Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea)
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Columnar saguaro plants, also called sahuaro, giant cactus, and sage of the desert, are usually found in Sonora, Mexico, the central/southern Arizona desert, and parts of California. Tall and branching, it is one of the most iconic cacti in the world. Unfortunately, saguaro is one of the least cold-tolerant cacti. Carnegiea is named after American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. It is a slow grower that may take more than 100 years to reach its full, treelike height of as much as 40 to 60 feet.
If planted near desert trees like mesquite and palo verde, saguaros will be protected from heat and frost. In a landscape, they are attractive when grouped with golden barrels, prickly pears, and drought-tolerant shrubs, such as chuparosa and Baja fairy duster.
USDA Growing Zones: 8a to 11bColor Varieties: Creamy whiteSun Exposure: Bright direct sunSoil Needs: Well-drained grit
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Silver Torch Cactus (Cleistocactus strausii)
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Silver torch cactus grow to be slender columns up to 8 feet tall with blooms that are 3 inches long, tubular, and protrude from columns horizontally. Columns form clusters, and the plant likes full sun and well-draining soil. For a stunning display, mix these light grey-green cacti with succulents and drought-tolerant plants that are lime, chartreuse, dark green, and plum.
USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11Color Varieties: Rose or burgundySun Exposure: Full to partial sunSoil Needs: Soil amended with sand
Star Cactus (Astrophytum ornatum)
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Star cactus may also go by the name monk’s hood. They can grow to 12 to 39 inches tall and 6 to 12 wide. It is the tallest cactus in the genus Astrophytum. Monk’s hood is identifiable by its five to eight ribs that often twist into spirals. Star cactus has striking yellow-brown spines, a green body, and shiny yellow flowers that form at the center. Its fruit forms a star pattern. In warm regions, plant it in the ground massed in groups near large rocks. If space is limited, cluster the cacti in a low, wide container.
USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 9Color Varieties: Yellow with orange centersSun Exposure: Full to partial sunSoil Needs: Sandy composite soil mix
Totem Pole Cactus (Lophocereus schotti forma monstrosus or Pachycereus schotti)
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Totem pole cactus is notable for its knobby shape that can be sculptural in the right garden setting. Unlike most columnar cactus, totem pole has neither spines nor ribs. Planted in the ground, it can reach a height of 10 to 12 feet and 3 to 6 feet wide. It is usually smaller if it is grown in containers. Consider using this cactus as a statement piece or a bold accent in the ground or a large container. When grown in containers, it works best in unglazed pots, which allow excess moisture to evaporate. Totem pole cactus also works well in drought-tolerant or desert landscaping.
USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11Color Varieties: Pale pinkSun Exposure: Full sunSoil Needs: Cactus and succulent soil mixture
Turk’s Cap Cactus (Melocactus matanzanus)
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Turk’s cap cactus grows up to 3.5 inches tall and 3.5 inches in diameter. Explorer Christopher Columbus reportedly discovered Melocactus on a West Indies island and brought it and other cacti to Europe. For a cactus, Turk’s cap is slightly more high maintenance than most and should not be allowed to dry out. Since it grows on rocky hillsides in its native habitat, Turk’s cap cactus will grow well both on slopes and in rock gardens, as well as in xeriscapes with native shrubs, perennials, and wildflowers.
USDA Growing Zones: 10a to 11Color Varieties: Bright pink with furSun Exposure: Full to partial sunSoil Needs: Cactus and succulent soil mixture
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Teddy Bear Cholla Cactus (Cylindropuntia bigelovii or Optunia bigelovii)
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Teddy bear cholla cactus is a tree-like cactus with golden spines that glow in the sunlight. The spines are dense and appear “furry,” like a teddy bear, but refrain from touching or hugging these plants, as their spines are hooked. It grows to about 6 feet tall and up to 4 feet wide. Plant it in a natural setting with gravel, large rocks, and wildflowers like poppies and lupine, along with desert shrubs and perennials such as globemallow and brittlebush.
USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 11Color Varieties: Yellowish greenSun Exposure: Full sunSoil Needs: Dry soil
Consult nurseries and horticulture or cactus societies in your area for additional growing tips that apply to your particular region.
How often should you water cactus plants that are in your garden?
Cactus planted outside in a garden should be watered once a month.
Do all cactus need full sun to thrive?
While most cacti need full sun, at least six hours a day, some do prefer filtered sunlight or partial shade. Take a moment to check more on the type of cacti you have chosen to see its light preference.
Are cactus easy to take care of?
Cactus are some of the easiest plants to care for and maintain, as once they settle in, they require very little care and water.
Para crear un paisaje de bajo mantenimiento y que requiera poca agua, combina cactus con otras plantas del desierto, como interesantes cubiertas de suelo y suculentas con flores, así como plantas de aloe, yuca y agave espinosas, para agregar color, forma y cobertura.
En The Spruce utilizamos solo fuentes de alta calidad, incluidos estudios revisados por pares, para respaldar los hechos en nuestros artículos. Lee nuestro proceso editorial para obtener más información sobre cómo verificamos los hechos y mantenemos nuestro contenido preciso, confiable y confiable.
- Cómo trasplantar un cactus. University of Arizona Cooperative Extension.