A cactus garden is a great low maintenance garden solution for hot, dry climates. With over 2,000 species, the cactus family offers a wide variety of attractive, popular plants to suit virtually any landscaping needs. There are several main types of cacti commonly grown in home gardens, including prickly pears, chollas, and columnar cacti.
Like all true cacti, prickly pears (genus Opuntia) are native to the Western Hemisphere. The large pad-shaped stems common to the prickly pear can be eaten. In late spring and early summer, most prickly pear species produce several brightly colored blooms along each pad. The blooms give way to edible fruits.
The red flower (Opuntia aciculate) cactus is perhaps the best flowering of the prickly pears, producing numerous deep red flowers through the spring. It grows to three feet in height and six feet wide. Engelmann’s prickly pear (Opuntia engelmannii) is famed for its fine fruits, which are great for prickly pear jam. The Indian fig (Opuntia ficus-indica) grows in a tree form, reaching 10 feet in height. It produces edible pads and fruits. The beaver tail (Opuntia basilaris) has large pads that produce striking florescent pink flowers in the spring.
Popular columnar cacti are typically large and cut a classic cactus profile. The saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) is perhaps the most popular large cactus for gardens. It grows to a height of 30 feet. The blue myrtle cactus (Myrtillocactus geometrizans) is often called a pipe organ cactus in reference to the cluster of large, upright columnar stems. It grows to 15 feet tall, is a prolific flowerer, and produces tasty berry-like fruits. Hildmann’s Cereus (Cereus hildmannianus) is popular for beautiful late night blooms.
Chollas (genus Cylindropuntia) can be distinguished from prickly pears by their cylindrical, jointed stems. Stem segments can very easily attach to clothing and skin due to the plant’s dense spine covering, and are less commonly used in landscaping for this reason. The teddybear cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii) is the most ornamental of the chollas, producing green-white flowers in late winter and spring.