The Q&A Archives: Cactus in Michigan

Question: I would like to start a cactus/succulent garden at my home in Michigan. I know there are cold hardy cactus and succulents for Northern climates, however, the amount of rainfall they would be getting in Michigan may be too much. I was wondering if you have any suggestions for my area. As for my location in Michigan, I am in the South West corner of the state, right across the lake from Chicago.

Thank you for your time.

Answer: Many cacti are well-suited to warm areas of the U.S. Yet, there are some winter hardy species that thrive in northern climates such as yours. If you choose the right plants, and provide them with proper drainage, you should be successful.

Start by choosing a site with a southern exposure if possible. This will provide the plants with the sun they need. As an alternative, eastern and western exposures are satisfactory.

For the best possible drainage, plant the cacti in a raised bed with sandy soil, or on a bank or slope. In any case, a quick-draining soil is essential. The plants won?t survive in a spot that remains wet for long, particularly during rainy weather and the spring thaws.

Here in the North, there is no need to fertilize or water cacti. In some years, the summers may be dry, but the cacti are able to survive drought.

During the fall as our days become shorter and cooler, the cacti will begin to shrivel. This is normal. It just shows that the plants are preparing themselves for the winter ahead by reducing their moisture levels. During spring when warm temperatures return, the shrunken cacti will fill out again and resume growth.

Established winter hardy cacti need no winter protection whatsoever. Heavy snows won?t hurt the plants. In fact, they insulate the plants from drying winter winds.

Though it is true that most desert cacti aren?t winter hardy, a number of different species will survive in cooler areas. They include species of ball cactus, barrel cactus, prickly pear, and other kinds of Opuntias.

Coryphantha arizonica and Pediocactus simpsonii are ball cactus, hardy in zone 5, as are Escobaria vivipara and Escobaria missouriensis.

Several species of hedgehog or barrel cacti thrive in your area: Echinocereus engelmannii, Echinocereus triglochidiatus, and Echinocereus viridiflorus. You might also try two different chollas--Opuntia kleiniae and Opuntia whipplei.

For the most part, the most commonly grown cacti in the area are the pad or prickly pears. The most hardy of all seem to be Opuntia compressa, said to be hardy to ?50 degrees Fahrenheit (zones 4 to 7), Opuntia macrorhiza (zones 4 through 7), and Opuntia fragilis-hardy as far north as zone 2.

Sunshine, good drainage and the right cacti should provide you with much success!

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