Cactus and Succulents forum: Whats it like growing cacti/succulents in the ground?

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Name: Stefan
SE europe(balkans) (Zone 6b)
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skopjecollection
Jun 6, 2018 2:01 AM CST
Im a container grower, and have been so for the majority of my plant growing time span(there are a few exceptions, but.....). I see a lot of users planting cacti in their yards, and always have been a tad envious , seeing echinopsis and mammilaria being planted like ... i dunno, dafodils? lilies?carrots? you get the picture- like some common annual flower no one gives special attention to. So , i must ask, whats it like to be able to do so?
[Last edited by skopjecollection - Jun 6, 2018 2:02 AM (+)]
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Name: Agavegirl1
South Sonoran Desert (Zone 9b)
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AgaveGirl1
Jun 6, 2018 6:50 AM CST
It's a lot of fun!

I too grow cacti in containers but the majority of my plants are in the ground. I find it far easier than container gardening because the plant can be left to its own devices and do what comes 'naturally'. I never have to 'repot' it if it gets too big. I never have to change the soil. I do not have to struggle lifting heavy pots to 'relocate it' to a sunnier or shadier spot. I may have to put some shade tent over it but that's easy.

Just water when needed, fertilize if you desire and treat for the appropriate pests if you have to. Let 'Mother Nature' do the rest and enjoy. Thumbs up It is also a joy because it invites butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, etc. into the yard and I've made many a friend chatting with neighbors who have just stopped to admire and/or ask questions as they pass and see me at work (usually I'm pulling weeds Rolling my eyes. ).

I realize a lot of people don't think they have the room in their yards to spare or may only have the tiniest of outdoor spaces but that shouldn't stop you from gardening outside. You do not need a 'huge' space or a big yard to have a lovely cacti garden. Just follow a few simple rules:
1.) Grow what will grow and be happy where you plant it.
2.) Pick the right plant for the right spot.
3.) Get creative and have fun.

Here is a tiny little spot along the walkway of my house. It measures only 16 inches deep but is rather long.
Thumb of 2018-06-06/AgaveGirl1/43e5dd

I had no idea what to do with this space. Obviously my beloved Agaves, pole cacti and p.pears that would become huge wouldn't fit here. So, I saw a bunch of tiny cacti in a bargain bin at a local Big Box store that I fell in love with. The little round globular ones that I call 'bubbles' and created my 'bubble garden' out of this space. Each little cacti in here was probably between $2.50- $8.00 max. Goes to show you that you can also have a lot of plant purchasing power with very little money as well. Thumbs up

Two and a half years later, this is what I've wound up with. I get a variety of blooms throughout the year from these Echinopsis, Parodia, Gymnocalycium, Chamaelobivia, Mammillarias and others similar.

Thumb of 2018-06-06/AgaveGirl1/71eb0d
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Another reason I like gardening 'in ground' is there are no restrictions when it comes to the size of the plant you can grow or its potential if you have the room.
This was taken 6-19-2016. Notice the size of the pole cacti and the Eve's Needles.
Thumb of 2018-06-06/AgaveGirl1/26217d
This picture was taken 3-25-18. Notice the size of the pole cacti and the Eve's Needles! I tip my hat to you. And they're still growing! (And you can see the changes and additions I've made too. Whistling Hilarious! )
Thumb of 2018-06-06/AgaveGirl1/eaa704

To boldly grow where no man has lawn before.
Name: Agavegirl1
South Sonoran Desert (Zone 9b)
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AgaveGirl1
Jun 6, 2018 10:24 AM CST
So folks, feeling inspired to bust out the shovel and trowels yet? Any small unused nooks and crannies in the yard you're itching to get at now or odd spaces you finally feel like you could fill up? I'm all ears!
To boldly grow where no man has lawn before.
Name: Baja
Baja California (Zone 11b)
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Baja_Costero
Jun 6, 2018 11:14 AM CST

Moderator

Trying to stay on the topic of the original question here, which I think is a good one. It would be great to hear other points of view. My experience is a little different from AG's... I keep all my smaller cacti in containers and have only put the larger ones (trees, prickly pears, bushes) in the ground.

For two reasons... first, the larger ones pretty much demand more space. After too much time in a container without going up a size (and me with a bad back so size is limiting), they start to look sad. It just doesn't work out too well long term. Having the choice to put them in the ground means I usually exercise that option after a while, provided there's a secure spot available.

Second, the smaller, lower cacti tend to get lost in the garden, as other plants around them grow up and out. A space like AG's is really perfect for showcasing the smaller plants without them being at risk of being swallowed up by their bigger neighbors. If I were to put those plants out front at eye level in the public garden, which is the only place around here where they could be similarly enjoyed, several of them would almost certainly walk away in the night.

The trees (like the so-called Peruvian apple tree) can root everywhere and you actually have to pay attention to that when you plant them in the ground, because they can slurp the life out of their neighbors (by using up all the water) if they are installed too close. These sorts of considerations would not be something you might have expected from growing those cacti in containers, where they are usually kept separate.

The landscape cacti are visited fairly often by squirrels and rabbits. Their ability to survive the mammals is also an important consideration when I decide whether to put them in the ground. The garden is safer for the animals (less human and dog presence) and they also have the ability to dig under plants out there to start their attack, and that's where they have the least spines to protect them. The digging is not so much a thing for plants in pots. Gophers are master diggers, obviously inactive in the container garden, and they will go after some agave and cactus roots to the point where the plant has none left. I will use a gopher basket when I install sensitive plants in an area with known gopher activity.

The landscape plants do better with less water, and are also significantly more resistant to insect attacks, presumably due to the presence of predators.

These sorts of considerations were not on my mind when I first started growing succulents in pots.
[Last edited by Baja_Costero - Jun 6, 2018 11:27 AM (+)]
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Name: Agavegirl1
South Sonoran Desert (Zone 9b)
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AgaveGirl1
Jun 6, 2018 12:52 PM CST
Yes. Most excellent points Baja. Thumbs up

I guess when it comes to 'growing cacti/succulents in the ground' one has to think about is it more their personal yard or a park like setting they are planting and what kind of space they have to work with. It is amazing to see the variations in just people's own personal yards in regards to space allotted. I guess I'm fortunate in that I have an area where I can do both. I can showcase small plants in the ground (the bubble bed) in an area that would have otherwise gone unused had I not and the rest of the yard to fill with larger plants that can run amok size wise. I also chose to break it up a bit and mix some pots, both large and small, in. The larger p. pears, pole cacti and huge agave in my yard filling in for the absence of trees and shrubs.

Also what critters live in the area and have access to eating the plants is another consideration. One I don't think about too much I have to confess since I am suburban and in the desert. An odd combination but my neighborhood is part of a very developed subdivision and established town with many busy streets and freeway access. I am more apt to have a stray cat or curious neighbor child in my yard than I am a squirrel or groundhog.

I didn't think about water considerations when I first planted either. I just primarily thought about a plant's ability to withstand the heat and survive my summertime temperatures. I was more concerned with that then I was about watering.

I don't find watering troublesome though. Just hook up the hose or use the spigot to fill up the watering can and do it as needed. It is really my 'therapeutic time' to just be out with the plants and really take a good look at them and assess their progress. I usually don't take the time do that when I'm pulling weeds.


On thing we didn't mention was the pleasure of just 'turning the earth' so to speak with your hands. Of buying a new plant , digging the hole, planting it, watering it and lovingly watching it grow and fill the special spot you selected for it. Lovey dubby I think that may be why I like putting some things in the ground best of all.

To boldly grow where no man has lawn before.
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
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DaisyI
Jun 6, 2018 12:57 PM CST
I too have some of my cactus in ground and some in pots. I divide them by cold hardiness though. The cactus outside are all the natives that will survive temperatures down to less than 0 degrees F. The cactus in my greenhouse are not cold hardy enough to live outside year round, although a lot of the larger ones were planted in ground in California were they survived temperatures down into the low to mid 20's. There is a third set that were never hardy enough for outdoor life; they too are in the greenhouse.

Its hard to take photos in my greenhouse (way too much in the way) but here are a couple shots that show less than half of them:

The big ones below used to live outside.
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Never lived outside, with the exception of the Notocactus closest.
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The succulent and seedling wall.
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Outside
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Closer ups of the same garden. The pink Opuntia in the back is a Beavertail (Opuntia basilaris) is not quite hardy here but it is growing against a really big heatsink. Right in front of it is Opuntia polyacantha in yellow (most of the rest of the Opuntia are a version of polyacantha). The barrels to the left are Echinocereus engelmannii - the Strawberry Hedgehog. Too the right is a orange blooming Claret's Cup (Echinocereus triglochidiatus). There are two small red versions, one is blooming just above the orange one..
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The succulents are Bitterroot (Lewisia cotyledon), native to the mountains of Northern California and Southern Oregon. The pokies in the middle are Maihueniopsis darwinii (formerly Tephrocactus), They are everywhere! Everytime one grows a pad or two, a wind knocks the apart and the pieces root someplace else. The little barrel far left is Echinocactus texensis - the Horse Crippler Cactus. What's interesting about them is that, in their native ranges, you don't know they are even there because they are buried just under the surface of the soil. But, because my garden is a little less harsh, they grow up out of the soil. Its a good thing or my garden would be pretty boring.
Thumb of 2018-06-06/DaisyI/e36d63

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

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Name: Stefan
SE europe(balkans) (Zone 6b)
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skopjecollection
Jun 6, 2018 1:07 PM CST
Nice barrel cacti.
As for the other hardy plants, i have some of them- i like the e.texensis in particular for some reason , bough it bare root, but its recovering slowly. Sown it from seed, successfully. What struck me as surprising about it though, is that most outdoor cacti remain tiny and well camouflaged - but i guess that is the point - the plant needs to blend in with the environment to avoid animals i guess. While growing them in the ground is more natural, it somehow defeats the purpose and makes them less showy.
Interesting input DaisyL. Thank you all. Hurray!
[Last edited by skopjecollection - Jun 6, 2018 1:15 PM (+)]
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Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
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DaisyI
Jun 6, 2018 1:41 PM CST
Echinocactus texensis eventually grow to about 12 inches wide (and 1/2 inch tall). Smiling You will know you found one when you step on it. They are slow growing and touchy.

All the natives blend nicely with their backgrounds and my yard is the same color as the desert - oh wait, it is the desert. Smiling I think part of it is the full sun too. The Opuntia are usually found buried in the sagebrush and they are hard to spot unless they are blooming. There are no Northern Opuntia that grow tall - they are all less than 12 inches or so.

Opuntia, Echinocereus, and Ferocactus are large and showy. No Ferocactus are hardy enough for outside living here but I do have some of the natives in my greenhouse. The Echinocereus, although hardy, do not occur naturally in the high desert - they are southern Nevada and S. California plants, along with the Ferocactus. The most commonly found cactus here (other than Opuntia) are quite small and well hidden: Escobaria, Coryphantha and Gymnocalycium. Luckily, if you step on any of those, their spines are small and soft enough that you won't cause too much damage - to them or to you.

For instance, here are a couple I took last August in Idaho. I dusted them off so I could take a photo:
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And here is where I found them. There were literally 1000's of cactus in this field (several per square foot) and it took us most of the day to notice they were out there.
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Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

President: Orchid Society of Northern Nevada
Webmaster: osnnv.org
Name: Jai or Jack
WV (Zone 6b)
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Jai_Ganesha
Jun 6, 2018 6:59 PM CST
I have lived in places where I could have put some succulents in the ground, but I never did with few exceptions (Opuntias and Delosperma, basically) because all things considered I actually prefer to grow in pots. For me, growing in containers allows me more control over the growth, blooms, reproduction, health, and appearance of individual plants. And I like that.

To be honest, I also grow "normal" things in containers even when I have the space in the ground. I move a lot so that's another incentive. But in many ways I'd prefer tomatoes in a large pot as compared to tomatoes in the ground.
Keep going!
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
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DaisyI
Jun 6, 2018 8:06 PM CST
That says a lot about you Jai - control freak! Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing Sorry!

I am the total opposite. I go with the flow and skip the rest. Smiling
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

President: Orchid Society of Northern Nevada
Webmaster: osnnv.org
Name: Gary Simpson
Cannelton, IN (Zone 6b)
aka; smashedcactus
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simcactus
Jun 6, 2018 8:11 PM CST
I have found that plants grow much faster in the ground than in pots. The ones I plant in the ground have to be dug up in the fall and taken inside. I haven't done this for a few years, but now have more time now that I am retired. I have planted mostly Echinopsis because I can't get them to bloom in pots. One of my Echinopsis (apricot glow) is already getting buds.
Thumb of 2018-06-07/simcactus/de8f67

Name: Baja
Baja California (Zone 11b)
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Baja_Costero
Jun 6, 2018 8:12 PM CST

Moderator

Gary, is your Agave "Blue Glow" still going out in the ground every year?
Name: Gary Simpson
Cannelton, IN (Zone 6b)
aka; smashedcactus
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simcactus
Jun 6, 2018 8:15 PM CST
Baja_Costero said:Gary, is your Agave "Blue Glow" still going out in the ground every year?


I have put it in the ground the last two years. Keep thing it's going to bloom any time.
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
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DaisyI
Jun 6, 2018 8:18 PM CST
simcactus said: The ones I plant in the ground have to be dug up in the fall and taken inside.



How does that even work? I can't imagine digging my cactus up every fall. Then what do you do with them?

I found a little seedling in my cactus garden the other day and thought I would move it while it was still small (it was about an inch tall). It had a root running under the surface of the soil that was about 3 ft long!

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

President: Orchid Society of Northern Nevada
Webmaster: osnnv.org
Name: Gary Simpson
Cannelton, IN (Zone 6b)
aka; smashedcactus
Image
simcactus
Jun 6, 2018 8:19 PM CST
This Euphorbia fire stick is starting to get good color.
Thumb of 2018-06-07/simcactus/0ef4da

Name: Gary Simpson
Cannelton, IN (Zone 6b)
aka; smashedcactus
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simcactus
Jun 6, 2018 8:25 PM CST
Its a lot of work. I put them in pots and store them in my basement. They all fight for light from two windows and a door. Some have to go in another room with very little light. They survive somehow, but have battle scars.
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
Garden Sages Plant Identifier
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DaisyI
Jun 6, 2018 8:38 PM CST
Is it too wet to leave them in the ground?
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

President: Orchid Society of Northern Nevada
Webmaster: osnnv.org
Name: Jai or Jack
WV (Zone 6b)
Om shanti om.
Container Gardener Region: West Virginia Multi-Region Gardener Garden Photography Amaryllis Zinnias
Gardens in Buckets Annuals Houseplants Plant and/or Seed Trader Birds Garden Ideas: Level 1
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Jai_Ganesha
Jun 6, 2018 8:47 PM CST
DaisyI said:That says a lot about you Jai - control freak! Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing Sorry!

I am the total opposite. I go with the flow and skip the rest. Smiling


You are unfortunately absolutely right! lol
Keep going!
Name: Gary Simpson
Cannelton, IN (Zone 6b)
aka; smashedcactus
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simcactus
Jun 6, 2018 8:54 PM CST
DaisyI said:Is it too wet to leave them in the ground?


I have not lost any and have had lots of rain at times. And the temperature gets below 0 deg. Fahrenheit during the winter times.
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
Garden Sages Plant Identifier
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DaisyI
Jun 6, 2018 9:59 PM CST
Because I am in Zone 6b also, I am curious. We do not get a lot of snow or rain. We have had 6 inches of rain since January 1 and that is a record for the 3rd wettest spring EVER. Average annual rainfall is about 8 inches.

Even with all the rain this spring (it all happened in April and May), my cactus look good. I think I may lose one or two in just one section - maybe its wetter there, I don't know. Our 'soil' is granite sand with a heavy influence of alkali. Smiling
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

President: Orchid Society of Northern Nevada
Webmaster: osnnv.org

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