Cactus Gardening in Florida

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It often seems as if people must have something new and different to “brag” about. Cactus gardening has become one of those “gotta-have” activities which have become very popular. Particularly in warm, moist states like Florida cactus gardening and in some cases landscaping, has taken off. The sandy soil, high humidity, and lots of sunshine in Florida make growing cactus an attractive and usually successful idea. As with all plants, however, there are certain kinds of cactus that grow best in specific environments. Florida has its own preferred types. This blog will explore several of the most popular cactus grown in Florida, but a trip to a local plant nursery will fill you in on other varieties of Florida cactus as well.

Christmas cactus—this flat stemmed cactus is usually grown in a container and most often inside or in a screened in patio. Know for it beautiful flowers of pink, white, or salmon; the Christmas cactus is so named because it blooms between November and February, the most blooms usually occurring around Christmas. This cactus needs more moisture and shade than a desert cactus. In fact, it needs cool nights and 13 hours of darkness for it to bloom. Most cactus prefer almost dry soil, but the Christmas cactus likes rich, moist soil.

Prickly Pear cactus—there are nine species of this cactus native to Florida. It has beautiful yellow flowers, but they only bloom one at a time over several weeks. Their fruit which grows at the end of the cactus pads is very sweet and can be eaten right off the plant.

Triangle cactus—only blooms at night with large flowers that attract moths and hummingbirds. This cactus produces an edible fruit that is red in color. As a triangle cactus can tolerate temperatures as low as 20 degrees F, it is a good choice for a North Florida cactus garden.

Night Blooming Cereus—is another interesting cactus that can be grown in Florida.  It has no spines and can grow, vine-like for up to 20 feet. Its large, fragrant flowers bloom for one night.

Cactus are slow growing and can take from five to ten years for cactus to begin having flowers. The fruits of cactus are seed-filled berries formed at the base of the flowers. Most of the cactus species are self-sterile and must be pollinated from a different, individual plant. Bats, birds, bees, beetles, wasps, butterflies, and moths take care of pollinating cactus. If cactus plants are in containers be sure drainage is provided as they do not do well in standing water. In summer a little water is needed when the topsoil is dry but very little water is needed in winter. In fact, it is best to not water in winter until new growth begins in Spring.

Should you be truly serious about starting a cactus garden, it is wise to discuss your plans with a professional landscaper. As with any plant, you must know soil type, moisture needs, sun and shade requirements, and what destructive insects to watch for.