Garden Photo of the Day

Cactus in Upstate New York

These plants aren’t only for deserts

close up of yellow prickly pear cactus flowers

Today we’re visiting with Noah Donovan, who loves growing cacti. We’ve featured plenty of cactus-filled gardens on the GPOD, usually in places like Arizona or California. Noah is unusual in that he has mastered the art of growing these beautiful, living sculptures in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.

prickly pear cactus growing in a rock gardenThe eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa, Zones 4–9) is native to a wide swath of eastern North America and is certainly the easiest to grow in cold, rainy climates that aren’t suitable for many other species of cactus.

close up of yellow prickly pear cactus flowersEastern prickly pear doesn’t just have fascinating, sculptural stems; it is incredibly showy when in full bloom. The flowers don’t last long, but they are beautiful and much loved by bees and other pollinators. The flowers are followed by the fruits that give prickly pears their common name, though this species has smaller, less tasty fruits than some of the western species.

prickly pear cactus dormant in winterThe pads of prickly pears are like water balloons. In the winter, the water they contain could freeze and damage the plants, so eastern prickly pear shrivels and collapses as cold weather approaches.

close up of Escobaria missouriensis cactusEscobaria missouriensis is native to the northern Great Plains and can survive extreme winter cold (hardy into Zone 5 or even 4), though it is particularly sensitive to wet conditions during the winter.

small cactus growing between rocks and leavesEchinocereus viridiflorus v. correllii is another species from farther west that can survive quite a bit of cold but is more sensitive to wet conditions. These are five-year-old plants Noah grew from seed before going into their first winter outside as a test of hardiness.

lots of large cacti growing in a dessertThough you can grow cacti in cold, wet climates, they’ll never be quite as dramatic as this forest of cacti in California.

close up of small cactus seedlingEver seen a cactus seedling? This is Noah’s own hybrid of Opuntia humifusa and Opuntia polyacantha. The seedling looks like any other plant until the bizarre cactus stem emerges from between the cotyledons.

dog laying in front of a pirle of cactus paddlesQuita, Noah’s dog, helps him harvest pads from Opuntia humifusa to pot up for sale.

close up of green cactus shaped like a heartCacti may be prickly on the outside, but if you love them they’ll sometimes send you hearts!

close up of green and red cactus in small potSome of Noah’s cactus collection lives inside, sheltered from the elements, like this Ferocactus grandis.

If you want to see more of Noah’s cacti, check out his instagram: @noahblazedonovan


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  1. User avater
    simplesue 09/13/2022

    Great photos of your cacti, and I never saw a cactus seedling until now!
    Interesting to learn why the Northern Prickly Pear shrivels and collapses....I used to see one my neighbor had to that and I used to think it was a goner...then it would bounce right back and be firm and bloom!
    Oh and such nice look'n can tell he's enjoying the outdoors garden activities with you.

  2. jos29803 09/13/2022

    Noah, I'm with you, Cacti may not have the structural beauty of other plants, but they don't require a lot of work, are intriguing in shape, size and awesome flowers.
    Thanks for sharing.

  3. btucker9675 09/13/2022

    Wonderful and those yellow blooms are spectacular! Quita is quite a handsome gardening companion, too. I think it's amazing that you've accomplished this so far north - it's fascinating.

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