Garden Photo of the Day

Cold Hardy Cactus

Beautiful cactus for cold climates

I’ve had a thing for cactus for a while… they’re so unlike any other plant you can grow in the garden. But since I didn’t live in Arizona, I was pretty limited on which types I could actually grow. For years, I only grew various species of prickly pear (Opuntia spp.) which are pretty and many of them very adaptable to cold climates, but they also have tiny little hairs called glochids that embed themselves in your skin if you touch them. Not my favorite thing in the world.

Which is why I now grow cactus in the genus Echinocereus. Yes, they are spiny, but they don’t have the awful little glochids, but they are both incredibly beautiful AND cold hardy. Many species are native to Zone 5 or even 4. The secret, I found, to keeping them alive, is giving them perfect drainage. Cold winters don’t kill them, but cold WET winters will cause them to rot. I’ve had great luck growing them in raised beds filled with sand and gravel, or just growing them in containers that I move under the eaves of the house (and thus, out of the rain) for the winter.

Claret cup cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus, Zone 5 – 9). My plant of this is still tiny, but someday it is going to look like this incredible specimen from the Denver Botanic Gardens! How incredible are those flowers?

Spiny hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus dasyacanthus, Zone 6 – 9). Not quite as cold hardy as claret cup cactus, but just as beautiful in yellow. This is another favorite of mine.

Lace hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus reichenbachii, Zone 5 – 9). This species has huge magenta flowers that practically glow, they are so bright.

Lace hedgehog cactus is also beautiful out of flower! There is a lot of variation in spine color and shape in the species, and this is a particular nice form with dark spines.

In the winter, cold hardy cactus tend to look a little sad… to avoid damage from the cold, they drain most of the water out of their stems, so they shrivel up and look like wrinkled old sacks. But come spring, they start pumping up again, and go right on growing!


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View Comments


  1. user-1020932 03/30/2018

    So nice! I, too, am a "cactushead" and love them all even Opuntia but they can be aggravating.

  2. User avater
    meander_michaele 03/30/2018

    The interiors of the flowers are particularly many tiny details with architectural interest.

  3. cheryl_c 03/30/2018

    Thank you so much for this post! Especially the last photo - I'd moved a prickly pear to our new rock garden, and it seemed to be doing fine until winter, when it shriveled up - I'm so glad I didn't pull it out ! Now I can wait and watch it plump back up. Love the spiny hedgehog cactuses - I'll need to look for a couple of those now that I know they can survive in our zone.

  4. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 03/30/2018

    I'm a big fan of cold hardy cactus as well. There are so many species that are smaller, but delightful. I am finding that they are slow growers, though. Good things come to those who wait, I guess.

  5. sheila_schultz 03/30/2018

    Early on I planted some Opuntia in my Denver rock garden and I swear, all I had to do was walk by and the prickles would fly off the pads and attack me! I definitely have a love/hate relationship with that group of plants. Like you, I switched over to the genus Echinocereus and my body was very appreciative!

  6. wittyone 03/30/2018

    Oh beautiful. The one with the magenta flower is just gorgeous. A good thing you also sent the pic of the one overwintering------it could easily be interpreted as "dead" and summarily tossed away.

  7. Chris_N 03/30/2018

    I have opuntia but I know the Flower Factory, our local super plant nursery, carries several types of Echinocereus. I'll have to add some.

  8. User avater
    user-7007816 04/01/2018

    I have an Opuntia "Nebraska Orange" that has beautiful orangish flowers, long spines, but few prickles.

  9. LaurelEm 04/04/2018

    Love the cactus that you featured. but you forgot a very northern cactus. Wisconsin's Prickly Pear.
    I have a picture but can't figure out how to attach it. It's a beautiful yellow flower.

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