In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
January, 2011
Regional Report

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Barrel cacti fruits add sunny yellow to winter landscapes.

Jazz Up Winter's Front Yard with Cacti

Walking my neighborhood this week, I've noticed very little color in front yards. Bougainvilleas, which typically provide tropical splashes of fuchsia, magenta, and orange through much of the year, were hard hit by frost a few weeks ago. Their predominant coloration is currently black! Citrus trees caught my eye, with branches full of bright orange and yellow globes. However, in my neighborhood most citrus peek over backyard fences. How can we jazz up low-maintenance front yards in winter? By looking to native cacti!

Barrel Cacti
These desert dwellers are capped off with a jaunty ring of sunny yellow fruits shaped like mini pineapples. Fruits last for many months in winter. Of course, watch out for wicked thorns, and site them away from sidewalks and driveways. Otherwise, barrel cacti are great for low-maintenance yards and once established, will survive on rainwater. If rain is sparse, it's helpful to give them a deep soaking once a month in summer. Don't overwater in winter, which promotes root rot. In late spring/early summer, they'll surprise you with a crown of yellow or orange flowers. Compass barrel (Ferocactus cylindraceus) is native to the Sonoran and Mojave deserts. It takes full sun, reflected heat, and is cold hardy to 10 degrees F. Other barrels to look for includeF. acanthodes, F. herrerae and F. wislizenii.

Golden Barrel Cacti
Golden spines provide a focal point of color year around, even when this cactus is not blooming or fruiting. In fact, golden barrel flowers and fruits aren't nearly as showy as the spines. Native to southern Mexico, Echinocactus grusonii is not quite as cold tolerant as the above-mentioned barrels. It takes a drop to 18 degrees F, and also performs well in partial sun conditions with protection from hot afternoon sun in summer. This one really looks best in groups or mass plantings. Buy smaller containers to save your wallet, and plant them with room to spread to full size, which averages about 1.5 to 2 feet in diameter. Site where the low angle of morning or afternoon sun backlights the spines to create a shimmering effect.

Purple-hued Cacti
Some prickly pear cacti pads turn intense shades of violet or purple when temperatures drop. Purple prickly pear (Opuntia santa-rita) will reliably turn color. Native to the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, it takes full sun, reflected heat, and is hardy to 10 degrees F.


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