21 Best Cactus Plants to Grow in Your Garden

Cactus garden

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Cactus and succulents are enjoying overwhelming popularity in the garden design world; in fact, their fruits and pads are featured in cocktails, salads, and even jellies. Cactus and succulents can be easily integrated with other drought-tolerant trees, shrubs, perennials, and ornamental grasses for a beautiful and natural-looking garden design. Take a look at 21 of the most attractive and popular cacti that you can work within a landscape design, whether it is a few containers, raised planting beds, or an entire yard.

Warning

Cactus specimens with spines need to be handled carefully—avoid getting stuck by wearing thick gardening gloves.

  • 01 of 21

    Beavertail Cactus (Optunia basilaris)

    Beavertail cactus

    Danita Delimont / Getty Images

    Beavertail is a prickly pear cactus with pads that are mostly blue-green. It grows to about 20 inches high and up to 6 feet wide. Beavertail has dark cherry pink flowers that almost glow and smell like watermelon. It blooms late winter to early summer and is ideal for desert landscaping and drought-tolerant gardens. Beavertail looks great teamed with Angelita daisy and barrel cactus. Potted plants benefit from a diluted cactus fertilizer once a year, but plants in garden settings do not need to be fertilized.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 10
    • Color Varieties: Pink
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained loam or sand
  • 02 of 21

    Blue Flame Cactus (Myrtillocactus geometrizans)

    Myrtillocactus

    Ted / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Blue flame cactus is also known as bilberry cactus, garambullo, or whortleberry. It can grow to 13 feet high and 8 to 12 feet wide. Crested species are usually smaller. In its natural habitat, blue flame forms dense, cactus forests and can reach heights of 30 feet. It is most recognized for its upright candelabra shape, blue-green color, and purple fruit that looks and tastes like a cross between a blueberry and cranberry. Like many cacti, blue flame is stunningly staged with gravel mix and rocks in a container. If you live in a region that can support it in-ground, this cactus can be the focal point of a drought-tolerant cactus or succulent garden.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 9a to 11b
    • Color Varieties: Greenish white with blue berries
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained soil mix with gravel
  • 03 of 21

    Candelabra Cactus (Myrtillocactus cochal)

    Myrtillocactus

    Rob Huntley / Getty Images

    Candelabra cacti can reach about 10 feet tall and wide. Their cup-shaped flowers open during the day and close in the evening; the fruits are edible, although somewhat acidic. In its native habitat, candelabra cacti grow on hillsides, so planting on slopes gives it a natural look. It is also beautiful in xeriscape and rock gardens with other succulents and drought-tolerant plants. Like most cacti, candelabra cactus has good drought resistance, but it likes more water than most and will grow faster if you give it extra irrigation during the hottest part of the summer.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 9b to 11b
    • Color Varieties: Ivory
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Impoverished soil intended for cacti
  • 04 of 21

    Claret Cup Cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus)

    Claret cup cactus

    Richard Cummins / Getty Images

    Claret cup cactus is also called hedgehog, Mojave mound cactus, and kingcup cactus. It has the potential to grow to 3 feet high and up to 6 feet wide. Its fruit is juicy, tastes like strawberries, and turns bright orange as it ripens. In landscaping design, consider planting claret cup cactus with sage, poppies, yucca, penstemon, and native grasses. Claret cup cactus prefers a soil that contains more gravel than traditional cactus/succulent mixes.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Bright red
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Prefer soils of volcanic origins
    Continue to 5 of 21 below.
  • 05 of 21

    Golden Ball Cactus (Parodia leninghausii or Notocactus leninghausii)

    Golden ball cactus

    DEA/G. CIGOLINI / Getty Images

    Golden ball cactus also goes by the name lemon ball cactus or yellow tower. It grows about 3 feet tall. Golden ball forms in clusters and is a smart choice for fire-resistant landscaping. Single specimens are striking in containers. Not to be confused with golden barrel cactus, golden ball starts out globular in shape, then becomes more columnar. It is an excellent choice for beginning cactus gardeners. Golden ball cactus does best if it gets some shade during the hottest hours of the day.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Yellow with spines
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, fast-draining cactus mix
  • 06 of 21

    Golden Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)

    Golden barrel cactus

    David Dixon / Getty Images

    Golden barrel cactus can grow up to 4 feet tall. This iconic round cactus is easily recognizable and probably the most popular type used in drought-tolerant areas. Plant several in a grid for visually striking landscape design in a front or backyard. Younger plants prefer some light shade, but once mature, golden barrel cactus thrives in full sun.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Golden yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs:  Rich, fast-draining cactus mix
  • 07 of 21

    Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus engelmanii)

    Hedgehog cactus

    Joe Sohm / Getty Images

    Strawberry hedgehog cactus can go by many names: strawberry cactus, saint's cactus, purple torch, or Engelmann's hedgehog cactus. Hedgehog cacti are small and have free-branching clusters or mounds of erect stems that are sometimes prostrate. It grows to about 28 inches tall. All Echinocereus have ornamental spines that densely cover the surfaces of the plants and are especially sharp. It looks attractive in rock and drought-tolerant gardens with other succulents and wildflowers. Outdoors, strawberry hedgehog cactus tolerates light shade, but if you grow it indoors as a container plant, give it the sunniest spot you can find.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Purple-magenta
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs:  Typical fast-draining cactus mix
  • 08 of 21

    Mexican Fence Post Cactus (Pachycereus marginatus, sometimes sold as Stenocereus marginatus)

    Mexican fence post cactus

    Carol Sharp / Getty Images

    Mexican fence post cactus can grow up to 16 feet high. Individual stems are 3 to 8 inches in diameter. Its blooms appear in mid-to-late spring and are evident along the cactus' ribs near the growing tip and down its sides. Pachycereus marginatus responds well to frequent watering when it is hot outside. During frost, protect the plant by placing Styrofoam cups or burlap over growing tips.

    This showy columnar cactus has upright growth that is actually used as a living fence in Mexico and other regions where it grows well. Plant it near a brightly colored wall for a dramatic effect or in containers with native flowers. If you have ever visited the home of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Mexico City, you might recognize these cacti as the same type that border their property.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 9b to 11b
    • Color Varieties: Reddish pink
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs:  Well-draining soil
    Continue to 9 of 21 below.
  • 09 of 21

    Mammillaria Polyedra

    Mammillaria cactus

    Amante Darmanin / Flickr / CC By 2.0

    Most of the 300 species of Mammillarias are native to Mexico, with the others native to southwestern United States, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. Mammillaria polyedra grows up to 12 inches tall and 5 inches wide with 1-inch blooms. Mammillaria polyedra starts out as an individual plant, then eventually forms dense clusters. Pair them with other taller cacti, succulents, native grasses, native shrubs, and flowers. Unlike most cacti, mammillaria doesn't like more than about 4 hours of direct sun each day; bright, indirect light is best.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 10
    • Color Varieties: White or red
    • Sun Exposure: Strong indirect sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, fast-draining cactus mix
  • 10 of 21

    Old Man Cactus (Cephalocereus senilis)

    Old man cactus

    Irina Marwan / Getty Images

    Old man cactus is also called the old man of Mexico or Cousin It—a reference to a character in The Addams Family television show. One of the most popular cacti, this genus can be identified by tall, columnar or branching growth and is often covered by long, woolly hair. Species propagate easily from seed or cuttings. Some collectors wash the "hair" of this species to keep it white. Old man cactus can reach heights of up to 49 feet, and its side stems produce blooms at night in mid-spring after it reaches heights of 20 feet or more. In drought-tolerant gardens, the "old man" looks good in clusters or when planted on either side of an entryway.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 10
    • Color Varieties: Yellowish-pink
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Cactus mix
  • 11 of 21

    Orchid Cactus (Epiphyllum hybrids or Phyllocactus)

    Orchid cactus

     

    Vronja_Photon / Getty Images

    In their native habitats of the tropical Americas, orchid cacti can grow as long as 225 feet. Unless you live in a tropical climate, however, you do not have to worry about this plant growing to epic proportions. The flowers of this cactus are admired for their stunning 4-inch blooms and are primarily grown in hanging baskets. Try hanging orchid cacti from branches of large trees; they will benefit from the fresh air and light.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 10 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Pinks, reds, whites, yellows, oranges, and shades in between
    • Sun Exposure: Filtered sunlight
    • Soil Needs: Standard potting soil amended with peat and sand
  • 12 of 21

    Organ Pipe Cactus (Lemaireocereus thurberi)

    organ pipe cactus

    Joerg Fockenberg / Getty Images

    Organ pipe cactus is also known as pitayo dulce or Arizona organ pipe. Besides looking like old-fashioned organ pipes, the stems of this cactus resemble sausage links. These tall, columnar plants branch slightly above-ground into several ribbed stems. Native to the Sanora desert regions of North America, these plants require sun and minimum winter temperatures above 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Organ pipe cactus can reach up to 30 feet high with clumps as wide, although they tend to be smaller in most gardens. Its flowers bloom in the evening and close at dawn during the spring. Organ pipe cactus makes an attractive statement in a courtyard patio garden and can also be used in raised planters or as hedges.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11
    • Color Varieties: White, pink, and purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, gritty soils
    Continue to 13 of 21 below.
  • 13 of 21

    Peanut Cactus (Chamaecereus silvestrii or Echinopsis chamaecereus)

    Peanut cactus

    Peter Anderson / Getty Images

    Peanut cactus is a low-growing, cylindrical cactus that reaches about 1 foot in height. Its vase-shaped blooms appear in the spring through early summer. Peanut cactus prefers shallow containers and grows well in rock gardens and xeriscapes. Offsets (pups) drop off and are easy to propagate.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 10 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Bright red
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun (partial shade in extreme heat)
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, gritty soils
  • 14 of 21

    Prickly Pear Cactus (Optunia ficus Indica)

    Prickly pear cactus

    Christer Fredriksson / Getty Images

    Prickly pear cactus also may be known as barbary fig, mission cactus, or tuna cactus. Its flowers are about 4 inches in size, and the cactus is easily identifiable by its fruits, also known as tunas, which are red or yellow and highly decorative. It can grow to 15 feet tall and up to 6 feet wide. While it is a given that prickly pears are at home in drought-tolerant and desert gardens, think about adding them to meadow or prairie-themed gardens. Companion plants include blue grama and side-oats grama grasses. When grown outdoors, prickly pear cactus does not require any fertilizing.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained sandy or gravely mix
  • 15 of 21

    Rat Tail Cactus (Aporocactus flagelliformis or Disocactus flagelliformis)

    Golden rat tail cactus

    Simon McGill / Getty Images

    Rat tail cactus typically grows 3 to 5 feet long. It produces beautiful tubular flowers in the spring. It is best grown as a hanging plant and likes afternoon shade. Consider displaying rat tail cactus on a porch, covered patio, or tree branch. It is quite easy to keep rat tail cactus as a potted plant in colder climates, moving it indoors for the colder months.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 10a to 11
    • Color Varieties: Bright pink to red
    • Sun Exposure: Bright direct sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich potting soil
  • 16 of 21

    Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea)

    Saguaro cactus


    Diana Robinson Photography / Getty Images

    Columnar saguaro plants, also called sahuaro, giant cactus, and sage of the desert, are usually found in Sonora, Mexico, the central/southern Arizona desert, and parts of California. Tall and branching, it is one of the most iconic cacti in the world. Unfortunately, saguaro is one of the least cold-tolerant cacti. Carnegiea is named after American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. It is a slow grower that may take more than 100 years to reach its full, treelike height of 30 to 52 feet.

    If planted near desert trees like mesquite and palo verde, saguaros will be protected from heat and frost. In a landscape, they are attractive when grouped with golden barrels, prickly pears, and drought-tolerant shrubs, such as chuparosa and Baja fairy duster.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 8a to 11b
    • Color Varieties: Creamy white
    • Sun Exposure: Bright direct sun
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained grit
    Continue to 17 of 21 below.
  • 17 of 21

    Silver Torch Cactus (Cleistocactus strausii)

    Silver torch cactus

    Harvey Barrison / Flickr / CC by 2.0

    Silver torch cactus grow to be slender columns up to 8 feet tall with blooms that are 3 inches long, tubular, and protrude from columns horizontally. Columns form clusters, and the plant likes full sun and well-draining soil. For a stunning display, mix these light grey-green cacti with succulents and drought-tolerant plants that are lime, chartreuse, dark green, and plum.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Rose or burgundy
    • Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun
    • Soil Needs: Soil amended with sand
  • 18 of 21

    Star Cactus (Astrophytum ornatum)

    Star cactus astrophytum

    DEA / Getty Images

    Star cactus may also go by the name monk's hood. They can grow to 12 to 39 inches tall and 6 to 12 wide. It is the tallest cactus in the genus Astrophytum. Monk's hood is identifiable by its five to eight ribs that often twist into spirals. Star cactus has striking yellow-brown spines, a green body, and shiny yellow flowers that form at the center. Its fruit forms a star pattern. In warm regions, plant it in the ground massed in groups near large rocks. If space is limited, cluster the cacti in a low, wide container.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Yellow with orange centers
    • Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun
    • Soil Needs: Sandy composite soil mix
  • 19 of 21

    Totem Pole Cactus (Lophocereus schotti forma monstrosus or Pachycereus schotti)

    Totem pole cactus

     Josh More / Flickr / CC By 2.0

    Totem pole cactus is notable for its knobby shape that can be sculptural in the right garden setting. Unlike most columnar cactus, totem pole has neither spines nor ribs. Planted in the ground, it can reach a height of 10 feet and 3 to 6 feet wide. It is usually smaller if it is grown in containers. Consider using this cactus as a statement piece or a bold accent in the ground or a large container. When grown in containers, it works best in unglazed pots, which allow excess moisture to evaporate. Totem pole cactus also works well in drought-tolerant or desert landscaping.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Pale pink
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Cactus and succulent soil mixture
  • 20 of 21

    Turk's Cap Cactus (Melocactus matanzanus)

    Turk's cap cactus

    Josh Noseworthy / Flickr / CC by 2.0

    Turk's cap cactus grows up to 3.5 inches tall and 3.5 inches in diameter. Explorer Christopher Columbus reportedly discovered Melocactus on a West Indies island and brought it and other cacti to Europe. For a cactus, Turk's cap is slightly more high maintenance than most and should not be allowed to dry out. Since it grows on rocky hillsides in its native habitat, turk's cap cactus will grow well both on slopes and in rock gardens, as well as in xeriscapes with native shrubs, perennials, and wildflowers.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 10a to 11
    • Color Varieties: Bright pink with fur
    • Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun
    • Soil Needs: Cactus and succulent soil mixture
    Continue to 21 of 21 below.
  • 21 of 21

    Teddy Bear Cholla Cactus (Cylindropuntia bigelovii or Optunia bigelovii)

    Teddy bear cholla

    Paul McCormick / Getty Images

    Teddy bear cholla cactus is a tree-like cactus with golden spines that glow in the sunlight. The spines that are dense and appear "furry," like a teddy bear, but refrain from touching or hugging these plants, as their spines are hooked. It grows to about 6 feet tall and up to 4 feet wide. Plant it in a natural setting with gravel, large rocks, and wildflowers like poppies and lupine, along with desert shrubs and perennials such as globemallow and brittlebush.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Yellowish green
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Dry soil

Tip

Consult nurseries and horticulture or cactus societies in your area for additional growing tips that apply to your particular region.