Minature Chin Cactus (Gymnocalycium bruchii)Minature Chin Cactus (Gymnocalycium bruchii)
Minature Chin Cactus (Gymnocalycium bruchii)

Gardening With Cold Hardy Succulents

By David Salman, High Country Gardens Chief Horticulturist

Fantastic Low Water Plants for Fabulous Flowers and Form

Many gardeners don't realize that there are cold hardy cacti and succulents--plants that can grow outdoors even in sub-zero winter climates. These types of plants, when grown in the ground, do best in areas of the Western US and western Great Plains that get no more than 18 to 20 inches of annual precipitation. If you want to enjoy them in higher rainfall regions, these waterwise plants need to be grown in some type of pot or container with a fast draining soil mix.

Ocatillo

Ocatillo (Fouquieria splendens) is a keystone native shrub/small tree to both the warm winter Sonoran desert and the cold winter Chihuahuan desert. High Country Gardens is offering 5-year-old plants grown from seed collected in southern New Mexico (the cold, northern part of the Chihuahuan desert). Cold hardy to zone 7, this amazing species should be planted in the hottest, full-sun space in your landscape. The stems are very spiny and eventually reach over the roof of a one-story house. The brilliant scarlet flowers are an essential nectar source for hummingbirds and appear sporadically most any time of the growing season, depending when the rains materialize in winter, spring and summer. When conditions are extremely dry, the plant loses its leaves only to re-grow them after a couple of generous rains.

Rainbow Hedgehog Cactus

Rainbow Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus dasycanthus) is a barrel type that is usually unbranched and grows as a single stem that will often bend in interesting directions as it reaches mature height. The huge flowers are some of the most impressive in the genus Echinocereus and are usually yellow in color. But the species is variable with local populations in west Texas and southern New Mexico having pink, red and bicolor combinations. This species likes growing conditions that are hotter and drier than other cold hardy types. Rainbow Hedgehog Cactus shouldn’t be planted in areas that get more than 12-15 inches of annual precipitation if grown in the soil.

Minature Chin CactusMinature Chin Cactus
Minature Chin Cactus

Minature Chin Cactus

Miniature Chin Cactus (Gymnocalycium bruchii) is a very small growing species from the mountains of Argentina. High Country Gardens offers is a selected form that is highly clustering, growing dozens of small grey stems. The flowers are large, relative to the size of the stems and are light pink in color. Plant it a cooler spot in the rock garden where it will receive afternoon shade. This plant will not be happy in hot sunny conditions.

Cold Hardy Cacti

Cacti are native to the Western hemisphere. There are cold hardy species from many locations in North American and the mountains of South America. Many species have especially showy flowers and are excellent companion plants for many smaller growing xeric native perennials and ornamental grasses.

Native Cold Hardy Succulents

Century Plants (Agave), Yucca, and Ocatillo (Fouquieria) are some of most impressive cold hardy succulents. They range in size from small, almost miniature Agave to towering tree Yuccas that are the giants of the desert flora. The geometry of the foliage and the sculptural aspect of their shapes make them a fantastic addition to the xeric landscape.

Most yucca are not very sensitive to being grown in most types of soil (with the exception of heavy clay) and don't typically require the addition of sand and aggregate to their planting area.

fouquieria splendens whole plant in desert fouquieria splendens whole plant in desert
Ocatillo (Fouquieria splendens)
Rainbow Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus dasycanthus) in a containerRainbow Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus dasycanthus) in a container
Rainbow Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus dasycanthus)

Old World Succulents (From South Africa, Europe or Asia)

There are many outstanding South African succulents, commonly referred to as Mesembs or living stones. Aloinopsis, Delosperma, Rabiea, Stomacium and Cotyledon are some of the best known genera and come from the cold, higher elevation deserts and mountain ranges of the Western Cape and Drakensberg region.

Even in arid climates of the US, they are most easily grown in rock gardens or as container plants. These fascinating succulents typically have huge roots that reach deep into the soil and are sensitive to wet soil over the winter months. In either use, rock garden or container, these plants put on a memorable flower show in early, mid- and late spring depending on the species used. In containers, their small size allows them to be grouped together in interesting combinations to provide a wide range of foliage types and flower colors.

Learn more in our guide to Planting Cold Hardy Cacti

Key factors to help you grow these cacti and succulents successfully in a xeric garden

  1. Choose from the HCG cactus offerings as all of them are at least zone 7 cold hardy. Check individual species for their cold hardiness zone.
  2. Plant in the spring. Cacti need to be in active growth to grow new roots. Late spring and summer, when the weather is warmest, is their most active season of growth.
  3. Transplanting them bare root. Cacti and succulents do best when planted bare root. Remove the plant from its container, shake of the soil from the roots and spread them as you cover the roots. Be sure soil doesn’t go above the crown. We recommend watching our Planting Cactus video to learn how.
  4. Mulch with crushed gravel to protect the plants from splashing soil (a significant problem in moister climates) and provide the roots with a more protected environment to become established. A mulch depth of 1 inch is recommended.
  5. Cacti and succulents require a fast-draining soil in ground beds and containers. If your native soil is not sandy or rocky, then it will be necessary to improve the soil's drainage. A berm (low mound) or a wide 1 ft. deep bed can be created with a mix of 2 parts native soil to 1 part coarse sand and 1 part small gravel, porous red or black volcanic scoria (common in many western states) or expanded shale aggregate. This is the same recipe for filling frost resistant pots and containers in which to grow these moisture sensitive plants.
  6. Protecting them from excessive winter moister. In moister climates (more than 18 to 20 inches of annual precipitation), move the potted plants under the overhang of the roof on the south or west side of the house or outbuilding to keep the soil dry from rain and snow.
aloinopsis spathulata tap rootsaloinopsis spathulata tap roots
Most cacti prefer to be transplanted as a bare-root, giving them the best chance of success when replanted.

Explore High Country Gardens Succulents & Cacti

  1. Granita ® Raspberry Ice Plant, Delosperma Granita Raspberry flowers close up

    Granita Raspberry Ice Plant (Delosperma Granita Raspberry) is a hybrid Ice Plant that blooms in late spring with stunning raspberry-red flowers. The plant is very cold hardy with eve...

    Learn More
    Granita® Raspberry Ice Plant Granita® Raspberry Ice Plant Delosperma Granita® Raspberry
    As low as $8.99 Sale $7.64
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    Granita Raspberry Ice Plant (Delosperma Granita Raspberry) is a hybrid Ice Plant that blooms in late spring with stunning raspberry-red flowers. The plant is very cold hardy with evergreen stems and foliage.
  2.  Delosperma Alan's Apricot, Alan's Apricot Ice Plant

    The softly shaded apricot and yellow tints of the large flowers of Alan's Apricot Ice Plant are a delight and keep the plant in color from late spring into late summer. Delosperma ...

    Learn More
    Alan's Apricot Ice Plant Alan's Apricot Ice Plant Delosperma Alan's Apricot PPAF
    As low as $7.99 Sale $7.19
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    The softly shaded apricot and yellow tints of the large flowers of Alan's Apricot Ice Plant are a delight and keep the plant in color from late spring into late summer. Delosperma ‘Alan’s Apricot’ is a cold hardy ice plant 2016 Plant Select® Winner. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric). 2" tall x 15" wide.
  3. Delosperma Lavender Ice

    'Lavender Ice' Ice Plant has large, gorgeous lavender-pink flowers and a tidy mat of evergreen foliage that turns purplish in winter. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric)...

    Learn More
    Lavender Ice Ice Plant Lavender Ice Ice Plant Delosperma Lavender Ice
    As low as $7.99
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    'Lavender Ice' Ice Plant has large, gorgeous lavender-pink flowers and a tidy mat of evergreen foliage that turns purplish in winter. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric)..
  4. Delosperma dyeri  Red Mountain Flame	, Red Mountain Flame Cold Hardy Ice Plant

    Delosperma Red Mountain® Flame is a tough, vigorous cold hardy Ice Plant with large blazing orange-red flowers in late spring and early summer. Delosperma Red Mountain Flame Ice ...

    Learn More
    Red Mountain® Flame Ice Plant Red Mountain® Flame Hardy Ice Plant Delosperma x PWWG02S
    As low as $8.99
    Delosperma Red Mountain® Flame is a tough, vigorous cold hardy Ice Plant with large blazing orange-red flowers in late spring and early summer. Delosperma Red Mountain Flame Ice Plant is a Plant Select award winner. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).