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Growing Cactus in Nashville

I love growing cacti and would like to find some that I can keep outside year-round in my Nashville, TN garden. Do you have any recommendations for me?

Believe it or not there are quite a few cacti and succulents that are winter hardy in states further north than Tennessee. The key is selecting cold hardy species and creating a garden in a sunny location with exceptionally well-drained soils.

Unlike traditional garden plants cacti and succulents naturally dehydrate in fall to improve winter survival. Poorly drained soils and wet falls not cold winter temperatures usually cause the demise of hardy cacti and succulents.

You may be surprised to find many cacti and succulent gardens and plant societies throughout the Midwest, northern United States and Canada. Check with your Extension service to see if there is one in your area.

In the meantime check out hardy species in the Opuntia (prickly pear), Echniocereus, Pediocactus, Agave and Yucca groups.

You may want to start with one of the prickly pears such as Eastern prickly pear cactus Opuntia compressa that tolerates light shade and is one of the best suited for northern gardens, the small fragile prickly pear Opuntia fragilis with yellow flowers, Opuntia polycanthus x fragilis that is grown in Canada, and tree cholla (Opuntia imbricate) with bluish-green stem segments and red flowers.

Adventuresome gardeners may want to try some of the ball-type cacti that are less tolerant of moisture and humidity. Echinocereus viridiflorus is hardy to minus 13 degrees and Pediocactus simpsonii has good cold hardiness and average moisture tolerance.

And don’t forget about the succulents. Many northern gardeners have had success growing Adam’s needle Yucca filamentosa. Its close relative Yucca glauca has been grown in northern gardens including some in Alberta Canada. Agave utahensis forms a rosette of gray-green leaves about 12 inches long and is hardy to minus 20. 


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