What is the best cactus for outdoor pots? Which cacti will thrive and add texture and color to your garden and deal well with the constraints of a pot.
Why would you choose to put your plants in a pot rather than plant in the ground? Well, you may be renting your home and want to be able to take your beloved plants when you move on. You may not have a suitable outdoor space for plants or you may want to liven up a balcony or patio area.
Whatever your reasons, we’ve compiled a list of the best cactus for outdoor pots. We’ve looked at cacti that won’t get so large that you can’t lift the pot to move it or repot the plant.
Of course, there are plenty of cacti that grow very tall and large, and they can survive in a pot just as long as you don’t want to be able to move them easily! Plus, there are many other succulent species that thrive in pots outside, but this article is just looking at the best cacti for outdoor pots.
How Do I Choose The Best Cactus For My Outdoor Area
When it comes to choosing the best cactus for outdoor pots, there are a few things you need to take into account.
The first is the climate in your area. Do you have searingly hot summers or frosty winters? You need to choose a cactus that can handle the temperatures it will need to endure.
Sun and Shade
It’s important to take into account the amount of sun your outdoor area gets. Some cacti do better in full sun, while others prefer partial shade. Does the area get morning sun, afternoon sun or full sun all day?
Spikes and Thorns
Will your cactus be placed in a spot that will have people, and pets, brushing past it regularly? Or will it be in a corner out of the way? If your cactus is destined for a high-traffic area, look for a cactus with soft or no spines.
If you have pets, you’ll want to ensure your plants are not toxic to cats, dogs or other pets. You’ll find a full list of plants, not just succulents and cacti, that are toxic and non-toxic for cats and plants toxic and non-toxic to dogs on The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) website. Pets are probably not too fond of spikes and thorns, either.
What Is The Best Type Of Pot For Outdoor Cacti?
Cacti come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s important to pick a pot that is the right size for your plant. Or, if you have a pot in mind already, find a plant that is the right size for that pot.
Cacti have shallow roots that generally grow wide instead of deep.
If you are planting a cactus that won’t grow too tall, look for a shallow pot approximately 4 – 6 inches (10 – 15 cm) deep. You want to make sure you are using a pot that is wide enough to accommodate the roots as they spread out.
However, if you plan on potting a cactus that will grow very tall or big, you will need a large and heavy pot to stabilise the plant and not topple over as the plant grows and gets heavier.
Cacti also require pots with excellent drainage. Use a pot with at least one hole on the bottom. If the pot you want to use to match your decor doesn’t have drainage holes, consider placing your plant in a smaller inner container and then putting that inside your decorative pot. The outer container will hide the inner container.
Pots made of breathable materials that allow moisture to evaporate are best, such as terracotta and unglazed ceramic pots. Metal pots can leach minerals into the soil and upset the pH balance of the soil. Plastic pots don’t allow for moisture to escape from the side, but they are light and cheap and a good backup option.
With those factors in mind, let’s look at our favorites and some of the best cacti for outdoor pots.
Turk’s Cap Cactus – Melocactus
The Turk’s cap cactus is a small, spiny cactus native to Cuba and Southern Mexico. It has a unique shape that makes it a popular choice as a potted plant.
It is also known as Melon Cactus and Pope’s Head Cactus.
Melocactus, and the common names, including Turk’s Cap Cactus, cover a variety of sub-species.
The picture above is Melocactus Matanzanus.
The Turk’s cap cactus can grow up to 4 inches (10 cm) tall and wide. As it matures, it develops a cephalium, which is the reddish-brown bristle ‘cap’ at the top of the plant.
Melocactus are notoriously difficult to get to flower, but if it should bloom, small pink or red flowers will grow from the crown.
This cactus is drought-tolerant and does not need much water once established. It prefers full sun but can tolerate some shade.
The Turk’s cap cactus is not frost-hardy, so it should be brought indoors or protected during the winter months in cold climates.
The Turk’s cap cactus is a low-maintenance plant that is easy to care for.
This cactus is susceptible to mealy bugs so it is important to keep an eye out for these pests. It can also suffer from root rot. Make sure you allow the soil to dry out completely between waterings.
Fairy Castle Cactus – Cereus Tetragonus
Fairy Castle Cactus is a striking cactus with stem formations that look like miniature castles.
Native to Mexico, its scientific name is Cereus tetragonus.
Fairy Castle Cactus grows in arid regions, requiring very little water to survive. It is easy to care for and can thrive indoors or outdoors. Although they can grow quite tall (up to 6 ft or 1.8m), they are very slow growing.
It grows happily in full sun but can also tolerate partial shade. It prefers well-drained soil and should be watered only when the soil becomes completely dry.
Bunny Ear Cactus – Opuntia Microdasys
The Opuntia family are often known as the Prickly Pear cactus. However, there are more than 180 varieties of this species that are native to America, Canada, South America and the West Indies. Prickly pears are a diverse group of cacti with flat, paddle-like stems. They come in various colors and sizes, and many produce vibrant flowers. They are generally low-maintenance and can handle outdoor conditions well.
Opuntia Microdyasus, Bunny Ears Cactus is also known as Angel Wing’s or Polka Dot Cactus.
It is relatively small for an opuntia, growing up to 3 ft (1m) tall. It has flattened, oval-shaped pads that are green in color and covered in white spines. The fuzzy white spines and shape of the pads gives rise to its common name of Bunny Ears cactus.
It needs a sunny spot, preferring full sun, and needs well-draining soil. It is drought-tolerant and should only be watered once the soil is completely dry. Bunny Ears is susceptible to root rot when over-watered.
Take care of the spines; they can be nasty and cause skin irritation.
There is a less spiky opuntia. The Opuntia Burbank Spineless, or Mickey Mouse cactus, has very few spines making it a popular choice for outdoor patios and balconies. It is, however, quite expensive in comparison to more common varieties.
Old Lady Cactus – Mammillaria Hahniana
Mammillaria Hahniana, known as Old Lady Cactus, has clusters of white spines on a barrel-shaped stem that becomes more column shaped as it grows. The fuzzy white spines are said to resemble the white hair of an old lady (perhaps if you squint…!).
In the right conditions, it produces lovely pink or white flowers in spring or summer in a crown pattern at the top of the plant.
The photo above is of a newly purchased plant, and it’s only quite small. They can grow up to 10 inches (25 cm) tall and can be up to two times wider than they are tall.
It requires bright, indirect sunlight and well-draining soil to prevent waterlogged roots. It is a drought-tolerant cactus and should be watered sparingly, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings.
Avoid contact with the spines, which can cause irritation.
If you prefer a taller cactus, look at Cephalocereus Senilis – Old Man Cactus. This slow-growing cactus can reach up to 40 feet (12 meters) tall in its natural habitat, but is more typically seen between 25 and 30 feet (7-9 meters) tall in cultivation. Native to Mexico, where it grows in arid desert regions. It has long, thin stems that are covered in heavy, white wool, which hides some sharp yellow spines.
The similar-looking Oreocerus celsianus – Old Man of the Andes (pictured below) – grows up to 7 feet (2m) tall. Native to the mountainous regions of Bolivia and Argentina, it prefers less intense heat but still prefers plenty of bright sunlight.
Peanut Cactus – Echinopsis Chamaecereus
Echinopsis chamaecereus, commonly known as the Peanut Cactus, is a popular flowering cactus with elongated, cylindrical stems which can reach up to 6 inches (15cm) in length.
The green stems are covered in spines. It blooms with vibrant red or orange daisy-like flowers in late spring.
Peanut cactus does best in a hanging basket, where the stems can branch freely. It prefers plenty of bright sunlight and well-draining soil. Water only when the soil is completely dry.
Fishbone Cactus – Epiphyllum Anguliger
The fishbone cactus is an excellent choice for outdoor pots. It has flat stems that are dark green with wavy edges. The name, Fishbone Cactus, comes from the resemblance of the leaves to the bones of a fish skeleton. It’s also known as the Zigzag cactus.
Fishbone cacti are epiphytic cacti, meaning they naturally grow on other plants or trees in their native tropical rainforest habitats. It prefers bright indirect light or partial shade and can tolerate some humidity.
Best of all, it does not have spines!
Can Potted Cactus Stay Outside In Winter?
As winter approaches, you may wonder if your potted cactus can stay outside. After all, most cacti are desert plants and thrive in hot, dry conditions.
Some cacti, such as opuntia varieties, are cold-hardy, but most cacti are not frost-tolerant and will need to be brought inside or protected from the cold if temperatures are likely to dip towards freezing. Additionally, some pots, terracotta, for instance, can be prone to cracking in freezing temperatures. Consider using insulated pots or wrapping the pots with insulating materials to provide an extra layer of protection.
However, your potted cacti can stay outside year-round if you live in a region with mild winters or a climate that rarely experiences freezing temperatures.
Here are a few tips for keeping your potted cactus happy and healthy during the winter months:
Bring it inside: If the temperature in your area is forecast to dip below freezing, it’s best to bring your cactus inside. Place it in a sunny spot, such as a sun-facing windowsill.
Protect it from the wind: Wind can damage cacti, causing them to lose water and become stressed. If you can’t bring your cactus inside, place it in a protected spot, such as against a sun-facing wall or under a tree.
Water it less: Cacti don’t need much water to survive, so cut back on watering during the winter months. Only water when the soil is completely dry.
Fertilize it sparingly: If you fertilize your cactus, do so sparingly during the winter months. Too much fertilizer can burn the roots and damage the plant.
Do You Water Cactus From The Top Or Bottom?
When it comes to watering cacti, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The best method for watering your cactus will depend on the type of cactus you have, the size and shape of your pot, and the climate you live in.
If you’re not sure how often to water your cactus, start by checking the soil every few days. If the top couple of inches or so of soil is dry, it’s time to water.
When watering your cactus, be sure to use room-temperature water. Cold water can shock your plant.
To water a cactus from the top, pour water onto the soil around the base of the plant. Allow the water to seep in and then drain off any excess.
To water a cactus from the bottom, place the pot in a sink or basin filled with room-temperature water. Allow the plant to soak for 10-15 minutes, then remove it from the water and allow any excess to drain off.
Whichever method you choose, be sure not to over-water your cactus. Too much water can lead to root rot, which can be deadly to your plant.
If you’re unsure whether or not you’re watering your cactus too much, it’s best to err on the side of caution and water less often.
Overall, cactus are a great option for outdoor pots. They are low maintenance, drought tolerant, and can add a beautiful touch to your garden or patio.
There is a wide variety of outdoor cacti to choose from. We’ve featured a few of our favorites above, but there are many, many more.
When choosing cacti for outdoor pots, consider the available space, light conditions, and maintenance needs. Remember to provide well-draining soil, adequate sunlight, and occasional watering to keep your cacti healthy and thriving.