The lone voice of horticultural reason

 “You can’t grow cactus in Northern Zones”

Flattened by snow, this Arizona cactus will regain some upward form and even bloom in this zone 4 Minnesota yard.

It was the damndest thing. I’m in this woman’s yard in South Minneapolis last spring, working on a bid for some landscape renovation, and as we trample around her back yard, she says, “Oh, I wanted to ask you about my cactus.”

She takes me over to a weedy patch by her detached garage, and there it is. And here’s the story! A friend dug it out of the desert near Phoenix, Arizona and brought it to her five years ago when he drove up to see relatives. She plants it in her yard, in a sunny spot. And five years later, not only has it survived, it’s grown to four times the original size. It also blooms once in awhile.

Spring growth!

What kind of cactus is it, she asks. How in hell should I know, I reply. So I did a little research, and maybe I’m the last one to know, but it appears that northern gardeners can indeed add real cactus genera and varieties to our landscapes!

This specimen is probably of the genus Opuntia, and it’s about the coolest thing in the world that a plant dug from zone 9, Arizona, is reliably hardy in zone 4. (And yes, the thought has crossed my mind, let’s be sure we’re not dealing with invasive issues down the road.)

Then I realized that I HAVE planted cacti in northern landscapes, Yucca filementosa ‘Color Guard’, a striking perennial hardy to zone 4 and classified, if I’m not mistaken, as a cactus.

Anyway, further research led me to Kelly Grummons of Colorado, and his intriquing site, Check it out!

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener