Learn about the origins of cacti and how to care for them.

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There are at least a half dozen Opuntias in bud or bloom now. The flowers are beautiful in shades of red, orange, yellow, salmon, purple and other color variations. The plants are wicked! Some have spines that are tiny and float in the air when the plant is bumped, such as Opuntia microdasys. Cholla cactus which looks like Opuntia, with 1" to 2" spines, was included in the genus Opuntia, but has been reclassified as a separate genus, Cylindropuntia. The spines continue to be barbed and vicious, even though they're not still, technically, "Opuntia."

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Many people ask me, what is the difference between a cactus and a succulent? All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. Cacti are new world plants, meaning they all originated in the Americas. I know there are some beautiful cactus gardens in North Africa and around the Mediterranean, but the fact is all of the cacti originated in the Americas. To keep this simple, let's just say that most cacti have spines and there are 1,000's of varieties. When working with cacti as opposed to most other succulents, know that cacti use less water than other succulents and require better drainage and aeration in the soil they are grown in. to accomplish this, double the amount of amendment added to the soil compared to what you would do with other succulents. If you're landscaping in the ground, in areas where there is 20 or more inches of rain per year, you will be more successful by creating a raised bed in which to plant the cacti.

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