by April Reinhardt
(last updated November 19, 2014)
Cactus is a succulent plant native to the Americas, adapted mostly to hot and arid conditions and environments. Some arid-environment cacti can live up to three years without water, withstanding temperatures as high as 120 degrees. Such cacti grow in deserts and areas of the southwest, and not only thrive with the heat, but could die if subjected to temperatures below an average of 30 degrees.
Conversely, cold-climate cacti thrive in regions that can provide cold winters. If cold-climate cacti winters aren't cold enough, they will die. In order to bloom the following spring, they need to have sustained freezing temperatures over the winter. Although it seems that cold-climate cactus can endure wide temperature swings, one needs to understand that the reason they do is due to the mini-climate in which they live. Since they seek the sheltered environment of rock and crevices, they thrive there even in cold weather because rock retains heat, supplying them the warmth they need to live while enduring cold temperatures.
Cacti that thrive in cool climates may be the varieties that thrive in arid environments, and are not cold-climate cacti. For instance, if you live in the eastern region of the United States and endure harsh winters, your outdoor cactus will freeze and die if planted in a pot. However, if you plant your cactus in the ground in a rock garden, the cactus will not only survive, it will thrive and bloom the following spring. The difference is that you will have created the perfect ecosystem for your cactus in the rock garden, with the perfect mixture of sandy soil, drainage, and heat.
Another way to grow cacti in cool climates is to bring your cacti indoors during winter, particularly if your region or zone endures winters with temperatures below 30 degrees. Keep in mind that any cacti—whether cold-climate species or an arid variety—will die if they freeze. Bring your cacti indoors into a warm climate during the winter and place them on a windowsill in direct sunlight. Keep them away from drafts, such as door entrances to the house, and do not water them nearly as often as when they were outside in the summer.
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