Today we’re visiting with Noah Donovan, who loves growing cacti. We’ve featured plenty of cactus-filled gardens on the GPOD, usually in places like Arizona or California. Noah is unusual in that he has mastered the art of growing these beautiful, living sculptures in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.
The eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa, Zones 4–9) is native to a wide swath of eastern North America and is certainly the easiest to grow in cold, rainy climates that aren’t suitable for many other species of cactus.
Eastern prickly pear doesn’t just have fascinating, sculptural stems; it is incredibly showy when in full bloom. The flowers don’t last long, but they are beautiful and much loved by bees and other pollinators. The flowers are followed by the fruits that give prickly pears their common name, though this species has smaller, less tasty fruits than some of the western species.
The pads of prickly pears are like water balloons. In the winter, the water they contain could freeze and damage the plants, so eastern prickly pear shrivels and collapses as cold weather approaches.
Escobaria missouriensis is native to the northern Great Plains and can survive extreme winter cold (hardy into Zone 5 or even 4), though it is particularly sensitive to wet conditions during the winter.
Echinocereus viridiflorus v. correllii is another species from farther west that can survive quite a bit of cold but is more sensitive to wet conditions. These are five-year-old plants Noah grew from seed before going into their first winter outside as a test of hardiness.
Though you can grow cacti in cold, wet climates, they’ll never be quite as dramatic as this forest of cacti in California.
Ever seen a cactus seedling? This is Noah’s own hybrid of Opuntia humifusa and Opuntia polyacantha. The seedling looks like any other plant until the bizarre cactus stem emerges from between the cotyledons.
Quita, Noah’s dog, helps him harvest pads from Opuntia humifusa to pot up for sale.
Cacti may be prickly on the outside, but if you love them they’ll sometimes send you hearts!
Some of Noah’s cactus collection lives inside, sheltered from the elements, like this Ferocactus grandis.
If you want to see more of Noah’s cacti, check out his instagram: @noahblazedonovan
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