When up against wildfires, drought and water restrictions, bedding plants would seem to be part of a losing battle. In dry and fire-prone areas of the country, however, gardeners can fight back–with succulents and cacti. New options for these parts of the country are being researched, looking for varieties that are both functional and beautiful.
Cactus varieties have been evaluated on criteria including blooming, a minimal number of spines and day blooming by John Erwin of the University of Minnesota. Experiments began with cooling, photoperiod and total light treatments and 58 of the 65 varieties tested went into flower. Now follow-up work is being done on 10 to 15 of those to see which ones are best for commercial production.
But are cacti cold hardy? The ones Erwin is researching native to the cold mountaintops of Argentina are cold hardy, but research is looking at how cold hardy. And while in Portugal, Erwin reports seeing mixed containers of annuals with cacti and succulents.
Welcome To The USA
What’s happening in the United States with succulents and cacti? The challenge for the American Southeast is humidity, but new varieties could be the answer. Trials are needed.
“There are all kinds of areas that could use this material for landscape plants, but people aren’t used to cactus that bloom a lot,” Erwin says. “It’s a surprise.”
Erwin tells me that while several companies provide liners for succulents, Altman Plants in Vista, Calif., is way ahead of other growers in the U.S. with its 120 acres devoted to succulents and 70 acres more for development in succulents. Succulents are catching on in California and the South, according to Altman Plants co-owner Ken Altman. With a hybridizer on staff, Altman selects varieties based on coloration, flower size and power, shape, growth speed and overall appearance.
A promising variety Altman is investigating with Erwin is called Rose Quartz, a vegetatively propagated hybrid cactus with bright, beautiful red blooms. Altman has recently added other landscape varieties to its mix, including 1-, 2- and 5-gallon containers.
“Some are even fire resistant and getting interest from homeowners that want to protect their houses in the next fire in California,” Altman says. “A friend has a picture of a house where the fire burned all around until it got to some large aloes that melted but stopped the fire.”
Everyone wants beautiful color in gardens, but it’s time to look for alternatives that look beautiful in drier weather. Because even if we’re not suffering drought conditions, water restrictions are sure to continue. The fire safety is a bonus. But get started now. Altman says he’s been building stock and production on landscape varieties for two and a half years. You don’t want to let the plants with the built-in branding pass you by.