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Growing Cacti Outdoors in Florida - Bad Idea?

I live in North Florida (Jacksonville, Zone 9) and I am thinking about adding a small cactus garden to a sunny location in my backyard.

My plan includes putting the cacti in a raised planter box/bed to allow for adequate drainage. I also have a plan to cover the cacti during the winter months to protect the cacti from the cold.

Despite putting the cacti in a raised planter box, I am concerned whether the cacti will survive the frequent rain that is common during the summer months. I appreciate your input and thoughts on this matter.


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It would depend on the species of cacti you choose for your garden. There are a few that are quite cold-hardy, and some that even survive outdoors in the rainy areas of Oregon.

Some of the Opuntia species, for instance, will take quite a bit of rain and some colder temperatures.

Another option might be to grow your cacti in containers, so you could move them under cover to protect them from excess rain. If you're handy, you might devise some sort a portable cover, perhaps made of clear plexiglass or clear vinyl, that you set up over the cacti quickly when needed. :)

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If you add plenty of "permatill"(hope I spell that right) to any soil you use for that project it should drain all the water and any roots won't sit on the water.

Greener Thumb
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Location: Jacksonville, FLZone 9A

Plenty of cacti grow in Florida naturally. Mostly opuntia (the big pads with the dark red fruits) and some epiphytic cacti, but unless you are trying to grow some extremely droughty types, you would just give them better drainage and usually a full sun position.

My sister is in Mandarin (Jax FL). Very sandy, fast draining soil.

Check out nurseries in your area that are not of the big box kind. Local nurseries are going to be more aware of what the local area can handle. Doesn't matter how long a big box store or their employees have been there. They stock from regional growers that could be states away. That's not a guarantee that you wouldn't be sold something that really won't do well for you, but should give you a more realistic selection.

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Cold is not an issue, moisture and humidity definitely are. Forget anything native and have a look at some (relatively) water-loving S. American plants. It's my experience that some Cleistocactus species respond quite well to regular watering (up to twice a week during active growth season).

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Not worried about the cold so much with cacti the water is the real issue as their root system runs shallow and wide many times in Arizona after big rain storms the larger Cactus will topple over but here's a little preview of the temperature range in Arizona for extended periods of time and Cactus thrive in the cold.CLIMATE OF ARIZONA
Desert Research Institute › wrcc › ARIZO...
The daily range between maximum and minimum temperatures sometimes runs as much as 50 to 60 degrees F during the drier portions of the year. During winter months, daytime temperatures may average 70 degrees F, with night temperatures often falling to freezing of slightly below in the lower desert valleys.

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Location: Hawaii, zone 12a 587 ft elev.

I agree that some succulents are better than others in humid climates. I grow mine off the sprinkler and in pots. I plant mostly in terra cotta and rocks or cinder. the larger plants are in plastic pots but they have extra holes in them and are filled with rocks or cinders and not dirt or potting mix. If you want to put them out in a bed, I suggest you plant them with the pots so you can pull them out if you have to. If you are going to plant it in a bed, make it a mound instead of flat and plant other things between the cacti that will help absorb any excess water.

I underpot so the plants are actually tight in their pots and I don't pull the weeds out of the plants in the rainy season. The weeds will soak up excess water. It does mean my agave is very stunted for its age, but it will still bloom when it is 15 years old. Unless it rains every day for a week, they can stay outside, but when we had 42 days and nights of rain, I did have to bring them into the lanai. If your raised bed drains well and if you can provide winter cover, then consider using a clear phylon cover over the bed. It will let the light through but the bed would be totally dependent on you for watering. Some of the succulents will absorb some water from the humidity.

I have no luck with the cephalocereus senilis (old man cactus), the hairy cactus gets moldy as the hair hangs on to water.
Succulents fair better like Jade, cereus,sedums,crassula, crown of thorns, hawarthia, adenium obesum, tillandsia, agave, yucca,and kalanchoe blossfeldiana. The pencil cacti, barrel cactus, saguaro, sedum, rat tail cactus, opuntia do o.k. the barrel cactus are the hardest to grow because they can absorb a lot of water if it rains. I have to bring those inside even when the others can stay out.

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Are you looking only for actual cacti with prickly spines?

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Joined: Tue Jan 01, 2013 8:32 am
Location: Hawaii, zone 12a 587 ft elev.

Oh yeah, btw all cacti are succulents but not all succulents are cacti. If you strictly want cacti only, you will need to find the ones that can tolerate the most humidity.

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