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WINTER HARDY CACTI (CARE GUIDE) 

     The two key elements for growing successful winter hardy cacti are dry feet and lots of sunshine. Because most of the Fox Cities area has clay soil, it is best to create a raised bed for the cacti. A 12 minimum above the normal grade should be created. The raised bed should have 70% sand and 30% black dirt. The 70% sand can also have gravel, rocks, or large aggregate materials included. Soil should be neutral to slightly alkaline. A south or west exposure is necessary. Cacti need eight or more hours of sunlight per day. Do not plant cacti on the north or east side of a house because there is not enough sunlight and the cacti will die. Cacti will do better next to or wedged in between boulders where they will receive the heat resonating off of them. Good quality weed barrier fabric can be used to curb weed growth, thus preventing competition between cacti and weeds.

The greatest danger to cacti is not the cold weather but the excessive amount of moisture it may receive. Decorative stone should be used as topdressing instead of bark mulch. Bark retains moisture and promotes rotting of cacti. The rot will usually start at the roots and work its way upward. However, if you discover the rot, you can still save the plant by cutting off the rotted area. Let the wound heal itself for one week in a shaded location until calloused and then replant it about 1 deep in the soil.

NEVER water your winter hardy cacti. Wisconsin precipitation will be adequate. It is best to plant winter hardy cacti with other succulent perennials or other drought-tolerant plants with similar water requirements. Alpine plants, ornamental grasses and dwarf evergreens work well also. Cacti planted in late spring and summer should do fine without any winter protection. If plants are started towards the end of summer they should be covered with clear plastic to keep out moisture during late fall and winter.

In late fall padded cacti will shrivel up, look quite wrinkled and will turn a reddish-purple or grey color. Ball or globe cacti will shrink into the ground. THE CACTI IS NOT DEAD. This is a dehydration process the cacti must go thru so that it can withstand the cold winter weather. The following spring the cacti will fill out and resume growth. Most cacti will bloom their first season. In most cases each flower stays open one day but the cacti blooms repeatedly for almost two weeks.