3 images: Elephants Ear Succulent, A variety of cacti plants at SummerWinds, and a variety of succulent plants at SummerWinds

Lookin’ Sharp: Cacti and Succulents for Your Landscape Design

With our hot, dry weather here in Arizona, creating a lush garden can be difficult — unless you choose the right plants. Using cacti and succulents in your landscape design is a given in our area; cacti are, after all, a symbol of our state.

Cacti and succulents require little water and low maintenance, and many are native to Arizona, meaning they are well adapted to our conditions in the desert. If you’re looking for more cacti and succulents to incorporate into your landscape design, here are our top choices.

cactus home garden summerwinds arizona

Conditions for Cacti and Succulents

In general, cacti and succulents prefer well-drained soil with a mix of sand, silt, and gravel, and that does not harden when dry. At SummerWinds Nursery, we carry E.B. Stone Organics Cactus and Succulent Mix, which we recommend.

Whether you’re using containers for your cacti and succulents or putting them directly in the ground, make sure you put them in a sunny spot, though watch for sunburn on the plant, indicating it needs a shadier spot. Some cacti and succulents prefer partial shade, but you can always place them in the shade of taller plants you have in your yard. Also, avoid overcrowding.

While cacti and succulents don’t require a lot of water, they do need some. Water well, but only when the soil is nearly dry, and do not let the plant stand in water. Cacti and succulents will require more water in the summer compared to the winter because of the temperatures.

Of course, since you’re dealing with spiky plants, be extra careful when landscaping with cacti. Wear long sleeves, pants, and gloves, and wrap the cactus in a large towel, or a big piece of cardboard when handling it. Also, consider where you’re putting the cacti — don’t put them in a high-traffic area, for example. With this said, some people use cacti under windows and other points of entry as an added layer of security to deter intruders.

Popular Cacti To Include in Your Landscape

Just like with any kind of plant, it’s important to include a variety of shapes, sizes, and textures of cacti.

golden barrel cactus summerwinds arizona

Golden Barrel Cactus

Native to Mexico, the slow-growing Golden Barrel cactus blooms yellow flowers when it reaches maturity. Even when not in bloom, this cactus adds a splash of color to your yard with its yellow spines. They can grow as large as three feet tall and three feet around in the shape of a barrel. Their spherical form makes them standout in the garden. Plant several of them in a grid shape for extra impact.

organ pipe cactus summerwinds arizona

Organ Pipe Cactus

The trunks of the Organ Pipe Cactus can reach up to six inches wide and can have multiple branches that grow from ground level. You can even use the pulp from this cactus in jellies or drinks. They can grow quite tall, up to 30 feet, making them suitable as hedges or statement plants.

santa rita prickly pear cactus summerwinds arizona

Santa Rita Prickly Pear Cactus

The Santa Rita Prickly Pear cactus can grow 12 inches to six feet tall. It grows into a bushy shrub, and the blue-gray pads change to a rich purple in winter — this purple color becomes even stronger when in direct sunlight. Yellow flowers bloom in spring, followed by purple fruit that attracts birds. This is a stunning four-season cactus, adding interest to your yard all year long.

saguaros cactus summerwinds arizona

Saguaro Cactus

What comes to mind when most people think of the word “cactus” is the Saguaro Cactus. These large, columnar tree-like cacti grow arms and branches as they get older. Typically, the arms bend at the “elbow” and grow upward. These beautiful giants are true statement pieces in any Arizona landscape.

teddy bear cactus summerwinds arizona

Teddy Bear Cholla Cactus

Named for their fuzzy appearance and not to entice you to hug it, the Teddy Bear Cholla Cactus has dense, hooked spines. It can grow up to six feet tall and four feet wide. The stem of the plant is usually chocolate-brown, while new, younger branches are more golden. This cactus is sometimes called Jumping Cholla, since the spines sometimes seem to jump out at and stick to those who pass by.

totem pole cactus summerwinds arizona

Totem Pole

Reaching up to 12 feet tall at maturity, the Totem Pole Cactus resembles a multi-stemmed candelabra, with columns rising up from the base. All along the cactus are areoles, small bumps that make the plant look like it has faces carved into it, hence the name. Since it has no thorns, this plant works well in high traffic areas.

Mexican Fence Post

Perfect in groupings as a living wall, the Mexican Fence Post cactus can grow up to 20 feet tall. On the ridges along the columns there are spikes and white markings, as if someone took a white thread and hand stitched the spikes on.

argentine giant summerwinds arizona

Argentine Giant

While the Argentine Giant grows only about three feet tall, it has wide, sprawling limbs and giant flowers up to eight inches white. The fragrant flowers, which open at night, are white with yellow centers. Bats, moths, and other night pollinators are attracted to the blooms.

blue elf aloe summerwinds arizona

Popular Succulents To Include in Your Landscape

Succulents and cacti have very similar growing conditions — after all, all cacti are technically succulents (though not all succulents are cacti).

blue elf aloe summerwinds arizona

Blue Elf Aloe

Perfect for small spaces, Blue Leaf Aloe has narrow, upright leaves and red-orange flower spikes that attract hummingbirds. This low-growing, clumping plant produces many offshoots, or “pups,” that can be propagated. Blue Elf Aloe is excellent in mass plantings, rock gardens, and containers. 

Rudikoppe Aloe

Also known as Little Gem Aloe, Rudikoppe Aloe has low-growing green triangular leaves. This plant, unlike some other aloes, has a long blooming period. Red-orange flowers bloom nearly year round, except for the hottest months during the summer.

blue glow agave summerwinds arizona

Blue Glow Agave

This slow-growing evergreen succulent produces rosettes of blue-green leaves that are outlined with a red margin. Blue Glow Agave works well as a bold accent plant and in containers, rock gardens, and mass plantings. It can take more than 10 years for this plant to flower, after which the succulent will die.

fire sticks summerwinds arizona

Fire Sticks

Shrubby in form, Fire Sticks has thin stems that form a shape resembling sea coral. This succulent is truly eye catching—the green foliage transitions to other shades throughout the year, changing to yellow in summer then red in winter.

gopher plant summerwinds arizona

Gopher Plant

Growing to about two feet tall, the Gopher Plant has narrow blue-green leaves in spirals up the stem of the plant. Showy green blooms with yellow-green bracts appear from April until June. A wonderful plant for multi-season interest, this succulent’s foliage turns red-bronze in the fall.

Moroccan Mound

While the spines along the ridges of stems on Moroccan Mounds may suggest this plant is a cactus, it’s technically classified as a succulent. The tightly packed green stems form a mounding shape. During the cooler months, the edges of this plant may turn shades of red. Small yellow blooms appear in late winter to early spring. 

Whether you’re turning your yard into strictly a cactus and succulent garden or incorporating them in with trees, shrubs, and perennials, these are some of our top choices for Arizona landscapes. If you need any assistance with selecting the right ones for your yard, visit us at one of our Arizona SummerWinds locations or get in touch.

About SummerWinds Nursery: SummerWinds Garden Centers is a leading high-end retailer of garden and nursery products. Headquartered in Boise, Idaho, SummerWinds operates retail nurseries in the greater Phoenix, Arizona area, and in Silicon Valley, California, making it one of the largest independent retail nursery companies in the west. SummerWinds appeals to both the serious and casual gardeners, with a broad selection of premium gardening products and a friendly and knowledgeable staff.