Do you like cactus?

I find that even people who aren’t huge fans of cacti, tend to like make an exception for golden barrels (Echinocactus grusonii).  

I think one of the reasons for its popularity is because of its globular shape and yellow spines.

Another reason may be that golden barrel cacti are extremely versatile in the landscape.  Whether you prefer a contemporary landscape with golden barrels planted in neat, orderly rows or in a more natural grouping – they can be used both ways.

I like to place golden barrel cacti next to boulders, where their round shapes and sunny color provide great contrast.

These popular cacti are native to the desert Southwest and can be grown outdoors in zones 9 and above.  However, larger specimens have been known to handle temperatures in the teens.

In colder regions, they can be planted in containers and brought inside in winter.

If you look closely at a golden barrel’s spines, you’ll notice how they criss-cross each other, forming an interesting geometric pattern.  

You can probably guess one of the spines purposes – to provide protection from predators who may want to eat them.

However, there is another, somewhat surprising way that the spines help the cactus, which you read here:

The care for golden barrels is quite simple.  They do best in well-drained, native desert soil in full sun to filtered shade.

Although they start out small, mature specimens can reach 3 feet tall and wide.  However, they can take years to reach that size, so they are often planted in much smaller areas and later replaced.

Now for the big question – how much water do they need?  Established golden barrels can get by with existing rainfall, but will grow faster and look their best with they recieve a deep watering once a month May through August.  The rest of the year, they should be fine with existing rainfall.

Earlier today, I mentioned on my azplantlady facebook page that I had seen golden barrel cacti growing in a very unusual place.

Well as promised, here is the answer:

I came across this cluster of golden barrel cacti growing in Michigan!

To be precise, they were located in a greenhouse at the Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, which I visited back in June.  I was looking forward to visiting these beautiful gardens and seeing examples of plants that grow in more temperate climates, so I was quite surprised to come across a plant from home.

So, even if you live in a climate that experiences frigid winter temperatures – you can grow golden barrels….inside.

How about you?  Do you have golden barrel cacti growing in your landscape?  Do you like seeing them in a more formal setting or a natural one such as when planted next to a boulder?

 When I say rocks in the garden, I mean large rocks….boulders to be exact.
Boulders enhance the beauty of the plants surrounding them.
I love how they look as they gradually become surrounded by a flowering groundcover such as Lantana or Verbena.

Succulents such as Agave always look great when placed next to a boulder.
Boulders are strategically placed in this newly planted landscape.  Note the agave and Angelita Daisy planted by the two large boulders.

Boulders actually look great when placed together and I often place them together when designing a landscape.

I visited this landscape installation with a friend of mine that was in progress a few years ago.  I really like how the designer placed boulders around and in the swimming pool.
Some useful to keep in mind when using boulders in your landscape:
– Bury them so that the bottom third is in the ground.  This helps to make their placement appear more natural.  DO NOT just place a boulder on top of the soil and leave it.
– For larger plants such as shrubs or trees, be sure to select larger boulders – 2′ x 3′ x3′ at the very least.  If you do have small boulders, group them together.
– Boulders look great when incorporated in mounding (contouring).  I usually place the boulder just inside of the edge of a mound, making sure that you fill in the area around it.
– Boulders can also be placed in brick or concrete boulders, which adds interest.
– You can select your own boulders, which I recommend before buying.  Don’t be tempted to purchase smaller boulders…they can get lost in the landscape.
– Don’t worry if the boulders look too large at first before you install them.  I remember receiving a call from my mother-in-law the day the boulders were delivered for the landscape that I had designed for them.  She said that they were way too large.  But, you need to take into account that you will be burying 1/3 of the total height of the boulder and they will look just the right size once in the ground.

I love the boulders in this newly installed landscape.  There is a variety of shapes and sizes that add texture.  The plants are quite small in comparison, but they will grow larger.
If you are going to include boulders in your landscape, please plant something next to them.  Plants make the boulders look great and vice-versa.  Some of my favorite plants to include next to boulders include:
Angelita Daisy 
Blackfoot Daisy
Salvia species
Dalea species
Dasylirion species
Barrel Cactus
Mammillaria species
Lastly, boulders look wonderful in the landscape and guess what my favorite part is?   They don’t need any pruning or water to look great…the ultimate in having a beautiful low-maintenance garden.