Planting Outdoor Cacti (in Tennessee)

Outdoor Cacti BedsToday I thought it would be fun to share a completely random, somewhat long-term, project that we are undertaking in our flower beds. Bye-bye flowers…. haha!

When we first moved to Tennessee, we were out driving one day and I saw a GIANT prickly pear cactus growing in someone’s yard. It was the size of a large bush. It was already getting cold, and I wondered how such a large outdoor cactus was living through the winters. Well, sure enough, I drove by it weekly and even in the snow it lasted. I was blown away.

Laura found one in her neighborhood as well, and one day when we were at one of our local nurseries, we asked how it was possible for them to live outdoors and if there were more varieties like this!

We learned that there is only one variety of traditional looking cacti that are actually native to Tennessee. It’s the Texas Prickly Pear. We both decided to take a chance on them and plant some at our homes!

The only downside is they don’t really sell the giant ones. You have to get smallish ones and let them grow. And it takes years. But since we’re planning to be here for a while, I decided to plant a bunch!

Now, being the complete psycho that I am, I begged Jeremy to plant them all over the front of our house. But he wasn’t into it because of the fact that it takes years for them to get big, and in the meantime the scale would be kind of off.

So we compromised and decided to plant them all around the back part of our house. Maybe a couple by the mailbox too! We had already had a bunch of bushes in the back pulled out when we were painting the exterior, so we decided to start there.

Baby steps! Besides painting the brick, this was our first outdoor project, you guys!! It’s happening!

Outdoor Cacti Beds Here’s the whole bed. Not much to look at yet. I am hoping that at this time next year I can post some pretty significant growth photos. I think a lot of it has to do with them getting the right amount of water and sun during the warm months. My understanding is that they don’t really grow in the winter.

Outdoor Cacti Beds Outdoor Cacti Beds For scale. Look how SMALL.

Outdoor Cacti Beds Giving hugs because I love them SO MUCH. Even though they’re small, I still love how they look and feel like they make this little corner of our outdoor space 10x more charming and personal.

If you are lucky enough to live somewhere temperate year round, please go out and plant 4-6 new cacti in my honor. DO IT. 

If you live somewhere with all four seasons, like me, and you want to plant cacti, here’s what you do! Go to a local nursery (not a big box store, a local store where the people working there really know their stuff!) and ask what options for cacti are cold weather hardy for your area. Maybe you’ll learn something new like I did?

Thanks for letting me share my new obsession. If you have any tips or information on this subject, I’m all ears! xxoo -Elsie

Credits/Author: Elsie Larson, Photography: Elsie Larson and Collin DuPree. Photos edited with the NEW A Beautiful Mess actions

  • Hey there, I am in the middle TN area and just received some cuttings to put in the ground, I am so excited!! With that said, when ya’ll created your cacti space, did you amend your soil at all or did you just dig and put em in the ground? Also what has you success been with the cacti since you started, have they grown? Thanks for letting me know

    • Hi LaDonna,
      We just put them in the ground and let them grow. I had potted plants to plant, so you will want to google how to plant cuttings. They grow a LOT each year.

  • I live in Hong Kong right on the ocean, and my PP cactus love it here in Asia. They are growing like crazy.

  • Great article! I had no idea that cacti were even native in Tennessee; thanks for the new fact; I may plant my own one day and will definitely keep a tab on that name.

  • Great piece of information over here.
    You make some excellent points about how to plant outdoor cacti that I never though about.
    Thanks for sharing!

  • hey….such a nice idea to planting outdoor cacti. I am really impressed with your work.

  • Hey Elsie,

    I recently discovered your site and am having fun reading through the archives. I’m a Midwest transplant to Nashville, too, and I’m working on designing my first house here. I’d love to know where you get your plants. I’m about to have more plants than furniture, but they are making me happy while I try to figure out what to do with our new place! This post makes me want to try some cacti in my backyard.

    Thanks for the advice and the fun reading. (And also your living room tour post. I’ve been eyeing the Sven sofa for the past couple of months and am working up the courage to pull the trigger!)
    ~ Katie

  • There are Opuntia (prickly pear) species that are hardy to -20 to -30! I’ve seen a large one growing in Duluth, MN (on Lake Superior). Really cool plant to see growing in northern climates. If you enjoy the trendy desert plants, give an agave a try! Agave parryi is a good one that can survive cold winters.

  • I live in Albuquerque, NM where there are prickly pear cacti everywhere, even growing in the wild. Unlike most people expect, it does get cold here (30*F this morning!), so I’m not too surprised they can withstand TN winters. I bought a pretty prickly pear over the summer, but have been too afraid to transplant it because of all the tiny little cactus spines! Any tips for that? I’m pretty sure I’ve ended up with spines in my finger just from looking at the thing. LOL! I may have to bring mine in for the winter and transplant in the spring.

  • Yes! I love this! We just bought our first home (in Texas) and I have big plans for planting cactus plants and succulent (maybe agave?) plants next year!

  • This is very random, but I love that (based on your outfit) you took photos for the cactus, printer giveaway, and DIY barn door posts all the same day so we get a peek into a busy day of a professional blogger!!! Hug a cactus? check! Smile at the printer? check! Quick pic with Jeremy and the barn door? Check!

  • I live in Pittsburgh PA and have these growing in my front yard. Every year they grow beautiful yellow flowers on them. I’ve had them for 15 years so they’ve made it through some heavy snow storms!

  • Super cute! I love cacti. LOVE THEM! but I live in Ottawa, Canada where the winters are long, snowy and cold and the summers are way too short 🙁 And Cacti here are expensive (don’t know if it’s generally expensive) but I wanted to get a giant one for my living room and the nursery was selling it for almost a hundred bucks for a five footer. Insane! So I have a tiny, tiny one that my mom brought me back from Sedona a couple years back. One day though… day I’ll have a giant one!

  • I used to have such a gorgeous cacti collection that I eventually had to get rid of because it was too hard to keep my kids out of them without getting hurt. I’ll just live vicariously through your cacti posts now 🙂

  • So perfect!!! I expect to see some amazing prickly pear recipes when then start giving you little red, delicious fruit!! Prickly Pear Margaritas are awesome :)!

  • Wow!!! Does it have to start over (from being small) or does it kind of hibernate and come back to life??
    xx- Elsie

  • I’ve grown these before from cuttings (we have TONS in Georgia 🙂 and one of mine is 5 years old now!
    – Be careful not to over water, since cacti are fungus+rot prone if they get too wet
    – Use a little rooting hormone powder on the base of cuttings, like MiracleGro FastRoot (

    Have fun! The type we have in Georgia is probably the same, and it’s super hearty!

  • We have Prickly Pear all year long in northern NJ! It grows in the wild but for those who have it in their garden, I don’t think it requires much effort at all!

  • What fun! Those cacti will give you joy every time you look at them! Well done!

  • I live on LI and growing up my dad had some planted on the South side of our house for many years. They never got very big but I remember they used to bloom, yellow and white.

  • That is probably my favorite cati! Love that shape. It will continue to look fabulous against the white painted brick!

  • CUTE! I feel my Canadian climate is too cold for cacti (THOUGH I AM SO WILLING TO BE PROVEN WRONG) so I just have to fill the sunny spots in my house with them!

  • I live in north Idaho, close to the Canadian border, and my great grandma has a huge outdoor cactus! I don’t know what kind it is, but it looks a lot like yours. She has had it growing for over 20 years, despite the very cold winters we have! It is so random. 🙂

  • Being from NC, I live on property that gets TONS of water except for my bank. Which is dry as all get out. I’d been contemplating putting cacti there and had seen someone nearby that had cacti. One is (I think) that variety.

  • I wonder if that’s the variety of cactus we have in our side yard (it came with the house)? It doesn’t exactly make it through the winter… it dies back completely. But come the next spring… BAM! It grows back as healthy and lush as before, and covered in yellow blooms!

    • Show you some of my cactus! I just happened across this and wanted to share mine with you because I love them too! Mine got huge and all I did was break off an ear or piece and put in ground and it will root. I now have 3.

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