Can Cactus Plants Survive Freezing Temperatures?

Can cactus plants survive the freezing temperatures in the winter months? The good news is that they can do well when exposed to cold temperatures. Cacti are some of the most resilient plants in the world and have adapted to survive in extreme environments. It is worth mentioning that cactus plants grow in deserts where it can get extremely cold come nightfall.

Indeed, some cacti species have been known to grow in extremely cold weather environments where the air can dip below sub-zero temperatures.

With that said, if you want your cacti to thrive in freezing temperatures, you should keep other parameters at optimal conditions. This includes humidity, watering interval, and pest control, among others.

How Cacti Survive Freezing Temperatures

Certain cacti species can survive when the temperature dips below 0 degrees Celsius, especially the prickly saguaros. These plants have several adaptations that help them when the temperature plummets and this mostly has to do with how they manage water.

When the temperature gets too cold, cacti enter a dormant phase where they stop growing further. This state of dormancy also restricts their biological processes, which allows them to live without water.

Although this adaptation is ideal in the drought-prone desert-scape, it is also one that prevents the cacti from dying in freezing temperatures.

When the plant discards its water levels, it’s at a lower risk of dying from crystallization (that occurs due to freezing). It also has special antifreeze chemicals that can survive the freezing temperature of North America. In other words, certain cacti in California have their own natural antifreeze that helps them ward off the coil.

To help them reduce their water reservoirs, the cacti can transfer some of the water into the spaces between the cells (known as the interstitial space). This way, larger water crystals can form without destroying the plant’s cells.

Moreover, the plant has special proteins on the surface of cells that can prevent the larger crystal from damaging tissues and cells.

Although these adaptations don’t make the cactus immune to freezing temperatures, they help it survive in conditions where a lesser plant may die. It should be noted that cacti cannot survive for long in extremely cold environments.

At most, they can survive under the cold temperature for about one to two nights before dying.

Examples of Cold Hardy Cacti Plants

Some cacti species are more resilient than others in freezing temperatures. They are typically found growing in parts of North America, especially Canada. Let’s take a look at some of the cold-hardy cacti species.

Fishhook Barrel Cactus

This cactus species is known for tolerating both extreme cold and heat, more so than other variants. It is native to parts of the southern US and northern Mexico, where the temperature is known for wildly swinging during the night and day cycles. For best conditions, you should water them sparingly and use the finger test method to check the topsoil for moisture levels.

Feather Cactus

One of the smallest cactus species in the world, the feather cactus can grow only a few inches across. Despite its small size, the feather cactus is incredibly tough and can withstand extreme cold for long periods of time.

Provide it with regular water in the summer months to help it grow. Feed it some fertilizer once or twice a year for optimal growth. Provide the plant with a fast-draining soil mix that is specially designed for cacti.

Eastern Prickly Pear

Also known as the Canadian cactus, the Eastern Prickly Pear is native to parts of North America and can survive extremely low temperatures (to the tune of -10°C) thanks to special antifreeze chemicals in the cells.

It prefers to grow in vast, dry areas on rocky soil. With that said, the Eastern Prickly Pear does well when provided with warm temperatures.

It prefers to be kept in dry conditions, so outside of regular water intervals, keeping the plant in a moist environment can be detrimental. Note that the Prickly Pear doesn’t require fertilizer if grown outdoors in the garden.

However, you may need to provide fertilizers if grown indoors. Make sure to use a well-balanced fertilizer when the plant indicates that it needs to be fed (usually when it fails to flower or its green color starts to fade).

Cholla Cactus

There are several varieties of cholla cacti in California that vary in color, shape, and size. They all have one thing in common: they can survive extreme cold. The only problem with Cholla variants is that they are extremely prickly – even for cacti.

This is why novice growers may want to steer clear of these plants. But experienced cacti enthusiasts prefer to grow cholla cacti because of their spiffy shapes and beautiful flowers.

Horse Crippler Cactus

This plant tends to hide in low grass and grows extremely sharp spines, earning it the name ‘horse crippler cactus.’ It is native to the Chihuahuan Desert, where it is accustomed to extreme temperatures – both cold and hot.

Like most frost-resistant plants, the horse crippler cactus is relatively small and only grows up to 12 inches in diameter. It looks stunning when grown as a houseplant, with its pink and silver blooms that make them stand out from the crowd.         

Tips to Protect Cacti from Freezing Temperatures

For best results, there are certain steps you should take to protect your cacti from freezing temperatures. Although they can survive the cold, failing to prepare for extreme fluctuations in temperature could kill even the most cold-hardy variants. Try to move your cactus to a warmer room, such as the garage.

Larger cacti that aren’t as efficient against the cold may need more preparation. Here are a few things you can do to protect your cacti.

Tips to Protect Cacti from the ColdDetails
Reduce the Watering FrequencyWater the plant once every six weeks.
Use MulchUse lightweight mulch to provide additional coverage from the cold.
Use shade clothCover the plant with a shade cloth to keep the first at bay.

Reduce the Watering Frequency

As the temperature drops, you should reduce the watering frequency to once every two months. This will allow the plant’s antifreeze chemicals to do their job more efficiently and increase their chances of surviving the cold spells. You can also introduce some mulch to help low-growing plants stay warm.

Use Mulch

As mentioned earlier, mulch is a tried and tested solution that helps trap heat from the sun overnight. It transfers warmth to the cactus during a cold spell. The only problem with mulch is that it can store a lot of water, which could lead to root rot. Try to look for a lightweight variant of mulch that doesn’t hold much water.

Use Shade Cloth

Another solution is to use landscaping fabric or shade cloth to cover the plant in the event of a frost. This material works by trapping a layer of warm air around the plants while keeping the cold outside. Anchor the cloth with the help of stakes to keep them from touching the plants.

Another idea is to cover the growing tips of the cacti plants by covering them with styrofoam cups. Just make sure to remove the cloth each morning to help the plant receive sunlight.

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Wrapping Up – Can Cactus Plants Survive Freezing Temperatures?

For the most part, cacti variants can survive freezing temperatures thanks to various adaptations, including anti-freeze chemicals in their cells. This doesn’t mean you should keep the plant in the cold for long periods. Prolonged exposure to the cold will devastate even the most cold-hardy variations.

Use the above tips to keep the cold at bay and keep your cactus in California protected. Let us know how you keep your cacti protected from cold temperatures.

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