Cactus garden ideas: 12 ways to welcome these prickly plants into your plot

Looking for cactus garden ideas? Whether you want to grow them in pots, or in a dedicated space in your yard, we've got all the inspo you need

cactus garden ideas in gravel
(Image credit: Chakarin Wattanamongkol/Moment/Getty Images)

Cactus garden ideas are a great way to spruce up your home or backyard. And, as long as they're grown in the right environment, they're super easy to care for.

Cacti are a type of succulent, and like all succulents, they retain moisture in their leaves. You can differentiate them from other kinds of succulents as they have special sites where spines form, called areoles. They are most suited to hot, sun-soaked, dry environments. If you live somewhere where these conditions are a given, then an outdoor cactus garden can be a very beautiful and flourishing thing. If you're somewhere which gets colder, wetter winters, or has a lot of humidity (like the UK), then indoor cactus garden ideas might be your best bet.

Whether you want to use them as part of your tropical garden ideas, bring show-stopping structure to your outdoor landscaping, or recreate a miniature desert scene indoors, cacti are lovely plants to bring into your collection. We've rounded up some of our favorite cactus garden ideas below to get you inspired to start your own.

1. Raise up your cactus garden ideas

built-in bench used for modern garden planters holding cacti

This set-up from Habitat is a brilliant way to show off cactus garden ideas

(Image credit: Habitat)

Growing cacti as part of your container gardening ideas? Lifting them up a notch, in the literal sense, will give the display even more impact. If you have a built-in bench that doesn't get much use, or a sturdy shelf, this is a great way to make the most of it.

Shine the spotlight on your cacti further by pairing their striking structures with pale surfaces below and behind, like the stone wall and paving in this scene. Bold-colored pots will add a vibrant boost, whereas sticking with neutrals will offer a more soothing vibe.

The best bit about keeping cactus garden ideas in pots like these is that you can move them around when you fancy a freshen up, or even bring them inside if the temperatures drop. In a set-up like this, you could also move them elsewhere if you need extra seating when entertaining outdoors (just add some comfy cushions, first).

2. Get creative with a decorative scene

cactus garden ideas with gravel

Two tones of gravel and sculptural planters can easily elevate your cactus garden ideas

(Image credit: Chakarin Wattanamongkol/Moment/Getty Images)

Cactus garden ideas present a real opportunity to get creative, wherever you're growing them. There are hundreds of species to choose from, and that's before you start mix and matching them with other kinds of succulents. 

There are all kinds of different colors, shapes, and sizes to play with and lots of types will flower, too. So, try building a scene that is bound to turn heads, with the likes of multi-levelled, decorative planters, different tones of gravel, and a good selection of various cacti species (with some other succulents thrown in for good measure). Whether you position it outdoors in a raised bed, or indoors in a large container, it will be sure to be a talking point.

3. Pair with bright colors

cacti in sunny courtyard with brightly colored walls and a pool of water

Combine spiky cacti and hot colors for a tropical vibe

(Image credit: A Garden/Alamy Stock Photo)

Cacti are a great choice for sunny courtyards, and look especially striking when mixed with warm, Mexican-inspired shades. We adore the vibrant pinks, oranges and turquoises in this chic scene. 

To continue the holiday vibe, position tall specimens to line a cool pool, or to surround a water feature. Keep paving sleek and furniture choices modern to enhance the feeling of sophistication. 

Our garden wall ideas feature has more inspiration if you're looking for an update this season.

4. Bring your cactus garden ideas to your front yard

dry front garden in the US with large cacti

Cactus garden ideas make a striking first impression, like in this scene by Simmonds & Associates Inc.

(Image credit: Simmonds & Associates Inc.)

Need some new front garden ideas? Then if you're in the right climate, a cactus garden can work wonders. 

Mix up forms for a striking look – think round, stout barrel cacti, spiky agaves, and even drought-tolerant grasses for an element of softness. Surround the display with gravel – a great pick for drainage – and accent with a sandy-colored pathway for a desert vibe. It's a simple yet effective way to boost your home's kerb appeal.

5. Define your steps

cacti in pots up stone steps

Add interest to steps with cactus garden ideas

(Image credit: NATUREWORLD/Alamy Stock Photo)

Give lacklustre garden steps ideas a boost by placing a potted cactus on each. We love how the matching terracotta planters bring a touch of warmth to this stoney scene, whilst the variety of cactus shapes adds a playful edge.

Just don't forget about them when night falls, or make sure you've got some good outdoor lighting ideas installed so that you can see them clearly.

6. Offset a dining space with a giant succulent

outdoor dining set with large cacti in background

This chic scene includes the Manutti Torsa dining table and Solid garden chairs both from Go Modern Furniture

(Image credit: Go Modern Furniture)

A super-sized cactus or succulent is a fabulous way to elevate outdoor dining ideas. Place it at the edge of the zone for a dramatic focal point, either straight in the ground or in a large planter. 

This large agave brings tons of style to the view, and looks superb when combined with cushions and accessories in complementary colors nearby. Warm-hued stone enhances the modern desert theme, whilst slick black furniture is always a good choice for a grown-up edge – here it grounds the scene into one that is unmistakably contemporary.

7. Line them up

rows of cacti in pots on shelves

Make your cactus garden ideas a collection to be proud of

(Image credit: sot/Stone/Getty Images)

Once you start buying plants for your cactus garden ideas, it's easy to get hooked. Collecting species and learning about their individual needs can be a very enjoyable and rewarding pastime.

If you've started your own cacti collection, then sturdy shelves are a great way to show them off. Pick matching pots for a sense of cohesion – terracotta is a timeless choice. If your collection is still on the small side, then repurpose an old wooden stepladder for a vintage accent. If your greenhouse ideas are large enough, you could even clear a space especially for them – this is also useful if outdoor temperatures aren't entirely optimal for your cacti to thrive.

It's important to know that drainage is very important for growing cacti successfully. So, ensure that your planters have holes in the bottom to stop the plants sitting in water, which can rot their roots. There is special compost available specifically for growing cacti which is less water-retentive, and adding grit to the mix will help, too.

8. Bring them indoors

potted cacti on white shelves

Bring your cacti indoors for an attractive feature

(Image credit: Westend61/Getty Images)

Do you have freezing cold winters? Is it pouring with rain, even in summer? Indoor garden ideas are probably your best bet for your cacti. But that's definitely no reason to despair – cacti are a fantastic houseplant and will brighten up any corner of the room. Plus, you won't have to remember to water them all the time.

We love this neat display featuring hand-painted pots – perfect for a calming, minimalist space. Not a fan of white? Getting creative with chalk paint means you can personalize your terracotta pots to suit your style. It's also a fun and budget-friendly way to while away a rainy afternoon.

9. Go for matching planters

cactus in yellow pots

They say three is the magic number – judging by this scene, we'd have to agree

(Image credit: Naomi Rahim/Moment/Getty Images)

Sunny, yellow-toned planters are an instant pick-me-up for any outdoor scene and make a great match for columnar cacti. But why just pick one when you can go for three? It's more visually pleasing than two and more striking than one and would make a great focal point for your patio ideas

Plant the same species in each for a sense of harmony, and top the soil with white pebbles for a decorative flourish. Not sure about yellow? Our garden planter ideas feature has lots more styles to get you inspired.

10. Introduce them to your flowerbeds

cactus in raised bed

Succulents and cacti can happily grow alongside other drought-tolerant plants

(Image credit: Eric Audras/ONOKY/Getty Images)

Succulent and cactus garden ideas don't have to be all spiny and spiky. For a less dramatic but still gorgeous look, try pairing them with softer, drought-tolerant plants as part of your flowerbed ideas.

This could be colorful sedums, Mediterranean herbs, rockery plants like delicate erigeron or rock rose, or ornamental grasses. Plant your display in crisp white raised beds for a clean and structural finish.

11. Repurpose objects into show-stopping displays

display with succulents and cactus

Think outside the box for your succulent and cacti arrangements

(Image credit: Kilito Chan/Moment/Getty Images)

If you're looking for cactus garden ideas that feel a little different from the norm, then take a cue from the display above. It demonstrates how even an old fan can be repurposed into a unique focal point for a garden when planted up with small succulents and cacti. 

Because they don't need much water, these plants are ideal for low maintenance living walls, too.

Our tips on how to grow succulents will help you get started.

12. Add them to your rockery

rockery with cacti

Rock gardens make a ideal home for your cacti

(Image credit: Ga_Na/Alamy Stock Photo)

If you're blessed with sunny climes, cacti are ideal plants for garden rockeries. Rock gardens are a wonderful addition to a backyard's landscape as they're low-maintenance and add tons of visual interest. Plus, there are lots of lovely rockery plants to choose from that will thrive alongside your spiky cacti. 

Mix smaller stones with larger rocks, all in the same hue, for a cohesive and naturalistic look. You can nestle pots into gravel, as seen above, for a pop of color.

If you love the idea as much as we do, our small rock garden ideas gallery has lots more inspo.

How deep should I plant my cactus?

cactus growing in gravel with pink flowers

Cacti tend to have quite shallow roots, so don't plant them too deep

(Image credit: Isabel Pavia/Moment/Getty Images)

Plant your cactus no deeper than it was planted when you bought it or it may rot, advises Ralph Northcott from Cactus Shop UK.

'The exception would be if it is a more mature plant, which has natural brown corking around the base,' he adds. 'This cactus can be safely planted lower to hide the brown base.'

Do you water a cactus from the top or bottom?

Most cacti like water from the top to keep them clean and healthy, says Ralph Northcott from Cactus Shop UK. This is especially the case if they're kept indoors as it prevents them from getting dusty, he adds.

However, there are two exceptions, Ralph explains. The rosette-shaped ones must be watered from underneath, otherwise water can be trapped in the rosettes for a long time and lead to rot. Meanwhile, cacti from very hot areas can have a white coating or 'farina' – a bit like some grapes. Watering these from the top could spoil their appearance, Ralph says.

How can I get my cactus to flower?

torch cactus with pink flower

Cactus flowers offer a boost of vibrant color

(Image credit: Mark Newman/The Image Bank/Getty Images)

Want to get your cactus to flower? There are two things to try, says Ralph Northcott from Cactus Shop UK:

  1. Feed with a high-potassium fertilizer – such as a tomato fertilizer – monthly in summer.
  2. Keep cacti in a sunny position all year. However, try to keep them dry and in a cool place in winter; a cooler regime will help to initiate buds. So, avoid keeping them near a radiator if you're growing cacti indoors.

How do I know if my cactus is healthy?

A cactus is healthy if it is growing, flowering and keeping a good color and shape, explains Ralph Northcott from Cactus Shop UK. 

Too thin and spindly means it's not receiving enough light. If it's not growing (in summer, when it's supposed to) then it might have lost its roots. This is a result of being either too dry or too wet.

Holly Crossley
Acting Deputy Editor

The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then. She's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator – plants are her passion.