Overall cacti are slow-growing plants. This is because they grow densely, the soil they live in doesn’t have much nutrition, and there is very litter water in most desert landscapes.
That being said, there are a few exceptions as some cacti grow relatively fast.
Some of the fastest-growing cacti in the world include the Peruvian apple cactus which can grow 2 to 4 feet per year and the blue myrtle cactus which may grow up to 3 feet per year.
By most plant standards, this growth can be a lot, but for a cactus, this growth rate is quite exceptional!
In general, most cactus plants only grow about an inch per year. However, some cacti can grow to towering heights even though they grow so little year after year. This is because many cacti—like trees—can live for hundreds of years.
What Are Cacti?
Cacti are succulent, flowering, perennial plants that have herbaceous trunks and stems, and generally don’t have broad leaves. They usually have sharp, thin spines or barbs that are actually modified leaves.
Leaves are mostly absent from cacti because they can lose too much water. To perform food-producing photosynthesis, the cactus has chlorophyll-containing cells in the trunks and stems.
Cacti have hard-walled, waxy-coated, succulent stems that store water and perform photosynthesis. They have spines instead of leaves which lose a lot of water because it evaporates quickly through them.
Most cactus species have shallow, wide-ranging roots that are able to absorb superficial moisture. They range in size from small, stumpy balls, to imposing giants such as the iconic-looking saguaro cacti.
Where Do Cacti Grow?
Most cacti live in dry arid deserts but there are some that actually live in tropical and subtropical areas. Cactus plants can be found as far north as British Columbia and Alberta Canada, and as far south as Chile and Argentina.
Cacti and some succulents are native to North, Central, and South America. They can be found from Canada to the bottom edge of South America. Cacti and many succulents are native to the new world and can be found from Canada’s plains to the southern tip of South America.
To find the largest variety of cacti, head to Mexico, as this country has the most different species. A few species of cacti can be found in Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and East Africa.
The desert has more than just cacti! If you want to learn more about desert plant life, take a look at our article on 12 trees that can grow in the desert.
What Kind Of Cacti Are Native To The US?
If you live on the eastern side of the United States, you have probably seen the prickly pear cactus. This is one of the few native cacti found in the lower 48 states. Most of the other species are native to the lower, western states.
The prickly pear cactus is a low-growing, mounding cactus that has large, flat, “paddles,” covered in long, thick spines. They produce green or purple edible fruits that you may find in some grocery stores.
There are nearly 200 different species of cactus in the United States, but most of them live in six western states. Cacti you might find in the western desert states include the organ pipe cactus, the tall saguaro cactus, the cholla (pronounced choy-ya) cactus, and different species of barrel cactus.
Which Cacti Will Grow The Fastest?
There are some cacti that grow so slowly you may not notice that they’ve grown at all for years. While this can be fun for some gardeners, I personally like to grow plants to see them increase in size, thrive, and sometimes, multiply.
Below, we have included 9 of the fastest-growing cacti and where you can grow them in your yard!
Fastest Growing Cacti
|CACTUS||GROWTH PER YEAR||MATURE SIZE (H X L)||STATES IT WILL GROW||SOIL TYPE|
|Argentine Saguaro||18 inches||25’ x 8’||Zones 8 - 11NC, SC, GA, MS, LA, FL, AL, AR, TX, AZ, CA, southern NV, western OR and WA, HI, PR||Well-draining, sandy/gravelly soil. Water when soil is completely dry|
|Pereskia||2 - 3 feet||15’ x 5’||Zones 10 - 11FL, the southern tip of TX, HI, PR, CA (limited)||Rich, organic, but well-draining soil. Water when the top layer is dry|
|Blue Column||1 - 2 feet||12’ x 4’||Zones 9 - 11FL, LA, TX, AZ, CA, western OR||Well-draining, sandy soil. Water when soil is completely dry|
|Walkingstick||1 - 2 feet||5’ x 5’||Zones 5 - 11(Easier to list states it won’t grow) MT, WY, ND, SD, MN, WI||Well-draining, sandy soil. Water when soil is completely dry|
|Pereskiopsis||5 - 6 feet (slows down after 2 years)||6’ x 2’||Zones 10 - 11FL, the southern tip of TX, HI, PR, CA (limited)||Rich, organic, but well-draining soil. Water when the top layer is dry.|
|Peruvian Apple||2 - 4 feet||30’ x 40’||Zones 8 - 11NC, SC, GA, MS, LA, FL, AL, AR, TX, AZ, CA, southern NV, western OR and WA, HI, PR||Well-draining, very sandy soil. Water when soil is completely dry|
|Mexican Fence Post||1 - 3 feet||20’ x 30’||Zones 9 - 11FL, LA, TX, AZ, CA, western OR||Well-draining, sandy/gravelly soil. Water when soil is completely dry|
|Blue Myrtle||1 - 2 feet||16’ x 12’||Zones 9 - 11FL, LA, TX, AZ, CA, western OR||Well-draining, sandy soil. Water when soil is completely dry|
|Silver Torch||6 inches||10’ x 4’||Zones 9 - 11FL, LA, TX, AZ, CA, western OR||Well-draining, sandy soil. Water when soil is completely dry|
1. Argentine Saguaro
Also known as the cardon grande cactus or by the scientific name Echinopsis terscheckii, this fast-growing cactus can tower up to 25 feet tall, and grow 6 to 8 feet wide. It looks very similar to the typical saguaro, but they don’t get as large.
The Argentine Saguaro can be kept in a pot but it will only grow as large as the pot allows. The great outdoors is where these cacti shine and reach their full potential. Given plenty of sunlight and ample water and fertilizer this cactus can grow up to 18 inches per year.
Miracle-Gro Cactus, Palm & Citrus Potting Mix is a fertilizer-fortified, fast-draining soil mix great for your cacti. It can be used in pots or in the ground where you need better drainage.
In the summer, this cactus grows a profusion of white flowers that bloom at night. Moths and bats may visit the flowers to drink the nectar. The flowers will usually last most of the day before shriveling up and falling off.
Like all cacti, this one needs very well-draining soil but it can be watered a little bit more often than most cacti prefer. Be sure to plant this cactus in full sun.
The Argentine Saguaro does best in Zones 8 to 11 and is only cold hardy to 18° F.
These majestic cacti make amazing focal pieces. Put it in a prominent spot in your yard and then landscape a beautiful desert-like oasis around it.
2. Pereskia Or Rose Cactus
The Pereskia is a tropical plant that doesn’t look so much like a cactus. It has leaves and black or brown spines and grows more like a shrub, but it is a true cactus. These cacti are native to the West Indies and southeastern South America.
Also called the rose cactus, Pereskia grow two to three feet per year, with the fastest growth in their first year or two. They can get up to 20 feet tall, but typically top out around 5 to 7 feet tall.
The rose cactus blooms in the summer and produces pink or purplish-pink flower clusters followed by small pear-shaped fruits.
It’s hardy in Zones 10 to 11 and likes organic, well-draining soil. This cactus—because of its tropical nature—prefers a little bit more water than typical cacti. Water it when the soil dries out, and let it stay drier in the winter months.
They can withstand cold temperatures down to 25° F. Anything below that and the rose cactus may not survive.
This tall growing plant makes a great focal piece. Be sure to give it plenty of sunlight as they need full sun.
3. Blue Column Cactus
Another fast-growing cactus that can reach heights of up to 30 feet tall, this cactus is usually blue or grey in color instead of green. It’s a very popular cactus among nurseries and garden centers. Yellow spines compliment the bluish stems.
Pilosocereus pachycladus can grow a foot to 2 feet per year. Straight from the nursery, this cactus is usually a singular stalk, but given time it can grow more stalks and even produce tube-shaped flowers.
These cacti prefer desert conditions. They like it sunny, need sandy, very well-draining soil, and only want to be watered when the dirt has dried out.
The blue-column cactus comes from Mexico and South America and prefers temperatures at or above 70° F. They can even withstand temps when they climb into the triple digits, but they don’t like to be cold. Frost will be the end of pilosocereus.
Try not to let it get below 50° F. Zones 9 to 11 are the best zones for this heat-loving plant. Plant this cactus outside only if you have very warm winters. Otherwise, you might want to keep it contained in a pot so you can move it inside when it gets cold.
4. Walkingstick Cactus
Other names include the spiny cholla, cane cholla, or cylindropuntia spinosior. These spiny cacti can grow 3 to 5 feet tall and wide. They have thin stems that grow faster than most other cacti.
They can be from greyish-green to purple and can sprout red, yellow, or white flowers. The walkingstick cholla cactus blooms from late spring to early summer.
They require plenty of bright sunlight and a well-draining, sandy soil. They benefit from watering about once a week during the summer, but let the soil dry out. In the winter they only need very little water, but they are cold hardy up to -20°F.
The walkingstick cactus will grow in Zones 5 through 11.
It’s Not The Same Cholla
You may have heard of the jumping cactus or jumping cholla. You know, that insidious cactus that seems to attack hikers in the desert with scores of spine-covered knobs. That dangerous plant is called the teddy bear cholla.
Sometimes called the “most dangerous plant in America,” the teddy bear cholla doesn’t actually jump at you, but if you get close enough to brush up against one, you’ll never forget it.
It will send needle-sharp spines into you that are difficult and painful to remove. The spines are so springy that they can bounce back onto you. This characteristic gives the segments the appearance of jumping at you.
They also have multiple backward-pointing barbs on the spines that make it feel like you’re pulling out fish hooks.
The walkingstick cholla is related but does not have the same habit. Parts of the plant can break off when it’s disturbed, but the spines usually are not as long and are definitely not springy.
Give this cactus plenty of room. The joints can be fragile and will fall off when it’s disturbed. You don’t want to be digging underneath it and have one fall off and land on your back. It would make a great specimen or focal piece in your landscape.
These plants look more like succulents than cacti. Though technically cacti are succulents, not all succulents are cacti.
Pereskiopsis is another tropical cactus that prefers humidity and rich, organic soil instead of a dry, sandy growing medium. When potting these plants you should use about three parts organic potting mix, with a one-part mixture of perlite, gravel, pumice, and sand.
MDPQT 5 QT Professional Grade Horticultural Organic Perlite will help add drainage to thick soils. Mix this into the regular potting mix to help water drain out faster, and allow the roots to get extra oxygen.
These cacti are heavy feeders, and like more moisture than typical cacti, but they still don’t like wet roots. If the soil isn’t draining well, root rot could set it.
Hardy in Zones 10 and 11, these plants can only handle temperatures down to 35°F.
These cacti almost never flower, and even in the wild rarely ever produce seeds. They do take very well to cuttings, however. Many owners end up with several pots of these plants when they learn how easy it is to propagate them.
Pereskiopsis is the fastest-growing cactus as it can grow up to a foot or more per month! Some people have reported 5 to 6 inches of growth in a single week.
You may have more planting options with this type of cactus as there are more varieties of plants that prefer a richer soil. But you may want to keep these cacti contained to a pot or border as they can easily take over.
6. Peruvian Apple Cactus
Cereus peruvianus is a fast-growing, very tall cactus that is often spineless. It’s called the Peruvian apple cactus because of the oval-shaped, edible, purple fruits that grow on the stems.
The fruit is said to resemble the inside of a dragon fruit with a soft, sweet, creamy texture with crunchy seeds.
This cactus can get very tall (up to 30 feet) and spreads out by growing more long stems up into the sky. Some of the stems can grow to a width of 8 inches in diameter.
Long, thin flower buds shoot directly off the tall stems, and the flowers open up at night. In the wild, bats often visit these flowers for a drink of nectar.
Native to South America, this cactus prefers a very sandy soil and infrequent watering, along with plenty of sunlight. Plant this cactus in an area with exceptional drainage and full sun.
They are hardy in zones 8 to 11 and reduce watering in the winter. For your hard work, these cacti will grow up to 2 to 4 feet per year.
These cacti are definitely a focal piece because of how big they can get. If you’re planning on harvesting the fruits, place them in your backyard. When people realize how tasty these fruits are, you might find some missing.
7. Mexican Fence Post Cactus
Pachycereus marginatus resembles pipe organ cacti except they don’t get quite as large, though they can still reach up to 20 feet tall. They produce columnar trunks that look similar to fence posts.
Some gardeners cultivate this cactus to make a living fence because of their grouping, and upright growing habit.
Native to Mexico, and more accurately the states of Hidalgo, Queretaro, and Guanajuato, this cactus can grow up to 3 feet a year. In the spring the Mexican fence post cactus sprouts pink to red flowers followed by yellow, orange, or red fruits.
The Mexican fence post cactus is drought tolerant and prefers sandy soil. Let the ground dry out before watering it again and this easygoing cactus will last years for you.
It’s hardy to 25°F and will grow outside in zones 9 to 11.
These cacti would look great as a backdrop to smaller plants or do your own living fence. Put it against an already existing fence so you don’t have to do as much weed trimming.
8. Blue Myrtle Cactus
Myrtillocactus geometrizans is an odd little cactus. It starts out growing like most typical cacti by sprouting a single columnar stem, but as it ages it grows more shrublike. Often people describe it as looking like a candelabra.
At full height, they can get up to 16 feet tall, and just as wide or wider depending on how many branches they sprout. While they grow well outside, this cactus takes well to indoor life very well.
They are really great for those who have never cared for a cactus before, as they are quite forgiving. It needs plenty of light and loves the heat.
You may see white flowers in the spring, but they only last a day before dropping off. The good news is after they flower, they produce little edible fruits that are often eaten in Mexico where they are from.
The blue myrtle cactus will grow in zones 9 to 11 but won’t handle temperatures below 25°F. You need well-draining, sandy soil, and only need to water them when the soil is nice and dry.
They can be propagated by cuttings. Cut a stem close to the junction, then allow it to dry out for 2 to 3 weeks. Next, put the cutting in a sandy soil and water it once.
Wait for the soil to dry completely before watering again, and repeat this process. Keep it in a warm place with plenty of indirect sunlight, or partial shade until it is established and shows signs of new growth.
9. Silver Torch Cactus
Native to Bolivia and Argentina, the silver torch cactus looks like a fur-covered plant. This cactus grows a little slower than many of our other contenders on this list, but can still manage around 6 inches per year.
Fully grown the silver torch cactus can reach up to 10 feet in length. Though they’re covered in silvery hair, they still have sharp spines all along their length.
To add to the visual interest, this cactus (Cleistocactus strausii) may produce magenta-colored flowers in late spring through early summer.
Drought tolerant, the silver torch requires plenty of sunlight and a well-draining soil. Water it when the soil dries out during the summer, but scale back the water in the winter. They are cold-tolerant to the mid-20s and grow well in zones 9 to 11.
These cacti can make great focal pieces or work well to contrast smaller cactus plants. With the showy, fibrous hairs, it’s a great conversation starter.
Which Cacti Should I Plant In My Yard?
What kind of yard do you have and what are you looking for in a cactus? Do you have a large area with very sandy soil? Or is your yard a low-lying area that often has pools of water after the rain?
Most cacti will quickly root rot in thick, loamy, clay soils. You’ll need to add a lot of sand, gravel, or other soil amendments for yards that have heavy, moisture-rich areas. You may opt for container gardens if your soil is heavy.
Are you looking for a large focal piece, or would you rather have a small desert garden to add visual appeal? Do you have a big yard or a small plot? Here are a few options for planting cacti in your yard.
Fast-Growing Cacti For Focal Points
The cactus that will definitely be a conversation piece and an amazing sight would be the Argentine Saguaro. Similar to the mammoth saguaro, but not quite as big, these will definitely add a Southwestern vibe to your yard.
You’ll need a large area for this cactus to truly shine but it’s definitely a stunning piece once it’s mature.
Other, stunning individual specimens would include the Mexican fence cactus, Peruvian apple, and blue myrtle. These cacti can be amazing stand-alone specimens.
The walking stick cholla can make for an amazing focal piece as well, but I personally like the look of these with a few other, smaller cacti near it.
Which Cacti Work Well In Small Gardenscapes?
Most of these cacti will stay small if you keep them confined to pots. Creating a desert garden with various-sized cacti in different pots can look like a masterpiece.
But, if you want to grow several of these specimens together you still can do so. You’ll end up doing some trimming to keep some of these giants in check though.
Try putting up a few walking stick cholla, silver torch, and pereskiopsis together for an interesting cactus garden. You’ll have to divide the soil or put the pereskiopsis in a pot though because they like more moisture and more organic matter in their soil.
Use Your Imagination
You aren’t limited to these cacti only. There are hundreds of other, slower-growing varieties that will complement these fast growers. The prickly pear cactus can grow nearly anywhere and makes a great border.
There are dozens of barrel cacti that grow low to the ground and look like prickly balloons. These will compliment the tall, columnar cactus and help to fill in the lower areas of your garden.
If you are landscaping in the desert, you aren’t limited to just cacti! Check out our article on the 12 fastest growing desert trees for more ideas.
That’s A Wrap!
On the whole, cacti are slow-growing succulents. This is because they don’t receive much water, and the moisture they do get, they hold onto it like a leprechaun guarding his lucky charms. They also live in areas with very little nutrients in the soil.
The cacti included in this article are relatively fast-growing, so you won’t have to wait decades to notice new growth. They can be grown indoors or out, but they will live much longer with the proper care in an outdoor habitat.
So, get out there and grow some cacti. They’re no longer just for Arizona.
Hernández‐Hernández, Tania, et al. “Beyond aridification: multiple explanations for the elevated diversification of cacti in the New World Succulent Biome.” New phytologist 202.4 (2014): 1382-1397.
Fleming, Theodore H., and Alfonso Valiente-Banuet, eds. Columnar cacti and their mutualists: evolution, ecology, and conservation. University of Arizona Press, 2002.
Bobich, Edward G., and Park S. Nobel. “Vegetative reproduction as related to biomechanics, morphology and anatomy of four cholla cactus species in the Sonoran Desert.” Annals of Botany 87.4 (2001): 485-493.
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