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I'm in USDA hardiness zone 6b. I'm growing eastern prickly pears as outdoor perennials, and would like to grow some other cacti as well. From what I gather, cold hardiness has a lot to do with soil moisture levels, as cacti with a better water supply tend to get more cell wall ruptures, inducing rot and killing the plant.

In a cold, arid climate like North Dakota (zones 4-5), there is very little soil moisture going into the winter months, so there are several cacti that are native to the region.

I live in a far wetter climate, so conditions are harder here. But if I plant in a raised bed of mostly sand and organic matter, the drainage might be good enough for quite a few cactus species.

What cacti will grow well in this type of climate, with little or no care over the winter?

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    I'm interested to see what turns up. Zone 4, but I have a spot that seems ideal for cold-weather cacti since it's very rain shadowed up next to a building with a wide overhang (and sadly might be locally zone 6 due to building heat bleed, or somewhat less sadly, southern exposure) – Ecnerwal Dec 8 '14 at 22:22
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My neighbour grows opuntia species in USDA zone 4 (Canadian zone 5a) with lows to -40 deg C. The key seems to be good snow cover. This species has an extremely wide range from Texas to Alberta as seen in this link. If the winter weather brings unpredictable highs and lows and freezing rain then some die back is to be expected.

Opuntia fragilis alberta

enter image description here

Image courtesy of wikipedia

  • Is the pictured species the only one you are referring to in this answer? – J. Musser Dec 9 '14 at 0:27
  • Not sure what you mean. It's not the most attractive of cactus but it will grow where you are. – kevinsky Dec 9 '14 at 0:32
  • I meant, is there only one or do you have more of a list? If not, I understand and thanks for the pointer. – J. Musser Dec 9 '14 at 2:06
  • It's the only one I know for sure will grow in cold zones – kevinsky Dec 9 '14 at 13:49
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As was noted in the question, these cacti will not survive the winter with much moisture at all in the soil. They need water when growing, but over winter, they need dryness and light soil.

If I ever get this started, I'll probably put a hoop-house over the bed and cover it overwinter to prevent moisture from accumulating in the soil.

I did a little research, and here are the most interesting of the results I got, narrowed from a list about twice this long I have on notepad :):

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My potted Echinocereus reichenbachii has withstood multiple winters of zone 6 out in the open...rain, freezing rain, and snow.

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    That's awesome! I'd love to see a picture! – J. Musser Feb 18 '16 at 19:22

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