Watering Outside Cactus in the Winter

Texas, along with many other states, has been in a drought for the last few years, so many I have lost count, and this winter was especially dry. And even though cactus and succulents are supposed to live in dry, arid conditions, mine took a deadly hit from this year’s lack of moisture.

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Walking through the garden the other day, I was dismayed to discover I had lost one of my biggest, nicest Texas horse cripplers, one native to this area. This particular plant was quite large, meaning it was old, and perhaps its time had just come. But I fear its demise was in part from my lack of an occasional watering during the winter this year. We are always advised by the experts to cut back on water during the winter so the cactus won’t drink up the water, freeze, and then have tissue damage from that freezing and expanding process. We are also told to cut back on water for potted specimens, as most tend to go dormant in our winter time.

I used to water more in the winter than I have for the last few winters, based on this advice from people who have raised cactus longer than I have. But based on the growth of my potted cactus and the sad state of my cold-hardy outdoor cactus, I think I am going back to what worked for me before; only slightly less water for the potted plants, and outdoor watering during warm spells in the winter.

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Now, obviously, you have to consider individual needs of certain specimens. For example, I did water the Wyoming cactus bed a few times, knowing that in their native habitat they would soak up melted snow all winter. That bed looks good and the plants are already making buds. The West Texas cactus, which should be used to drier conditions, still need a little shot of water now and then during the winter. I failed them this year. Inside, many of the succulents do better with more water during the winter, such as the kalanchoes, which I have watered a bit more and are rewarding me now with lots of blooms; they will bloom again in the summer. Living stones, by contrast, I water more in the winter and much less in the summer. They are blooming now as well.

So get to know your plants and their needs, trust your gut, and do what works for you in your area.

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