Barrel cactus
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10 ways to use barrel cactus in water-wise gardens

Barrel cactus
The golden barrel cactus is back, an increasing popular choice in drought-tolerant gardens, and not just because they need so little water. Designers often use golden barrels to provide intriguing texture, dramatic shapes and bright color all year long. Tag along as cactus and succulents specialist Debra Lee Baldwin provides a quick introduction to how barrels can be deployed in water-wise gardens. Idea No. 1: The round yellow cactuses can play off the blue senecio and red flowers of spiky aloe.

Back to L.A. at Home (Debra Lee Baldwin)
barrel cactus
No. 2: With each other. Part of the plant’s beauty is the effects it creates from different angles. When backlit and viewed from the side, the spines surround the cactuses with a glowing halo.

Back to L.A. at Home (Debra Lee Baldwin)
Barrel cactus
No. 3: Their shape can contrast nicely with taller columnar cactuses. Golden barrels tolerate more irrigation than other cactuses and consequently do not rot as easily.

Back to L.A. at Home (Debra Lee Baldwin)
Barrel cactus
No. 4: Barrel in a pot.

Back to L.A. at Home (Debra Lee Baldwin)
Barrel cactus
No. 5: The orange-tinged leaves of aloe unfurl around the golden spikes of a barrel cactus. “Golden barrels are more popular than ever,” says Molly Thongthiraj, co-owner of California Cactus Center in Pasadena.“They’re the perfect finishing touch for a succulent garden.”

Back to L.A. at Home (Debra Lee Baldwin)
barrel cactus
No. 6: Planted as part of a trio, deployed to simultaneously contrast and echo its neighbors.

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Barrel cactus 7
No. 7: Barrel cactuses used as one element in a complex, varied landscape.

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barrel cactus
No. 8: Barrel cactuses used singularly, surrounded by dark rock for a modern, minimalist effect.

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Barrel cactus
No. 9: Flowering barrel cactus keep company with red-tinged sedum.

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barrel cactus 10
No. 10? Hold on. This detail first: In spring, buds form a whorl at the crown, and satiny yellow flowers unfurl for months.

Back to L.A. at Home (Debra Lee Baldwin)
barrel cactus
No. 10: Do what Chris and Margaret Sullivan of San Diego did. They planted barrel cactuses and other sculptural, architectural plants that suited the contemporary lines of their remodeled home. Against a backdrop of greenish tan walls, columnar cactuses mix with Yucca rostrata trees with strappy leaves.

Back to L.A. at Home (Debra Lee Baldwin)
barrel cactus
Chris planted one yucca so its trunk was parallel to the ground. The tree has since curved upward, lending an sculptural element that contrasts effectively with the angular hardscape and the setting’s strong vertical lines. Through it all, clusters of golden barrel cactuses pop up like spiny beach balls. The Sullivans made a point not to place plants equidistant from each other.

Back to L.A. at Home (Debra Lee Baldwin)
barrel cactus
“We gave some thought to how they might look in nature,” says Margaret Sullivan, pictured here with husband, Chris. “Randomly spaced, odd-numbered groupings seemed to work best.” Because the soil was compacted — “like concrete,” Chris says — they hired a crew to haul a significant amount to the dump. “We brought in 10 yards of decomposed granite for the substrate,” he says. “On top of that went a blend of decomposed granite and cactus mix. Our main goal was good drainage. These plants need loose soil that drains well.” The installation probably cost more than a typical frontyard landscape, Chris says, “but it’s 100 times less work than a lawn.”

Check out our weekly column on drought-tolerant gardening. You’ll find it on our blog: www.latimes.com/home (click on “Dry Garden” in the category cloud). (Debra Lee Baldwin)
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