(Note in 2013 the cacti garden will be relocated as a result of our renovation and expansion- sorry for any inconvenience)
Volunteer Harry Dubas planted the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens’ (CBG) cactus garden in 1994 and has maintained it since.
Dubas’ volunteer career with the CBG began in 1994. He had a number of extra cacti growing outside his personal garden in an adjacent yard with permission from the landowner. When the lot sold the new landowner did not want the cacti garden. Harry approached the CBG about preserving his collection. It has since been a wonderful addition for the Gardens with Harry volunteering his expertise and time in the regular maintenance of the bed. The site chosen for the new cacti garden was a neglected patch in the southeast corner of the CBG parking lot. “This area is highly visible and suited to the needs of cacti being un-irrigated soil, good drainage and great access to the sun. Prior to the cacti garden, it was an unattractive corner,” said Assistant Director, Claus Johnson.
The first step in establishing the garden was to amend the area by overlaying a sandy subsoil on top of the existing prairie grass. Harry also added some coarser gravel-based soil for increased drainage.
The ideal soil for cacti is about 1⁄3 coarse gravel, 1⁄3 sand and 1⁄3 topsoil. Dubas explains that, “You must add some type of gravelly soil because good drainage is very important.” If you let your cacti stand in water or become over watered, they will eventually rot, so water cacti sparingly. Dubas doesn’t generally use fertilizer but says it will not hurt.
One advantage of the poor, dry soil preferred by cacti is that most weeds can’t survive the dry conditions. This is fortunate because cactus are very hard to weed around. Dubas uses thick rubber gloves to protect his hands while working with the cacti. “For years I would get spines in my fingers because they penetrated the leather gloves, then one day I brought in my ice fishing gloves, and they are great protection” he said. To prevent the cacti from spreading or to control their growth you can prune them by snipping them at the joints. Winter protection is also important. At the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, Dubas covers the cacti beds with burlap to protect them from the famous Cheyenne winter wind.
At the CBG the prickly pear cacti bloom mid-June to the first week in July. Each flower only blooms for one day, but each plant can have up to 150 buds. They can be quite showy over a number of days. One cactus may have twenty-five blooms in one day. If the plants bloom in the afternoon on a cloudy day, they may bloom again the next day. One must have a love for cacti to go through the work for such a short bloom season, but they have a beautiful reward.
Next time you visit the Gardens be sure to watch the changes in the cactus garden over the seasons. If you see Harry, tell him thanks for the great show. Also, check out the more tropical and unusual cacti and succulents on display inside the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens conservatory.