Think you can’t grow cacti in New Hampshire? “Think again!” says Martine Villalard-Bohnsack of Francestown, New Hampshire. Martine is confident you can grow cacti just like she does, both indoors and out. She finds cacti fascinating, but of course, that may have something to do with the fact that Martine is a retired professor emerita of biology from Roger Williams University, Bristol, Rhode Island. Says Martine, “Cacti have astonishing shapes, unusual growth patterns, spectacular flowers and are tolerant of extreme growing conditions.  I’m always on the lookout for a new cactus.” Monadnock Table got a tour of Martine’s gardens and learned about growing cacti in southern New Hampshire.  

You don’t live in a place where we’d think of growing cacti outside. What got you interested?

Cacti have an unusual structure, along with beautiful, brightly colored large flowers and are native to the American continent. They’re a true American group.  

What types of cacti do you grow?

(The) indoor desert cacti I grow include the globe cactus, nipple cactus, fishhook cactus and pincushion cactus. They require full sun and watering once a week or less. The greatest danger is overwatering, which causes rotting. Outside one type I grow is the Eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa).  

Are they easy to grow?

Yes. The Eastern prickly pear is an example of a cactus that thrives in southern New Hampshire. It’s actually the only cactus native to the Eastern U.S. It’s very easy to grow, very adaptable and hardy to zone 4.  

So long as you’re in zone 5, it does just fine?

Yes, provided it gets full sun and good drainage in sandy or gritty soil. Gravel mulch is helpful, but not necessary. In severe droughts, they should be watered but not over-watered.  

For the outside cacti what about our cold winters? And how about handling them?

Our winters will not affect them adversely. After all, many cacti grow at high altitudes on rocky mountain slopes and are tolerant of very cold, harsh winters. But yes, they’re tricky to handle. They should be handled with thick gloves. Even when spines are absent, cacti should always be handled with gloves or with a rolled-up newspaper. Their barbed bristles can penetrate the skin and be extremely irritating.  

What other cacti does well around here?

Prickly pear is by no means the only cactus tolerant of low temperatures. Other species of opuntia (prickly pear) can also be grown outside in southern New Hampshire.   

I was skeptical at first, but you’ve got me curious about growing cacti myself.

A good place to go to for inspiration and ideas on growing cacti is The Fells, Newbury, New Hampshire, a historic garden and estate on Lake Sunapee or Cady’s Falls Nursery, Morrisville, Vermont.    

The Back Page Backyard is a peek at what our neighbors are growing and raising in the Monadnock Region. Have an idea for this page? Email us at editor@monadnocktable.com.