Rain shelter for cacti

After a few weeks of truly beautiful early-spring weather, we’re in for a week of rain and periods of high winds with gusts of up to 40 mph.

The rain is much needed because our precipitation totals for the season have fallen below normal now—we had a wet December with above-average precipitation, but January and February have been very dry. Since inland California typically doesn’t get any rain between May and October, now is the time when we build up our water supply.

While rain is good news for California and almost everything we grow, cacti and other succulents prefer to be dry in winter. A little rain doesn’t hurt, but extended exposure can lead to rot, which in turn can spell the demise of the plant.

Just a few few weeks ago I blogged about how Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek protects its sensitive succulents from the winter rain. In our garden, I’ve never done anything in particular to protect the plants in our raised succulent beds from the rain because these beds contain mostly agaves, aloes, yuccas, echeverias and senecios—no cacti, which are generally more sensitive to overwatering and don’t like to be wet at all during their winter dormancy.

However, now that I’m the proud owner of a budding cactus empire, I’m more aware of how detrimental too much winter rain can be. Next fall we will build a more permanent (and visually attractive) solution to protect our succulent display table. For this week’s bad weather I quickly threw together a temporary shelter consisting of a plastic sheet that I found in the garage, and an assortment of rocks and bricks to weight it down on top of the fence. I’ve been keeping an eye on it all day to see how it handles strong gusts, and so far so good.

I wonder what the neighbors will think???

I should mention that I moved the taller columnar cacti from the display table to the front porch before I put up the tarp—I didn’t want them to get damaged by the billowing plastic.

High-tech way of making sure the tarp doesn’t fly off

Yes, I agree, my makeshift shelter isn’t the most beautiful thing, but it should do the trick.

How does that old saying go? Necessity is the mother of all invention? Well, in spite of the necessity, I’m not much of an inventor—just a gardener who typically flies by the seats of his pants.


  1. So by "building" do you mean you'll make one of those square frames to cover with plastic (like you saw at Ruth Bancroft?

    That succulent pot on the fence makes me nervous. I keep pots on top of my deck posts and there's no way they'd blow of fall off, but I still wire them onto the post just in case.
    It's not work, it's gardening!

  2. Alan, yes, something like that. It wouldn't be difficult to do--not even for a guy with nothing but thumbs.

    That one succulent pot does make me a bit nervous BUT it's been there for years and has withstood all kinds of weather, including strong winds. It does need some attention, though. It's filled to the brim with sempervivums and some trailing sedum I have yet to ID. I should remove at least 1/3 of the plants to give the others room to breathe.

  3. Hi Gerhard, at Ruth Bancroft's garden, any ideas how long do they usually keep those rain shelters over the succulents?

    Building rain shelters is a common practice here too, usually for the entire duration of winter especially in the more inland areas. Winters in the UK can be VERY wet so rain shelters extends the tolerance of succulents planted out.

    We used to have loads of rainshelters in our garden but has decreased through the years as I've been cutting back on succulents grown permanently out. Nothing sophisticated, just plastic corrugated roof with a wooden frame and legs.

    But if you only need to cover yours for a few days/weeks a year then your method is as good as gold already :)

  4. Mark and Gaz, at Ruth Bancroft Gardens they put up their rain shelters in December. I'm sure they leave them up for the season, probably until March.

    Since we're just an hour away, our climate is pretty much the same. Our rainy season lasts from December until March, with occasional rain in April and very rarely May. Then nothing until October or November.

    I do want something a little more attractive and permanent than an old sheet of plastic. Heather (my wife) suggested some sort of retractable awning but that might be getting too technical for this non-technical brain of mine. I love low-tech solutions, like putting styrofoam cups on cacti to protect them from the frost :-).

  5. If it works for you why not? :)You can consider white tents too.

  6. Hello, I know this is a very old post but I came across your blog googling how to protect my outdoor succulents from too much rain. I'm from Houston TX and very very new to succulents. Your post was very helpful to me but I noticed something in your pictures I've NEVER seen before, what is the potted plant in the far right corner of your first photo? It's BEAUTIFUL! I'd love to know so maybe I can find one. Thank you so much and I'll be following your blog from now on!

    1. Sasha, thank you for visiting and for writing! That plant is a fan aloe. The botanical name used to be Aloe plicatilis, now it's Kumara plicatilis. While not common, it's also not terribly rare. You should be able to find it in Houston.

    2. Thank you Gerhard! No luck so far but I'm sure I'll come across one in time!


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