The term “prickly pear” generally refers to a subgroup of the Opuntia family of cacti. These plants are identified by their wide, flat, branching pads, and often called nopal cactus or paddle cactus. Most varieties of prickly pear have a combination of detachable spines and tufts of barbed bristles (glochids) that can cause significant allergic skin reactions. There are also spineless varieties like O. ellisiana and others.
The pads, flowers and fruit of most varieties of prickly pear cactus are edible if they are carefully cleaned first. Prickly pear cacti can mostly be found in warm and dry climates, like in the Southwest, although there are some varieties that can withstand cold weather, like the Eastern prickly pear (O. humifusa). As the plants prepare for winter, their pads may start to look wilted and shriveled, but they will regain their color in spring.
Zones 9-11 are generally the best zones for this plant, but some varieties, such as O. humifusa, can survive in colder temperatures down to zone 4.
There is a range of cactus sizes, from those that are 6-12 inches tall and 18 inches wide, to those that are 10-15 feet tall.
June to July
Prickly pear flowers come in different colors, most commonly yellow, red or purple. The fruits can also be different colors, including shades of red, green, and yellow-orange.
The prickly pear cactus is deer resistant because of its spiny nature.
HOW TO PLANT
When to plant:
Cuttings can be started at any time of year, but you may have better results if planted in spring or summer. Seeds should be started in late spring.
Where to plant:
Prickly pears do best in a location that gets a lot of direct sunlight and has soil that drains well.
How to plant:
When transplanting, be sure to place the cactus at the same depth it is currently growing. If placed too deep, the cactus may rot. Take care when handling, as the pads can become top-heavy and break off. It can be helpful to have an extra set of hands, as cacti can be both heavy and awkward to lift and place in the hole.
Be sure to wear gloves and long sleeves to protect yourself from being poked by a spine or touching the skin-irritating glochids.
To learn more about how to grow plants from seeds or cuttings, check out the Propagation section.
You don’t have to prune prickly pears, but you can if you want to. Cut off individual pads as needed to keep the plant the shape and size you want it. Use tongs to hold the pad and a sharp knife to cut it at the joint or line where it connects to the next pad. You can also propagate prickly pears by callousing off a pad and planting it.
Prickly pears grow best in alkaline or neutral soil that drains well. If moisture stays on the plant or there is Pooling water, the plant can rot.
Amendments & Fertilizer:
For young plants, use a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer. For established plants, a 5-10-10 or even 0-10-10 water-soluble fertilizer will promote more flowers and fruit. If you are growing for the pads, use a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen.
Prickly pears are very resistant to drought. For the first month after they are propagated, do not water them at all. In the first year, water them every two to four weeks – twice a month in summer and once a month at other times of the year. Most of the time, rainfall will be enough to keep them alive. If there is a drought, water them twice a month in summer and once a month at other times.
The growth of a plant from a seed is relatively slow, taking up to four years to produce flowers and fruit. For the seed to germinate, it requires shade and must be kept moist.
Propagation from pads is much simpler and yields faster results. Here’s how:
- Pads that are at least 6 months old can be cut off by following the pruning instructions above.
- Set the pads out in a dry area with light shade and allow the cut end to form a callus. This prevents the new plant from rotting at the base and can take 2 to 4 weeks in warm, dry weather, longer if it is cool or humid.
- Once fully calloused over, plant pads in a mixture of half soil and half sand at a depth of 1 inch. If planted any deeper, your plant can rot.
- Don’t water it for the first month, as there is enough moisture within the pad to sustain itself.
- Prop it up with rocks or other means of support until roots grow over the next month or so. After a month, there should be enough roots that your plant can stand on its own, but continue the support if it’s still a little wobbly.
- You can water it at this time as well and follow the watering guidelines above, making sure to let it dry out completely in between.
on new plants, flowers and fruit will appear by the second or third time a pad grows
Diseases and Pests:
Prickly pears can suffer from rot if they are not grown in an area with good drainage.
How Fast Do Prickly Pear Cactus Grow
- Prickly pears are renowned for their edible fruit, which is a fruit that grows on cactus and is popular in Mexico and the American Southwest as a delightful snack.
- The cactus fruit’s characteristic reddish-purple juice can also be used to make drinks, sweets, and jellies.
- However, the plant grows slowly, and it can take 3 to 4 years for a fresh plant to begin bearing fruit.
- After the danger of frost has gone, prickly pear should be planted outside in the spring. Any period in the growing season, you can take a clipping to start a new plant indoors.
Top Opuntia Cactus Benefits
- Diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and hangovers are all treated using prickly pear cactus, which is also known as nopal, opuntia, and other native names.
- It has antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects as well. According to early records, the prickly pear cactus can help persons with type 2 diabetes lower their blood sugar levels.
- According to some studies, prickly pear cactus extract may help to alleviate the symptoms of a hangover, probably due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
- Full of Fiber, antioxidants, and carotenoids are abundant. The prickly pear cactus is a popular plant in many parts of the world, especially in Latin America, where it is native.
- The leaves, flowers, stems, and fruit are all edible. The full prickly pear cactus is consumed (boiled or grilled).
Prickly Pear Cactus Habitat
The prickly pear cactus can be found in many different deserts in America. There are many different types of prickly pear cactus that can live in different types of environments.
The cactus plant prefers either dry, rocky plains or slopes with coarse, well-drained soil, or pinyon/juniper woods in the mountains. Some varieties of the cactus plant also prefer steep, stony slopes in the lowland.
Growing From Seeds
Get the seeds
The fruit of the prickly pear cactus can either be bought from a farm store or removed from the plant. The prickly pear fruit is an egg-shaped red fruit that is found at the top of the plant.
Prepare a garden pot
Fill a pot with rocks and cover the rocks with water.
To make a soil mix that cacti will thrive in, fill the pot with a mix of half soil, gritty pumice or loam, and half sand. This mix drains better than clay-rich soils and is more like the natural desert soils that cacti are used to.
Plant the seeds
Place 1-2 seeds on the surface of the soil. Gently press them into the soil and lightly cover them with a small amount of soil. Add enough water to dampen the soil.
Keep the pots in a shady and warm location
Cactus seeds do not need direct sunlight to grow in the same way as cacti plants do. To keep the seeds warm, place the pots in a shady area where some sunlight can reach them. Keep the soil moist while the seeds are growing and germinating. When the soil feels dry to the touch, water it.
The plants that are cultivated from seeds take longer to grow as compared to the ones that are propagated from cuttings or paddles. It takes about three to four years for the cacti to blossom and bear fruit. However, the plants grown from seeds play an important role in maintaining the genetic diversity.
Growing From Paddle
- Using a clean knife, slice a paddle off the cacti at the joint. Choose a healthy paddle from a stem that is actively growing. New paddles that sprouted in the spring usually root quickly.
- Place the paddle on a clean paper towel and place it in a place away from the rays of direct sunlight. Leave for one to two days so that the cut will heal and dry before planting.
- Pour the cactus soil mix in a 5-inch-diameter growing container having at least one draining hole at its bottom or mix peat moss,quartz sand (one part each) to make your own soil mix. Water the mixture until it is slightly moistened but not soggy.
- Place the cut edge of the paddle into the potting soil mix that has been formed. Embed up to a third of the length of the paddle, or until it is able to stand up by itself.
- Put the container in a warm room with plenty of indirect yet bright light. Water sparingly to prevent the soil from drying up completely.
- As soon as the cactus has rooted, which normally takes about three to six weeks, transfer it to a full sunspot. When you gently tug on a rooted paddle, it will not pull away from the dirt.
Potting And Repotting For Prickly Pear
- Choose a pot with plenty of drainage holes at the bottom if you’re growing prickly pear from seed in a container.
- Use a potting mix that drains adequately, such as a succulent-specific mix. Then, when you want to plant your new prickly pear in its planter, put on strong protective gloves.
- Only repot your pear cactus when it has become root-bound or has grown too huge and unmanageable in its container. To begin, ensure the soil has dried completely.
- Then, by gripping the plant’s base and shaking off the old soil, take it away from the pot.
- Refill with a potting mix that drains adequately and plant it in a much bigger pot Allow your repotted pear to reintegrate its roots into the soil before watering it again.
What Are The Side Effects Of Prickly Pear Cactus
- When consumed as food, prickly pear cactus is mostly harmless. When consumed as medicine in proper proportions for a short length of time, the pads, flowers, and fruit may be harmless.
- Prickly pear cactus can cause minor side effects such as diarrhoea, nausea, bloating, and headache in some people.
- Large volumes of prickly pear cactus fruits might induce an obstruction in the lower intestines in rare situations.
- Perfect choice for low-water, cactus, rock or rustic-style gardens.
- Suitable for containers, but they can be quite top-heavy, so choose a sturdy container that won’t tip over.
- In colder climates, plant non-hardy types in containers so they can be moved indoors.
- Consider the mature size of your Opuntia cactus and plant where it won’t grow to interfere with pathways and unsuspecting passersby.
- Use spineless varieties where people or animals might come in contact with them, or simply to get the look and not the poke!
- Plant on sandy slopes or dry prairie areas.
The prickly pear cactus has a rustic look that can make any environment more interesting. Although they are covered in spines, they are actually quite easy to take care of. Prickly pears are a reminder of simpler times when all you needed was a little bit of nature to make your day.