Planting Prickly Pear Cactus: How To Grow A Prickly Pear

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By Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Drought tolerant plants are important parts of the home landscape. Prickly pear plant is an excellent arid garden specimen that is appropriate for USDA plant hardiness zones 9 to 11. Growing prickly pear in colder climates can be done in containers where they are moved indoors when cold temperatures threaten. The question, “How to grow prickly pear?” is best answered with a little background on the plant.

Prickly Pear Plant Characteristics

Prickly pears are vigorously growing cactus with detachable spines which means they may not be suitable for every garden. The plants are perfect for the hot as a griddle areas of your garden. The plant is comprised of wide, flat, thick pads that are covered in spines and segmented stems. There are 181 species of prickly pear plant that range from low growing plants just over a foot high to 18 foot high giants.

Types of Prickly Pear

The wide range of cactus available for the home garden, provide a plant for every warm season situation.

The diminutive Beavertail prickly pear (Opuntia basilaris) has bluish gray pads that are slightly triangular in shape and carried on a 20 inch tall frame that can spread 20 to 30 inches wide.

The Indian fig prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) is a monster of a cactus that grows in a treelike habit. It bears an edible fruit and large orange or yellow flowers.

The types of prickly pear have numerous descriptive names, among them bunny ears (Opuntia microdasys) and cow’s tongue (Opuntia engelmannii).

Planting Prickly Pear

The first thing to remember when planting prickly pear is to wear thick gloves and full length sleeves. It will be helpful to have a second pair of hands to keep the cactus stable when lowering it into the hole.

Plant the prickly pear at the same level it was growing in the nursery pot. Some exterior support may be necessary for larger specimens while it establishes. Planting prickly pear cactus requires careful handling to avoid damaging the plant and you.

How to Grow a Prickly Pear

Prickly pears are easy to grow. They need well-drained soil and can survive on rainwater after established. During rooting, the plant should be irrigated every two or three weeks. When you choose a cactus, consider the size it will eventually become and plant it away from pathways and areas where people will brush against it. Growing prickly pear successfully relies on a warm, dry climate.

You can easily grow your own prickly pear. Propagation from pads is quick and quite simple. The pads are actually specialized flattened stems. Six month old pads are removed from the plant and set out in a dry area to form a callus on the cut end for several weeks. A half and half mix of soil and sand is good for planting prickly pear pads. The pad will form roots in a few months. During this time, it needs support and should not be watered. The pad can be watered after it will stand on its own.

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