This post will teach you all about how to propagate prickly pear cactus pads. It’s a beautiful and easy to propagate classic cactus that you’ll surely enjoy having in your home.
How to Propagate Prickly Pear Cactus
Say the title of this post five times fast. Or don’t, either is cool with me. I know you’re just here to learn about propagating prickly pear cactus pads. 🙂 They are a hardy and easy-to-grow cactus, so I’m excited to share my experience with them.
I don’t exactly have cactus farms nearby in Maryland, so thank God for the Internet. I ordered four reasonably priced pads from the Texas Prickly Pears Etsy shop, settling on three large pads and one jumbo pad (I gave one to my dad).
I’m growing mine inside for now since it’s the middle of winter, so I’m going to share tips with that in mind. (See a full post about prickly pear cactus care!)
Propagating Prickly Pear Cactus Pad Steps
1. Take a cutting
To propagate prickly pear cactus pads from a cutting, first gently pull one off of the main plant. Try to get as clean of a separation as you can. Then allow your pad’s cut end to dry and harden over a bit. It might turn a bit brown while you are letting the cut end harden over.
This should take about 1 week. Unlike a lot of other plants, you don’t need to wait to roots to sprout. This will happen in the soil. (Although mine were kind of starting to sprout, I think.) Since mine were freshly cut and in transit for about 4 days, I let them sit out on my dining room table for about 2ish days.
Why do the cut ends need to callus over?
Cacti in general do not need a lot of water, and too much water can kill them fast. When you take a fresh cutting, that is like a main line into the plant. It you take a cutting and immediately plant it, it will probably be fine if you withhold water for a few days. However, you up your chances of success by letting the cutting callus first.
The callus is a protective layer and prevent the cutting from taking in too much water. This is the same process for propagating other similar plants like succulents and snake plants. (See my posts on how to propagate succulents from leaves and cuttings and my guide on 4 ways to propagate snake plants.)
Here’s about what it will look like as the end callouses over.
Step 2: Plant the prickly pear cutting
After the cuttings have callused over, it’s time to plant. You can dip the cut ends of the pads into rooting hormone before you plant them if you have it handy, but it certainly isn’t a requirement. I usually reserve rooting hormone for some harder-to-root plants, and the prickly pear isn’t one of those.
Simply plant the cuttings upright in well-draining succulent/cactus soil and water. See my easy 3-ingredient DIY succulent soil recipe or just buy one from the store that is labeled “succulent” or “cactus.” Don’t use regular well-draining potting soil—succulent/cactus soil has more additives like sand and perlite to facilitate drainage.
Water the cuttings when the top few inches of soil dry out. After a few weeks, try to very gently tug on the cuttings. If you are met with resistance, congratulations! Your cutting is beginning to root. Don’t worry if it’s been a few weeks and you still don’t feel resistance. It can take a while, especially during the winter when it’s colder.
Step 3: Transplant or water as normal
I planted my prickly pear pads in the planter I wanted to keep them in, so I didn’t need to transplant them. If you need to transplant them, wait until the roots are relatively established. Once the roots are established, make sure you back off watering and wait until the soil dries out before watering again.
Overwatering is sure to kill a cactus! Don’t keep the soil too moist as you did during the propagation stage. Now it’s its own plant and doesn’t need the extra help for root sprouting.
4-Month Update: Transplanting Propagated Prickly Pear Cactus
Hey gang, it’s roughly 3 to 4ish months after I first put my prickly pear cactus pads in soil to root. I had them rooting in this little planter on our dining room table for a few months. After about 2 months, this happened…
Yes! That’s a little baby sprouting! How exciting. Now that I was positive these were all rooted, I put transplanted the prickly pear cactus pads to individual pots. Transplanting them was easy; just make sure you don’t disturb the roots too much, and add some fresh, well-draining cactus soil.
About two weeks ago, I also set them outside. It’s finally getting sunny and warm here, and they are drinking it up. Out of the three pads I’m working on, two have major growth on them. One doesn’t have any but seems to be doing well otherwise. I’ll keep an eye on it.
Here are some pictures of the growth. I’m letter the rain water these and avoiding watering them while I am watering my other plants. That seems to be all they need for now. I’m going to be putting these in larger pots soon and probably will combining them…I am so pleased with how they are doing!
2-Year Update: Back to where we started
These little guys have been through a lot, and we’re right back to where we started! At the end of the 2020 growing season, I just didn’t have enough room inside for all of my plants. So I gave away some cuttings (my husband damaged one beyond saving with the lawn mower) and kept three little pads to save inside through the winter.
I followed the exact same process for these: Pulled them off the mother plant, let them callus over for a few days but just letting them chill on the deck, and then planted them in cactus soil. To be honest, I mostly just water these when I remember too. They are in a bathroom window that gets good light. And they still rooted great!
Other questions about prickly pear proapgation
Although prickly pear propagation is pretty easy and straightforward, there are a few other things to keep in mind. Have a look through for more.
How do you root a broken piece of cactus?
Great news, it’s pretty much the exact same process. I do this often with succulent propagation. Leaf breaks off? I’ll save it and propagate it! Prickly pear pads can be knocked off relatively easily. If you have the plant in a pot outside, maybe a storm knocks it over and a pad falls off. If the cactus and pad are in decent shape, you can save it.
In fact, you can probably just pop it right in the same pot with the plant it fell off of. This will create a full and more interesting look, too. Especially if the pads are different heights.
Will a cactus root in water?
Yes, absolutely. You can root cactus in water or soil. However, water encourages the creation of a different kind of roots, and water does not have nutrients. Since prickly pear roots so easily in soil, I recommend skipping water rooting completely and going straight to soil. It also roots faster in soil.
How fast do prickly pear cactus grow?
Speaking from experience with my prickly pears in pots both indoors and outdoors, they grow pretty slow. Each pad grew 1–2 new baby pads each summer. However, if you have a longer growing season or more time with warmer temperatures, your plant will likely grow faster.
Like many plants, prickly pears might also be happier planted in the ground if that’s an option for you. Since these plants would not survive the winter where I live, I have to keep mine in pots or dig them up to take them inside. I opt for pots!
Can cactus grow in shade?
Yes, but they appreciate bright light the most. When I have my prickly pears indoors for the winter, I have them in a southeast-facing window, meaning they get light late morning through sunset. When I take them outside, I acclimate them over a week or so to full, direct sun all day. They thrive in it!
They’d also likely do well in the shade, as it’s probably roughly comparable to the amount of light them get indoors from a window with bright indirect light. But if you can give them a sunny summer vacation, I recommend it.
If you’re busy propagating, make sure to check out my planter DIYs to help you decorate with plants, my tips on propagating pothos from cuttings, the best plants to propagate, and my tips for caring for succulents indoors! 🙂