This post shares tips for prickly pear cactus care. If you’re wondering how to grow prickly pear cactus, it’s easy!
Prickly Pear Cactus Care
Prickly Pear Cactus (otherwise known as Opuntia, Indian fig, Bunny Ears, and more) is a beautiful, hardy, and fast-growing member of one of the largest of cactus families. The plant has classic large, flat, green paddles, and when it matures, it can develop red, orange, and yellow flowers.
The most common variety of prickly pear is, Opuntia ficus-indica, which is what I have. Prickly pear cactus is native to the Americas and remind me of a classic cactus you’d see in an old western movie.
See my tips on propagating prickly pear cactus pads!
They don’t really grow in the wild where I’m at in America, but you can grow them as perennials. If you’re down south, you might think the old western thing sounds funny because you see them everywhere. My friend in Georgia said she runs them over with her lawnmower!
Each paddle is covered in small sharp thorns and has an areola on its tip. When the cactus blossoms, the flowers grow out of the areola. Note that like many types of cactus, prickly pear plants product loose barbed thorns that can attach to things. But the paddles aren’t all thorns. The liquid inside of the paddles works just like aloe vera gel!
It takes a few years to mature and bloom. Despite the wait for blooms, the prickly pear cactus is lovely with just paddles and is quite rewarding for gardeners and plant lovers with a variety of skill levels.
How to Grow Prickly Pear Cactus
They come in a variety of sizes ranging from a few feet to upwards of 15 feet tall—yes, I said 15 feet! These larger varieties are typically grown outdoors in areas that enjoy abundant sun. Smaller varieties can be easily grown indoors and can get a few feet high.
Prickly pear cactus is very forgiving. Established outdoor plants can tolerate extreme heat during the day and low temperatures at night. However, you shouldn’t let prickly pears planted outdoors freeze if they are in pots. It’s not a big fan.
(That said, you can grow them as perennials in many areas with four seasons, they might just die back depending on how established they are in the ground.) It will tolerate a variety of temperatures indoors, and you can spoil yours by giving them some nice sun outdoors in the summer.
Wait…prickly pear cactus is edible?
Yes! I didn’t know this when I got my first cuttings to grow. The pads and fruit can be consumed by humans and animals and are apparently quite tasty. (I haven’t sacrificed any of mine yet.) If you see a recipe calling for “nopales,” that is referring to the prickly pear’s pads.
Its fruits—or its prickly pears—are bright and said to have a citrus-like flavor. The juice has a lemon-lime flavor.
Light & Water Requirements
Like most cactus varieties, prickly pear prefers a lot of light. Established plans can tolerate heavy sun exposure and hot temperatures during the peak season. In the cooler months and winter, they are just fine indoors with bright indirect light from a window.
Another similarity with other cactus varieties is their need for water. You can let the soil dry out between watering and water only a handful of times during the entire cool winter season. While propagating my prickly pear paddles, I watered the soil I had them rooting in when it became dry 1 inch down.
Once your plant is established, you can wait until it begins to look just a tad wrinkly before giving it a thorough watering. Don’t over-water, and make sure to allow all excess water to drain. If the roots sit in water, they will begin to rot.
You’ll see the signs on your cactus, too—the base will begin turning brown, and the cactus will probably begin looking soft and a bit droopy. Once you see the brown, your cactus is beyond saving. (Though you might be able to salvage an unaffected pad and propagate it!)
Soil & Fertilizer Needs
As you probably guessed, prickly pear cactus requires a cactus soil. You can make a cactus soil by adding sand and perlite into regular soil. Cactus soil is unlike regular houseplant soil in that it encourages drainage. You can fertilize prickly pears every month or so. Older plants don’t really need fertilizer.
If you like easy-to-care-for plants, check out my post about how to care for pothos plants, how to grow golden pothos from cuttings, indoor succulent care tips for plant killers, and my tiny backyard! Also, don’t miss my favorite plants to propagate!
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