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The prickly pear cactus is not just an ordinary plant but a houseplant everyone wants to have. You find them growing as outdoor plants but have made their way into the home as well. Still, a note of warning, it does not have the name prickly pear for anything as it has spines, ouch.
More About Prickly Pears
The prickly pear cacti have a fancy botanical name Opuntia ficus indica, and the thorns are not there for no reason. Instead, the cactus has flat, segmented stems dotted with spines on both sides. The stems grow in pairs that look like rabbit ears, hence the name bunny ears.
During summer, you notice flowers along the ridges of the stem, and the plant is not cuddly even if it sounds like that. When the thorns penetrate the skin, it is difficult to remove and needs handling with extra care.
You can find over 200 species in the Cactaceae or cactus families. The common variety is the Opuntia microdasys or polka dot cactus, with bristle spines producing yellow flowers. The other well-known one is the Opuntia ficus indica which grows edible prickly pears known as the Indian fig.
You find flowers in yellow or orange from spring until summer, followed by red, orange, or purple fruits. The plant is native to the desert and thrives in dry climates with its fleshy stems, and can cope well with droughts.
You find the prickly peat growing worldwide but mainly in North and South America.
How to Grow Prickly Pear Cactus?
Each prickly pear species have different care needs. Yet, the general rule is it needs a lot of sun with well-drained soil. Another notable thing is always to wear thick gloves working with this cactus.
Soil Mix Suitable for Prickly Pear Cactus
To grow prickly pear cactus, it helps to provide the genus with well-draining soil. Hence, gravel to sandy soil works best. Still, it can tolerate other soil types, but the crucial thing is that excess water needs to drain. You can use a cactus potting mix for your potted plants.
Sunlight Needs for Prickly Pear Cactus
Whether you grow prickly pear cactus in rock gardens or indoors, it needs full sun. Thus, it requires up to 6 hours of direct sunshine per day.
You can place your different species in west or south-facing window with enough bright light.
During hot climates, provide your plants with some shade in the midday sun to prevent the foliage from burning.
While growing prickly pear cactus in the direct sun, they prefer dry conditions. So, your plant is drought tolerant if you forget to water it.
Another benefit of these plants is they grow well in low-water gardens. Thus, it helps to limit the watering to every three weeks when the soils dry.
Then, you only need to moisten the soil but do not soak it as it can lead to root rot.
Temperature & humidity Needs
When it comes to prickly pear cactus care, it thrives in the scorching desert summers. Still, some of the cacti species are cold tolerant as well as the nights are cool in the desert. So if you live with mild winters and warm summers with low humidity, you can grow prickly pear cactus outside.
But if the humidity is high or the temperature is not to your prickly pear cacti’s liking, it will struggle. Growing prickly pear cactus indoors is fine as the temperature and humidity are typically not too high or too low.
Still, keep your prickly pear away from heat vents and air conditioners as it results in fluctuating temperatures harming your plant.
Fertilizing of Prickly Pear Cactus
Prickly pear cacti seldom need feeding when you plant them outdoors in the ground. You will only need to feed them if the soil lacks nutrients. Growing prickly pear indoors in a container will use the nutrients in the soil faster, and using a fertilizer helps.
When you notice the green pads turning dull or know yellow flowers, it needs nutrition. You can provide your prickly pear plant with a high-nitrogen feed for growing larger pads or a low-nitrogen fertilizer to produce more flowers and fruits.
Repotting and Pruning Opuntia
If you grow prickly pear cactus in pots, then it helps to have a container with enough drainage holes. As the plants sprawl when they mature, it helps provide them with a low-wide container.
You can fill the container with a cactus potting mix and wear your protective glove when transplanting them to a bigger home. Yet, it would be best if you only considered repotting when prickly pear cactus becomes root bound or is too large for the container.
To repot, it helps to keep the soil dry; shimmy your plant away from the container, and then grab it by the base to remove the old soil. Another important note is not to water your cactus immediately and allow the roots to reintegrate.
If you live in a hardy region, your eastern prickly pear needs no protection from the winter. But when temperatures drop below 50°F regularly, we recommend bringing your plant inside. The best time to trim your prickly pear plants back is in fall to help control the size.
You can then use the removed pads to plant new plants in winter. You can do this using a pair of tongs, protective gloves, and a sterilized knife.
When growing prickly pear indoors, you can take a cutting to start a new prickly pear.
Remove a few pads from mature plants and leave them to dry for two days as it allows the wounds to heal.
Take the butt end of the pad and place it in a pot with a succulent mix and water well.
Then refrain from watering the roots to prevent root rot until you notice new growth.
Once the cutting roots, you can leave them to grow in the container for a while before planting them outside.
You can also plant prickly pear seeds from the ripe fruit by scooping it out and rinsing off the pulp. Leave the seeds to dry and sprinkle them in a pot with moist soil.
Cover the seeds lightly with sand or soil. Place a plastic bag over the container and leave it standing in a sunny spot.
It can take up to months for the seed to germinate, and once sprouted; you can place them into new pots.
Prickly Pear Cactus Varieties
You can find many Opuntia species to grow as houseplants or in the garden.
The plant is known as the eastern prickly pear and is a sprawling yet ground-hugging plant growing up to 12-inches tall and wide. The cactus blooms yellow flowers with splotches of orange from May to July. It is a popular cactus for the garden.
The golden prickly pear can grow up to two feet tall with yellow flowers in late spring to early summer. You can grow the plant indoors and outside.
The plains prickly pear grows up to 12 inches tall with light-yellow flowers with red eyes in June and July. It is a popular houseplant that grows well in zones three to nine outside.
Prickly Pear Cactus Diseases and Pests
The Opuntia cactus is prone to mealybugs and scale, and you can treat infestations with rubbing alcohol, pesticide, or neem oil. Furthermore, the classic cactus can also get phyllostica fungus that causes lesions on the pads to turn to black spots with a scab over them.
The fungus results from humid and wet conditions but is not deadly but very contagious, spreading to nearby plants. Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment, and you must remove the infected pads to dispose of them.
Check our article on how to treat black spots on cactus plants for a more in-depth treatment.
Where to Buy a Prickly Pear Cactus Plant?
The fantastic news is that the prickly pear cactus is not a rare plant found in most local garden centers. The other great news is that Plantly has a wide selection of the Opuntia genus.