The prickly pear cactus is an excellent addition to a desert xeriscape garden, adding a southwestern flair to any home. A prickly pear cactus is easy to add to any garden.
They are practically invasive plants given the ease by which they propagate from a fallen pad. To add a cactus to any garden, all one needs is a fresh pad from a prickly pear cactus and some well drained soil.
How to Get a Prickly Pear Pad
If possible, find an established prickly pear cactus. A young pad, or small cluster of pads, can be cut from the older plant and used to grow a new cactus. Use a sharp knife to cut at the joint between pads to put the least stress on the original cactus and the young pad.
Protective clothing is a must for this step. Prickly pear cactus have both sharp thorns and small, hair like glochids which will embed themselves in skin and be very difficult to remove.
If an established prickly pear cannot be found, it is sometimes possible to propagate a new plant from a pad purchased at a grocery store. The pad should be as fresh as possible, and it may take several tries to get a pad that properly takes root.
Planting the New Prickly Pear Pad
Let the pad sit for a few days after cutting it off an established plant. This will allow the cut to scab over. Then plant the cut edge into well watered, well draining soil. The pad can be planted into the ground or into a pot, but it must receive a lot of sun and the soil should not have too much fertilizer.
Prickly pear cactus grow in in the desert and planting one in highly fertilized potting soil will do more harm than good. And don’t water your pad much once it’s planted. If the edges of the pad begin to wilt then give the soil a good soak, but otherwise resist.
Maintaining a Prickly Pear Cactus
It will take a few weeks or months for the single pad to establish a solid root system. Once it starts sending out buds to form new pads then it is established. If those buds do not form, then it will be necessary to start again.
A cactus started in a pot can be moved to its final home once it sends out buds. Or it can be left in the pot. This will stunt the growth, keeping the cactus smaller and making for a nice in home decoration. However, it will need just as much sun as an outdoor plant, so plan accordingly.
Water sparingly even after the cactus is established. Prickly pear cactus are drought resistant. Too much water can do a great deal of harm. A mature plant can swell with so much water that the pads break off due to the added weight.
Within five years it is possible for a prickly pear cactus to grow as large as 15 feet tall and just as wide. Be prepared to trim any prickly pear cactus regularly to keep it within the size range that fits the garden. But that’s not necessarily a disadvantage. Prickly pear cactus pads and fruit are tasty and nutritious, so go ahead and make use of the trimmings in the kitchen.
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