How to Grow and Care for Prickly Pear Cactus - Backyard Boss
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How to Grow and Care for Prickly Pear Cactus

Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia) consists of over 100 different species and is known for producing delicious dark orange fruit known as tunas. Before they develop fruits, the cacti grow glorious, delicate flowers in colors ranging from orange, yellow, and pink.

The genus grows in a series of pads, which creates a sprawling, organic silhouette, making for an artistic addition to your collection of houseplants. If you’ve been considering adding these cacti to your home, you’ll be happy to hear that they are generally low-maintenance! Learn about all tools you’ll need, along with a step-by-step guide to providing the proper care so you can enjoy the beauty of the plant, its flowers, and maybe even its fruits!

Tools You’ll Need

Opuntia or Bunny ears cactus in a gray ceramic pot, Opuntia microdasys (Lehm.) Lehm. Ex Pfeiff. Bunny-ear prickly pear
Image credits: Emily frost via Shutterstock

To ensure you provide your cacti with the proper care they need to grow, there are a few tools you’ll need. 

  • Prickly pear cacti
  • Protective gardening gloves
  • Sunlight or grow light
  • Pot with drainage
  • High-quality, well-draining soil
  • Fertilizer
  • Sterilized scissors or pruning shears

How To Grow Prickly Pear Cactus

Prickly pear cacti, like many other cactus plants, don’t require much attention to thrive indoors. The plants also grow well outdoors, but they require less attention and should flourish in the natural outdoor environment. Regardless of whether you grow them indoors and outdoors, they require similar lighting, potting media, watering, temperature, and humidity conditions.

Still, there are a few steps you can follow to provide optimal care.

Light, Potting Media, and Fertilizer

Prickly pear cactus cacti light
Image credits: Jake Goossen via Unsplash

The cacti can handle partial shade in warmer climates, but it’s best to keep them in bright sunlight for at least six hours a day. With more light exposure, you have better chances of blooms and fruits developing. You can also install a grow light to provide extra light if necessary.

Well-draining sandy or gravely soil is crucial for growing prickly pear cacti. Since they are prone to overwatering, the mixture should drain well and not retain much moisture. A store-bought cactus mixture, a 50-50 combination of sand and soil or perlite and compost, works well.

Occasional fertilizing may be necessary when growing a prickly pear cactus indoors. Using a well-balanced fertilizer, treat the plant when it begins to pale in color or develop fewer blooms. As a general rule, fertilize during the hotter months when the plants are actively growing.

Water, Temperature, and Humidity

Human hand holding watering can and watering opuntia cactus in pot isolated on white background
Image credits: Yellow Cat via Shutterstock

Go easy with watering since most cacti, including the prickly pear cactus, are drought tolerant. Water the plant less than you water other tropical houseplants, such as bird of paradise or pothos, allowing the soil to completely dry out before watering again.

As a general rule of thumb, water cacti every two to three weeks, depending on temperature and sunlight levels. The hotter and drier it is, the more often you should water. Once summer ends and the plants aren’t actively growing, you can cut back on this chore.

Similarly to other cacti plants, prickly pears prefer dry, warm weather. While they are cold-hardy and can survive temperatures above 14 degrees Fahrenheit, they will grow larger in warmer temperatures. Also, they won’t do well in humid locations because of the added moisture, so it’s best to keep them in a living room or bedroom.

Propagating Prickly Pear Cactus

Cactus opuntia microdasys, commonly known as bunny ears cactus, and some small pads on a wooden table ready to be propagated
Image credits: Luoxi via Shutterstock

Prickly pear cacti are very easy to propagate through cuttings. This way, you can share with friends, expand your houseplant collection, create a fuller pot, or even sell baby cacti! It’s best to take cuttings when temperatures are 60 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer at night to ensure the plants can recover. The plant should also be healthy and above six months old.

Wearing protective gloves and using a sharpclean pair of pruning shears, cut a pad at its natural seam from the parent (original) plant. Place the cutting on a flat surface in filtered sunlight and allow it to sit for seven to 10 days so a callus can form on the bare edge.

Planting The Cutting

Then, place the cut edge of the cutting in prepared cactus soil or growing medium in a pot with a drainage hole. Push about a third of the cutting into the soil and use small stones to hold it upright.

When nighttime temperatures are above 60 degrees Fahrenheit, water weekly. If the temperatures drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit at night, switch your watering schedule to every two weeks. Also, if the cacti leaves becomes very thin or wrinkly, it’s time to give your plants a drink.

Keep the plant in filtered light until it begins to put out new growth. Then you can move it to a full sun location. You can repot into a larger container after the cactus has been growing for a year.

Note: Prickly pear cactus plants generally take about three to four years to begin flowering and producing fruit. The plants can grow flowers and fruits indoors and outdoors as long as they receive optimal conditions.

Grow On!

Prickly pear cacti are classic low-maintenance plants, but they are sure to add beauty wherever you place them in your home! Remember to avoid overwatering and keep them out of humid locations. When it comes to temperatures, the plants prefer things warm, but they will survive in cooler conditions. On top of all that, it’s super easy to slice off a pad, replant it, and start a new cactus plant!

Do you have any tips for caring for prickly pear cactus plants? Share in the comments below!