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FutureStarrOpuntia Cactus Care
The prickly pear cactus (Opuntia) is among the most widespread cactus genera in the U.S. With over 100 species, this plant is characterized by its spiny, flat, club-shaped pads. Many varieties have large, round spines, while others have tiny, hair-like barbs that detach upon contact. While cacti are generally known as warm-weather desert plants, there are some prickly pear species that are hardy as far north as USDA zone 4. Prickly pear is best planted outside in the spring after the threat of frost has passed. Some prickly pears produce fruits that are prized for their edibility, but the plant's growth rate is fairly slow and it can take three or four years before a new plant starts fruiting.
Eastern prickly pear is an easy-to-care-for cactus, favored by desert dwellers and cool-weather gardeners alike. Its stems are divided into flat paddle-like segments that are approximately 2 to 5 inches long with a blue tint. The narrow spines are wedge-shaped and the flowers, which come into bloom in mid-summer, are a brilliant yellow. The flowers are followed by edible purple or red fruits called tunas. These are the prickly pears and, though they're not as large and tasty as the prickly pears of O. ficus-indica, they can be made into nice jellies and pickles. To propagate by seed, cut open a ripe fruit, scoop out some seeds, and rinse the pulp from the seeds. Let them dry thoroughly. Sprinkle the seeds into a pot of moist (not wet) and well-draining potting soil. Lightly cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil or sand. Then, cover the pot in clear plastic wrap, and place it in a warm, sunny spot. Seed germination can take several weeks or even months. Sprouted seedlings can then be transplanted into pots with cactus potting mix.
Prickly pear is a surprisingly simple cactus. It's easy and undemanding to grow, hardy enough to survive in climates down to at least USDA Zone 4, and boasts a cheery, delicate flower. Native to the northeastern United States, the eastern prickly pear cactus doesn’t have the stature of its desert cousin Opuntia ficus-indica (which can top 15 feet), but this smaller version adds a touch of the southwest to cooler climates and makes up for its diminutive size with its hardiness. The cactus can either be started from cuttings in the early summer or from seeds in late spring.While you can grow prickly pear from seeds, it can take up to three years to have a substantial plant, so propagation is often the preferred method. To do so, remove an individual pad from the mother cactus that's at least six months old. Allow the cut end to "heal" for at least a week, or until it scabs over. At that point, you can plant the pad cut end down in a mixture of soil and sand. It will likely need to be supported on either side until it grows roots, so use stakes or other supports to hold it upright. After about a month, test for new roots by tugging on them gently—if the plant resists pulling, you have roots. If it comes loose, give it more time. You can water the cactus sporadically after it's able to stand on its own. (Source: www.thespruce.com)