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FutureStarrAGrowing Prickly Pear Cactus
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.
Purchasing a young plant at a nursery is, of course, the easiest way to get started and simply requires transplanting your cactus to a sunny spot with well-draining soil. Established plants can handle full sun all day and require minimal water. It is best to transplant prickly pears in spring, but if you are in a dry, arid area of Southern California, you really should be fine to transplant your cactus any time of the year. Prickly pear rarely needs fertilizer when planted in the ground, unless you have very poor soil. In containers, it will use up the soil’s nutrients faster and will require some feeding. If the plant’s green pads start to appear dull or if the plant doesn’t flower, that can mean it needs food. You can apply a balanced fertilizer during the growing season, following product instructions. You also can choose a high-nitrogen fertilizer for larger pads or a low-nitrogen fertilizer for more flowers and fruits.
Growing prickly pear cactus in a sunny location allows the plant to thrive and fruit. Prickly pear cactus is a tropical or subtropical plant, so it loves the warm exposure. However, it can withstand temperatures down to 14 F (-10 C), but in areas, with harsh winters it is best to plant it in a sheltered spot, near a wall or tall tree to protect it from cold drafts and fluctuation in temperature. If you’re living in a cooler climate, growing prickly pear cactus in a container is the better option for you as it can only be grown on the ground where winter temperature remains above 14 F (- 10 C).Prickly pear cacti (Opuntia) are sought after house plants in the UK. They have a distinctive look – segmented stems that are flat and oval and dotted on both sides with spines. The stems often grow in pairs and resemble a pair of rabbits’ ears, hence their common name, bunny ears. In summer, flowers appear along the ridge of the stems. (Source: www.gardenersworld.com)