How to Propagate a Prickly Pear Cactus

“Cacti grow in many parts of the world. Cactus plants like to grow in places where little other plants like to grow, and since most cacti grow in arid regions, people often associate them with deserts. However, only a small part of cacti grow in extremely dry areas. These plants are more difficult to raise from seeds than ordinary bedding plants. Work out your own method, improving it a little each year and you will eventually achieve considerable success.”

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Over the centuries—in the course of adapting to harsh soil and climatic conditions—opuntias have developed the ability to propagate readily and rapidly, both vegetatively and by seed. Which (in simple terms) means that if you live in a not-too-moist part of the country and you’d like to start your own backyard prickly pear patch, you can do so—quite easily—with just a few cuttings. Here’s how:

First, sever a number of pads from a parent plant and allow them to dry for a few days so that a callus forms over the wounds. (This is of paramount importance, for if the cuticle is not allowed to heal properly, it’ll be subject to bacterial rot which can then quickly kill the cutting.)

Next, place each healed pad—callus side down—in a dry mixture of sand and soil in a clay pot. (Some folks prefer to plant their cuttings directly in the ground where they are to grow permanently. Depending on how dry your soil and climate are—and the drier, the better—this might not work the first time you try it.) Don’t water your cuttings—or any cacti, for that matter—until they first show some sign of growth … and then always be careful not to give the plants too much water at one time.

Incidentally the unripe fruit of the opuntia—when plucked from the mother plant and treated as above—is also capable of producing roots, stems, flowers and more fruit.

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