Prickly Pear Cactus

Prickly Pear Cactus
Plant Type
Sunlight Amount
Spineless prickly pear
Credit: Denny Schrock
Spineless prickly pear
Prickly Pear Cactus

A beauty and a beast, prickly pear is beloved for its blossoms and feared for its vicious spines. Its yellow, red, and orange cup-shape flowers last just one day, but a large clump of prickly pears will bloom for several weeks in summer, providing delicate beauty among the thorns. Don’t let the spines deter you from planting prickly pear. Position it near the middle or back of a garden where it won’t be disturbed. Or plant it along a property line where it will act as a living fence, preventing passersby from entering.

genus name
  • Opuntia
  • Sun
plant type
  • Under 6 inches
  • 6 to 12 inches
  • 1 to 3 feet
  • 3 to 8 feet
  • To 6 feet wide
flower color
season features
problem solvers
special features
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11

Low-Water Favorite

In places where rain is rare, prickly pear cactus is an exceptional plant. Designing an entire garden or landscape around low-water plants like prickly pear is called xeriscaping. Native, water-thrifty plants are low-maintenance and wildlife-friendly. This win-win combo is an excellent recipe for foundation plantings, landscape beds, property borders, and curbside plantings.

Xeriscape-friendly companions for prickly pear cactus include Agastache, Agave, big bluestem, gaillardia, and purple coneflower. Low-water gardens include all kinds of flowering plants. Check with your local extension service to learn more about low-water plants for your region.

Prickly Pear Care Must-Knows

Prickly pear grows best in full sun and well-drained soil. Clay soil or slow-draining soil is problematic in cool regions where prickly pear will suffer in moist soil during the winter months. Both drought- and heat-tolerant, this long-lived succulent plant tolerates sandy, rocky soil, and seaside planting places.

Plant prickly pear cactus in spring or early summer, and water it well after planting to encourage a strong root system. It rarely needs fertilizer when planted outside. If the green pads become dull or stunted, apply an all-purpose fertilizer. In cold winter regions, the fleshy pads of prickly pear cactus typically shrink, wrinkle slightly, and take on a slight purple hue. They will expand and revive as soon as warm weather returns.

More Varieties of Prickly Pear Cactus

Prickly pear cactus flower
Credit: Marty Baldwin

Prickly Pear

Opuntia compressa, also called O. humifisa, is a North American species that offers golden-yellow flowers in summer. The red fruits are edible. It grows 12 inches tall and 18 inches wide. Zones 4-9

Pink prickly pear
Credit: Marty Baldwin

'Pink' Prickly Pear

This selection of Opuntia compressa is a hardy, easy-growing selection that offers bold pink flowers in summer. It grows 12 inches tall and 18 inches wide. Zones 4-9

Bunny ears cactus
Credit: Amy Haskell

Bunny Ears Cactus

Opuntia microdasys is native to the North American Southwest and shows off red new growth that matures to dark green pads. Cheery yellow flowers appear in early summer. It grows 3 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Zones 9-10

Spineless prickly pear
Credit: Denny Schrock

Spineless Prickly Pear

Opuntia ellisiana is a North American native that bears yellow (rarely pink, orange, or red) flowers and tiny, hidden spines. It grows 3 feet tall and 6 feet wide. Zones 7-10

Prickly Pear Cactus Companion Plants

pine muhly
Credit: Denny Schrock

Pine Muhly

Most muhly grasses are high on drama, offering their beautiful floral display to dryland gardens. They have a soft, airy appearance that is welcome among agaves and other rough-texture plants that permeate low-water gardens. Pine muhly, in particular, grows best in fast-draining soil that is low in nutrients—a sandy soil is perfect. Avoid heavy clay and wet locations.

Texas sotol Dasylirion texanum sotol plant
Credit: Denny Schrock


A magnificently sculptural plant for the desert garden, sotol has striking straplike blue-green leaves that make it look a bit like yucca or agave. The evergreen foliage is thin like an ornamental grass and has a pleasing fine texture year-round. Plant it where the sun can shine through the leaves in early morning or late evening, highlighting the plant's pretty silhouette. Sotol grows best in full sun and gravelly, sandy soil. Once established, it has good cold tolerance, but be sure to give it extra protection during the first winter after planting.


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