Prickly Pear Cactus

This succulent plant can withstand long periods of drought.

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 Overview

Description 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
Common Name Prickly Pear Cactus
Plant Type Perennial
Light Sun
Height 6 to 6 inches
Width null to 6 feet
Flower Color Pink, Yellow
Season Features Summer Bloom, Winter Interest
Special Features Attracts Birds
Zones 10, 11, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Problem Solvers Deer Resistant, Drought Tolerant

Prickly Pear

Prickly pear cactus flower
Marty Baldwin

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

Pink prickly pear
Marty Baldwin

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

Bunny ears cactus
Amy Haskell

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

Spineless prickly pear
Denny Schrock

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

pine muhly
Denny Schrock

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
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.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles