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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 prickly pear along a property line where it acts as a living fence, preventing passersby from entering. Either way enjoy the vibrant colors and beauty it brings to your landscape.
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In places where rain is rare, prickly pear cactus is an exceptional plant. Design an entire garden or landscape around low-water plants like prickly pear—this is called xeriscaping. Native, low-water 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 winter months. Both drought- and heat-tolerant, this long-lived perennial 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.