Flat Cacti: prickly pear and cholla


Prickly Pears! Awesome and easy to grow. A good filler plant.

Prickly pear cacti are some great cacti for beginning gardeners. First, they are cheap. Second, they are easy to propagate. Third, there are tons of varieties. They are low maintenance plants. They are frost tolerant, so I don’t have to cover them on cold nights. If there is a freeze in the spring after the pads are fat from rain, some may break off, but usually not enough to hurt the plant (just a little self pruning).

Did you know you can eat prickly pear? Bonus! Edible plants! (Recommend the Indian Fig variety for this. It has few spines.) You can eat the pads, called Nopalitos. They are high in calcium and fiber and very nutritious, and have a slight vinegary taste when cooked. You can also make the fruit into cactus jelly or a beverage. (Indian Fig and Englemann’s prickly pear fruit are good for jelly.)

If you have one prickly pear cactus, make sure you try making more. Prickly pear are very easy to do this with. A large prickly pear needs to be pruned once in awhile anyway to keep the overall shape nice and prevent it from getting overgrown. Or if it is growing too large, just water it less.

Prickly pear like to have a little water through the hot season while getting established. A drink every 2 weeks during the summer and once a month for the rest of the year should be plenty. You can tell when they are getting thirsty because the pads start to wilt. I have prickly pear in my yard that look great and are not on my drip irrigation system.

Santa Rita prickly pear

Santa Rita prickly pear

Opuntia violacea santa rita

Everyone loves Rita for her purple colored pads. In a desert garden where few plants bloom all season, this cactus is a great way to add some color to your landscape.

Englemann’s prickly pear

Opuntia engelmannii

This guy is a larger prickly pear, but very common in the wild and very hardy. I have some growing on the edge of my yard where they get north sun and are shaded by the fence all winter and they don’t mind. Even the weeds don’t grow there!

Indian fig prickly pear

Indian Fig prickly pear

Opuntia ficus-indica

The tallest prickly pear and the one with the least spines. Almost none. Some people like to grow these along fences, but I prefer a more natural landscape appearance. If you have a pet tortoise, it can eat the pads–and you can easily harvest them since this one isn’t so prickly.

Chollas! Cacti with teeth!

A lot of people don’t like chollas. But they deserve (demand) respect. They are easy to propagate. They are unusual. They don’t ever need extra water. Just don’t put it right next to your front door (or doggie door).

Teddy bear cholla

Teddy Bear cholla

Cylindropuntia bigelovii

This cute cactus is about as loveable as a shark. Still, it is an excellent landscape plant. The golden yellow color contrasts well with other shades of green in your design. When the afternoon sun hits it, this cactus glows.

Staghorn cholla

Staghorn cholla

Opuntia versicolor

This cholla looks great with other native Sonoran desert plants. Mix it up with other chollas, prickly pear, creosote, … you get the idea.

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