How to Grow and Care for Opuntia Cactus in your Garden

The prickly pear is a subgroup of Opuntia that can be identified by the wide, flat pads of the branch, and they are often called nopal cactus or padddle cactus. Most species have a mixture of detachable spines and tufts of spiny bristles (glochids) that can cause severe allergic skin reactions. There are also spineless species.


When to plant:

Cuttings can be started at any time, but you can get the best results if you plant them in the spring or summer. You need to sow at the end of spring.

Where to plant:

Opuntia needs a bright, sunny location with well-drained soil.

How to plant:

Transplant at the same level at which they are now growing; deeper planting can cause them to rot. Handle with care, not only for safety reasons, as the pads can become heavy and break. An extra pair of hands can be worthy because prickly pears can be heavy and inconvenient to pick up and place in the pit.



It is not necessary to trim the prickly pear, but it can be trimmed. Remove different pads as needed to maintain shape and size. Use tongs to hold the pad and a sharp knife to cut it off at the junction or line where it joins the next pad. The pads can be cut off to be planted elsewhere or shared with friends.


Opuntia prefers alkaline neutral soil. More importantly, the soil must drain well, as residual moisture or a puddle can cause the plant to rot.

Amendments & Fertilizer:

Fertilize young plants with a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer. For established plants, adding 5-10-10 or even 0-10-10 water-soluble fertilizers will produce more flowers and fruits. If you’re growing pads, use a high nitrogen fertilizer.


Opuntia is extremely drought-resistant. Do not water newly overgrown pads for the first month. Then water every two to four weeks for the first year – twice a month in the summer and once a month at other times of the year. In most areas, there will be enough rainfall to support established plants. Seasonal drought supplements twice a month / once a month.

Diseases and Pests:

Opuntia does not normally suffer from any dangerous disease or insect problems, although they can rot when grown with poor drainage.


Some types of prickly pear produce edible pads and fruits. The edible pods are often referred to as nopales, while the fruit is commonly referred to as tuna fruit.

The pads can be harvested at any time of the year and up to 6 times a year on fast-growing plants by following the pruning instructions above.

When harvesting pads:

  • Don’t remove more than one-third of the total pads to keep your plant healthy and produce more pads.
  • For the best taste, remove them from the plant in the middle of the morning, when the acid content is at a minimum.
  • Use tongs to hold them while brushing and gently scrape off the pads and peel the fruit to remove all traces of thorns and glochids; they can also be fried to burn.

The pads can be eaten raw or cooked. They have a lemon flavor and a somewhat slimy texture, similar to okra when cooked.

The juicy red fruits ripen when the glochids drop and need to be twisted off the pad to remove rather than pull. The fruit can be eaten raw or cooked and used to make jams and jellies. Contact us for guest posting service.

Author: Sarah Sadie