Opuntia, also known as Prickly Pear Cacti, are easily identified by their upside-down pear-shaped pads or segments. Their fleshy pads produce large, showy flowers in the spring that turn into red, spiny fruits later in the season. There are more than 150 varieties of Prickly Pear Cacti, all of which are hardy in Sunset's Climate Zones 12 through 24. These drought-tolerant plants make very low-maintenance houseplants that add a bit of Southwestern flair to a room's decor. Prickly Pear Cacti are easily propagated through cuttings.
1. Put on heavy work gloves to protect your hands from injury while working with the cactus. Take a cutting from a healthy, disease-free Prickly Pear Cactus. Harvest cuttings only when nighttime temperatures are a constant 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius) or warmer. Choose a pad, or oval segment, without blemish or scars that is six months old. Grasp the top of the pad gently in one hand. Cut the pad off the parent plant at the natural seam at its bottom using a knife.
2. Place the cutting on a flat surface in filtered sunlight. Choose a dry room that has constant temperatures of 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius) or higher. Leave the cutting for 7 to 10 days to form callus tissue over the cut edge.
3. Mix one part perlite with one part compost to create a well-draining growing medium to plant the cactus in. Fill a container with the mixture, leaving the top 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) empty. Use a container with drainage holes in its bottom.
4. Set the cactus cutting with the callused edge resting on the soil in the center of the pot. Push one-third to one-half of the cutting into the soil mixture. Tamp the soil down around the base of the cactus until the cutting can stand upright on its own.
5. Water the planted cutting using a watering can until the soil is evenly moist. Place the pot in a warm room — 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius) or warmer — in filtered sunlight. Water the cactus when the top inch (2.5 cm) of soil begins to dry out.
6. Decrease supplemental watering to 1/4 inch (6 mm) of water applied every seven days once the cactus becomes established and begins to produce new growth. Follow this water regimen during the months when nighttime temperatures remain above 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius). Give the cactus 1/4 inch (6 mm) of water every 14 days when nighttime temperatures drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius).
7. Move the cactus to full sunlight indoors once it begins producing new growth to begin acclimating it to brighter light. Move the cactus to full sunlight outdoors after two weeks if you eventually plan to plant the cactus outdoors in the ground.
8. Grow the cactus in the container for at least one year. Transplant the cactus plant in the spring once soil temperatures reach 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius). Plant the cactus in an area that receives full sunlight and contains well-draining soil. Dig a hole equal in depth and twice as wide as the plant's root ball. Place the root ball in the center of the hole. Backfill the hole with soil and tamp it down firmly. Water the cactus immediately after planting.
9. Water the planted cactus once per week when nighttime temperatures are above 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius). Water the cactus every 14 days when nighttime temperatures drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius).
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