How to Grow Cold Hardy Prickly Pear Cactus – Edible, Rare, & Unique

This article is part of our Native Plant Series and features one pollinator friendly, drought tolerant US native plant hardy to at least zone 4.

ca0e8-cPrickly Pear cactus is a rare plant! It is native to the United states and can grow as far north as Minnesota. It thrives on dry sandy conditions, though we have also grown in dry, sun-baked clay. All parts of the plant are edible, but caution is warranted. All parts of the plant, except for the flowers, are covered in thorns and glochids (mini – stinging hairs.) Always wear gloves and be sure to burn or cut off the thorns/glochids before consuming.

In our climate, it grows low to the ground – rarely exceeding 3 feet tall. Our plants have always produced extra large yellow blossoms, nearly as large as the plant itself. They readily put on new growth and are easy to propagate.

Prickly pear cactus is divided by cutting off individual pads and planting them in appropriate soil. That’s it. It couldn’t be easier. It’s best to do this in spring, after the major rains of ended. This way the plant has recovered from winter and is less likely to rot from the rains.

Here are the steps for propagating a hardy prickly pear cactus:

  1. Put on a pair of heavy leather gloves (the dirtier the better….kidding.)
  2. Grab hold of a pad, and cut it near the parent plant with a sharp knife.
  3. Allow the wound to scab over – 24-48 hours is good.
  4. Plant the cactus pad into appropriate soil (or into a pot.)
  5. Wait.

Do not water or mess with the plant after you have put it in the soil. It will take a few weeks, but by the end of summer you will probably have noticed new growth on the cactus pad. It should be upright and turgid (not wrinkly!)

You can dig down and look to see if there are roots, but wait at least a month before you start checking. Be advised that if you are growing cactus in a cold climate (like us in Minnesota) that the cactus will shrivel to the ground over the winter. It will look mushy, wrinkly, dead and ruined. Then it will miraculously stand back up as the ground warms and the snow melts away.

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One of our Cactus plants after a few weeks of winter recovery.

Interested in growing a prickly pear cactus? We occasionally have them for sale. We also sell variety of other hardy native plant seeds in our store.

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