Easy Steps to grow a flowering cactus garden
This purple and blue cactus with striking yellow flowers will turn heads in your neighborhood!
Did you know?
“Prickly pear cacti (Optunia spp.) are easily identified by their upside-down pear-shaped pads or segments. 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."
Facts adapted from:http://homeguides.sfgate.com/grow-cutting-prickly-pear-cactus-25018.htm
How to cut a cactus then replant it:
My favorite cactus are Opuntia Santa Rita because they change color, have edible fruit (aka tuna) and can be grown easily from just a piece of the plant. Plus they are really low maintenance and drought tolerant.
To detach a piece of the mother plant grasp the cactus pad (paddle) you would like to cut off with a silicon cactus tong. Then take a long, sharp kitchen knife and either cut the pad off at the joint. Or I prefer to damage the pad less by twisting the pad off using my tongs.
When harvesting your own cactus pads, avoid cutting through the cactus pad. It's best to cut through the joint where the cactus pad was attached to the mother plant.
If you ordered cactus pads from our mom & pop shop they will come carefully packaged to protect the pads. But BEFORE taking cactus out of the box you MUST put on heavy work gloves/leather gloves (not fabric gloves) to protect your hands from the cactus spines.
I would suggest opening your box outside. Do NOT handle pads in the wind as small spines can be loose in the box and could blow on to you.
These silicon coated tongs make me smile and keep glochids (cactus spines) out of my hands.
I suggest using kitchen tongs to handle cactus pads. I really like these silicone coated tongs. These are my favorite tongs because they are short and give me good control over the cactus pads
I use my tongs to remove cactus pads from my full grown cactus plants, position cactus pads in pots for planting, and these tongs make great gifts. When I'm giving a fellow plant lover a gift I love that these tongs are something they can use all the time. Plus they are brightly colored and just fun.
And the silicone coating is gentle on the skin of my cactus pads. Metal tongs are too aggressive and can leave punctures and scrapes on my pads. You don't what to damage the outside of your cactus pads because that could let in diseases or insects. But these silicone tongs are gentle on my pads.
You can buy the tongs separately in my shop or have tongs added to your cactus order.
How to callous the cut end of your cactus pad to prevent cactus rot:
Place the cactus cutting on a flat surface in filtered sunlight. Choose a dry room that has constant temperatures of 60 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Leave the cutting for 7 to 10 days to form callus tissue over the cut edge. When the cut edge looks dry then a callus has formed.
Here is a cutting that sat for so long it started to grow roots!
I don't recommend waiting this long to plant your cutting. And not all cactus cuttings will root just by laying them out. Here in Arizona pads are sometimes knocked off cactus plants and root right where they have fallen. But if the climate in your part of the country is too wet, cold, humid.... then cuttings might not root as easily as there do here in southern Arizona.
Some growers recommend rooting hormone (a powder) be applied to the cut cactus pad. My pads have always grow very well without rooting hormone, but if you want to use a rooting hormone feel free to.
The soil you use really matters!
Once the cut end of the cactus cutting has dried (calloused) you can plant it in a pot. It's tricky, and a bit prickly, to move a cactus plant to a larger pot in the future. So I prefer to start my cactus pads in larger pots (1-3 gallon pots) to start with, so I don't have to move up to a larger pot anytime soon.
Some buyers like to start their cutting in a smaller pot in the beginning. That is fine but keep in mind a mature Opuntia Santa Rita can be over 5 feet tall if it really likes your growing conditions.
Cactus need fast drying soil and must be in pots with drainage holes in the bottom. You can kill your cactus if the soil stays wet for too long.
I suggest you plant your cuttings using cactus soil from your local nursery or Home Depo. Cactus soil is not the same as potting soil. Potting soil works to retain moisture but cactus soil has increased drainage allowing it to dry out faster.
If you would like to save money and create your own cactus soil you can. Just mix one part perlite with one part compost to create a well-draining growing medium to plant the cactus in. The perlite helps the soil to drain faster. Just be careful because perlite dust is very bad to breath. The larger chucks of perlite are harmless but any fine perlite dust in the bag should not be inhaled.
Using your cactus tongs hold the cactus pad inside your 1 to 3 gallon pot. The well draining cactus soil should be 2 inches from the top.
Set the cactus cutting with the callused/cut edge resting on the soil in the center of the pot.
Push one-third of the cactus cutting into the soil mixture (cut end down). You don’t want to bury your cutting too deep but it needs to be able to stand up in the pot.
Tamp the soil down around the base of the cactus until the cutting is able to stand upright on its own.
Cactus don't need water, right?
Actually cactus will die if they aren't watered. And cactus can die if you over water them... Some cactus enthusiasts get excited to plant their cactus but then forget that cactus and never water it. The trick is to only water your cactus when the the soil is completely dry. The soil must dry out completely between waterings or your cactus can rot.
In the beginning you water your soil just a little (water the top layer of the soil) to encourage your cactus cutting to root. Remember at this point the cactus doesn't have any root to soak water up with. So over watering right now could kill your cactus.
Then in a few weeks to a few months your pad will put out new roots. Now your cactus can be watered a little more frequently because it has the roots to soak up the water.
Once you start seeing new pads growing on your cactus you can slowly start to water more often. Wet just the top 1/4" of soil every 7 days during the months where night time temps are above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. If nighttime temperatures are below 60 degrees Fahrenheit then only water every 14 days.
Once your cactus pad is fully rooted you can water the soil more deeply but remember ALLOW SOIL TO DRY OUT BETWEEN WATERINGS. You can kill/rot your cactus with too much water.
If the pads look shriveled and thin then your cactus needs more water. If the pads and full and plump, hold off and don't water. Cactus store water so your cactus doesn't need more water at the moment.
If your cactus lives inside then it won't need as much water as a cactus living outside. Tip: cactus don't want to live inside but you can dry to raise them inside with the correct, well draining soil and a grow light.
How do you know if your cactus cutting is dead?
The front cactus pad below looks brown, thin, dry and hard. This pad has died. A second way it could be dead or dying is if it is smelly, soggy and squishy. Usually a cactus that is over watered (soggy/smelly) can't be saved. It's easier to bring back to life a cactus pad that was underwatered than overwatered.
Cactus can get sunburns (and die!)
Full strength sunlight can sunburn your cactus. Your cuttings wants to be 60 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer and in filtered sunlight. Sunburns can be fatal so I recommend you give your cactus filtered sunlight and if you need to acclimate your cactus to a sunnier spot you do so very gradually.
You can move the cactus cuttings to filtered sunlight outdoors once they begin producing new growth.
The photo above with the dead/dying cactus pad is also similar to how a sunburned pad will look. A sunburn leaves lighter areas on the pad that may scar, if the pad lives. Cactus toughen their outer skin on the side where they are exposed to sunlight. So a cactus that is acclimated won't sunburn. But if you rotate your cactus pot then you can sunburn the side of your cactus that isn't used to getting so much direct sun. Remember filtered outdoor sunlight is best.
When can I plant my cactus outside?
Most species of cactus are NOT frost tolerant. If you live somewhere really cold or really rainy I could only recommend growing cactus if you can bring them into a greenhouse or if you can grown them inside with a grow light during the winter.
If the Sunset Garden books says you are in a zone where this cactus can survive I would recommend growing your cactus in a pretty pot for at least one year before moving it into your landscaping.
In the Spring, once soil temperatures reach 60 degrees Fahrenheit you can transplant your cactus into a special place in your yard that has filtered sunlight and well-draining soil. Somewhere where your neighbors can enjoy your pretty purple cactus.
Start by digging 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. It's important to plant your cactus a little tall (proud) in the hole. You do not want to plant your cactus too low or have the soil settle causing your cactus plant to be too low in the hole. Planting a cactus too deep can result in water gathering and rotting your plant. Or soil too high up on your cactus can also lead to rot.
Now that your cactus is planted and the soil lightly tapped down you can water it. Watering will help the soil to hold your new plant up. But if you think you damaged your plant or the root ball during planting then wait to water for a few days. Waiting will also cuts on your cactus or broken cactus roots to callous over. Then it will be safe to water your cactus friend.
Thank you to the happy buyer above who sent me this great photo! Opening an order from Looking Sharp Cactus can feel so good :)
A few more tips:
🌵 Prickly pear cacti do not require fertilization.
🌵 Purple prickly pear are purple seasonally when experiencing drought/heat. Other times of the year they are bluish green.
🌵 Many buyers buy a set of 3 pads from us, just in case they have an ups and kill one or more pads.
🌵 I find that the more mature/older cactus pads root the easiest. Since older cactus pads have been alive the longest it is possible for cactus pads to have slight damage from bird pecks or a tree branch rubbing on them etc. These are still healthy pads and will grow new pads that are unblemished. Cactus pads are living organisms and as such, they will vary from each other in size, color...
🌵 Plant prickly pear cactus away from high-traffic areas in the landscape to avoid injury. Keep these plants away from pets and small children.”
Happy cactus gardening!
owner of Looking Sharp Cactus