How to Grow a Prickly Pear Cactus from Seeds

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The Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia sp.) thrives in hot, dry desert areas, growing 3 to 20 feet (0.9 to 6 m) tall, depending on the variety and growing conditions. It spreads to cover 3 to 15 feet (0.9 to 4.5 m). The leaves and fruit are edible once the spines are removed. Leaf pads are eaten as a vegetable. Fruit are eaten raw and used to make juice, jelly and candy.

Prickly Pear Cactus is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 3b through 11. Once established, Prickly Pear Cactus are easy to care for and tolerate drought for two or three weeks.
Fill small pots or a seed tray with cactus soil. Break up any lumps in soil. Water the soil thoroughly and allow to drain.
Sow the seeds in the late spring when night temperatures consistently reach above 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius). Rub the Prickly Pear Cactus seeds against a piece of sandpaper to scratch the seed coat. Scratched seeds germinate faster and more reliably than untreated seeds.
Plant one seed per pot or plant seeds 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart in seed trays. Press the seed into the soil and cover with a fine layer of soil, barely 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick.
Mist the soil surface with a fine spray of water. Cover the tray with the plastic lid or put individual pots in plastic bags. Cut a small hole in the plastic to create a vent.
Place the pots or tray in a sunny window or under artificial lights. Check the soil daily for moisture and temperature. Ideal soil and air temperatures for prickly pear cactus is 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius). If heat builds up under the plastic, move the container or open the vent further to release excess heat. Water the soil as needed with a fine mist, keeping the soil moist but not wet.
Inspect the seedlings daily. Cactus that turn yellow need more light. Brown or red cactus are receiving too much light.
Transplant the seedlings into larger pots or outside once the roots are well-developed. Place the transplants in full sun spaced 24 to 36 inches (60 to 90 cm) apart. Keep the soil moist for the first two weeks or until the plant has adjusted to its new location. Increase the time between watering once the cactus are established, allowing the soil to dry out slightly.
Fertilize with a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 to encourage pad growth. If you prefer to encourage flowers and fruit, use a low-nitrogen fertilizer such as 0-10-10.

Harvest Prickly Pear Cactus seeds from the ripe fruit of a Prickly Pear Cactus. Wash the seeds to remove all pulp, and dry them on a paper towel in a warm place for a week or two until completely dry. Store seeds in an air-tight container in a cool, dark place until ready to plant the following spring.

Prickly Pear Cactus earn their name. Wear gloves and handle the plants carefully, the spines are sharp and cause painful irritation.
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