The prickly pear (Opuntia fig indica) is a perennial native to Central America, with a bushy habit, belonging to the family of Cactaceae. In adulthood, it can reach 5 to 6 m in height. It is sometimes called Indian Fig tree or, more frequently, racket cactus. Very decorative with its beautiful flowers ephemeral with a large diameter and a luminous orange-yellow, the prickly pear produces juicy fruit. They are edible, as are his snowshoes. Easy to maintain, it displays variable hardiness depending on the species. Depending on the region, it can therefore be planted either in the groundthat is in tray. Here’s everything you need to know to grow a prickly pear and enjoy a bountiful harvest.
Plant a Prickly Pear or Snowshoe Cactus
It’s in a sandy soil that we preferably plant the Cactus racket, and imperatively in spring. The best time is May, when the risk of late frosts is no longer to be feared and the spring sun has had time to warm the garden soil well.
We first choose a healthy subject, without mealybugs, with spots free of spots and very fleshy. Then prepare its location. To do this, it is essential to dig to a depth of 40 to 50 cm and a width of 60 cm.
- Dig a sufficiently large hole, i.e. wider than the root ball and at least 40 cm deep,
- Mix the extracted soil with sand,
- Place gravel and pebbles at the bottom of the hole to form a thick drainage layer,
- Add soil,
- Put on thick gloves to handle the cactus if it has thorns,
- Install the Prickly Pear in the center of the hole, handling it carefully so as not to break its rackets,
- Fill with the rest of the earth/sand mixture, taking care to do not bury the collar,
- Tamp around the plant.
Some gardeners lay tutors and leave them until the plant is completely rooted in order to support its rackets.
Be careful to leave enough room for prickly pears. If you want to cultivate several, you must respect a significant interval between two subjects (at least 2 m) because once adult, they grow.
Growing prickly pear
The Prickly Pear likes sunny and warm exposures. It is therefore installed in the sun and sheltered from the prevailing winds. In terms of soil, he has a clear preference for a neutral pH soil, poor, rocky or sandy and moderately rich. Avoid planting it in clay or limestone and acid soil. On the other hand, its culture medium must be very well drained because the Prickly Pear hates excess humidity. A sol sec et pentu therefore suits him perfectly.
This is the type of plant that can be used in rockeries, flowerbeds, beds or even hedges or isolated on a lawn. The Prickly Pear finds its place on a terrace just as well when it is planted in a pot.
This cactus brings a original touch to the outdoor area with its hinged and flat cladodes with the appearance of snowshoes which earned it its famous nickname of Cactus snowshoe, and its trunk which becomes more and more gray over the years.
Caring for your Prickly Pear
Grown in excellent conditions, this plant grows fast and without posing any particular problems.
This cactus does not need a lot of watering. Its glochids (spines which are nothing more than modified leaves) are able to retain the slightest drop of water and soak up the humidity present in the ambient air. However, all species ofOpuntia do not have this type of attribute, and this is particularly the case for those that are cultivated more generally.
But whatever the species, water it moderately approximately every 8 days, from spring to autumn, obviously taking weather conditions into account. In periods of sustained rain, you can store the watering can, and take it out if it is very hot or in case of drought. Be careful, however, not to have too heavy a hand, because the prickly pear can rot due to excess water.
No need to prune this cactus. It is simply rid of its yellowed, dried out or dead parts as soon as necessary.
Outside the Mediterranean rim, it is necessary to shelter a Prickly pear during the winter because it hardly supports frost. This is why it may be best to grow it in a large pot. It is thus easy to move it so that it can spend the off-season in a unheated verandawhere the temperature is between 5 and 12°C.
Note, however, that one of the species of prickly pear the most rustic is Opuntia macrocentrawhich resists unflinchingly to temperatures of the order of -20°C.
Repot or resurface
A cultivated prickly pear in a large pot or container must be repotted every 3 years because its roots need space. After a few years, when its handling proves to be difficult, one can settle for a surfacing. Of course, any intervention involves wearing gloves to protect yourself from any thorns.
Parasites or diseases
Grown outdoors, the Snowshoe Cactus fears neither pests nor diseases. His only scourge isexcess humidity which causes the rotting of the plant. In pots, and especially when grown in a greenhouse, it is however frequently the prey of scale insects. These must be removed by hand, using a cotton ball soaked in methylated spirit. A few sprays of water with black soap and methylated spirits are a weapon against these parasites.
Harvest prickly pears from the garden
After one flowering in May/Juneare formed the fruits, that is to say the prickly pearthat we can harvest between July and September.
These figs can be white, orange or purplish in color and have a red, yellow or green pulp at the heart of which, depending on the cultivar, you can see large black pips (seeds). They are rich in minerals, trace elements and vitamin C as well as fiber but also sugar.
These exotic fruits can be kept for a maximum of 48 hours in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator. They are therefore consumed as soon as they are harvested, i.e. cookedthat is floods. As to prickly pear snowshoes, they can also be harvested for consumption. Just cut them into strips and cook them. They go deliciously with meat, fish, grilled meats.