How to Grow a Nopal Cactus
Nopal cactus, also known as prickly pear cactus, can be grown for appearance, food and commercial value. Nopal also has uses as a source of fibers for clothing and fodder for livestock. While nopal cactus can be grown from seeds, it is more easily propagated from cuttings. Nopal grows relatively quickly and requires little attention.
Using a sharp knife, remove a cutting from the parent cactus just above a stem joint between pads. Square the end of the cutting off and dust the cut with rooting compound. Allow the cut to air dry for one to two weeks until it has completely callused.
Prepare a planting mixture by combining 20 percent top soil, 10 percent peat moss, and 70 percent pumice. Fill a 1 gallon container with the planting mixture.
Place the cut end of the cutting approximately 1 inch into the soil; just deep enough to prevent it from falling over. Do not water at this time.
Place the cutting in the sun, and position the pad to align the thin sides north/south to prevent the sun from burning the cutting during the hottest part of the day.
Watch for signs of growth within four to six weeks; these signs include the cutting plumping up and new growth tips forming.
Transplant your new nopal cactus outdoors, if it can be grown in your area. Ensure the soil drains well and has a sufficient mix of organic and inorganic material. If nopal cactus will not grow in your area, continue to grow the cactus as a house plant.
Water infrequently, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings. Wait for several months to start harvesting either pads or fruit.
Grow Nopal Cactus From Seed?
You can obtain nopal cactus seeds from a nursery or seed supplier, or harvest your own from a ripe nopal fruit. Species in the nopal genus produce rosy-colored fruits, called prickly pear or tuna fruit. Scoop the flesh, including the seeds, into a sieve and mash it up. Once the pulp is loosened from the seeds, rinse away the pulp and spread the seeds on a paper towel to dry. Plant nopal seeds in spring. Use a sterile seed starting mix when growing nopal cactus from seeds. A mix of half perlite and half peat moss works well or you can mix the perlite with sterilized compost. When planting nopal and other cactus seeds, set the seeds on the surface of the seed-starting mix and then sprinkle the top with clean sand. The water will seep up through the drainage holes in the bottom of the flat. When the top of the soil feels moist, remove the tray from the water. Temperature plays an important role in seed germination. The nopal seedlings take about 10 days to germinate at optimal conditions but can take longer.
- Sharp knife
- 1 gallon container
- Peat moss
- Top soil
- Prickly Pear Cactus Production
- The British Cactus and Succulent Society: How to Grow Cacti and Other Succulent Plants from Seed
- Arizona Cooperative Extension: How to Propagate Agaves and Cacti from Cuttings and Seed
- Pollinator Partnership: Medicinal Plant Fact Sheet: Opuntia: Prickly Pear Cactus