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The Prickly but Rewarding Art of Growing Opuntia

Table of Contents


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Looking for a low-maintenance plant that can provide a unique and exotic touch to your garden or home? Look no further than Opuntia, the versatile cactus species that can thrive even in harsh and challenging environments. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a novice plant enthusiast, this complete guide will provide you with all the tips and insights you need to cultivate and care for your own Opuntia plants, from selecting the right species to planting, watering, fertilizing, and more. So get ready to add some prickly personality to your indoor or outdoor space with the help of Opuntia!

Benefits of Growing Your Own Opuntia (Opuntia spp.)

Benefits of growing Opuntia at home:


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  • Low maintenance
  • Drought-tolerant
  • Edible fruit (prickly pear)
  • Beautiful flowers
  • Can be used as a decorative fence
  • Has medicinal properties

General Information About Opuntia (Opuntia spp.)

Plant Family: Cactus family (Cactaceae)
Plant Latin Name: Opuntia spp.

Plant Variations Available

Opuntia is a genus of over 200 species of cacti that are indigenous to the Americas. Also known as the prickly pear cactus, Opuntia is a popular choice for gardeners due to its striking appearance and low-maintenance requirements. While Opuntia plants share certain common characteristics, such as their well-known spines, there is also a notable amount of variety within this genus. Let’s take a closer look at some of the variations of Opuntia.

Shape and Size

Opuntia plants can range in size from tiny, low-lying ground covers to tall, towering trees. Some species have oval-shaped pads while others have cylindrical or flattened pads. Additionally, the pads may be round, elongated, or even heart-shaped.


Opuntia plants produce bright, showy flowers in shades of yellow, pink, orange, and red. These flowers often sport a distinctive, striking design, such as a central circle of stamens surrounded by petals. Some species, like the blue-flowered Opuntia arborescens, offer a more unusual color palette.


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Opuntia cacti are famed for their spines, which form in clusters on the pads. The spines can be straight, curved, or hook-shaped, and are often sharp enough to cause serious injury if not handled with care. Some species, like the spineless variety (‘Burbank Spineless’), have been developed to be less hazardous.


One of the most distinctive features of Opuntia is its fruit, which is colloquially known as a prickly pear. These fruits are shaped like a slightly flattened globe and are usually bright red or orange in color. Prickly pears are edible and are used in a variety of culinary dishes, from salads and smoothies to jams and candies.


Opuntia plants are native to the Americas and are found throughout North, Central, and South America. There are even a few species that are endemic to the Caribbean. This wide distribution has led to a great deal of diversity within the genus, with some species thriving in arid deserts while others prefer more temperate climates.

In conclusion, Opuntia may be a prickly cactus, but it offers a plethora of variations in its shape, size, flowers, spines, fruit, and range. Whether used for ornamental purposes or culinary delights

Germinating Opuntia (Opuntia spp.)

Preferred Zones

Opuntia, more commonly known as prickly pear cactus, is a unique and hardy plant that thrives in a variety of climates. If you are interested in growing this plant outdoors, there are a few key zones to consider.

Firstly, Opuntia prefers warm, sunny climates that mimic its native habitat in the desert Southwest. This means that zones 9 and 10 are ideal for outdoor growing. These regions include parts of California, Arizona, Texas, Southern Florida, and other areas with hot, dry summers and mild winters.

If you live in a location with harsher winters, fear not! Opuntia can tolerate cold temperatures, as long as it is given adequate protection. In fact, some species of Opuntia can survive temperatures as low as -26°C! For outdoor growing in colder zones, it is important to choose a variety of Opuntia that is hardy in your specific region and to provide insulation during winter months.

That being said, Opuntia is a versatile plant and can be grown in a variety of soils, from sandy to clay, as long as it is well-draining. It is also drought-tolerant and can survive with minimal watering, making it a great choice for xeriscaping and water-wise gardening.

Overall, if you live in zones 9 and 10 or are willing to take measures to protect your plants during colder months, Opuntia can be a beautiful and low-maintenance addition to your outdoor garden. Its striking blooms and edible fruit make it both ornamental and useful, and its unique appearance is sure to turn heads.

Sowing Instructions

Opuntia, commonly known as prickly pear, is a genus of cactus plants that are native to the Americas. If you’re looking to grow Opuntia from seed, there are a few key tips and tricks you’ll want to keep in mind.

Firstly, start with a high-quality seed source. Look for suppliers that specialize in cactus and succulent seeds, and choose seeds that are fresh and viable. Prickly pear seeds are notoriously hardy and can remain viable for many years, but fresher seeds will have higher germination rates.

Next, prepare your soil. These cacti prefers well-draining soil with plenty of organic matter, so mix in some rich compost or other organic amendments to improve the soil quality. You’ll also want to make sure your soil is slightly acidic, with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0.


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When it comes time to sow your seeds, make sure to plant them in shallow, well-draining containers. You can either use small seedling trays or individual pots, depending on how many seeds you’re working with. Opuntia seeds should be sown just beneath the soil surface, as they require a bit of sunlight to germinate.

Finally, make sure to keep your newly-sown Opuntia seeds well-watered and in a warm, sunny spot. They prefer temperatures between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, so keep them in a warm spot indoors, or outdoors in a sunny spot during the warmer months.

With just a bit of patience and care, you should start to see your Opuntia seeds sprouting within a few weeks. And before you know it, you’ll have a beautiful, spiky cactus to admire in your home or garden.

Preparation Advice

Opuntias, also known as prickly pear cacti, are a unique and fascinating genus of plants that are gaining popularity in the gardening world. With brilliant blooms and an interesting arrangement of spines, growing Opuntias can be a rewarding experience for any gardener.

To prepare for growing Opuntias, the first step is to ensure that you have the right equipment. This includes a shovel, gardening gloves, pruning shears, and a well-draining soil mix. A sunny spot in your garden or a pot on your balcony, porch, or window is the ideal location for these plants, as they need plenty of sunlight and good air circulation to thrive.

When planting Opuntias, it is important to be mindful of their unique requirements. Due to their desert origins, they thrive in dry soil conditions, and overwatering can lead to root rot. In addition, they require ample space to spread their roots and grow, so be sure to provide enough room in the pot or garden bed.


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To maximize growth and blooming, Prickly pears can benefit from regular pruning. This helps to maintain their shape and size while encouraging healthy growth and blooms. It is recommended to prune the plants in the early spring before the growing season begins.

Finally, it is recommended to fertilize Prickly pears with a cactus-specific fertilizer every few weeks during the growing season. This will provide them with the nutrients they need to produce vibrant blooms and maintain healthy growth.

Overall, with the right equipment, care, and attention to their unique needs, growing Opuntias can lead to a satisfying and rewarding experience for any gardener. So go ahead and give it a try, and watch these striking plants thrive and flourish!

Germination Tools and Equipment

Germinating Opuntia can be a bit of a challenge, but with the right tools and equipment, you can ensure healthy growth from the start.


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First, you’ll need a good quality potting mix that is well-draining, as Opuntia don’t like to sit in wet soil. Look for a mix that includes perlite and coarse sand, and avoid using garden soil or compost, which can contain pests or diseases.

Next, you’ll need a container for your Opuntia seeds that allows for drainage. It’s best to use a shallow tray or dish with several small holes in the bottom to prevent water from collecting in the bottom.

Once you have your container, fill it with your potting mix and moisten it with a spray bottle or mister. Opuntia seeds are very small, so you’ll want to handle them carefully when planting them. Scatter them on the surface of the soil, then use a fine mist to water them in.

To help the seeds germinate more quickly, you can cover the tray with a clear plastic lid or wrap it in plastic wrap to create a mini greenhouse. Keep the tray in a warm, bright location, but out of direct sunlight.

Regularly check the soil moisture level, and mist as needed to keep it moist but not overly wet. In a few weeks, you should start to see tiny Opuntia plants starting to emerge!

Overall, investing in quality potting mix, a well-draining container, and a spray bottle or mister can make all the difference in successfully germinating Opuntia seeds. With these tools, you’ll be well on your way to healthy, thriving plants.

Growing Prickly Pears (Opuntia spp.)

Light Requirements

Opuntia, or commonly known as prickly pear cactus, can be a beautiful addition to your indoor or outdoor garden, provided you provide them with adequate lighting.


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If you’re planning to grow Opuntia indoors, make sure you place them in a bright, sunny area that receives at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. South or southwest-facing windows are ideal for these cacti as they require plenty of natural light to grow healthily.

If you’re growing Opuntia outdoors, plant them in a location that receives full sun exposure for most of the day, particularly during the spring and summer months. However, be sure to provide some shade during the hottest hours of the day to avoid scorching the plants.

In general, Opuntia cactus is a sun-loving plant that requires ample natural light to thrive. If you are unable to provide them with adequate sunlight, consider supplementing with artificial lighting. LED grow lights are an excellent choice for indoor growers as they are energy-efficient and provide the full spectrum of light that plants need to grow.

It’s important to note that Opuntia can be sensitive to sudden changes in light exposure. Therefore, if you plan on moving them from a low-light area to a bright area, do so gradually over a few days to prevent shock and damage to the plant.

In conclusion, Opuntia requires a lot of light to grow healthy, so ensure that you provide them with ample natural or artificial lighting. Doing so will help your cactus thrive and produce beautiful blooms.

Temperature Requirements

Opuntia, also known as prickly pear, is a unique and hardy plant that thrives in arid and semi-arid environments. As a cactus species, it is well-adapted to hot temperatures, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have temperature requirements.


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To grow healthy Opuntia, you’ll want to ensure the temperature is within its optimal range. In general, Opuntia prefers warm temperatures between 65-85°F (18-30°C). During the summer months, it can tolerate even hotter temperatures as long as the soil is moist and it receives adequate sunlight.

If you live in a cooler climate, you may need to use a greenhouse or indoor growing system to provide the necessary warmth. It’s important to note that while Opuntia can tolerate cooler temperatures, prolonged exposure to temperatures below 50°F (10°C) can cause damage to the plant.

On the other hand, high temperatures above 100°F (38°C) can cause the plant to shut down and go dormant. During these prolonged hot spells, it’s important to provide adequate shade to protect the plant and keep the soil moist to prevent dehydration.

By following these temperature guidelines and providing the right growing conditions, you’ll be able to cultivate healthy and thriving Opuntia plants. Whether using them for their fruit or as an ornamental addition to your garden, Opuntia is a fascinating and rewarding plant to grow.


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My Favorite Tools For Growing Opuntia (Opuntia spp.)

Opuntia cacti, commonly known as prickly pear, are hardy plants that require minimal maintenance. However, to ensure they remain healthy and thrive, there are some essential tools and equipment that every caretaker should have.

First and foremost, a pair of thick gloves is a must-have when dealing with Opuntia, as the cactus spines can cause painful injuries. We recommend using leather gloves that are thick enough to provide ample protection but flexible enough to allow easy movement.

The next tool you’ll need is a pair of pruning shears. Opuntia can quickly become overgrown, and regular pruning is necessary to maintain its shape and size. When using pruning shears, be sure to sanitize them before and after use to prevent the spread of diseases.

Another essential tool is a good quality watering can. Opuntia cacti generally require infrequent watering; however, they do need a deep soak when watering. It’s recommended to water your Opuntia cactus once every two weeks in the summer and once a month during winter.

A well-draining soil mix is also crucial for Opuntia cacti. Opt for a cactus-specific potting mix or a blend of potting soil, perlite, and sand. These types of soil allow for proper drainage while also retaining enough moisture to keep your cactus healthy.

Lastly, consider investing in a pair of tweezers to remove any remaining spines that may have lodged themselves in your Opuntia cactus. This can be helpful when pruning or during routine plant care.

By having these tools and equipment on hand, caring for and maintaining a healthy Opuntia cactus will be a breeze. Remember, proper care and maintenance are essential for healthy, happy plants!

Preferred Soil Type

Opuntia, also known as prickly pear cactus, is a hardy succulent that can thrive in a variety of soil types. However, to ensure optimal growth and health, there are some specific soil requirements to keep in mind.

First and foremost, Opuntia requires well-draining soil. This means that the soil should be loose and airy enough to allow for proper water absorption and movement, without becoming waterlogged or saturated. This is especially important as Opuntia is highly susceptible to root rot.


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In terms of soil composition, Opuntia prefers a sandy loam mix. This means that the soil should be a combination of sand, silt, and clay, with a high percentage of sand content. The addition of organic matter, such as compost or aged manure, can also be beneficial for providing nutrients and improving soil structure.

It is also important to note that Opuntia prefers a slightly acidic to neutral soil pH range between 6.0 and 7.0. This can be tested using a soil pH kit or by sending a soil sample to a professional laboratory.

Finally, Opuntia can benefit from occasional applications of a balanced fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10 mix, during the growing season. However, it is important not to over-fertilize, as this can cause damage to the plant.

By providing well-draining, sandy loam soil with a slightly acidic to neutral pH and occasional fertilization, you can grow healthy and vibrant Opuntia plants. Happy gardening!

Watering Requirements

Opuntia plants, also known as prickly pears, are hardy and can tolerate periods of drought. However, to ensure healthy growth and the best harvest, proper watering is essential.

During the growing season, which typically lasts from spring to early fall, Opuntia plants should be watered deeply and then allowed to dry out completely before watering again. This mimics the natural cycle of rainfall in their native desert habitats.

To achieve this, water the plant deeply until the water begins to emerge from the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot or soil. Wait until the soil has dried out completely, which can take a week or more depending on the temperature and humidity levels, before watering again.

It’s important to note that Opuntia plants are susceptible to root rot if the soil is constantly saturated with water, so be sure not to overwater. Additionally, during the dormant season in winter, reduce watering to once every two to three weeks to allow the plant to conserve its energy.

In summary, to grow healthy Opuntia plants, water deeply during the growing season and allow the soil to dry out completely before watering again. Avoid overwatering and reduce watering frequency during the dormant season. With consistent care, you can enjoy a bountiful harvest of delicious prickly pears.

What You Need To Know About Fertilizing Opuntia (Opuntia spp.)

Opuntia, also known as the prickly pear cactus, is a hardy and resilient plant that thrives in arid regions with sandy or loamy soils. To grow healthy Opuntia, it is crucial to provide the proper fertilizing regimen to ensure ample nutrients.

Firstly, it is essential to note that Opuntia does not require excessive fertilizing, as it is adapted to survive in low-nutrient environments. However, a minimal fertilizer application can enhance growth and fruit production.

Before fertilizing, it is recommended to perform a soil test to determine nutrient deficiencies. Opuntia thrives in slightly acidic to neutral soils with a pH range of 6 to 7.5. If the soil is found to be deficient in essential nutrients, a balanced fertilizer with a low nitrogen content can be applied.

Opuntia responds well to organic fertilizers such as compost, aged manure, or bone meal. These organic fertilizers provide a slow-release of nutrients, which prevents excessive growth and ensures proper uptake.

It is advisable to apply fertilizer in the spring when Opuntia shows signs of new growth. During the growing season, a light application of fertilizer can be applied every three to four months, depending on the growth rate of the plant.

To avoid over-fertilizing, it is crucial not to apply fertilizer within six weeks before harvesting the fruit. Additionally, do not apply fertilizer late in the growing season, as it can stimulate new growth that might not have enough time to mature before winter.

In conclusion, Opuntia requires minimal fertilizing, but it is still necessary to maintain soil nutrient levels to ensure healthy growth and fruit production. Organic fertilizers are recommended, and fertilizer should only be applied when needed to prevent over-fertilizing. By following these guidelines, your Opuntia cactus will thrive and produce a bountiful harvest year after year.


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My Favorite Fertilizers For Opuntia (Opuntia spp.)

Opuntia, also known as prickly pear cactus, is a hardy plant that requires minimal care, but proper fertilization is crucial for its healthy growth and abundant fruit production.

The best fertilizers for Opuntia are those that are balanced and rich in nutrients essential for the plant’s development. A good fertilizer blend for this cactus should contain a high percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as trace elements like iron, manganese, and zinc.

One of the most effective fertilizers for Opuntia is a slow-release granular formulation that contains a 10-10-10 or 12-12-12 nutrient ratio. This type of fertilizer gradually releases nutrients into the soil over several months, ensuring a constant supply of food for the plant.

Another excellent fertilizer option is an organic mix that contains compost, blood meal, bone meal, and other natural ingredients. Organic fertilizers release nutrients slowly, but they also help improve soil fertility and promote microbial activity, which benefits the entire ecosystem around the plant.

When fertilizing Opuntia, it’s essential to apply the fertilizer evenly around the plant’s base, avoiding direct contact with the stems or leaves. Over-fertilization can damage the roots or cause excessive foliage growth, leading to weaker stems and fruit production.

In summary, the best fertilizers for healthy Opuntia growth are those that contain a balanced blend of nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and trace elements. Slow-release granular fertilizers and organic fertilizers are both excellent options to provide the plant with a steady supply of food and promote a healthy and robust cactus.

Harvesting Opuntia (Opuntia spp.)

Time To Maturity

Opuntia, commonly known as prickly pear cactus, is a hardy succulent plant that can grow in a variety of climates and soil types. While there are many different species of Opuntia, the time it takes for these plants to reach maturity can vary depending on the specific type and growing conditions.

On average, it takes about 3-4 years for an Opuntia plant to reach maturity from the time it emerges as a sprout. During this time, the plant will go through several growth stages, including a vegetative stage where it develops roots and leaves, and a reproductive stage where it produces flowers and fruit.

The growth rate of Opuntia plants can be influenced by several factors, including temperature, water availability, and soil type. In warmer, drier climates, Opuntia plants may grow more quickly than in cooler, wetter environments. Additionally, plants grown in well-draining soil with plenty of organic matter and nutrients will generally mature more quickly than those grown in poor quality soil.

Once an Opuntia plant reaches maturity, it can continue to grow and produce fruit for many years. With proper care and maintenance, an Opuntia plant can thrive and add a unique and interesting feature to any garden or landscape. So if you’re thinking about growing Opuntia, be patient and prepared to wait a few years before seeing your efforts come to fruition!

Harvest Instructions

Harvesting Prickly Pears from an Opuntia Plant

Prickly pear cactus, also known as Opuntia, is a tasty and highly nutritious fruit that can be found growing wild in many arid and semi-arid regions of the world. Harvesting these prickly pears can be a daunting task because of the sharp spines that cover the fruits, but with a bit of care and know-how, it can be done safely and easily.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to harvest prickly pears from an Opuntia plant:

  1. Choose a Ripe Fruit: The prickly pear fruit is ripe when it is soft to the touch and has a deep color. Look for a fruit that is plump and free of any blemishes or signs of damage.
  2. Wear Protective Clothing: Prickly pear plants are covered in spines, so it’s important to wear protective clothing when harvesting. Long sleeves, pants, gloves, and boots will help protect your skin from the sharp needles. You may also want to consider wearing goggles to protect your eyes.
  3. Cut the Fruit: Use a sharp knife or scissors to cut the fruit from the plant. Hold the fruit gently but firmly to avoid crushing it. Be sure to cut the fruit close to the base of the stem, leaving the spines on the plant.
  4. Remove the Spines: Use a pair of tongs or a clean brush to remove the spines from the fruit. You can also use a propane torch or a gas stove to singe off the spines. Be careful not to burn the fruit, and make sure to let it cool before handling it again.
  5. Clean and Store the Fruit: Rinse the fruit in cool water and pat it dry with a clean towel. Store the fruit in a cool, dry place until you’re ready to eat it. Prickly pear fruits can be eaten fresh, or they can be used to make jams, jellies, and other delicious treats!

Harvesting prickly pears from an Opuntia plant may seem like a daunting task, but with these simple steps, you can safely and easily enjoy the flavors of this delicious fruit!

My Favorite Tools For Harvest Time

Harvesting opuntia can be a prickly task without the right tools and equipment. Luckily, we’ve got you covered with the best recommendations for getting the job done efficiently and safely.

First and foremost, you’ll need a pair of sturdy gloves with thick material, such as leather or canvas. Opuntia is notorious for its sharp spines, which easily penetrate most fabrics, so protecting your hands is paramount.

Next, we suggest using a pair of bypass pruners to efficiently and cleanly remove pads from the cactus. Make sure the blades are sharp and oiled to prevent unnecessary damage to the plant. Additionally, having a machete or saw can be useful for larger opuntia varieties or when dealing with tough woody stems.

To carry your haul, you’ll want a basket or container with a sturdy handle. Avoid anything that can easily tip over or break under the weight of the pads.

Overall, harvesting opuntia can be a rewarding experience with the right tools and preparation. Remember to take precautions, dress appropriately, and respect the cactus as you collect its bounty. Happy harvesting!

End of Season & Overwintering

Opuntia, also known as prickly pear, is a genus of cacti that is native to the Americas. These cacti are known for their distinctive paddle-shaped segments and their colorful blooms. If you have Opuntia in your garden, you may be wondering how to care for them as the growing season comes to a close. Here are some tips for end-of-season care and overwintering of Opuntia:

  1. Watering: Reduce watering frequency as the days get shorter and temperatures drop. Opuntia can usually go several weeks without water during the winter months, but make sure to water thoroughly when you do water. This will help prevent the pads from shriveling.
  2. Fertilizing: Opuntia typically does not require fertilization during the winter months. In fact, giving them too much fertilizer can stimulate growth when they should be dormant.
  3. Pruning: Prune away any damaged or diseased pads before winter sets in. This will help prevent the spread of disease and improve the overall appearance of the plant.
  4. Protection from frost: Opuntia is generally hardy to about 20°F, but extreme cold can damage or kill the plant. If you live in an area with harsh winters, consider covering your Opuntia with a frost blanket or moving it indoors.
  5. Pest control: Keep an eye out for pests like mealybugs, spider mites, and scale insects, which can become a problem during the winter months. If you see signs of an infestation, treat the plant with an insecticidal soap or oil.

Overall, caring for Opuntia during the winter months is relatively low-maintenance. Just make sure to adjust your watering and fertilizing routine, protect the plant from frost, and keep an eye out for pests. With a little bit of care, your Opuntia should thrive for years to come.

Final Thoughts on Opuntia (Opuntia spp.)

Congratulations! Now that you’ve followed the complete guide to germinating, growing, and harvesting Opuntia, you can reap the rewards of your hard work. The Opuntia plant is a unique and rewarding addition to any garden or landscape. By following our step-by-step instructions, you’ve ensured that your Opuntia plant will thrive and produce delicious fruits. Remember to keep your soil well-drained and not to overwater your plants. With patience and care, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful blooms and tasty fruits. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or new to the world of Opuntia, with the knowledge you’ve gained in this guide, you’ll be well-equipped to enjoy the benefits of this remarkable plant for years to come. Happy growing!

Frequently Asked Questions About Growing Opuntia (Opuntia spp.)

How often should I water my Opuntia?

Opuntia are desert plants and do not require frequent watering. In fact, it is best to water them sparingly, allowing the soil to dry out completely in between waterings. During the winter months, they can even go without water for several weeks.

Can Opuntia be grown indoors?

Opuntia can be grown indoors, but they need a lot of sunlight and good air circulation to thrive. If you are unable to provide these conditions, it may be best to grow them outdoors or in a greenhouse. It is also worth noting that Opuntia can grow quite large, so be sure you have enough space for them to spread out.

How do I propagate Opuntia?

Opuntia can be propagated through stem cuttings. Simply cut off a piece of stem with a clean, sharp knife and allow it to dry out for a few days. Once the cut end has calloused over, plant the cutting in well-draining soil and water sparingly. It should root within a few weeks and begin to grow. Additionally, many species of Opuntia can be grown from seeds, which can be harvested from the fruit of the plant.

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