Editor’s note: Get Growing, written by members of the La Plata County Extension Office’s Master Gardener Program, appears during the growing season. It features tips and suggestions for your garden and landscape.By Emily Haefner
A plant that thrives in drought conditions, poor soil and practically takes care of itself sounds like the holy grail of gardening.
Cacti, especially edible varieties of the prickly pear, are not only that, but also for the Southwest might be one of the most sustainable and environmentally friendly crops around. Many countries grow prickly pear cacti on a commercial scale and enjoy the pads, nopales – akin in taste and texture to okra, and the fruit, which is sweet and soft, once you pare away the thick skin, and often a lovely fluorescent color. The fruit can be eaten by itself or juiced into your favorite summer drink.
With the rise of water-wise garden designs, prickly pear cactus is a great edible addition to an arid landscape (well off the beaten path though, as spines are prominent). Prickly pear is easy to start from cuttings. In the heat of summer, take a cutting from a healthy 6-month-old pad at the natural seam where it joins the parent plant. Leave it out in a dry, warm, partly shaded room for seven to 10 days to form a callous over the cut area. Bury it one-third of the way down the pad in your growth medium, watering when the top layer of soil dries out and decreasing the frequency as it establishes. Full sun and good drainage are important, and a southern or western exposed planting using a gravel/sand mix with a small amount of organic matter makes for a happy cactus.
With a little love and tenderness at the start, you’ll end up with a beautiful, hardy plant that will add variety to your garden and kitchen.
For more information, visit the Colorado Cactus and Succulent Society website, www.coloradocactus.org.
Emily Haefner is a Colorado Master Gardener volunteer. She lives in La Plata County.