10 secrets for growing prickly pear in your garden
Prickly pear, a wonderful fruit with small thorns and wonderful taste! The prickly pear is a beautiful perennial cactus that produces a very special fruit, the favorite prickly pear, which we enjoy at the end of summer. Although native to Mexico, prickly pear is a very hardy plant that is grown in many Mediterranean countries. The prickly pear grows at a height of 3-5 meters and occupies enough space during cultivation. The shoots of prickly pear are called foliage and look like large fleshy leaves. As is generally the case with cacti, so in prickly pear its true leaves are the thorns.
Prickly pear fruits have a high nutritional value, as they are rich in fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants. Prickly pears are usually eaten fresh, and can also be used in juices, jams and liqueurs. The shoots and fruits of prickly pear can be consumed as high quality feed or used as biofuels. So let’s see what care is needed for the cultivation of prickly pear to eat delicious and sweet prickly pear.
1. What varieties of prickly pear are cultivated in our country?
There are many cultivated prickly pear varieties in our country, most with thorns and some without thorns. The prickly pear varieties are mainly divided into white varieties with white fruit flesh, yellow varieties with yellow flesh color and red varieties with red flesh color. There are also varieties of prickly pear that have an orange color inside the fruit. In addition, the prickly pear varieties vary depending on the ripening season into early ripening, which ripens in summer, and late ripening varieties, which ripen in autumn.
2. Under what conditions does the cultivation of prickly pear thrive?
The cultivation of prickly pear thrives in arid climates, as it loves the sun and can survive the lack of water for a long time. The prickly pear stores large amounts of water and nutrients in its shoots, while the loss of water from the leaves (thorns) is extremely limited. It is very resistant to high summer temperatures and relatively sensitive to winter frosts. An important feature is that it can be planted in almost all types of soils, even in stony, dry and arid soils. It has such a strong root system that it can break even rocks.
3. When do we plant prickly pears and at what distances?
A good time to plant prickly pears is in early spring after the winter frosts have passed. Before planting the prickly pear, we level the soil, plow it and incorporate manure and compost to increase the content of organic matter and nutrients. The planting of prickly pear is done at planting distances of 5 meters between the planting sites and 5 meters between the planting lines, ie about 40 plants per acre. We prefer to plant prickly pears with a north-south orientation so that the crop receives more exposure to the sun’s rays.
4. Does prickly pear cultivation need watering and how often?
The cultivation of prickly pear has very low requirements for watering, as it can and does store water through atmospheric moisture. Although drought-resistant, prickly pear requires watering during the summer months, during the fruiting period, to increase fruit size and production. For the watering of the prickly pear, we install a watering system of plastic pipes with drops to save water.
5. What fertilizer is needed for the cultivation of prickly pear?
Prickly pear has reduced fertilization requirements to have good growth and production. We add complete organic fertilizer with high content of phosphorus and potassium, in early spring, to increase the quantity and quality of prickly pear production. The addition of supplemental calcium lubrication helps to produce better quality prickly pears, more cohesive and with a longer shelf life.
6. What diseases and insects affect the cultivation of prickly pear?
Prickly pear is very resistant to diseases and insects. In conditions of excessive humidity, rot of the prickly pear root may occur due to infection by a fungal disease. The fruits of prickly pear can be infected by a Mediterranean fly, which can be treated ecologically by placing yellow color-attracting traps with glue. An important problem that can be encountered in the cultivation of prickly pear is the mice that eat the prickly pear. We may also need to deal with snails that infest the prickly pear vegetation, using ash or phosphate iron that we place around the plants creating a natural firewall.
7. How is prickly pear pruned?
The prickly pears do not need pruning every year and do not have a specific way of pruning in terms of their configuration. When pruning prickly pears, we remove dry and weak or malformed shoots that interfere with the cultivation work we want to do. Suitable time for pruning prickly pear is in early spring after the winter frosts have passed or in early autumn after the harvest is complete.
8. How is prickly pear propagated?
If we want to create new prickly pear plants, it can be propagated by seed, but mainly by the method of propagation by cuttings. To propagate the prickly pear, cut sections of shoots (leaf branches) in early autumn and leave them in the soil for 4-5 days to heal the wounds of the incision. Then, the prickly pear cuttings are planted in nursery pots or directly in the field and take root very easily after a few months. The prickly pear cuttings are planted sideways in the soil at a depth so that half of the stem protrudes from the soil surface.
9. When and how are prickly pear fruits harvested?
The prickly pear bears fruit after the 3rd year and reaches full production in the 6th – 7th year of cultivation. A prickly pear produces about 50 kg of prickly pears, while when watered it can exceed 100 kg. It should be noted that the productive life of prickly pear exceeds 80 years. The prickly pear collection begins in late summer for early production and continues until late autumn for later.
Harvesting prickly pears requires special care due to the thorns. When picking we use thick gloves, a sharp knife and special tweezers that allow us to collect them more easily. Harvesting takes place early in the morning or late afternoon, as at this time the prickly pear thorns are softer. For longer fruit preservation, it is useful during the harvest to cut the fruit together with a small part of the shoots, a few millimeters. For easier cleaning of prickly pears, the fruits can be placed in the freezer to soften the thorns or in a bag with ice water.
10. And one last secret for the cultivation of prickly pear
Prickly pears, due to the high water content of their shoots, are one of the most fire-resistant plants. So they are planted at the edges of fields and cottages in the form of a dense fence and are a natural zone of protection from fire and fires.