Starting Baby Cacti From Cuttings

Don’t judge my mini-forest too harshly, we’ve just started!

One of my ongoing projects is landscaping our Hellstrip aka parkway aka that strip of dirt between the sidewalk and the street that gets full sun and zero water.  When we bought the house there was nothing in it but dirt and goat-heads, the bane of bike riders and barefoot folks throughout the southwest.  Before we left the country, my husband had weed barrier fabric and crusher fine gravel put down.  There was no real curb appeal but it was easy to maintain.

After doing some reading on urban permaculture, I decided to create a dry climate food forest in that part of the yard.  So I started out with 3 mesquite trees and 3 banana yuccas.  The mesquites have edible seed pods that can be ground up to make a flour and the yuccas will have edible fruit, flowers and roots.

Banana Yucca (Yucca Baccata) and Opuntia Ficus-Indica (Indian Fig Prickly Pear)

I’ve also added Prickly Pear and Cholla (cho-ya) cacti to my baby “forest”.  The fruits and flowers of both these cacti are edible and the pad of the prickly pear is absolutely delicious and is a staple of both New Mexican and Latin American cuisine.

This Indian Fig Prickly Pear was transplanted last fall and already has fruit and a new pad.

So far, I’ve got 3 varieties of prickly pear and one variety of Cholla – the pencil joint cholla and have developed a bit of an obsession with the prickly pears.  Just in the southwest, there are 20+ varieties of Opuntias, from bright purple to dark green, spineless to covered in 2 inch-long daggers.  All of them are edible but the most common is the Indian Fig variety, which can be found in dry climates around the world, even in Greece and Morocco.

Cow’s Tongue Prickly Pear

Although you can pick these plants up at big box stores, native plant stores, and online you can certainly get them for free.  All the cactus in my garden are grown from cuttings ( I found a few of them just laying on the sidewalk) and it’s ridiculously simple to get them started.  You’ll need a pair of leather gloves, your trowel and a cactus pad or stem.  They don’t like nice, rich, loamy soil and if you give them too much to drink they’ll rot and you’ll be sad.

Don’t forget the gloves! Pencil Joint Cholla (Opuntia Leptocaulis)
  1. Find the hottest driest place in your yard with the worst possible soil
  2. Bury your cactus cutting about 1/3 deep
In the background: Golden Barrel Cactus and Pink Plains Penstemon (Penstemon Ambiguus)
  1. Dig out any tiny invisible spines that got through your gloves
  2. Ignore your cactus

In a couple of years, we’ll have all the tacos nopales we can eat – along with mesquite flour tortillas!  Now if I can just talk Frank into getting goats – we’ll have fresh cheese to go with them.

Have you tried starting cactus cuttings?  Tell me how it went in the comments.