Santa Rita prickly pear cactus (Opuntia santa rita) provides color not only in its own yellow-orange spring blossoms but in the purple color of its pads. Named for Arizona’s Santa Rita Mountains, the cactus is native to the American Southwest into Mexico, leading to U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 11. This plant is appropriate for cactus gardens, rock gardens and xeriscape gardens. It needs good drainage and lots of sun.
Soil and Water
Santa Rita pear tolerates a wide variety of soils as long as they’re well-draining. Give a bed if necessary, or plant it on a slope. The plant stores water in its flattened, jointed stalks which are called pads or paddles. Throughout its first year, water once a month if rains are lacking. Once established, plants are very drought-tolerant, requiring only occasional watering in the summer months. Water thoroughly when the pads become thinner and are plump. The pads may look a little wrinkled, when the cactus is drought-stressed, as soon as you water the plant but they’ll recover. Allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Too much water will reduce the purple pad coloration, which intensifies in cold, drought and direct sunlight. The variety”Tubac” includes a rich purple pad color in the winter and is hardy in USDA zones 8 through 11.
Exposure and Light
Find this slow-growing cactus in a location where it’ll get at least six hours of sun, more in cool summer areas. It may grow two to five feet wide and tall , so let plants that are single a 6-foot-diameter space, which gives room around the edges of a mature cactus to you. It does against a south- or – west-facing wall or fence. Place it where you can enjoy the youthful pads’ intense purple color as they emerge . In summer and on pads, the cactus is bluish-green in color. Santa Rita pear generally doesn’t need fertilizing.
Pruning and Propagation
Santa Rita pear does not require pruning except to keep it to size or to eliminate pads for propagation. Cut them off at the bottom using sharp pruning shears, grab them together with kitchen tongs and to eliminate pads that have been dipped in rubbing alcohol. Before working with Santa Rita pear , wet down the cactus to prevent the spines, called glochids, from drifting loose out of the pads. The glochids are a skin irritant and may get in nose, eyes and respiratory passages, in which they can be a breathing threat. Remove in summer or spring. Place a pad in the shade for a couple days to enable the cut end to cure. Put the bottom end either in the garden or in a container that has holes, burying it just sufficiently to hold the pad upright. It should root in a couple weeks.
Pests and Disease
, Santa Rita pear sometimes becomes infested with mealy bugs or cochineal scale. Scales produce filaments that look just like a coating on the pads. Mealy bugs have an appearance. Both suck sap from the pads. Remove with a strong spray of water that is pressurized as soon as you detect them. It may help to prune some pads in the middle of the clump in summertime when the insects are busy to allow for improved air flow and to get a better perspective of this plant to monitor for presence if infestations recur.