En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
1 rating

Friday - March 05, 2010

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Seasonal Tasks, Cacti and Succulents
Title: What to do about cold damage to spineless prickly pear?
Answered by: Jimmy Mills

QUESTION:

In Austin, Texas our 'spineless' prickly pear cactus is about 6' wide by 4' tall. In the last severe freeze, the top half flattened out and has remained that way. Should I cut the flattened pads off, and if so, should I paint the cuts so they won't get waterlogged when it rains or otherwise decay? Or what should I do with the cactus? Thank you.

ANSWER:

The spineless prickly pear in our area is Opuntia ellisiana (tigertongue) , and is generally considered to be rather cold hardy, however this winter has done a number on them all over the area. A 4' by 6' plant makes a handsome specimen, and is worth the effort it takes to save it.

The plant may slough off the more severely damaged pads on its own, but Mr. Smarty Plants recommends being more pro-active and removing the flattened pads now. Cut the pads at the point of attachment, and the plant will produce callus tissue at the site that will protect against invasion by microbes, so wound painting is not necessary and is actually counterproductive. You may wish to remove up to one third of the height of the plant, but keep in mind the overall shape you want to achieve. The plant will produce new pads in the spring growing season.

Just because the cactus is "spineless", don't be lulled into thinking that the plant is harmless. Its "second line of defense" is perhaps more insidious that the spines, since they are not as obvious. These are the small hair-like spines called glochids that occur on the aereoles. They are characteristic of the genus Opuntia, and O. ellisiana certainly has its share.

The glochids have small barbs so that when they enter the skin, they are difficult to remove. The best defense is prevention; when handling the cactus pads, wear thick gloves. Be aware that the glochids do attach to gloves and clothing, so be careful handling them after the pruning. 

If you want more prickly pear plants, use the pads that you cut off to propagate more.

 

From the Image Gallery


Spineless prickly pear
Opuntia ellisiana

Spineless prickly pear
Opuntia ellisiana

More Seasonal Tasks Questions

Will a Norfolk pine survive winter in Houston
May 29, 2008 - If I transplant a Norfolk pine in the summer, or when is the best time, will it survive the winter growing in Houston Tx? Can you give me some suggestions for fast growing vines facing the front of my...
view the full question and answer

Winter wrappings for plants in Ellenton Florida
December 23, 2010 - Hi and thank you for your time, I do appreciate it. I have one question. I live in Florida and yes we do get frost and temps down to 28 degrees in the winter. last year I lost almost 50 plants tha...
view the full question and answer

Transplanting Trees in OH
May 10, 2012 - Is the middle of May too late to dig out Arborviteas and spruces to transplant? I live in central Ohio.
view the full question and answer

More on bluebonnets
May 09, 2003 - When can I harvest my Bluebonnets?
view the full question and answer

Late planting plum tree from Lago Vista, TX
May 01, 2014 - I have two plum trees in plastic containers that I purchased in March. For a lot of reasons, we didn't get them planted. I have kept them alive by watering consistently, but I am now wondering what...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP | STAFF
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center