How to Grow a Beavertail Cactus

Beavertail cactus is the common name of a cactus species, Opuntia basilaris. It is usually found in dry, desert-like conditions but now it is being grown in household cactus gardens too. The word ‘beavertail’ is used because it has a typical puffed-up appearance that resembles the beaver — a bushy rodent. 

Beavertail Cactus Classification:

Kingdom — Plantae

Division — Magnoliophyta

Class — Magnoliopsida

Order — Caryophyllales

Family — Cactaceae

Genus — Opuntia

Beavertails are commonly found in rock gardens. They are preferred for creating perennial, thick-foliage covers in the yard space. A member of the cactus family, it is typically succulent (water-filled) and needs minimal care. The fruit and the thick pad can both be cooked.

Growing a Beavertail in your garden is rather easy — just use the following guidelines:

Growing Area

Beavertails should be located away from plants that need regular watering. Ideally, they should be in a corner of the garden with other cactus plants. However, they can be grown in pots too. Just ensure that the potted soil drains well and the pot is placed in a sunlit area.

Plant Spacing

An important part of Beavertail cactus care is spacing the plant. Ensure that you maintain a minimum distance of about 3-to-6 inches when planting it. The plant expands horizontally as it ages and closely-packed plants could hinder each other’s growth.

Sunlight Requirement

Most Beavertails need a day’s supply of bright sunlight. However, even if you place them in partially-shaded areas and shift them to sunlit-spaces every three or four days, it solves the problem. Shade doesn't damage this plant, as it can even survive cold, freezing conditions. However, Beavertails devoid of proper sunlight are stunted, i.e. they have shorter and leaner foliage spread.

Soil Requirements

A typical cactus plant, the Beavertail can survive a wide range of pH in the soil. Beavertails can grow in:

  • Mildly-alkaline soils with pH range — 7.6 to 7.8
  • Mildly-acidic soils with pH range — 6.1 to 6.5

Even neutral soils, i.e. pH between 6.6 and 7.5, can be used for growing Beavertails. The soil should be tilled frequently to keep it loose, ensuring faster drainage. Highly acidic or clay soils could damage the Beavertail.

Watering Requirements

The water need is critical only during the first season of planting a Beavertail. It can survive with just 50 ml of rainfall for the entire year. Hence, regular watering is not needed. The occasional rainfall or garden watering is sufficient to sustain it. If you are using mulch in your garden, use dry mulch around the Beavertail as sustained moisture could be damaging.

Checking Beavertail Cactus Progress

To evaluate the progress of the planted Beavertails, it is vital that you understand the conventional standards:

1. Beavertail Blooming

Most Beavertails cactuses will bloom around the middle of spring or during early summer.  The cactus spread should be at least 2.5-inches wide. If the flowers don’t bloom by the middle of summer, chances are they will not develop in that season. The usual flower color ranges between dark mauve to magenta. However, Beavertails that have failed to bloom previously may still bloom in the next season.

2. Foliage Pattern

Evaluating the foliage is crucial because the health of a Beavertail is denoted by a distinctive foliage pattern. Ideally, a season-old Beavertail should be at least 2-feet tall with a foliage spread of around 4 feet. The color of the pads could range from bright green to a dark purple shade. The pads could be slightly folded during the summer season due to lesser water retention. Some Beavertails may develop small spots showing a scanty spread of white or brown-colored wool. 

Note: Not all Beavertails have spines. In fact, the common household variety is spineless. 

How to Propagate Beavertails?

To grow more Beavertail cactuses in your garden, you can use:

  • cuttings from the stem
  • seeds that can be sowed in ventilated containers

Collecting the Seed:

  • You need to pluck the ripened fruit — the fruit should be completely dry when you pick it.
  • Peel the fruit and collect the seeds. Dry them under the sun.
  • The dried seeds can be stored in a container for years without the fear of decaying.