The Bunny Ears cactus (Opuntia Microdasys) is a popular cactus species native to Mexico. This low-maintenance succulent has grown to become a favorite for ornamental plant enthusiasts, thanks to its cute, rabbit-ear-shaped pads. If you are looking for an ideal cactus species for your desert, xeriscape or rock gardens, Bunny Ears cactus got you covered. What’s more, they also make good indoor plants and are neglect resistant, thus ideal for the busy folk or those who travel frequently. The success in growing this prickly companion, however, lies in its care. It is important to understand how best to grow and care for the cactus from infancy to a full-grown cactus.
So, how do you grow a Bunny Ears cactus? Bunny Ears cactus is mostly propagated through its pads. The pad is potted using a good cactus mix that includes 40 percent sand, 40 percent potting soil and 20 percent peat moss. The plant needs consistent moisture, low humidity and plenty of light during its growing season. Fertilization should be done every other water period, and repotting should be done every 1 or 2 years.
This article will be looking at how best you can grow and care for the Bunny Ears cactus. It will be expounding on growth factors like propagation, potting and repotting, fertilization, watering, lighting and pest control.
Basic features of the Bunny Ears cactus
- Bunny Ears comes from the Opuntia genus that majorly contains flat cacti species. The genus is one of the most popular and widespread across the U.S.
- The cactus grows in a shrubby form and may reach heights of 40 to 60 centimeters.
- Bunny Ears has no defined central stem but rather bears individual segments in the form of oval-shaped pads. From these pads form additional segments that always grow in pairs.
- The cactus stands out with its paired succulent stems that grow up to 15 centimeters long and 12 centimeters wide.
- The cactus features some distinctive whitish-yellow prickles, otherwise called glochids. These are hair-like spines rarely seen in other cactus species. These hairs grow in clusters and are more sensitive than human hair.
- Bunny Ears cacti have close relatives in O.Rufida cactus that features reddish-brown glochids. In fact, they are treated as the same species in some quarters.
- When well cared for, the cacti blooms around the summer from June to July. Their flowers measures about 5 centimeters in width.
Potting and repotting
Bunny Ears cactus will do best in some well-draining sandy soil. For better results, look for a clay pot with drainage holes that help drain excess water. Fill this pot with good cacti potting soil. For potting soil, you may decide to go for the commercial, pre-packaged version or create your own soil mix at home.
In case you decide to make your soil mix, ensure that it includes 40 percent sand, 40 percent potting soil and 20 percent peat moss. This would help improve aeration around the plant’s root system and prevent the soil from getting too soggy. Whatever the case, always ensure that the soils used do not pose any risk of water clogging as this may lead to root rot for the cactus.
Bunny Ears may be slow-growing but will develop an extensive root system with time. As such, it is recommended that you repot the cactus every 1 to 2 years. The best time to do this is during the summer, just after the blooming period ends.
When repotting, always ensure that your container of choice is at least 2 to 5 centimeters larger than the previous pot. Too big a container, and you run the risk of water clogging that leads to root rot.
The Bunny Ears cactus needs close attention during the first year of its repotting as this is the most vulnerable phase. This would involve regular watering to help spur healthy root development. Such close inspection also helps ensure that no pests attack the plant at this stage.
Special care for specific seasons
Bunny care requires specific care and attention during each season. Failure to follow the right regime for these seasons may result in your plant experiencing growth challenges and may fail to bloom. Here are some important care tips for each season:
Spring, summer and Fall
Bunny Ears is actively growing during these warmer months and would take advantage of full light and average temperatures of about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep the soil moist during these seasons, but just enough to avoid excess water that may lead to root rot. You can only add water once the soil feels dry to your touch. With these in place, your prickly companion will flower in early summer with bright yellow blooms.
Bunny Ears cactus enters some semi-dormant mode during winter. As such, you may not need to do much in terms of fertilization or watering. During this period, strive to offer a controlled climate that resembles that of its natural habitat.
As the fall season comes to an end, relocate your cactus to an area with lower temperatures of about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. This should be away from any heating vents or radiators. Ensure that the plant does not experience any light. While in this location, the plant may exhibit some unusual coloring by turning light grey. However, this should not be much of a worry as this dormant state is a vital part of the plant’s growth and sustainability.
Just like any other desert plant, the Bunny Ears cactus does not need much water but just enough to improve nutrient uptake and keep the plant healthy. While in its natural habitat, Bunny Ears adopts a shallow root system to help tap on the little rainwater that comes by once in a while.
During its initial stages, extra care should be taken as the plant adapts to its new environment. Once they develop an extensive root system, watering should be done sparingly as they can tolerate long periods of dry weather. This is what makes the Bunny Ears a favorite choice for busy individuals or those that travel frequently.
However, just the right watering will help encourage blooming and improves the plant’s overall health. As a rule of thumb, water the cactus once the first inch of soil feels dry to the touch.
For better results when watering, you may decide to use a tray under the pot to help drain out any excess water. During the winter, you may not need to do any watering but make sure you start the watering regime as soon as the spring season starts. Between Spring and Fall, the plant is actively growing and will need enough water to stimulate nutrient uptake.
Take care not to overdo your watering as this may result in root rot or worse still, the pad tips withering out.
So you finally have a full-grown Bunny Ears cactus and wishing that you had multiples of the same? Well, the good news is you do not need to go back to your favorite arborist or rush to buying other specimens. Instead, you can easily and conveniently propagate your cactus through its flatty pads.
The best time to propagate the Bunny Ears cactus (and any other cactus, for that matter) is during the early summer. Once the bunny cactus is fully mature, it produces multiple healthy pads that you can easily detach from the mother plant.
However, caution should be exercised during this process as the cactus can be very clingy to the skin, thanks to its glochids. Always ensure that you wear thick gloves to avoid the risk of injuries from pricks to the skin. Alternatively, you may use a pair of tweezers to break the pads off.
During propagation, group the cacti cuttings in at least three pads. Let the cuttings callus for a few days before planting. You can then remove the baby stems before planting the pads in ideal pots with fresh cacti soil mix.
Bury the cutting about 2.5 centimeters deep and place your pot in a well-lit location. This is an ideal depth, deep enough to offer the right support and shallow enough to let roots develop without the risk of rotting.
In some cases, you may see the need to dip your pads in rooting hormone before planting. This practice helps catalyze the propagation and rooting process.
Temperatures and lighting
Being a desert plant, Bunny Ears cactus thrives in slightly higher temperatures. It prefers temperatures that range between 21 and 37°C. During the winter season, however, the cactus prefers much cooler temperatures.
Bunny Ears cactus is known to drain any excess water just before winter kicks in. The practice helps it avoid freezing during the cold months. This explains why watering during this period can be detrimental to the health of the plant.
From late Fall, the cactus should be exposed to temperatures that range between 10 to 18°C.
Following these strict temperature specifications is vital for the plant’s survival as anything contrary could mean serious harm to the cactus’ overall health. As such, you may need to keep changing locations of the plant depending on the season to help keep it at the optimum recommended temperature ranges.
The Bunny Ears is one of the cactus species that prefer sufficient lighting. This may not be much of a problem if you are growing in the garden or outdoors. However, when growing indoors, you may need to mind your positioning.
Place your cactus in a south-facing, unobstructed window but should not get in contact with direct sunlight. West-facing and East-facing windows are also viable choices to position your Bunny Ears. If natural light is hard to come by, you may see the need to use grow lights for the same. Regardless of the season, Bunny Ears thrives best with a humidity of between 10 to 30 percent.
Contrary to popular opinion that desert cactus like the Bunny Ears do not require fertilizer, these prickly companions will fare much better with the right fertilization. Liquid houseplant fertilizer with an NPK ratio of 20-20-20 works best for this type of cactus.
The fertilizer should, however, be diluted to at least half of its recommended strength. This is because Bunny Ears cactus cannot withstand a high concentration of NPK. If you are more focused on seeing the cactus bloom, you may need to use 5-10-10 fertilizer.
Whatever the case, always ensure that you fertilize the cactus during its active season, preferably during the summer. Take caution not to overdo the fertilization as this may mean an abnormally rapid growth. This stimulated growth usually leads to misshaped and weak pads. Do not fertilize newly potted Bunny Ears cactus until it develops a strong root network.
Proper fertilization of the Bunny Ears cactus leads to a healthy plant and promotes the likelihood of the plant flowering. A happy bunny cactus has more chances to bloom and develop healthy fruits compared to a neglected one. If you are too busy or travel frequently, create an ideal timetable as a reminder. Alternatively, you can find someone to take over when you are not around.
Bunny Ears cactus occasionally faces attacks from several pests. These include:
Mealybugs – these create some white patches on the cactus’ pads, giving it an unappealing look.
Scale Insects – they cause a brown cab effect on the cactus’ pads
Getting rid of these pests on the Bunny Ears cactus can be tricky thanks to its glochids that easily attach to the skin. For more efficient control, use a pair of thick gloves to handle the plant. You can then dip some cotton swabs into 70% isopropyl rubbing alcohol and dab the pests. Repeat the process after a week, depending on the extent of damage to the plant.
Bunny Ears cactus may flower at any time when it deems conditions right. However, it is known to start budding in late spring. Once the segment is fully formed, budding would start at the tip. It then goes on to blossom into 2-inch wide flowers.
The Bunny Ears cactus produces creamy yellow flowers that go ahead to fade into peach as soon as they are fertilized. The flowers would later turn into some 2-inch long fruits that may vary in color ranging from red to purple. Notably, Bunny Ears cactus is a good bloomer and bloom encouragement may not be necessary.
Apart from the edible stem, the Bunny Ears cactus produces edible fruits. The fruits can be eaten raw or cooked on the BBQ. This was one of the main sources of food for natives in times gone by. Considering its prickly nature, you may need to be extra careful when harvesting the fruits. Ensure you have thick protective gear in your hands before harvesting the fruit.
FAQs on the Bunny Ears cactus
Q. Is Bunny Ears cactus poisonous to pets?
Bunny Ears stem, flowers and fruits are non-toxic and thus safe when placed around pets. However, it would be noted that the cactus has glochids that may be irritating when it comes to contact with the skin. As such, you may find it prudent to place it in positions out of reach for curious pets and children.
Q. Why is my bunny years stunted?
Bunny Ears cactus may experience student growth or poor health as a result of overwatering or under-watering. In some cases, this may lead to the plant drying out end eventually dying.
Q. Why the name Bunny Ears cactus?
If you look closely, the cactus sprouts a pair of segments at the end of each tip. These segments resemble a bunny’s ears, thus the nickname.
Q. Why is my Bunny Ears falling over?
The most common cause of bunny years falling over is overwatering. Once the soil around the cactus becomes too soggy, its roots rot and become too weak to support the plant.
Q. What causes brown patches on my Bunny Ears cactus?
Brown patches on the pads of the Bunny Ears cactus can be a result f several factors. It may be a case of pest infestation as the pests love drawing the sap from the cactus. A drop in temperatures and overwatering may also lead to brown patches.
With the right care, Bunny Ears cactus can be an excellent choice for any cactus enthusiast. The good thing about the Bunny Ears cactus is that it can withstand neglect. As long as they are exposed to enough sunlight and placed in a warm environment, you are good to go. Occasional fertilizing and regular watering helps keep the plant healthy and encourages blooming at the right time.
When working with Bunny Ears cactus, always ensure that you repot them once they are ripe for the same. This not only keeps it healthy but also encourages the production of tiny pads that can then be used during propagation.
Bunny Ears cactus is as captivating to grow as they are to look. It makes just the perfect addition to your indoors, thanks to its bunny appearance. The next time you come across it, you may consider trying it out for your indoors or, better still, your desert garden.