Luther Burbank Spineless Cactus

Our friends, Nick and Sasha, recently moved in two doors over from us. The house came with a Questionable Shed in the back, as well as a large cactus that was largely rotten (and rotting) from lack of sunlight and too much moisture. The cactus was quite large (much taller than either of us), and nearly spineless. It looked a lot like one of Luther Burbank’s spineless cactus, and with the Luther Burbank Experimental Farm just down the street, we felt fairly confident that is what it is.

The Experimental Farm is interesting to walk through — the boys and I have gone a few times now. The boys like to run along the paths, and I enjoy seeing the variety of variations that Burbank achieved.

One of Burbank’s goals was to increase the world’s food supply by manipulating the characteristics of plants. Burbank developed an improved spineless cactus which could provide forage for livestock in desert regions. During his career, Burbank introduced more than 800 new varieties of plants — including over 200 varieties of fruits, many vegetables, nuts and grains, and hundreds of ornamental flowers.

As we removed the rotten portions of cactus, we took care to try and salvage some of the pads to transplant. There were several, so I was gifted one as a thanks for my assistance with removing the rotten parts.


I followed the meticulous transplant instructions:

Plant the pads in an upright position, burying about one-third of the lower end of each pad in sandy, well-drained soil.  Firm the soil to hold the pads in place, using short sticks to prop them up, if necessary.  Place the pads in a warm, sunny position and protect them from very hot sunlight until they are established.  Do not water the pads until they start to develop new green growth, and then limit watering to infrequent deep soakings that allow the soil to dry thoroughly before more water is applied.  No fertilizer should be necessary.  Plants may be containerized for about a year or so, but should ultimately be given plenty of growing space outdoors in the ground.  Young plants may be damaged by severe frosts, although established specimens are quite cold hardy.

These are directions I can follow: stick in a pot of dirt, ignore. Remember to protect from frost. Eventually put in the ground.


I think I’m doing something right, after several months in the pot of dirt by the front entry, my cactus is showing signs of new growth. Next summer (assuming it doesn’t freeze to death this winter), I’m going to need to find a place for it in the ground.

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