Mr. Postman, Look and See…..

May 13, 2009 | By | Comments (8)

….if there’s a letter and an IV. I planted cactus around my mailbox. Now you look like a case of smallpox.

You’d better wait a minute, wait a minute, oh yeah…..


Grumpians, ever since I saw this scene across the street from my friend, Jeff, I couldn’t wait to show you. Ever get mad when your National Geographic gets torn or you get all your neighbor’s spanking magazines by mistake? (I hope it was a mistake.) This is how you get even.

Meet prickly pear cactus (Opuntia compressa), the most widespread cactus in America and as far as I know, also the cold-hardiest. It will grow in south Florida, west Texas, the Nevada desert, and even in Canada. I’ll never forget the time I was touring the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (a great place — don’t miss the chance to see it if you’re visiting) in winter and spied plain, old prickly pear cactus peaking out from beneath the snow.

Prickly pear gets its name from two features. The first is the tufts of barbed, hairlike spines, called glochids, that cover its flattened pads. Glochids detach on contact, remaining in your flesh to torture you as long as possible. The second is the pearlike, 2-inch long, edible fruits that turn reddish-purple when they ripen. Showy yellow flowers precede the “pears” in early summer. Flower buds are just forming on the plant above.

It wasn’t until I carefully perused the Hispanic food section of our local Wal-Mart that I discovered that not only are the fruits consumed in Mexico, so are the pads. While I’m sure the pads are delicious, I prefer food that’s as spineless as I am.

A lot of people plant prickly pear to add a “desert touch” to their garden for some unexplainable reason. Why stop there? Complete the picture with some big rocks,  a rusted out auto body, a couple of scorpions, and a “Next Gas 100 Miles” sign.

Few plants are as easy to grow. All it needs is sun and well-drained soil — either moist or dry. A clump can eventually grow 4 feet tall and twice as wide. Dual methods of reproduction are why it grows almost everywhere. One method is having seeds spread when animals eat the fruits. The other and more insidious method is vegetative. Every once in a while, a pad will break off, fall to the ground, and root. Or perhaps an animal will carry off a pad and drop it, where it will root. Either way, prickly pear quickly traverses the landscape. In many places, it’s considered an invasive weed.

If you have no need to punish your thoughtful, dedicated postal worker (“Neither rain or snow or wind or spines of prickly pear will keep us from our appointed rounds.”), there is another good place to plant it, especially if break-ins have been a problem for you. Plant it under all of your windows. The Grump guarantees no one will enter your house that way again.


  1. Jim Smith

    ;how do I eradicate prickly pear. I have 10 acres covered with it. I could feed a Mexican army with my crop.

    May 26, 2016 at 10:49 am
  2. Grumpy Gardener

    Prune bridal wreath in late spring or early summer (don’t wait any longer!). Cut one-third of the oldest, woodiest stalks to the ground each year.
    I’m assuming you’re talking about French hydrangeas, the ones with blue or pink flowers. With most of them, what you want to do is cut back stalks just after their flowers fade.

    June 17, 2009 at 4:34 pm
  3. joy vance

    I’m the “old” lady that asked about removing huge Natchez crepe myrtles…I will be cutting them down to the ground and take it from there. I have another do you prune bridal wreath and hydrangea? I’m about to attempt taking care of things myself! Thanks

    June 15, 2009 at 10:57 am
  4. Grumpy Gardener

    Tired of those noisy brats next door playing ball in your yard? Surround it with prickly pear. They won’t do it any more!

    May 17, 2009 at 7:44 am
  5. Jeff

    This neighbor, who lives across the street from me, did this because kids kept messing with his mailbox. They don’t mess with it anymore. He is a very nice man. I have to take care when walking my small dog, that she does not get too close.

    May 16, 2009 at 10:17 pm
  6. Grumpy Gardener

    This is the actual mailbox used for deliveries. As far as I know, it’s not illegal. It may even be beneficial — it promotes accuracy and discipline.

    May 15, 2009 at 7:30 am
  7. Cameron (Defining Your Home Garden)

    Surely, the mailbox owner is doing this for a laugh and really receives their mail at a PO box? If not, I hope the mail carrier is provided with armor “chain mail” clothing! 🙂

    May 14, 2009 at 10:55 pm
  8. Annie in Austin

    Hi Grumpy,
    Although I must confess to adding a “desert touch” in my Spiny Garden with agave, cactus and a couple of big rocks, this mailbox planting is just nasty! Wouldn’t it also be illegal?
    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    May 14, 2009 at 10:23 am

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s