Attention brown thumbs and novice gardeners, the Bunny Ears cactus or Optunia microdasys is the perfect low-maintenance starter plant.
Not only will it forgive you if you forget about it, but the ear-like growth coming from the sides of the pads also makes it a downright adorable houseplant.
The bunny ears cactus, also known as “angel’s wings cactus” or “polka dot cactus”, features fuzzy-looking pads that grow new pads from the top in pairs of two.
The pads look to be covered in soft fur, but be careful! What looks like fur is actually yellow glochids that have spines and will hurt if touched.
If you have never kept a plant alive, you’ve probably been told to try growing a cactus. Cacti are amazing beginner plants because they don’t need a lot of water and are happy with full sun.
Despite their reputation for being unkillable plants, cacti will suffer from over or under-watering, not enough light, and incorrect soil mixture.
Keep your bunny ears cactus alive easily by simply reading through this care guide to preempt any problems.
Bunny Ear Cactus Care
Optunia microdasys is a peculiar growing cactus covered in spiky glochids. The plant requires full sunlight and a bit of water every couple of weeks in the summer. In the winter it is happy with partial sun and water once a month. Prevent excess moisture by keeping your bunny ears cactus in soil high in sand and a pot with good drainage holes. Keep temperatures between 70-100°F (21-37°C) in summer and about 50-65°F (10-18°C) in autumn and winter for optimal conditions. Keep humidity low. 10-30% would be perfect.
Cacti prefer dry, sandy soils. Optunia microdasys is no exception and will be happy in a potting mix that has a lot of sand.
Ideally, your cactus soil mix will contain about 40% potting soil, 40% sand, and 20% peat moss or vermiculite. These ratios will make sure your plant is never overly wet and sitting in water.
Help the soil drain excess water by choosing a pot with drainage holes on the bottom. Unglazed terracotta pots also regulate excess moisture by evaporating the water through the pot’s walls.
How to water a bunny ears cactus can be confusing since they require more water during their growing season than in the winter.
During their growing season in the spring and summer, water the cactus when the top inch of soil is dry. Give it enough water so that it drains out of the bottom and then get rid of the excess water from the tray underneath.
In the fall and winter, watering lightly every 3 to 4 weeks will be enough. The cactus goes into a sort of dormancy period and will not require much water.
Overwatering is the most common mistake people make with their Optunia microdasys.
To avoid overwatering always check before watering to make sure the top of the soil isn’t wet, provide a soil mixture with enough sand, and make sure your pot has good drainage holes.
As a general rule, watering deeply less frequently is better for the root system than frequent watering with less water. Deep watering followed by a period of drought will promote healthy, deep root systems.
Find the brightest, sunniest spot in your home and this is where you should put your bunny ears cactus during the summer.
During the winter, when the cactus enters its dormancy period, reduce light exposure to partial sun.
You can do this by moving it to another location with less light or by placing another plant around it to shade out some light.
To replicate the conditions of bunny ears cactus’ native deserts, there needs to be a shift in temperature between summer and winter.
Similar to their shifting water and light requirements between seasons, you’ll want higher temperatures in the summer and cooler temperatures in the winter.
In the summer months, during the growing season, Optunia microdasys prefer temperatures between 70-100°F (21-37°C). In the Fall and Winter, bring the temperature down to about 50-65°F (10-18°C).
These changes in temperature signal the plant to enter growing and dormancy periods, which is important for its development. This cactus will only flower if they get colder temperatures in the winter.
Bunny ears cacti are originally from the arid deserts of Mexico and Arizona. When it comes to humidity, they like these conditions to be replicated and won’t do well with much ambient moisture.
Optunia microdasys prefers low humidity between 10-30%.
Keep your cactus away from moisture-loving houseplants, since they will require very different humidity conditions. Consider running a dehumidifier in your ‘cactus room’ if your home gets quite humid.
You only need to fertilize your bunny ears cactus during the growing season. For every other watering, dilute a cactus fertilizer in the water to feed your plant.
Since you’re not watering your bunny ears cactus very much and the roots can be quite sensitive,
I would recommend using a liquid fertilizer diluted to half or a quarter of the recommended strength. Not watering very often can lead to fertilizer buildup in the soil that can burn the roots.
Make sure to stop fertilizing your bunny ears cactus in the wintertime and a month after repotting.
Bunny ears cactus are generally slow-growing plants. They only need to be repotted every couple of years to encourage new growth. Repot the cactus in late summer when the bloom has died away.
Repotting them is straightforward but special care should be had when handling the pads. Use thick gardening gloves or several sheets of newspaper to wrap around the pads so you don’t touch the prickly needles.
Don’t water immediately after repotting (totally counter-intuitive, I know). Ideally, wait about a week before watering for the first time.
Repot into a container that is only slightly bigger than the original as to not overwhelm the root system. Make sure the pot has good drainage holes and is filled with a soil mix with a lot of sand.
If your bunny ears cactus remains healthy, there is no need to prune the growth. On rare occasions, the base stem might develop some squishy parts from overwatering. Because it is the base, it will be impossible to prune away the damage.
You can instead save the plant by pruning off all the healthy, fully formed pads to propagate into new plants.
Propagating bunny ears cactus is very different from conventional houseplants, so make sure to follow along. Any fully grown pad can be propagated and should be cut off in the summer.
Use thick gardening gloves or a newspaper so you don’t have to touch the pad directly.
Start by removing a pad from the cactus by cutting it away with a sharp, sterilized knife. Make a clean cut so the plant can heal easily.
Place the pad you’ve just removed in a sunny area on a clean surface, such as a plate or newspaper, and leave it for a few days until the cut has dried over.
Next, insert the cactus pad into an appropriate cactus potting mix and burry the end about an inch into the soil. Over the next few weeks, the pad should grow roots and become established in its new container.
Propagated pads have a higher success rate if you place several cuttings in the same pot. Wait a week and then water consistently during the first year to encourage a healthy root system.
On rare occasions, a bunny ears cactus will start to put out buds from the tops of fully formed pads in late spring.
In early summer, these buds will open into gorgeous 2-inch creamy flowers. After blooming, a round purple fruit will appear in its place. The fruit resembles a prickly pear but has a much lower sugar content so it is not very tasty.
Bunny ears cactus owners should learn to read their plant. For having such an effective armor of spines around them, they are really an expressive plant.
Overwatering is the most frequent cause of death for these beauties and unhealthy plants become susceptible to pests.
Keep your Optunia microdasys healthy and thriving by simply paying attention to the watering needs.
Overwatering your bunny ears cactus will cause the base to rot – similar to root rot in other houseplants.
Squishy parts can also develop on the pads. Once this damage occurs it’s usually too late to save the plant and they will die in a few days. Instead, take as many cuttings as you can salvage and propagate them into new plants.
Wrinkling on the pads
Wrinkling on the pads can be a sign of underwatering or overwatering. Monitor the soil moisture and correct accordingly – if it’s too wet reduce watering and if it’s too dry increase watering.
Pests – Scale insects and mealybugs
Occasionally scale insects or mealybugs will make your cactus their home. Although it is difficult to see the tiny insects, they will show signs. Mealybugs will form white patches and scale insects will make rough brown scabs on the pads.
Should you develop any pest pressure on your bunny ears cactus, dip a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and wipe down the affected area.
Tips for Growing
Bunny ears cactus are really quite easy to take care of providing you keep humidity down and give them enough sun. The cactus will thrive if you mimic its original desert habitat by:
- Using a soil mixture that has a high sand content.
- Placing the pot in a bright sunny spot in the summer and partially sunny spot in the winter.
- Watering lightly every couple of weeks in the summer and once a month in the winter.
- Fertilizing lightly in the growing season.
Cacti require very different conditions than a lot of other houseplants. I would recommend setting a specific room or part of the house dedicated to the hot, dry conditions required by desert plants.
Frequently Asked Questions About Bunny Ears Cactus
Do bunny ears cactus have spines?
Bunny Ear Cactus grow glochids on the pads which look like short, light-brown hairs. Glochids are not exactly spines but they will still sting, so take care not to touch them.
Can I eat the fruit of my bunny ears cactus?
You might have heard of the fruit prickly pear, which comes from a sister variety called Optunia basilaris (also known as Nopal). Optunia microdasys will grow a similar fruit, but with much lower sugar content. Although you won’t die from eating the fruit, it probably won’t be very tasty.
How big will my bunny ears cactus get?
As an indoor houseplant, bunny ears cactus will grow to be about 2 ft tall by 3 ft wide. In the wild, it can grow even bigger, up to 3ft.
Are bunny ears cactus dangerous to pets?
The orange hair-like glochids on bunny ears cactus’ aren’t poisonous, so they aren’t a huge danger to pets. Very curious pets might have an unfortunate encounter with the spines, but it will only cause surface-level irritation.
If you know your pets like to mess with your plants, place your bunny ears cactus in a place that is hard for them to reach. If they do manage to reach it at any point, a quick jab from the plant will quickly teach them not to mess with it.
Bunny ears cactus features furry looking pads that grow in ear-shaped pairs. This easy to care for cactus is the perfect plant for busy humans who don’t have much time to water, prune, and repot their houseplants.
The unusual growth makes for a truly adorable plant that will make you want to give it a hug. Just make sure not to touch it because the protective fur has a bite!
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Daniel has been a plant enthusiast for over 20 years. He owns hundreds of houseplants and prepares for the chili growing seasons yearly with great anticipation. His favorite plants are plant species in the Araceae family, such as Monstera, Philodendron, and Anthurium. He also loves gardening and is growing hot peppers, tomatoes, and many more vegetables.