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Publication #SS-AGR-354

Prickly Pear Cactus Control in Pastures1

J. A. Ferrell and B. A. Sellers2

Prickly pear cactus is not a problem in every pasture in Florida, but where it is found, it is often the biggest and most difficult issue to manage. Prickly pear is problematic for several reasons, one of which is the way it reproduces. The weed spreads primarily by fragmentation. This means that each pad has the ability to root and form a new colony if it is detached from the “mother plant.” This is an issue because many pasture managers use mowing as a means of controlling weeds and stimulating grass growth. But mowing prickly pear fragments the pads and dramatically increases the infestation. Although prickly pear does not form dense canopies and does not outcompete desirable forage grasses, its impact on grazing can be just as severe because of its barbed quills. Once the quills stick, they are difficult to remove and often break off in the skin, causing infection. Cattle are well aware of the quills and avoid grazing in the vicinity of prickly pear. This loss of grazing area can greatly decrease the amount of available forage in a pasture and can reduce cattle productivity.

Figure 1. 

Prickly pear cactus.


J. A. Ferrell, UF/IFAS

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]


Spot Applications

Traditionally, the most common herbicide program for prickly pear control has been triclopyr ester (Remedy Ultra, others) plus diesel fuel or basal oil. However, this program is costly since high rates of triclopyr are needed (20% solution) and grass injury around the cactus plant is very high. A better alternative would be fluroxypyr, the active ingredient in Vista XRT or TrumpCard herbicide. Vista XRT can be applied in water at 0.5 oz. per 1 gal, while TrumpCard can be applied at 2 oz per 1 gal of water. Spray the pads to achieve good coverage but not to the point of runoff. Over-application can result in grass damage but will not likely be as severe as with the triclopyr program.

Broadcast Applications

Recent experiments conducted at UF/IFAS have found that broadcast applications of Vista XRT herbicide at a rate of 22 oz/A, applied in either spring or fall, can effectively control prickly pear. Additionally, a split application of Vista XRT at 11 oz/A in the spring followed by another 11 oz/A in the fall was also effective. Likewise, TrumpCard can be applied at 48 oz/A followed by and additional 48oz the following season. Failure to apply TrumpCard at a total of 96 oz over two growing season will likely result in marginal control.

It is important to note that though Vista XRT and TrumpCard effective on prickly pear, control is generally not rapid. After the application, the quills will turn gray and dry out while the pads will swell and turn a green/gray color (Figure 2). It is common for treated plants to persist this way for 6–8 months after the application. Just because the plants do not disappear quickly does not mean the herbicide is not working.

Figure 2. 

Prickly pear after herbicide application.


J. A. Ferrell, UF/IFAS

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Consult your local UF/IFAS Extension office before applying Vista XRT to pastures containing grasses other than bahiagrass or bermudagrass.



This document is SS-AGR-354, one of a series of the Agronomy Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date September 2011. Revised May 2014 and April 2017. Visit the EDIS website at


J. A. Ferrell, associate professor, Agronomy Department; and B. A. Sellers, associate professor, Agronomy Department; UF/IFAS Range Cattle Research and Education Center, Ona, FL 33865.

The use of trade names in this publication is solely for the purpose of providing specific information. UF/IFAS does not guarantee or warranty the products named, and references to them in this publication do not signify our approval to the exclusion of other products of suitable composition. All chemicals should be used in accordance with directions on the manufacturer's label.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.