How to Handle Cactus
Cactus…the one plant many people like to avoid for obvious reasons.
There are many different varieties of cactus. Some you can grab with your bare hands because the spines (glochids, which are little barbed hairs) are little to almost none. Others have thousands of tiny small spines that go airborne when they get disturbed. Some have long spins, and others even longer.
It becomes a question on how to handle these different varies of cactus and prevent getting hurt by these plants. It almost feels like a very delicate practice because you do not want to damage the cactus you are working with, but most of all, you don’t want to prick your fingers and get anything in your eyes.
If you have not worked with cactus before, I have a few tips below that will help you on your way to a little more pleasant experience.
Working with cactus, in my opinion, has been very enjoyable. It is always a great feeling when you look at your newly planted cactus paddle in that fresh soil. You know that it may turn into a very beautiful heat and drought resistant plant, and maybe one day it will produce a very awesome flower, or many.
Here are some ways people say to handle cacti:
- Paper bag or newspaper – Yeah, I don’t think so. Those spiny bastards will still find a way to your fingers through that paper, especially the larger spines. It might work okay for the small fine spines, but you still need to be careful.
- Gloves – I could see it now…I grab the cactus a little too hard and the darn thing pokes through the glove and into my finger. Not all cactus spines are long enough to grab with your other fingers if you need to pull them out. If you have a cactus spine stuck in your finger with the gloves still on, how do you take off the other glove to free your hand to be able to pull out that darn spine? There are rose gardening gloves, but gloves are gloves, and cacti spines are freakin sharp and have barbs that don’t want to let go! Obviously I am not a fan of wearing gloves while handling cactus
- Carpet – Do you have some extra carpet on hand? I do, but that is only because I happen to get carpet samples for the schools that I design. Sure, you could go to the hardware store or carpet supply and get some carpet just to handle cactus, but I am pretty sure that would be pretty expensive for what might be a one time use. Knowing how cactus spines behave, once they stick into something, they will remain there until their next victim comes along.
- Towel – I wouldn’t want to use that towel again after handling most cactus, especially the ones with the tiny glochids.
Here is what I say to use when handling cactus:
- Fart extractors – Yeah, you read that right. They are great at handling smaller cacti in most cases. You can use them on just about any small cactus to plant them in pots or to clean up just about any cactus. Read more about them here: https://rickshobbygarage.com/cleaning-up-cacti-with-fart-extractors/
- Shovel – Some people say not to use a shovel because you can damage the cactus. I do it quite often and have not had any issues with damaging the cactus. Sometimes it takes two shovels, which then takes two people. It depends on the size of the cactus.
- Large stick or board – Sometimes you need a little more leverage to help balance larger pieces of cactus when planting them in the ground or pot.
- The items listed above recommended by others – Yup, sometimes you do need to resort to the other methods. Although I am not very excited to use those methods, there has been a couple times I have had to try one or two of them to get done what I needed. They are my last resort and I will always keep them in mind when those awkward moments come along.
The cactus that has the small spines, such as the Blind Prickly Pear, are the worst! The small glochids go airborne when the cactus gets disturbed. You can’t see them when they go airborne and they get all over you. You start itching and get a burning sensation on your skin. You go to rub your arm because you have the ichies, now they are deeper in your arm and they are now in your hand. Gee, sounds fun, doesn’t it?
To prevent them from going airborne, give the cactus a light spray of water. This will hold the glochids in place, for the most part.
Although I don’t do this, and probably should, wear safety glasses when working with this type of cactus. I can’t imagine what they might do to you if they get into your eyes. I don’t even want to think about it!
What I consider to be a safer type of cactus than the Blind Prickly Pear is the Black Spine Prickly Pear, shown below. These things are wicked looking! I consider them safer because the darn glochids do not go airborne and get all over you! They are a little trickier to work with at times, but at least you can see the spines.
Other tools to have on hand:
- Tweezers – Get a really get pair. You will want a pair that closes very well at the end and have a sharp point. The small glochids are tiny and anything other than a good pair of tweezers will be difficult to pull out the glochids.
- Flashlight – A small bright flashlight comes in handy to see some of the smaller glochids when you are in bad light.
- Tape – Sometimes you have to resort to tape to get large bunches of glochids out of your skin. Tape helps speed up the process of pulling out a bunch at a time. You may still need tweezers to get the last lone rangers that didn’t leave with the tape, but it is a good start with tape.
- Another person – There are times where you cannot find that pesky glochid and will need to ask for some assistance to find it for you, and maybe even get it out for you.
- Safety Glasses – Don’t forget these!
Others things to keep in mind when working with cacti:
- Watch your clothes. Sometimes the small glochids that went airborne end up on your clothes, like your shirt sleeve.
- Check your shoes. Small chunks of areole from the cactus break off and get lodged in the bottom of your shoe. If you have carpet in the house, the carpet will usually pull them out of your shoe and it is now ready for the barefoot victim to come around and step on it.
As I mentioned earlier, there are some cactus that can be handled with your bear hands because there are very little to no spines, such as this one:
But, still be careful because those sharp spines are still there as shown below, although they may not be as irritating as some of the other varieties.
Have fun working with cacti. It really isn’t as bad as it may sound and can be a very enjoyable experience and produce wonderful results in years to come. They are a beautiful plant, although can be very intimidating to many people. One of the most rewarding aspects that these plants give you are the beautiful flowers they produce. I have not yet come across a flower I did not like from these wicked plants.
Do you have other methods you use when handling cactus? Let us know in the comments below.