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How to Handle Cactus Safely!

Whether you’re ready to jump right into learning how to plant cactus or you’re continuing to eye those cactus spines with a healthy respect, it’s important to learn how to handle cactus safely. I know plenty of you are intrigued by the cool shapes and amazing textures, but you cannot face getting poked by those spines. I understand! Let me show you exactly the strategies I use for touching cactus without coming away with a handful of thorns.

Stay Safe Planting Cactus

Tools for Handling Cactus Safely

supplies for handling cactus safely

Learning how to handle cactus safely is about keeping both you and the cactus safe. Most important is for you to be able to handle the plants without getting hurt. But after that, it’s also important not to injure the plant. After all, those spines are really cool looking, and you don’t want to break them off, or worse, open the plant to invasion from pests, rot or mildew.

These are my main supplies when I am working with cactus plants. Some are familiar, some are quite humble, and others are a bit esoteric. Let me introduce them to you, from left to right:

Each of these tools plays a role in my touching cactus without getting stuck.

Gloves for Handling Cactus

cactus gloves for handling cactus safely

Can you believe a blog post about how to handle cactus that doesn’t mention gloves? I actually don’t wear gloves when I work with cactus. Not because I am brave! I really, really hate getting stuck! I have found that when I am wearing gloves, I don’t remain careful enough, and I still get stuck. But I can tell you, these are the best cactus gloves on the market! The long gauntlet leather gloves are excellent for protecting your forearms when working in and among cactus or thorny plants. But the cactus spines can get through the leather. For true protection from cactus spines both big and small as well as the pesky glochids, the Thorn Armor gloves are truly impressive!

If I were to wear gloves, I would use the Thorn Armor with these Kevlar sleeves. That gives you great protection from finger tips to elbow. The sleeves are sold individually, so get two!

Rather than touching cactus while wearing gloves, hoping they are strong enough to repel the spines, I prefer to take extra care and use tools that allow me to avoid the spines in the first place.

Use Carpet for Handling Large Cactus, 6″ +

use scrap carpet to handle cactus safely

A large scrap of carpet is a great tool to use when handling larger cactus, about 6″ diameter and larger. The carpet protects your hands while cushioning the plant, so it remains undamaged. You can certainly use it for smaller cactus, but I find newspaper to be a better tool for the next size cacti.

Using Newspaper for Handling Cactus 2 – 6″

how to use newspaper for handling cactus safely

Newspaper is my secret weapon for how to handle cactus safely! First, I take a full-sized, double sheet, and fold it over and over about 1.5″ wide. Then. fold it lengthwise without creasing it, and you have a handy tool for holding cactus plants that are 4-6″ wide. The paper is stiff enough to be able to hold the plant securely, well away from me. This newspaper collar allows me to pick up the cactus, remove the pot, hold it while I loosen the roots and place it exactly where I want it without ever touching cactus spines.

planting-cactus-mammillaria-pilcayensis-and-echinopsis-using-newspaper-shield-1

I also use newspaper around the cactus as I am planting. This way, with the paper between me and the cactus, I can get in close without getting stuck. In this photo, I have a large Opuntia behind the paper, which is protecting me from the glochids — those tiny, irritating hair-like spines.

how-to-plant-cactus-adding-other-plants

Here, I was planting cactus with succulents, and I used the newspaper to keep my hands safe from a Mammillaria elongata. You can see, I like to plant closely! The newspaper takes up no space, but lets me get right in there without ever touching cactus spines.

Silicone-Tipped Tongs for Handling Cactus 1 – 4″

planting-cactus-notocactus-magnificus-held-in-tongs-loosened-roots-using-newspaper-shield-2

These tongs are perfect for handling cactus from 1 to 4-inch diameter. I like the silicone-tipped tongs because they are gentle on the cactus. You want to hold the plant firmly, but gently to avoid breaking the spines or damaging the plant. Those tiny, bright yellow spines are painful, yes, but also a big part of the plant’s appeal. The spines absolutely glow when backlit by the sun.

These silicone-tipped tongs are essential tools for leaning how to handle cactus safely.

Long Handled Tweezers for Handling Cacti .5 – 2″

Long-tweezers-for-handling-cactus-safely

For handling smaller cactus, like this 2-inch Mammillaria formosa, I love these long-handled tweezers. They provide fine-point control for lifting, transplanting and propagating. These are 10-inch tweezers, and 12-inch and even 15-inch tweezers are another option for working with cactus without ever touching cactus spines.

Fish Hook Extractor Tool for Weeding Cactus

use-fish-hook-extractor-to-weed-between-cactus-safely-1

I’ll bet you’ve been wondering just what a fish hook extractor tool could possibly be doing in a blog post about how to handle cactus! But handling cactus is about much more than planting and arranging. You need to be able to care for the plants without ever touching cactus spines and getting stuck.

This fish hook extractor is the perfect tool for weeding between cactus without ever getting stuck. The long, narrow neck can get right in between the plants. The jaws can dig down in the soil to grasp weeds by the roots. Squeeze the handle and gently pull the weed right out without harming the cactus or getting hurt.

Chopstick for Handling Cactus

planting-cactus-opuntia-microdasys-tamp-down-soil-with-chopstick

A wooden chopstick is one of my favorite succulent tools, and I use it just as much for working with cactus. Here, I am using it to tuck the roots of this Opuntia into the soil without risk of touching cactus glochids as I do.

Squeeze Bottle for Watering Cactus

water bottle with cactus arrangement

A squeeze bottle with a long, narrow neck lets me get water exactly where I need it, without touching cactus spines. I also use this bottle for all of my succulent arrangements that are too full to use a regular watering can with.

Tips for Removing Glochids

Opuntia microdasys pads and glochids

The long, sinister looking spines are the ones that scare most beginners. And don’t get me wrong — they hurt! But it is the much smaller, finer, fuzzy-looking spines of the Opuntia (prickly pear) that are worse to deal with. You’ll never get just one glochid — shirt, fine, Opuntia spine — in your finger. You’ll get dozens to hundreds. And each tiny little glochid has multiple, microscopic, backwards-pointing spines that burrow into your skin and clothing, refusing to let go.

Glochids are the reason I strive to teach you how to handle cactus without touching cactus spines. A gentle brush past them will leave hundreds embedded in your arm. The very best way I have found for removing glochids from your skin is to use heavy duty duct tape. Smooth it on over the area, and rip it off to get the majority of the spines. Washing with warm, soapy water usually gets the rest if they are not buried deep into your skin.

Cactus Add Cool Shapes, Colors and Textures!

planting-cactus-mammillaria-pilcayensis-and-echinopsis-and-notocactus-magnificus-and-mammillaria-schwarzii-and-opuntia-microdasys

Before you decide it’s just too much hassle learning how to handle cactus safely, let me remind you of how spectacular they can look in the garden and in succulent arrangements:

completed-succulent-garden-with crested cactus

Cactus also make amazing accents in succulent arrangements.

how to plant cacti and succulents together

I hope this post on how to handle cactus safely has demonstrated that you can plant and work with cactus without getting hurt. The results are so worth the effort! Don’t be afraid to try them yourself. If you have any questions or if you have a strategy that works well for you, please leave me a comment. I will get right back to you!

Thanks for reading!

Kat McCarthy, The Succulent Eclectic

P.S. For more information on all things succulent and cactus, please subscribe and enjoy my FREE course, 7 Steps to Succulent Success. Thanks so much!

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