by Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
My love for cacti has grown, no pun intended. Planting without getting spines in your fingers is challenging when working with cacti. You’ve likely had a few pricks to your fingers and had spines stuck in your skin for days. We have some insider tips that guarantee poke-free success when planting yours.
Use Nitrile dipped gloves
Leather is animal skin. The cactus spines will cling to it just like they would to your skin. Leather provides some protection, but spines still pierce through.
Nitrile is a synthetic material that works better than leather for protecting your skin against prickly cacti. Nitrile Gloves are fabric dipped in nitrile coating around the fingers. Long spines can still get through, but the obnoxious tiny hair-like spines have a much harder time penetrating than leather.
No Fear Cactus gloves. It is one of the best ideas for handling all cacti. Keep all thorns away by wearing two gloves on each hand. Keep them in their own container away from other gloves and only use them when working with cacti.
I’ve found it’s pretty safe to handle cacti without any other tools. Especially when the cacti don’t have large spines or only spines along the edge of their body, using nitrile-coated gloves is a superb option.
Use a gentle grip when handling cacti. It’s best for your cacti if you are gentle as you move them. The same technique works for holding succulents with sharp edges, such as Aloes, Jovibarbas, and Agaves.
Working cactus into a large open area is more straightforward than sandwiching it between other plants. It is best to start your arrangement by placing the cactus and then working to fit other succulents around it. Wearing gloves also help protects your hands as you begin placing different succulents around your cactus.
It is recommended to use nitrile-coated gloves any time you handle cacti. It’s a good “just in case” measure, even when using other tools.
A great way to handle bigger cacti with more prominent spines or be a bit more prickly is to use tongs. I like using silicone tongs that you can find for cooking. These are relatively soft along the edges, so they aren’t as likely to damage your plant as metal or wood tongs.
Keep a light grip on the cactus. Squeezing too hard can cut or bruise your plant. Use the tongs to guide the cactus or succulent and shift it into the soil as needed.
Aside from handling the cactus with just your hands, this method seems to give the most control with placement. It also keeps the cactus reasonably far away from your hands which helps prevent accidentally bumping the spines.
Towel or Newspaper
Using a towel or newspaper is an excellent option for bigger cacti and those with long spines. Simply wrap the towel around the top of the cactus and use it as a handle to move the plant into place.
Newspaper works surprisingly well to provide an extra barrier between the spines and your hand. This can work really well for sharp succulents that are otherwise difficult to handle.
I often use a chopstick to help balance the cactus when placing smaller cacti in a bowl. While this method allows you to easily pick up the cactus, it is trickier to get the cactus settled into the pot right.
Cacti need fast-draining soil for encouraging deeper roots. This is especially true for container plants. Plant directly into this soil for best results. Unique soils designed explicitly for Cactus, Aloes, and Succulents should be used.
Plant Food for Best Cactus Flowers
Flower Power 54 encourages your cactus to grow and bloom for a unique color. Add this water-soluble plant food to your irrigation monthly for impressive blooms.
Planting cactus presents a few challenges, but hopefully, these simple tricks and techniques will help make your next planting session a success! Ken Lain can be found at Watters Garden Center throughout the week, 1815 Iron Springs Rd in Prescott, or contacted through his website at WattersGardenCenter.com or Top10Plants.com