Fostering curiosity in kids (and their parents) since 2011

“How do you trim a cactus?”

prickly pear cactus

Prickly pear cactus. (Image credit: Ah Zut via Flickr.)

Last week, Chris lamented the fact that with The Four-Year-Old’s endless supply of questions, I will never need to take reader questions. But the fact is, I love those too. And to encourage y’all to submit some of your own, I did a little research on the question her son raised last week: “How do you trim a cactus?”

Of course, the first question that came to my mind was…

“Why would you want to prune a cactus at all?”

I admit it, I’ve long assumed that cacti are the perfect low-maintenance plant. Ridiculously easy to grow even for this absent-minded brown-thumbed blogger. Really, all you have to do is plunk a cactus down in a reasonably bright spot and then mostly forget to water it. What could possibly go wrong?

In fact, I once took care of a cactus for an entire summer–setting a new longevity record for plants under my care. (Boy, was I relieved to return that cactus to its rightful owner.)

Apparently though, even thumb-shaped mini-cacti require a bit of pruning now and then to help them keep the svelte shape that enticed you into adopting them in the first place. Taking care of an indoor cactus garden doesn’t sound that difficult. But if you are lucky enough to live in the drier hotter bits of the country where cacti serve as landscaping, pruning your backyard can become an extreme sport.

Before engaging in battle, a wise warrior will first assess the weapons systems of her opponent and take steps to counter them.

Cacti Weapons System (CWS) #1: Long Prickly Bits

Your cactus plant’s most obvious defense against pruning is its coat of long prickly needles, which can (and will) slide under your skin after the most trivial contact. Should this happen to you, take heart. Most needles can be removed with the judicious application of tweezers, pantyhose, or Elmer’s glue. Others may have to be cut out. I have it on good authority that this is as painful as it sounds.

Fortunately, guarding against the long prickers is simply a matter of donning the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Exceptionally thick leather gloves are just the start. You will also require the denim equivalent of a full hazmat suit (one of the reasons most experts recommend waiting until the cooler winter months to prune your cactus).

CWS #2: Harmless Looking Fuzz

The long needles may be the most obvious hazard, but based on our extensive reading, it’s the fine fuzz that will really hurt you. That fluffy stuff can’t be pulled out. And if you get too much of it under your skin, it’ll make you sick.

Add a face mask to your hazmat suit to guard against this fuzzy ammo. Personally, I’d also recommend safety glasses, but that might just be me.

CWS #3: In-Home Defense Contractors

Apparently pack rats love to make comfy dens inside overgrown cacti. Dens they may feel compelled to defend when you wander out with your properly disinfected hand saw and pitchfork to renovate them.

Even worse, those pack rat armies are often supported by a full battalion of icky subcontractors like blood sucking kissing bugs, fleas, lice, brown spiders, scorpions, and mice.

So, how do you trim a cactus?

After a careful review of the available literature, Caterpickles’ answer to “How do you trim a cactus?” is “You call a professional and write a check.”

But if you must brave the pricklers, fluff bombs, and pack rats on your own, you can find a reasonable guide to the process here.

3 Responses to ““How do you trim a cactus?””

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