Cacti and succulents are beautiful, low-maintenance plants. Their biggest downside is their sharp spines, which can pierce your skin and sometimes hook into your flesh if you don’t handle them carefully. Thankfully, there are several ways you can handle cacti without getting pricked and having to take a pair of tweezers to your hand.
To protect yourself from a cactus, it is best to choose thick gloves to keep your fingers from being spiked. Leather gloves offer excellent protection; otherwise, synthetic gloves are a less expensive choice. Chopsticks, sturdy carpet scraps, or folded newspaper are also options to handle cacti.
This short article will teach you three practical ways to handle your cacti plants using easy-to-find household items. These techniques should come in handy whether you’re working with your plants or cacti you’ve come across in the wild.
1. Wear Thick Gloves When Working Near Cacti
As you know, cacti have spines. But did you know that they have many types of spines? Cactus spines can be short, long, thick, or thin. Sometimes, they can be barbed, too, making them painful to remove.
However, wearing thick gloves can protect you against all kinds of cacti spines. While some spines might get through, the glove should stop most of them.
The best glove to get when working with cacti is leather gloves. You will find cowhide gloves, goat skin, or another type of leather, but all will be strong enough to do the job.
However, these leather products can be expensive, and you may not want to spring for a pair.
Gardening gloves made of thick synthetic or fabric materials can also work in a pinch. Whether they’re leather or not, look for gloves that extend beyond the hand, as longer gloves protect your wrists or arms and keep the ends of the cactus’ spines from scratching those areas.
While working with cacti while wearing gloves, try to grasp the outside of the cacti lightly. If you hold them too hard, the pressure will drive the spines through the glove into your hand.
Doing so can also damage the cactus, driving the spine into the cactus’ flesh or causing pressure marks left by rough handling. Remember, a cacti’s spines protect it so that the tissue may be fragile underneath them.
Buying a good pair of gloves offers plenty of other uses besides avoiding cacti spines—you can learn more about how essential gloves are in my article: Is It Safe to Garden With Only Bare Hands?
2. Use Tongs To Clean Around Your Cactus
When cleaning up around the base of your cactus, tongs are your best option for staying out of its spines’ range. With it, you can grasp debris, pull it out from beneath your cactus, and move the dirt beneath it around as you need to.
When considering which tongs to use, tongs with silicone tips are the best. The smooth, flexible plastic will help distribute the pressure of the tongs’ sharp edges and keep you from scratching or damaging your cactus.
You don’t have to spend a fortune—kitchen tongs will be suitable for the job. They have silicone tips to protect your cacti and a soft grip for easy operation. They’ll also help prevent your cactus from coming into contact with rust or other substances that might make it sick.
In addition, tongs with a loop you can slide up to hold them closed can be helpful in tight quarters or if your hands get tired. You can slide the loop up and use your arm to pull the debris out.
After you’ve used the tongs to care for your cactus, make sure to wash them. Some plant diseases spread from tools we use to care for them. Also, try not to use rusty tongs on your cacti. Doing so can make them sick.
3. Use Chopsticks To Pull Debris From Your Cacti
If you need to clean debris, dropped spines, or leaves from on, in, or between the leaves of your cactus or succulent, chopsticks should be your go-to specialty tool. They are small enough to reach tight spaces and relatively easy to find at any grocery or dollar store. They also come in wood, plastic, and metal varieties.
However, don’t try to move your cactus using chopsticks. Putting too much weight or pressure on your cacti’s skins can cause them to puncture or tear, damaging them.
It would be best if you wash your chopsticks after every use, so you don’t spread diseases. It’s a good idea to occasionally check your chopsticks for mold or rust, too, as you don’t want them in your cactus.
When using chopsticks to clean your cacti, try to be gentle. Don’t part the leaves too far or exert too much pressure. If a piece of debris is stubborn, your cactus’ flesh might’ve grown around it. In such cases, pulling harder can hurt your cactus and create a wound. Avoid forcing any issues you find, as doing so can lead to injuries or damage.
If you accidentally damage your cactus, there’s not much you can do other than watch it and wait for it to heal. So, it’s best to try and avoid damage before it happens.
4. Move Your Cactus Using Carpet Scraps
If you need to move your cactus, you can use carpet scraps to protect your hands from its spines. The carpet fibers and the mesh backing they’re attached to are thick and will protect you from spikes as gloves do. Although, this will only offer protection to the palms of your hands. For this reason, using them with thick gloves is a good idea.
To move your plants with carpet scraps, hold two pieces of carpet in your hand and gently grasp and move the cactus between them and your hands.
The key takeaway, however, is to be gentle. The spines can pierce through the carpet— If you use too much pressure. Then, you’ll be no better off than moving it with your bare hands. In addition, if you grasp it too hard, the cactus’ spines can break, or its body itself can become damaged.
When you put your cactus down, be careful the cactus’ spines aren’t hooked into or clinging to the carpet. You might accidentally pull your cactus over if you put it down and try to release the plant—while they’re still attached.
Another necessary consideration is the carpet’s cleanliness. If you bring dirty carpet in contact with your cactus, it can spread disease or mold to it. Not to mention, it might make a mess on your hands or in your home. While your carpet scraps don’t need to be spotless, they need to be relatively clean. If they aren’t, you can clean them with a steam cleaner.
5. Wrap Newspapers Around Your Cacti
You might need to temporarily store your cacti—and protect people or other objects, such as the back of a car. In that case, you should wrap it in newspapers beforehand can help protect it, yourself, and your belongings.
While it won’t provide much protection under pressure, wrapping your cacti in newspapers can prevent the cacti spines from scratching or hooking into anything else. Just wrap the newspapers around the spines and secure them with masking tape so they won’t slip off.
As I said, newspapers won’t protect your hands from spines, as they’re sharp and will pierce through thin newspapers, even if you wrap them in multiple layers. So avoid trying to move cacti without using another method on this list.
Newspapers are unlikely to damage your cactus, but using other methods in conjunction with them can make moving it clumsier. So, try to be careful. Carry out each movement slowly and ensure that the cactus is on a stable surface, not clinging to your gloves, carpet scraps, or newspapers.
Lastly, you should avoid wrapping newspapers around a wet cactus or getting your cactus wet with newspapers around it. The newspaper contains ink and mercury; you don’t want this on your plant. It can make it sick, and it can also stain the outside of your cactus. So, if you’re transporting it in the rain, put a dishtowel over your cactus or wrap it in a plastic bag.
Cacti are beautiful and low-maintenance, but handling them can be tricky. Cacti are infamous for their spines—which can pierce and hook into your flesh. Fortunately, you have several ways to hold them without getting hurt or damaging your cacti gently.
Here are five ways you can protect yourself from a cactus:
- Wear thick gloves when working near cacti.
- Use tongs to clean around your cactus.
- Use chopsticks to pull debris from your cacti.
- Move your cactus by wrapping it in carpet scraps.
- Wrap newspapers around your cactus.