How To (SAFELY) Handle Your Prickly Cactus!

Featured image with text on the left "how to safely handle your prickly cactus" with a bunny ears on the right with hundreds of tiny spines

Have you been handling your cactus by simply avoiding the spikes?

Let me guess.. sometimes it worked and other times you ended up getting pricked right?

Yeah, me too!

Sometimes, I’d take a section of newspaper and wrap it around the plant which worked okay but doesn’t offer much control but is definitely a lot safer on the hands!

I decided things had to change one day when I came home to find my little bunny ears cactus flopped over in the conservatory due to the intense heat.

Without thinking, I ran over and scooped it up only to find literally, hundreds of tiny needles in my hand.

Damn! (excuse my language) but it hurt!

My bunny ears cactus that lost hundreds of spines when grabbed it with my bare hands!

I spent the evening trying to pick them out with tweezers.

Over the following days, my family would find the odd one which had fallen to the floor lodged in their foot which didn’t go down too well.

It was at this point that I decided I should get some equipment to help me handle them in a safer manner.

I’ll share with you what I came up with and most of it you’ll hopefully already have at home and if not, it can be picked up for cheap at your local store.

Let’s go take a look at the best ways I’ve found to handle my cacti and the pros and cons of each method;

Tongues

Tongues are super handy for handling cacti.

They offer good control and I’m sure many of you will already have them in your kitchen.

This is what I did until I realized we also use them to handle food so thought I’d better pick up my own!

I purchase these ones (pictured below) from a big box store for a few dollars and I’ve certainly got my money’s worth since.

Lee handling my cactus with a small set of tongues with green rubber tips
Using these tongues saves me a lot of pain!

I chose them as they’re quite small which means I have good control and the rubber edges are soft so there’s less chance of doing damage to my little babies.

Having said that, you should still proceed with caution as I still managed to cause a tiny flesh wound on my new euphorbia recently when repotting it.

My small potted euphorbia with a flesh wound caused by gripping too hard with tongues caused a toxic sap to leak out.
Flesh wound to my euphorbia caused by gripping too hard with tongues

The worst one that I could have damaged as the sap is actually toxic, unlike cacti!

Needle Proof Gloves

Gloves are usually the first piece of safety equipment that people recommend when talking about handling cacti.

I use my “thorn-proof” rose gloves kindly modeled by my wifes hand in the picture below;

My wife claire using one of my thorn proof gloves to protect her hand while repotting a cactus
Claire using one of my thorn-proof gloves to protect her hand while repotting a cactus

They’re thornproof to a degree, and while I also recommend you wear them, I also advise caution.

You see, I’ve found that they offer a false sense of security and if you grab hold of your plant too tightly, you may find the spikes still penetrate through as I have a few times.

Also, if the gloves are quite thick, I find you lose the sense of how hard you’re gripping, and a couple of times I’ve managed to snap spikes right off!

If you’re going to use gloves for species such as Opuntia microdasys as I did in the intro, you’ll be better off with a cheap pair of nitrile-dipped gloves.

This is because they tend to shed hundreds of spines that’ll stick into the gloves and the easiest thing to do after is to dispose of them.

For other species, it may be worth investing in a good pair of anti-cut/anti-puncture gloves such as these.

Newspaper/Brown Parcel Paper

I’ve used this method a few times now and find it works quite well.

Simply get hold of a sheet of newspaper or parcel paper, fold it up, and hook it around your cactus like so;

An old piece of brown parcel paper folded over and hooked around a cactus to pick it up without having to touch the spikes

The paper should be stiff enough that you have a secure grip. This method won’t work for larger/heavier plants.

Again, you do have to be careful about how much pressure you apply here so as not to snap any of the spines.

While it’s a great way to save yourself from getting pricked, I do find it quite difficult to see what I’m doing when repotting…

I have a  couple of wonky columnar cactus to prove it!

Pick Up Your Cactus In an Old Towel

Before repotting, I like to have everything I need in one place but should I need to move a plant, I’ll often use one of my wife’s clean tea towels… much to her annoyance!

Lee carrying an unpotted cactus using an old, clean tea towel.

Use an offcut of carpet for larger, heavier plants

I don’t have any large plants at this time, but if you do, consider using an old offcut of carpet in the same way as the towel.

It’ll be strong enough to support the weight and allow you to move it safely.

My Favorite Method (and the safest for you)

I’d love to offer you a completely safe way to handle your cacti, but in my experience, you’re going to get pricked at some point but hey, as cactus owners, it’s the life we signed up for right?

To minimize the risk of getting stuck by these prickly beauties, I recommend a combination of tongues and gloves.

Lee holding a potted cactus using tongues and gloves for extra protection.

This way, you can do most of the handling at arm’s length using the tongues, but should your’ hands come directly into contact with the spines, you’ll be protected by the gloves.

Over To You

I’d love to hear which methods you currently use to handle your cactus. Do you have any other ways that I haven’t mentioned here?

If so, please let me know in the comments section below!

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