How to Plant a Cactus Without Getting Poked

If you've worked with cacti before, you likely know that figuring out how to plant a cactus without getting spines in your fingers can be tough. Learn a few tips and tricks to safely plant cacti! You won't get spines in your fingers with these techniques!

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My love for cacti has grown lately (no pun intended), in part due to some new techniques I've learned to handle them while planting. If you've tried potting cacti before you've likely had a few pricks to your fingers and had spines stuck in your skin for days.

Figuring out how to plant sharp succulents can be quite a trick, but thanks to some advice from friends, I've got a few surefire techniques for you to try!

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Gymnocalycium mihanovichii ‘Hibotan'Cereus forbesii monstroseOpuntia Hybrid Crest ‘Roller Coaster'

Before you get started planting your cacti, be sure to check out my post on how to plant a succulent and tips for planting succulents in containers. These two posts will help lay the foundation for making sure your new succulent garden is a success!

Use Nitrile dipped gloves

I've always tried using gloves when I'm working with cacti, but the leather gloves I had didn't seem to do much. It was a slight barrier, but I still ended up with spines in my fingers most of the time. Someone pointed out to me that since leather is animal skin, the spines of the cactus are going to cling to it just like it would my own skin. It made perfect sense! While the leather provides some protection, the cactus spines will sill pierce through.

That's when I discovered nitrile coated gloves. These gloves are fabric with a nitrile coating around the fingers. Nitrile is a synthetic material that works much better than leather for protecting your skin against prickly cacti. Granted, long spines can still get through, but the obnoxious tiny hair-like spines have a much harder time penetrating the nitrile than leather.

Now I almost always layer the gloves too… two gloves on each hand. I keep them in their own container away from my other gloves and only use them when I'm working with cacti. Seriously… it's one of the best ideas I've had.

No more itching spines in my fingers!

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Gymnocalycium mihanovichii ‘Hibotan'

When wearing these gloves, 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 have spines along the edge of their body, simply using the nitrile coated gloves has proved to be a great option.

You'll always want to use a gentle grip when handling cacti as a lot of pressure can still force those little spines through the gloves. It's also better for the cacti if you are gentle as you move them. The nitrile coated gloves are also a good option for handling succulents that are slightly sharp on the edges, such as JovibarbasAloes, and Agaves.

Wearing gloves will also help protect your hands as you start placing other succulents around your cactus. I've found its generally best to start your arrangement by placing the cactus and then working to fit the other succulents in around it. Fitting a cactus in to a large open area is much easier than trying to sandwich it between other plants.

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Design by The Succulent Perch, Pottery by Susan Aach — Kalanchoe tomentosaEcheveriaPilosocereus azureus

Use Tongs

Any time you handle cacti, I recommend using the nitrile coated gloves. It's a good “just in case” measure, even when using other tools.

A great way to handle larger cacti that might have larger 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.

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Opuntia Hybrid Crest ‘Roller Coaster'

When you use tongs, be sure you keep a light grip on the cactus. Squeezing too hard can cut or bruise the succulent. You can then use the tongs to guide the cactus or succulent into place 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 when placing the cactus. It also keeps the cactus fairly far away from your hands which helps prevent accidentally bumping the spines.

Use a Towel

For larger cacti and those with long spines, I've found that using a towel or newspaper is a great option. Simply wrap the towel around the top of the cactus and use it as a handle to move the plant into place.

While this method allows you to pick up the cactus easily, it is a little bit trickier to get the cactus settled into the pot just right. I've found that I can use a chopstick to help balance the cactus as I'm placing it. (If you order soil from Bonsai Jack he sends you a free chopstick with your order!)

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Cereus forbesii monstrose

You can also place a towel over the top of the cactus to provide an extra barrier between the spines and your hand. This can work really well for sharp succulents that are otherwise difficult to hold.

Using the towel over the top of the plant can be easier than the “handle” method, but you have to be careful not to grip the plant too hard as it can damage the succulent.

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Euphorbia flanaganii cristata

Planting cactus definitely presents a few challenges, but hopefully these simple tricks and techniques will help make your next planting session a success! And…

Now that you know how to plant a cactus, it may just be time to add one to your collection if you don't have some already 😉 Check out these Cactus Cuties from Leaf and Clay! They are super fun way to get started with cacti! (Plus, they fit perfectly in these tiny pots too…)

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Cactus Cuties from Leaf and Clay

Be sure to also check out my post with step-by-step instructions for planting succulents as well as tips for planting succulents.