Weed around spiny plants & geophyte cactus

Leo A. Martin leo@possi.org
Wed, 02 Jan 2013 15:40:01 PST
Jane wrote

> I think the only way to weed around a cactus is
> to use a long-nosed pliers or large tweezers.
> I recall my mother doing that with her cactus collection....

An important skill cactomaniacs learn is moving extremely slowly and carefully when
putting hands or heads near spiny plants. At a slow enough approach contact with a spine
will be felt before it penetrates. Before long one learns to pick up most cacti with
bare hands using the entire hand to distribute the contact area and diminish pressure on
any one spot. Not Opuntia with their nasty glochids, but other spiny succulents. It
really impresses the general public at cactus club sales.

I no longer wear gloves when working with cacti because they give a false sense of
security. Heavy boots are also a must unless one enjoys uprooting spiny things implanted
in the foot through canvas.

Weeding cactus beds is much easier than most people think. Keep the first principal
above in mind. Wait until the soil is dry if possible. Use a long-handled tool such as
http://tinyurl.com/ah3g72c/ to loosen the soil around the base of the plant. The weeds
usually flop over sideways away from the cactus. Then slowly and carefully approach the
weed with your hand and pull it out. It unquestionably takes more time to weed around
cacti than another kind of bed but it's not that much longer.

Remember too, if your soil is as loose as it should be for growing cacti in cold places,
the weeds come out more easily.

There are a number of cacti and other succulents with root storage organs. I will extoll
Opuntia chaffeyi, a diminutive prickly pear from Zacatecas, Mexico. It has 1/4" / 60mm
diameter near-cylindrical stems lacking spines (but it does have glochids) that are
annual in habitat and mostly persistent in cultivation. They grow from big white
rhizomes that can be raised with each repotting above the soil level in the container
for an impressive display. Stem or root cuttings serve equally well, proving the
underground parts are modified stems. The plant survives at least some winters in St
Louis, Missouri, USA and takes harder frosts if dry. O. chaffeyi will grow well in a 2
inch / 5cm container or fill a much larger container with a root mass overtopped by pale
green stems, to perhaps 8" / 20cm tall on a big plant. It is an indicator plant for the
presence of squirrels.

Leo Martin
Phoenix Arizona USA

More information about the pbs mailing list