How to Prune a Cactus

Updated February 21, 2017

Pruning a cactus is one of the least enjoyed activities of desert dwellers who use cacti to landscape their yards. It's a tough job because of the cactus needles on the plants, but the cacti need pruning from time to time to keep them manageable.

Put on all the protective clothing you can. It's important to wear leather shoes because cactus needles can go through running or mesh-sided shoes. If you are pruning a cactus with fine fuzz or needles, put the face mask on because the fuzz will be airborne, and you could suffer serious skin problems from the little needles.

Get all your tools assembled in one place.

Take the loppers or pruners and start cutting the excess pads or segments of the cactus plant. They should come off fairly easily. Use the shovel to put them in a garbage can.

Use the knife and tongs to take off pads that do not come off easily. Hold the pad with the tongs, not with your hands. Watch your hands and wrists while you do this. You will be close to the cactus, and it's possible to get stuck.

Use the knife or saw to cut off extra branches from ocotillo or agaves.

Finish pruning, and continue to use the shovel to put the waste in a solid container to put in your garbage can. Use tongs for the pieces you can't pick up with the shovel.


Prune your cactus in the winter, if you can. They are dormant, and the weather is more conducive to wearing heavy clothing.


Don't wear sandals when you prune a cactus. You could get a cactus spine in your foot that will be painful. If you have kids or pets, keep them in the house while you complete the pruning job. Getting a cactus spine in your skin is very painful. If you see fine fuzz or tiny needles on the cactus, don't be fooled. These are some of the worst to get in your skin because they are too small to be pulled out, and if you are covered with them, you could get very sick.

Things You'll Need

  • Long handled shovel
  • Long handled kitchen knife
  • Long handled kitchen tongs
  • Pruners or loppers
  • Hand held saw
  • Rake
  • Heavy gloves
  • Heavy clothes-shirt, jeans, and leather shoes
  • Protective eye wear
  • Face mask
  • Garbage can
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About the Author

Jackie Johnson is a published writer and professional blogger, and has a degree in English from Arizona State University. Her background in real estate analysis prepared her for objective thinking, researching and writing.