In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
October, 2009
Regional Report

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Cacti glochids occur in clumps that resemble bristle-like hairs.

Cactus Planting Tips

Autumn is a great time to add all sorts of plants to your low desert landscape because they have six or seven months to establish root systems before hot weather returns. Cacti can be transplanted now, and a few tricks make the task go more smoothly and save you from the jabs of sharp spines or irritation from a clump of glochids stuck in your skin.

Cactus spines are pretty obvious. Glochids, on the other hand, are hair-like, barbed bristles that grow in tufts, often surrounding spines. Gently brushing against glochids results in a clump embedded in your skin or clothing. They break off easily, leaving behind minute fragments that cause more irritation than actual pain.

Protect Your Hands
Regular gardening gloves don't stop spines or glochids, both of which poke through fabric or stick into leather. Glochids remain embedded in fabric gloves for eternity, wiggling through to penetrate skin months later. Heavy-duty rubber gloves provide a reasonable barrier against glochids.

Specialized garden gloves made with puncture-resistant, hardened resin are another option. Originally conceived to protect health-care workers from needle pricks, the manufacturer realized its patented material would work against all kinds of treacherous pointy things. The palms and fingers are protected; the back of the glove is nylon/spandex blend. Although they don't offer sufficient "feel" to double as everyday garden gloves, you might want to invest in a pair if you plant a lot of cactus.

Tips for Planting
Cacti are deceptively heavy. If you buy (or someone gives you) unpotted barrel or columnar cacti such as totem pole or Mexican fence post cacti, place them on a sturdy tarp to transport home. Enlist an extra set of hands to carry the tarp to the planting site. Your helper can also adjust the position of the cactus and hold it upright in the planting hole while you firm the soil around the base.

Columnar cacti are less awkward to handle if you wrap lengths of fabric around them to use as handgrips. Use old towels, burlap, or jeans. Fabric provides more flexibility and strength than newspaper. Hang onto the wrap to lift and steady the cactus.

Opuntia cacti, with pads or cane-like sections connected at joints, are easy to propagate. Grasp an end section with tongs and cut through the joint. Allow the cut to dry and callus out of direct sun for several days before planting, again using the tongs to handle and hold it upright in the hole.


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