How to Remove a Cholla Cactus


The cholla group of cacti provides a beautiful--and dangerous--element to a hot, dry landscape. These shrub-like cacti have rounded branches covered in sharp, close-set thorns which seem to glow in sunlight. The cholla thorns so easily come loose that it is called "jumping cactus." So whether you want to eliminate the danger or move a cactus specimen plant to a better location, safety precautions are the major concern.

Things You'll Need

  • Heavy-duty tarp
  • Protective gloves
  • Newspapers
  • Pail or tub
  • Shovel
  • Cover the plant with the tarp, tucking it up against the base of the plant as well as possible to enclose all branches and thorns. If dealing with a taller, branching specimen, use heavy gloves to fold protective layers of newspaper around the outreaching stems, and brake them off until a more compact plant remains. Store the removed branches safely in a pail or other solid container.

  • Dig the soil away from around the base of the cactus. Insert the shovel around the base until the soil is loose. When the cholla moves easily and the shovel can reach under the plant, pry up the entire plant as a unit.

  • Place the pail or tub over the tarped cactus once it is loose in the soil. Lift with the shovel under the root base and flip the plant out of the ground as you turn the pail or tub upright again. It now can be safely carried, upside down in the container. The plant is now secure to be given to another gardener if you no longer want it or do not have suitable sites for cactus in the landscape you are planning.

  • Dig a hole or prepare a container to be the cholla's new home. Use a suitable cactus-mix soil or well-draining soil similar to, or from, its original location.

  • Tip the tarp-covered plant back out into the hole dug for its new location. Fill in around the base with soil up to the same level on the plant as it had in the original spot. Carefully remove the tarp. Water around the cholla's base to settle the soil in.

Tips & Warnings

  • Replanting a cholla does not need to involve moving an entire plant. Branches removed
  • from many cacti readily root and produce new plants to add to your landscape.
  • A comb makes a good tool to remove cactus thorns that get attached to gloves and other clothing. Tweezers and pliers also work and are more suitable if skin is unfortunately involved.
  • Many cacti are protected species and should not be destroyed. Find your plant a new home if you do not plan on keeping it.
  • Pieces of cholla readily root. Be sure to clean up the former site well if you do not wish more plants to start growing there.
  • Keep children and pets away from tasks that involve cacti! They can injure themselves and distract you.


  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/ Images Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images
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