How to Dig Up a Cactus

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A cactus is commonly found in desert landscaping.
A cactus is commonly found in desert landscaping. (Image: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

A prickly cactus in the landscape does not appeal to all gardeners, while a dead cactus is a hazard in fire-prone areas. The approach you take to digging up a cactus depends on whether you plant to transplant or destroy the plant. Smaller cacti are the best candidates for transplantation, either to another part of the landscape or to a pot. Bear in mind that digging up a cactus from the wild is illegal without a permit in some states. Purchase cacti only from reputable dealers.

Things You'll Need

  • Gloves
  • Clippers
  • Shovel

Put on thick, leather gloves when you attempt to dig up the cactus to prevent injury from sharp thorns.

Cut off the prickly pads of an overgrown cactus with clippers to get to the skeleton of the plant. This will allow you to focus on a specific area to dig the plant up, rather than try to work around a dense cactus. Try to avoid unnecessary injury to a plant you are transplanting.

Dig into the ground around the cactus with a pointed shovel. If you want to transplant the cactus to another area of the yard, dig around the plant in a 1-foot radius and depth to prevent cutting too many roots. Otherwise, simply dig around the base of the plant for removal.

Position the shovel underneath the base of the cactus and lift up with the shovel. If the cactus is tall, be aware of how it will fall once you remove it from the ground to prevent injury to you or those standing around.

Tips & Warnings

  • Prune damaged roots off to the lateral root. Allow the plant to rest in a shaded area for several days for wounds to heal over before replanting in dry soil.
  • Transplants recover best in warmer temperatures that encourage new growth.
  • Replant cactus in the same directional orientation as they had previously grown, as some areas of the plant have become more resistant to sunburn, according to University of Arizona Extension.

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