How To Trim A Cactus? [Best Trimming Guide]

Cacti plants are of different shapes, sizes, and colors and need the least care to thrive. This makes these cactus a wonderful choice for your garden or house. But, what will you do when your cactus overgrows and isn’t at its best in appearance. The cacti can grow beyond their assigned space or can create hindrance on walkways. Then it is the right time to trim your cactus to manage its size.

You have to cut your cactus to allow it to grow well every now and then. Overgrown leaves and stems, rotting, dead stalks after blooming, surplus height, and mealybug infestation are the signals that show that your cactus needs trimming. 

It may appear an uphill task as to how to trim a cactus because the stem can be really large and some cacti have considerable spines. Let’s see how to trim a cactus for propagation, revitalisation, and durability to clean your succulents correctly.


How to Trim a Cactus?

Mostly cacti plants require slight or no trimming as they grow slowly and become large in many years. Trim the cactus before the stem grows too large and remove the undesirable growth with the suitable apparatus and planning.

Some cacti produce flower stalks which are steadfast and become nasty when dead. These should be removed to bring back the beauty of the plant.

Since a cactus plant has spines that can be painful to handle, so always be very careful and wear full pants and sleeves, thick gloves and shoes for trimming a cactus plant.   The tools we use for pruning depend upon the size of the plant, but pruners are mostly used for this purpose. Only the large cacti will need a saw. To decrease the chances of infection or any injury to the plant, always use sharp, clean and disinfected tools.

 Detach the limbs at the branch point but don’t cut into the main stem. Pads or leaves can be pulled off easily or use pruners to eliminate them.

Preparation of trimming

  1. Take a container and make a 10 percent bleach solution by mixing 1 part of household bleach with 10 parts of water. The container should be tall enough to immerse the cutting edges of the trimming tools in it.
  2. Immerse the blades of saws or knives in the bleach, soaking all surfaces.
  3. Wear clothes to protect yourself and cover your arms and legs, wear shoes and gloves. Wear safety goggles to cover your face during the pruning process.
  4. Examine your cactus plant to decide a course of action.
  5. Examine your cactus for any diseased part.  Removing the diseased part by trimming can save a cactus from being ruined by the disease. Cacti are infected mostly with fungi and bacteria and need to be treated right away.
  6.  Eliminate wilted or perished parts. Sometimes, a cactus may turn brown and dry due to insufficient water. This should not be confused with the disease and the plant will be rejuvenated by giving sufficient water to such cacti. But to maintain the green, healthy parts, these parts can be cut.
  7.  Prepare to trim the overgrowth when needed. The bent portions having clear breaks shows the overgrowth. If the plant becomes excessive or is bending and breaks due to the burden of gigantism, trimming the cactus will make it more symmetrical and a smaller, well-trimmed cactus looks better.
  8. For a larger cactus, choose the sequence of pruning to have an easy approach to the stems with your pruning tools.  Select the outermost branches you want to prune and then the inner branches and detach the long, heavy branches in sections, taking controllable cuttings from the crown.
  9. Choose the right tool according to the size of the stem you’re trimming. A saw-toothed knife will work well for smaller stem cuttings and pruning saws with angled blades are best for larger stems. A long-handled saw can be used for difficult-to-access stems.

Make the cut

  1. Hold the stem with a tong at the desired cut location if the diameter of the stem is small. If the stem is larger, then hold the stem with a rope and cut the stem at 45 degrees. Take the help of another person to clasp the stem of big branches to make the cut.
  2. Take the cuttings and place them on a clean surface or a piece of cardboard if you want to propagate them. Keep the cuttings in a garbage bin or cardboard box to dispose of if you don’t want them.
  3. Examine the cut on the plant and detach any ripped or sheared parts and the slanted cut should be smooth to easily shed water to avoid rot on the parent plant.
  4. Use a marker to identify the top and bottom of each cutting if you want to root the cuttings.

What To Do With Trimmed Parts

 Almost all the parts you remove are retrievable except the diseased parts or dead stems and leaves. Pads will root even on top of the soil and grow into a new plant. Cut stems and trunks can be kept as such for some days to callus at the cut end and then plant them to grow into new cacti. Any offsets or pups cut from the base of a cactus should be potted immediately and these offsets or pups will start rooting within a month.

Dead parts like flower stalks and leaves can be used to make compost. As you trim your cactus plant, it will become more spectacular. 

How Do You Prune An Overgrown Cactus?

An overgrown cactus will require a saw for pruning. The tool should be sharp and clean to prevent injury to the plant and to reduce the chance of infection. Cut the arms at the branch point but be cautious not to cut into the main stem. You can use pruners to separate pads or leaves or they may just snap off.

How do you prune an overgrown cactus will depend upon the type of cactus, for example, plants like Agave need the old leaves to be separated to maintain their appearance. Cut them at the bottom of the plant with scissors.

Columnar cacti such as Organ pipe cacti and Totem pole cacti become too tall and thin with time and need to be decapitated to enforce branching or thicker stems.

Wrap the portion of the cactus with an old sheet or newspaper to pick up the thorns and clippings more easily.


For a columnar cactus, use a long handled saw to cut the main trunk at the point at which you want the branches to grow or at the desired height. 

Select the segment to be pruned

An overgrown columnar cactus often has less segments than other types of cactus plants, so it is important to decide what is needed to be cut. Since the columns stock water and accumulate sunlight for the entire plant, eliminating larger parts can be dangerous for the plant. So cut the required portions only. Pruning the columns is just like cutting a tree branch off.  Make preparatory cuts a few inches over the base of the column, where the final cut is to be made.

The first cut should be on the top or inner side about ¼ into the column a few inches above the base. A second cut will be similar to the first cut in size about 1 inch below the first but should be on the bottom or outer side, to force the weighted fall of the column as you make the final cut.

Before the final cut, make sure to clear the area where the cut part will fall. Start cutting through entirely, from a safer place, beginning at the top, inner side at the base where the column has grown.

Prune the injurious or overgrown portions. Repeatedly make these types of cuts as required to discard all overgrown areas. Don’t overdo it so the plant is not hurt from over-pruning. Discard the damaged parts and allow the column branches to callous for a few days before replanting.

How To Trim Prickly Pear Cactus

 Prickly pears have pads that function as leaves and are easy to remove. Let’s see how to trim Prickly Pears cactus as it may not need trimming, but you can cut back them with scissors. Hold the pad with tongs and cut it off at the point where it is connected to the other pad with a sharp knife or scissors.


Select the pads to be trimmed away

  1. Hold the pad with tongs and cut it off at the point where it is connected to the other pad with a sharp knife. It is always better to remove the entire pads, not parts of a pad. For a larger Prickly pear cactus, choose the part you will start trimming first.  It is always better to remove the entire pads, not parts of a pad.
  2. Start with an easy-to-approach section. If you can’t reach the part, do not try it. A ladder can help in reaching such portions. Starting from the outer edges is always a better option and then moving inwards.
  3. Trim or cut at the joints near the base of the pads. Cut a pad, keep it on the side safely, and move forward to cut the next desired portion. Trim to remove all dead or diseased parts or to get the desired appearance.

Do not make a cut across a pad to separate a portion as it will kill the pad and additional trimming would be required.

To avoid over-trimming, cut a pad or two at a time and then wait to see the progress.

Throw the dead or diseased parts and each detached pad is a plant in itself, so you can plant these pads either in a pot or even simply lay them on the fresh soil and they will begin to root.

You can trim your cactus by following any of these methods according to the type of cactus you have and transform it into a new one and even grow more cacti from the separated pads or portions.


Nikita is a Succulent lover. She really enjoys planting and nourishing them. She loves to share information about various Succulents on this blog to aware people more about these awesome plants.

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