Explore Plants

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 

Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
2 ratings

Thursday - August 20, 2009

From: Atlanta, GA
Region: Southeast
Topic: Pruning, Cacti and Succulents
Title: How to prune Opuntia ellisiana in Decatur, GA.
Answered by: Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

Hi Mr SP--How do I go about pruning an Opuntia ellisiana? I have saws, newspaper, heavy leather gloves, goggles, etc. But my question is more about what section of the plant to cut. The base has developed large 'stems' about 4" or more in diameter, and these branches are overhanging the garden path in a public native plants garden and unfortunately pose a risk to passers-by. I'm concerned that if I cut this large branch it may destabilize the plant (shrub). Thanks for your help! Georgia Perimeter College Native Plant Botanical Garden. Decatur, GA.

ANSWER:

Mr. Smarty Plants was bemused by how you planned to use newspaper in your pruning project then realized that you must intend to read it while letting someone else tackle that monster.  Good plan!

Some would wonder why you would need heavy leather gloves to work on a famously thornless species of cactus.  However, you are very wise to use them since Opuntia ellisiana  (Spineless prickly pear) which has no large thorns, is studded with glochids, tiny, nearly invisible thorns which hurt like the dickens and are very difficult to extract from the skin.

The first question you should answer is, "Can I prune this plant in such a way as to provide for the public's safe passage without pemanently ruining the appearance or health of the plant?"  If the answer is no, then your only real option is to move or remove the cactus.  We are often asked about a similar problem regarding yuccas planted too close to walks that have grown and begun attacking innoccent passers-by.  For overgrown yuccas the answer is invariably, "Remove the offending plant."  In this case, you may well be able to prune your sprawling prickly pear.  In time, the plant is very likely to put on new growth on the pruned side of the cactus which will soften and somewhat balance its wounded appearance.  Pruning a large side branch is unlikely to cause the whole plant to topple, though.  You're probably safe in regard to that concern.

Prickly pear pruning is a relatively simple if not slightly hazardous task.  Prickly pear pads are full of water and are very heavy.  So first, remove some of the overhanging vegetation by sawing or simply breaking off some of the pads.  These can be dried for a week or two and new plants started elsewhere.  Once you've removed much of the existing weight of the material to be pruned, make a cut of the main stem a few inches above where you intend to make your final cut.  This is the same technique used on tree limb pruning and you're doing it for the same reason, to avoid stem-splitting at your final cut.  The smoother your final cut, the less likely pathogens will find their way into the open wound and infect the plant.

 

More Pruning Questions

Cold damage to Texas wild olive tree in San Antonio
May 02, 2010 - I have a Texas Olive tree that was unprotected from the 2010 cold winter here in San Antonio, TX. It is the end of April and there is no sign of growth on any of the branches. If the tree is still a...
view the full question and answer

How to prune wild mustang grape vines.
July 11, 2011 - Now that my mustang grapes are harvested. When can I trim them out of the tree top and redirect them to an arbor where I can reach them next year? The main vine is at least 3" across. The vines from...
view the full question and answer

Pruning of native perennial blooming plants
March 22, 2008 - Hello - I am still a newbie at using Native Texas plants (but loving them!), and I need pruning assistance. When (and how much) do I prune: hot lips salvia, hummingbird bush (anisthcanthus wrightii...
view the full question and answer

Brown leaves on possumhaw holly in Grandview TX
July 02, 2009 - What would be likely causes for brown leaves on possumhaw holly? We have 2, one was planted in spring 2008, and a slightly larger one planted late winter/early spring this year. Most of the leaves a...
view the full question and answer

Sad Germanders in Johnson City Texas
September 16, 2011 - I have some grey bush germanders that never seem to do well although they did at first when I planted them four years ago. They have sun and dappled shade on the south side of the house. A friend in ...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.