En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

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
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
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

How to Prune a Mountain Laurel to make it more tree like in Hendersen, NV
April 28, 2011 - How do I prune a Texas Mountain Laurel into a tree? Just bought a 15 gal. with two trunks above the crown. Was told that multiple trunks are their natural growth, which is OK. But all research call...
view the full question and answer

Leaves dropping on native Texas Mountain Laurel in San Antonio
September 20, 2008 - Please help. We have a beautiful TX Mountain Laurel in our front yard. This year the leaves are dropping like snow in the north. What do you think is wrong with our tree?
view the full question and answer

Control of out-of-bounds Virginia creeper
September 16, 2007 - Our Virginia creeper (Woodbine) has outgrown its planned location this past summer. What is the best way to prune ivy stems for next years controlled growth?
view the full question and answer

Problem with crapemyrtle shoots in Victoria, TX
May 13, 2009 - I have a problem with crepe myrtle shoots coming up in my flowerbed. I had to remove a large crepe myrtle tree (18" diameter stump) and digging out the stump was not possible. I killed the stump wi...
view the full question and answer

Pruning non-native Chinese fringe flower from Austin
June 24, 2013 - When is the best time of year to prune Plum Delight? And how severely can it be cut back?
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.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center