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

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Thursday - August 29, 2013

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Xeriscapes, Drought Tolerant, Cacti and Succulents
Title: Bringing upright a leaning cholla cactus
Answered by: Guy Thompson

QUESTION:

I have a 3 ft. tall Cylindropuntia bigelovii that fell over after recent rains. I righted it and supported it with garden stakes for about a month. I was afraid to pull too hard on the lower part of the trunk, fearing that it would break, so it leans a bit in one direction. I removed all but 1 of the stakes yesterday and it seems stable. Should I be concerned that it will fall over again because of the leaning trunk, or should I just let it do its thing? (I have corrected a problem with water routing so the problem with rainfall should not reoccur.)

ANSWER:

Note from the attached image that cholla do often lean in nature.  However, if  your garden-grown Cylindropuntia bigelovii (Teddybear cholla) grows to its maximum height and absorbs a full complement of water it might be heavy enough to topple over if leaning.  To make the cholla stand upright you can place a stake opposite the leaning side and attach a strap from the stake to the stem.  Then, gradually, over several weeks, tug the plant stem to a more upright stance by tightening the strap a little bit every few days.  This way the cholla will slowly adjust to the stress placed on its stem. 

Another possibility, since cactus root systems spread quite far from the stem laterally but are not deep, would be to push straight down with a spade about 2 feet from the leaning side and gently prize the soil (and the roots) up slightly to lift the whole plant into a more upright position.  This would risk the undesirable exposure of surface roots.  Sprinkling powdered sulfur on any exposed roots would lessen the chance of fungal invasion.

Remember that cacti require very good drainage.  Make certain that future rains do not leave the ground around your cholla water-saturated for more than a short time.

 

From the Image Gallery


Teddybear cholla
Cylindropuntia bigelovii

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