Tools for spiny succulents (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

My Must-Have Garden Tools for Spiny Succulents

Note: This corresponds to my Make a Mini High Desert Cactus Garden video. For more info on tools for cacti and succulents, go to the Tools page. 

The tools I use when working with spiky, spiny succulents include 12-inch tweezers, kitchen tongs, artist's brush, chopstick, scissors, metal teaspoon, inexpensive garden gloves, and duct tape.

Long-handle tweezers

Long-handled tweezers are useful for removing bits of debris and topdressing from prickly plants and those with tight leaf axils---anyplace for which your fingers are too big or that you prefer not to touch. Amazon sells 12-inch stainless steel tweezers for around $13. Btw, I also own 10-inch tweezers, forceps and "planting tongs," but I seldom use them.

Kitchen tongs

I find kitchen tongs (around $6) handy for grasping and holding cacti, and planting small agaves with sharp tips.

Cactus tongs

Tongs are essential when potting up cactus and for twisting pads off of opuntias

If you're handling a delicate plant (one with spines that might bend or break), wrap the tips of the tongs with foam rubber or pieces of soft sponge and secure with  rubber bands. (Sun causes rubber bands to deteriorate, so store your modified tongs in shade.)

Gloves wrapped with duct tape

Gloves for holding cactus

Duct tape wrapped around the fingers of gloves lets you pick up small cacti without getting poked.

I wear the gloves while a friend wraps them (or vice versa).

Wear the gloves while a friend wraps them (or vice versa).

There are gloves supposedly impervious to thorns and spines, but I'm not eager to spend money on an item likely to end up coated with glochids. These nasty little spines (found only---and almost always---on Opuntia cactus) stick to nearly anything...except the slick side of duct tape. Btw, you can also use the tape's sticky side to remove glochids from your skin, should the unfortunate need arise.

Opuntia microdaysis

Opuntia microdaysis (bunny ears) is deceptive; its fuzzy tufts are glochids---tiny hooked spines that detach all too easily


Succulent garden tools

I used these tools when doing my high-desert diorama for Garden Design magazine. View the video.

I wouldn't be without a chopstick to settle roots of succulents. It's essential whenever small nursery plants are tucked together so tightly, it's not possible to manipulate their root balls to settle them.

An old metal teaspoon (the one in the photo was mangled by my garbage disposal) is perfect for funneling topdressing into gaps between plants. You can also use a funnel, but anything larger than coarse sand may clog it.

An artist's brush is great for the finishing touch: cleaning dirt off leaves and spines. The tip of its slender handle can serve the same purpose as a chopstick.

Mini Succulent High Desert Garden video

Mini Succulent High Desert Garden video (3:51)

Tools, Books and Products for Succulent Gardeners

Tools & Must-Haves for Succulent Gardeners My personal favorites The tools, books and products for succulent gardeners shown here are among my personal favorites. I update this list when I run across something I’m excited about and want to share. If there’s an item you’re looking for or would like to recommend, or a link that’s…

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  1. Wanda on May 29, 2017 at 8:32 am

    I have a Spanish Dager cactus and being new to this, I didn’t know that it could freeze. It is coming back but there is a lot of dead that needs to be removed. Do you have a video showing how this is done? Thank you,

    • Debra on June 1, 2017 at 2:35 pm

      Hi Wanda — I don’t have a video at present, but tackle it well armed and protected. Wear gauntlet gloves (sold for pruning roses) and eye protection. Use a sharp knife, scissors or garden clippers to cut the leaves back to the stem.

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