Pencil Cactus - pruning

weaver_46(z9 Texas US)January 4, 2010

I have a large (12 foot or so) pencil cactus/pencil plant that got caught in our last freeze. Most of the smallest branches are now brown and look dead. However at the tips of 2 of the big trunks there is a bit of new greenery so the plant is still apparently alive.

Should I cut off all of the little dead "fingers" or just cut back the whole branch? Should I cut the whole plant (including the branches with the "green") back to a given size?

We are having another serious freeze tonight and I want to bring the plant into the house and it has to be cut back just for that.

Any help appreciated.


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If you're talking about Euphorbia tirucalli, please be very careful of the sap that it exudes - it can be bad news to some folk, particularly on the mucous membranes.

I would cut the definitely-dead smaller pieces, leaving on the larger limbs that are healthy or at least have a chance of coming back.

Make sure that you have eye protection around to use as needed, gloves, and a long-sleeved shirt. Other than that, have some tepid water nearby t staunch the sap flow of any major limbs' leakage - there may be none, but then again....

Rots of ruck!

    Bookmark   January 4, 2010 at 4:11PM
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Just whack it back to the size that will fit in the house. They recover quickly. And if you do get the sap in your eye, jump in the shower for 15 minutes, BY THE CLOCK, aim the shower head to hit you between the eyes, blink if you can, do NOT use any eye drops of any kind. One hour after irrigation, if you have swelling, pain, tearing, blurry vision or any other symptom except redness go to the ER right then. Corneal burns are pretty common with this sap.

Stay warm! We're supposed to have the coldest temps in a decade by the weekend, 15 degrees colder tomorrow morning. I hate winter.
Tally HO!

    Bookmark   January 4, 2010 at 4:54PM
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weaver_46(z9 Texas US)

Thank you, folks, for all the help. I ended up cutting the plant back to about 4 feet and bringing it in the house. Since pencil cactus seem to go into shock and pout for several months after even a minor trauma (such as turning the pot a quarter turn!), I am wondering how long do I need to wait before I can tell if the plant is even alive? Since I've already whacked most of it off anyway, is there a minimum height that is best for it's recovery?

I don't know why I'm so invested in this 20 year-old ugly plant!

Thanks again,

    Bookmark   January 22, 2010 at 11:58PM
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The ones out in the garden took a hard hit. Some of the smaller ones are dead and the big ones look horrid. I'm going to whack off all the discolored parts next week when I'm off.
I know about the sap, I talk to at least one person a week that has gotten the sap in their eye. To the ER they go for treatment of corneal burns!
Tally Ho!

    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 10:50AM
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I had a similar situation as weaver_46 --- I had a beautiful, dense pencil cactus that was about 6 feet high and 3 feet wide, but the recent freeze killed most of the stems except for those at the top. The dead stems have now fallen off the bottom and middle area, leaving 3 bare "trunks" with a few healthy shoots at the top. It's ugly. There are indentations in the trunk where the stems fell off. Does anyone know if the cactus will regrow new stems from those same indentations, or do I have to cut the cactus down to the ground and start over? Thanks! :-)

    Bookmark   February 14, 2010 at 11:53AM
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