Cactuses can be moved any time but in winter

Q: I have a golden barrel cactus that has grown to 3 feet wide in a place where I cannot leave it . It’s a beautiful specimen, but I have to remove it. Any ideas on how to move it? The thorns are lethal.

A: Now is actually a good time to move cactuses. They can be moved any time except during, and about two months before, winter weather sets in. Unlike many other types of plants, they do well when moved in the summer.

When we have moved these sized cactuses in the past, they were easy to move, taking the relocation without a hitch. We used a lot of thick gloves and old carpet remnants. We dug a trench around the cactus about 12 to 18 inches from the plant to a depth of about 1 foot.

We watered the trench to loosen the soil a bit and make digging easier . We then began undercutting the plant to loosen the soil and cut the roots. We stopped when all the roots had mostly been cut and the plant seemed easy to roll with leverage from a shovel.

Laying the carpet remnant to the side of the plant we were able to free the cactus and roll it on to the carpet. We then placed the cactus in a shady spot to heal the cut roots for two to three days before we planted it again.

Our hole was dug and amended with compost and phosphorus and the large rocks were removed. The hole was cleared so that it was larger than the root ball of the cactus.

After the healing period we moved the cactus to its new location and gently rolled it into its hole. We tried to get the cactus at the same depth as it was in its old location.

We placed the amended soil around the roots and watered it in to remove air pockets. After the soil drained we came back and added more amended soil until it was at the same depth and watered it in again.

Once planted at the right depth we watered deeply around the cactus no more than once every two to three weeks in the summer heat. In the fall it dropped to once a month and the winter only once .

The next spring we watered it once a month and increased it to every two to three weeks during the summer heat until we saw signs of growth. We then had to make a decision whether we wanted it grow more or not.

If we wanted it to grow, we kept it on the same watering routine and added nitrogen every few months. If not, we reduced the watering to twice or three times during the summer and once during the winter with no additional fertilizer. I hope this helps.

Q: My Australian bottle tree and African sumac are shedding leaves like a maple tree during fall. However, they also are putting on new growth. I specifically chose these trees because they remain green all year . The bottle tree is about 20 feet tall, on the north side of the house and gets about 20 gallons of water every day during the summer. The sumac is on the west side, about 12 feet tall and gets about the same amount of water. I’m about ready to cut them down because of this leaf shedding. Were they stressed during the heat wave or what?

A: These two trees have different watering requirements. The bottle tree is a true desert-adapted tree while the African sumac is not. Their watering needs are different for this reason.

The bottle tree should never get daily watering. Even though the watering needs of the African sumac are more frequent, it should not get watered daily either. It is possible that these trees are dropping leaves because their roots cannot “breathe” because of excessive moisture in the soil.

At the most, the sumac should get watered deeply twice a week this time of year. The bottle tree less often than that but when it does get water it should be deeply as well.

Evergreen trees drop leaves. No plant is without leaf drop. Some keep their leaves longer than others.

Normal leaf drop time for evergreen plants is during or shortly after new growth. As they put new growth and new leaves on new branches they drop older leaves from older wood. This is normal. However, excessive leaf drop is not. This can indicate stress ranging from drought to overwatering.

Please get on a deep and infrequent watering schedule rather than a daily one. This time of year the only things watered daily are fescue lawns, annual flower beds and vegetables. Generally speaking, the larger the plant, the deeper the root system and the less frequent the watering; but the amount of water applied each time is higher.

Frequent, shallow irrigations force roots to grow shallower and decrease their tolerance to drought conditions. Both of these trees can develop root rot or die from frequent watering. Excessive leaf drop can be a sign that this is happening.

I would begin to back off by watering every other day , but increase the amount you give them each time you water. Both can handle the heat but not daily watering, particularly the bottle tree.

Make sure the applied water is distributed evenly under the canopies either by having several drip emitters under them or watering them in a basin and flooding the basin. The water should not be applied in one location under the canopy. I hope they are not in stages where you can keep them from getting worse.

Bob Morris is a horticulture expert living in Las Vegas and professor emeritus for the University of Nevada. Visit his blog at