How to remove a fallen 16' cactus from your back yard

Can the world of DIY / Home Renovation blogging handle yet another post on how to remove a fallen 16' cactus from a backyard? I'm pretty sure all my peers have written similar posts on demolishing a towering saguaro, probably just about as often as they've come up with interesting new uses for pallet wood. No? Haven't seen any? Don't live in the Sonoran Desert? Well then, settle in for an adventure of a lifetime, because here's how it went down.

The grand inspector, surveying the scene.
We'd lost one of our four big saguaros in a windstorm a couple weeks ago (Oh How the Mighty has Fallen). Now I've determined that a leak in our drip irrigation system completely saturated the soil, weakening the grip of the surprisingly small root mass. About a thousand pounds of waterlogged, spiny monolith crashed to the ground, leaving its severed appendages strewn across the landscape.

The irrigation leak beneath our cactus

Now, how to get rid of it? I'd read about using a chainsaw to lop it into logs that look like giant sushi rolls. Of course, my chainsaw is merely a 9" electric pole saw, not much use here. Maybe I could buy a cheap one from Harbor Freight or rent one from Ace.

I know there is wood inside the cactus, that might be good for a future craft / decoration project. Could I could fillet it like a fish and save the core? 

I loaded a 12" pruning blade into my beloved Cordless Reciprocating Saw and gave it a rip. It sliced like a warm knife through butter. Juice gushed out of the carcass, spattering me in the face.

Cutting up a fallen Suguaro Cactus

The fleshy pulp felt smooth and a little slimy. It smelled fresh vegetables, a bit like jicama. I started lopping off big chunks rapidly, starting with one of the detached arms. The blade occasionally made contact with the wood core of the trunk, so I'd ease back, trying not to damage it too much. 

Slice 'n dice
I'm not much of a videographer, but I thought you'd like to see what it was like sawing through the pulpy goodness with a reciprocating saw. If you watch closely, you'll see where your's truly manages to stick himself in the hand with a spine. Evidently, Mr. AZ Dumb-ass Guy, thought that wearing gloves while slicing up a freaking, cactus with razor sharp spines was just too much effort this first day.  

Jess commented on the last post that a sturdy pitch fork would make handling cactus chunks much safer on the hands and feet. Of course, since I'm not raising miniature donkeys, I don't own a pitchfork. I used the next best thing, a sturdy steel landscaping rake. It did the trick. (Thanks Jess!)

It was like dragging whale blubber across the landscape. I laid out the squishy chunks in rows to start drying. I'm going to have to parcel this over several weeks into the trash bin. I don't have an alternative, since there's not another bulk trash pick up until December, and I don't want to slime my truck by taking it to the dump myself.

I took a break to handle some kid obligations and charge the saw's batteries, but came out later in the evening. I tried another tactic, a mini-spade shovel. It sliced and diced really well. I scooped the fleshy pulp off the inner woody skeleton; it was like carving a pumpkin. 

It killed my back to hack and pry, stooped over with that little shovel, as I simultaneously tried not to slip in the goop or impale myself on the horrendous needles all around me. These things are tough, medieval-style caltrops that would puncture the sole of my boot with ease.

Don't tread on me.

I called it a night. It was an easy choice, since I had managed to spatter cactus juice in my eye and rub it in with the back of my hand. My eye was an burning, bloodshot mess.

A fresh day followed, with a fresh approach. I went full-on, flat-blade shovel on this sucker. This time,  I wore gloves.

Photo tip: It's considered much more manly to have a work truck parked in the 
background, especially when it looks like you're raising the flag over Mt. Suribachi.
It worked like a charm. I was tearing through cactus at a rapid, pulp-splattering pace, rending nice juicy slabs off, one after the other. Then, of course, seconds after the photo above was taken, a meaty slab flopped down on my right foot.

It got my attention. Of the 4 spines that punctured my boot and broke off in it, one in particular really pissed me off when it stabbed into my toe.

That's the little bastard that got me.
The toe wasn't bad, not much more than a scrape. I bled more from the gash my finger suffered in the ten minutes of fiddling around, trying to get the spine out of my boot without breaking it off inside. It just stinks that I have perforated my new, formerly-waterproof, Red Wing work boot.

Back in action, it was a matter of picking the bones the rest of the way clean...

...and sawing off the root mass.

What a dang mess. I've got a massive elephant graveyard of saguaro chunks drying in the sun. 

Now it's just a matter of metering out the chunks into the weekly trash as they dry out. Luckily, monsoon season is over and it's not humid anymore.  The carcass is cleaned down to the big woody pole. I think it's pulp filled and will eventually dry hollow. I'll post updates on Facebook as it dries. We'll see if it's worth making something out of. 

I have to fix the drip irrigation leak before it makes the other one topple. That big sucker will take something out if it falls.

What do you think? Have I prepared you to handle your next 16' fallen cactus monster crisis in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, or wherever you live? 


  1. omg dude. That's crazy. If you're ever looking for work, I know some crime families around here that are looking for someone talented with a Sawzall.

    1. LOL!!! Believe it or not, I've never considered offering my slice 'n dice, sawzall prowess to any crime syndicates. No, I think being spattered with cactus juice, is probably as gruesome a task as I can handle... but,... it's good to know I have options,... you think they pay well?

  2. I'm glad you found a technique that worked for you! And I'm also glad I didn't have to do it!

  3. Thanks Jess! I rather wish I didn't have to do it either.