Moving a Large Saguaro Cactus

By Jim Davis | February 1, 2017
Image by Jim Davis
by Jim Davis
February 1, 2017

Over 20 years ago I purchased an 18-foot saguaro and transplanted it with great success. I used techniques not seen in any of the internet articles I have read, so I thought it would be useful to share my experience with others, along with photos, in the hope that it might help someone else to enjoy the same success. Here’s how I successfully moved and planted this very large cactus.

After procuring the tall saguaro from a construction project in Arizona (legally), I had to come up with a way to safely move the plant to my mountain cabin in the San Gabriel Mountains (4,000 ft. altitude) in southern California. I began by building a wood crib to support the trunk and arms, which I wrapped in carpet, and strapped it down so the cactus would not shake or move. With a big rig truck, as it weighed over 8,000 lbs., I ever so carefully hauled the saguaro to its new location.

After uncrating the plant, I allowed it to dry and harden on the ground with a scant few bare roots, no soil. The flutes closed considerably while I prepared the site over some months’ time. I did not attempt to replant in its original orientation but, instead, I decided to plant it on a southern slope in my front yard. I dug a hole about 20 inches in diameter and 30 inches deep. I also excavated a trench, about 15 feet long, from the hole in order to drain all water away from the base down to my dirt driveway. I then put about 3 inches of pea gravel into the bottom of the hole and connecting trench, adding some water to test it out, ensuring it would drain away as desired. The soil is heavy, non-permeable, decomposed granite, hence the French drain.

Once I was happy with the outcome of this, I added some sand over top of the gravel. I carefully picked up the behemoth cactus using a hydro-crane and placed it in the hole. While holding it upright, I backfilled the hole with straight sand, no soil, and tamped the sand tightly around the base with the spud end of a digging bar. I sprinkled sulphur on the wounds on the arms caused by 3 miles of washboard road. Finally, I placed a soaker hose radiating out from the trunk (starting at 12 inches to about 6 feet out) and watered it lightly every few weeks during the summer. – I’ve been told most transplant failures are the result of too much love (water). – The idea being to coax the newly forming surface root hairs away from the base. This process took about 2 years before the flutes began to swell with water. In spite of heavy winds and only rope guides for a few months, it never budged.

Saguaro Cactus Flower

It has been in my yard for about 22 years now and has grown about 2 feet taller, with a fourth arm now emerging. It flowers reliably; in fact, it produces several hundred flowers every June and July. That said, the cactus only sets fruit occasionally. Nonetheless, my saguaro tolerates hot, dry summer winds as well as snow during winter, even gets encased with ice on occasion. I felt a responsibility to do everything in my power to succeed with this transplant, as I am the lucky custodian of this beautiful ancient living dinosaur.

The above blog was edited for content by Gardening Know How prior to publication.

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  • Jay
    Comment added January 10, 2018Reply

    Hi,

    do you have pictures of the box you built for transplant? I have a 16 footer with 3 smaller arms and only moving it within same 1 are area but costs are so high I am trying to do this on my own.

    Thanks in advance.

    Jay

  • Jan
    Comment added March 29, 2017Reply

    Very interesting. Didn't think a saguaro would live at such an elevation.

    Thanks for sharing. ?❤?

    Peace,
    Jan
    Hungry Holler

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