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A Word Of Warning About Pruning Euphorbias

Euphorbias are wonderful but there's 1 thing you should be aware of when pruning most of them. It effects some more than others so find out what it is & what to do.

pencil cactus warning

Euphorbias are wonderful but there’s something you should be aware of when pruning Euphorbias.

Oh, the wonderful world of Euphorbias! There are over 2000 species of them and most share this 1 thing in common.

I wanted to do this post for those of you who are new to this genus which includes poinsettias, the crown of thorns, Mediterranean spurge and flowering spurge because most of them emit, ooze or bleed a milky sap when pruned. This sap is toxic and some euphorbias, like my pencil cactus (shown above), contain much more of it than others.

Now don’t go into full out worry mode because many common plants are toxic like wisteria, hydrangeas, mums, English ivy, oleander, and azaleas, but we don’t eat them. I just want to emphasize that you should keep this sap away from your eyes, lips, and mouth. So, don’t prune a euphorbia and then inadvertently decide to rub your eyes or scratch your lip.

Also, some people are very sensitive to this sap when it gets on their skin. It can irritate and cause a rash and even blistering and pain. I’ve gotten it on my skin a few times and it hasn’t been a problem but it’s something for you to be aware of.

I’m in my back yard with my pencil cactus so you can see this sap oozes out when the plant is cut:

I don’t prune my pencil cactus (aka Euphorbia tirucalli in botanic circles) very often, but when I do, I always have a rag in hand to catch and eventually to help stop the flow of the sap. That usually takes around 5 minutes and that it can really spill out so I’d recommend having a rag or paper towel in hand when pruning euphorbias. Another thing: the sap can stain your clothing so it’s best to not to wear your gucci jeans when doing the clip clip.

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Make sure your pruners are clean & sharp before pruning euphorbias, or any plants for that matter. You’ll definitely need to clean them after because the sap leaves a sticky residue.

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The sap drips out like crazy at 1st so I always try to catch it & wrap a rag around the stem to help stop it.

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The trunk will bleed where it’s been pruned so I usually wipe that off.

The pencil cactus is the only euphorbia I have in my garden. But in my many years as a professional gardener, I’ve pruned boatloads of euphorbias. I’m still alive, have both my eyes as well as my tongue and relatively unscarred skin.

This post is not written to scare you off from euphorbias but to give you a head’s up to be careful when pruning them. After all, the wildly popular sticks of fire (this is the colorful version of my pencil cactus) is a euphorbia and it captivates most plant lovers I know!

Happy (Sap Safe) Gardening,

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Poinsettias are the most popular and common euphorbias. They’re grown and sold the world over. Despite the sap, they make it into our homes every holiday season!

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10 comments:

  1. Thank you for writing on the Euphorbia. It was very timely for me, because a couple weeks ago I found one growing in the yard and did not know what it was until I took a picture to a plant nursery. It is in the Euphorbia Martinii family and looked like something I would be interested in, so I bought a Tiny Tim and Ruby Glow.

    I enjoy your information!

  2. You’re very welcome Peggy! I love all those Euphorbias you got & as I said, some emit more sap that others. Just watch out when handling them & keep your hands away from your face when pruning them. Happy gardening! Nell

  3. Thanks Nell
    My Pencil plant is growing so big .I love the way it looks.
    I was thinking of trimming it but I decided to wait awhile.
    So glad I came across your advice and learning the right way to prune this plant. Thanks again
    JoAnn from Boston MA

  4. Hi JoAnn – Pencil Cacti are forgiving when it comes to being pruned. Just know that it’s not best to do it in winter. Also, mind the sap because they bleed like crazy! Nell

  5. Thank you so much for this video, I had no idea! Should we move ours outside then if we have pets that like to chew on plants?

  6. You’re welcome Alyssa! Some Euphorbias are considered more toxic than others. And with others, the amount pets have to ingest to make them sick is quite substantial. I’ve found that pets like to chew on crunchy leaves or soft leaves so in my experience, euphorbias haven’t been an issue inside or out. Every pet is different, so if you see yours starting to chew on them, then yes, move them. My kitties pay no attention to all of my various euphorbias! Hope that helps, Nell

  7. hello!
    I’ve just cut for pruning 2 branches of Euphorbia from somebody who has one big in a pot …. i putted them in water … do you think the will have roots?

  8. Sorana – I’ve rooted many euphorbias but none in water so I can’t say. They’re very easy to root in soil after healing over. Most are full of sap so I’d say no. Let us know if it works! Nell

  9. Hi Peggy,
    Thanks for your blog … it’s too late in my case but I can confirm this:
    Bought this cute litte plant, Euphorbia Venata, a year ago and almost two weeks ago decided to prune it back. I remember putting the bits cut off aside and then later picking them up and holding them with both arms before dumping them in the bin. I have had such a terrible reaction to this plant and still feel so unwell today, with almost two weeks of itching, pain, feeling dreadful.
    If you would like to me to send you pictures of my skin irritation and of the plant, I would gladly do so; please contact me.

  10. Oh dear Linda; I believe it. I had a friend who always had a bad reaction when handling Primula obconicas & even her eyes would swell up. Fortunately I’m not too sensitive but I know some people are. Sure, you can send a pic to info@joyusgarden.com Thanks for letting us know, Nell

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