How to Prune Houseplants for Better Growth and Appearance

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Most houseplants require regular pruning for optimal health. But do it wrong, and you might cause long-term problems. Here are five steps for correctly pruning houseplants.

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Keeping houseplants looking their best is a constant battle. If you give them ideal growing conditions, they’re likely to grow big and healthy.

However, it doesn’t take long for many varieties to start to look unwieldy, and dead leaves and flowers may promote disease and attract problem insects. Regular pruning will keep them looking their best and encourage better growth in the long run.

How to Prune Houseplants for Better Growth and Appearance

Here’s what you need to know to get started.

When to Prune Houseplants
Despite the fact that they spend their lives indoors, houseplants do best when pruned according to the seasons. Ideally, this pruning should occur at the beginning of their growing season, typically later in winter or early spring. Pruning too late in the season means you’ll take off new growth before it can get established.

For flowering species, it’s typically best to prune them as soon as they have finished blooming. This ensures you remove old growth without damaging future flower production.

How to Prune Houseplants for Better Growth and Appearance

Note: Most woody indoor plants will require year-round pruning to let you stay on top of dead branches.

Which Houseplants to Avoid Pruning

While most houseplants will benefit from regular pruning, some varieties will struggle from any trimming and won’t grow back once their tops have been cut off. These include most varieties of pines, cacti, and orchids.

The situation is even worse for palms because they form what is known as a terminal dominant bud at the top of the plant. Trim it off, and the whole plant dies. The only pruning these varieties can handle is careful trimming to remove dead leaves.

How to Prune Houseplants

Taking kitchen shears to your potted plants and cutting off everything that looks out of place won’t lead to the results you’re looking for. A better way to make your houseplants look their best is to prune them according to these steps.

1. Observe Your Plant

Before you get to work with scissors, it’s critical to observe your plant and form a plan. Notice its overall shape — does it look too spindly or uneven on one side? Are there signs of diseased or dying foliage, and can you see if new buds are already forming?

How to Prune Houseplants for Better Growth and Appearance

Your goal is to get a sense of what you want the plant to look like afterward, so you aren’t going in blind. Taking time to note what needs to change on your plant ensures you’ll make the right cuts to make it look its best.

Likewise, research the plant variety beforehand to understand how it handles the trauma of pruning. Some, like snake plants, pothos, and spider plants, can handle lots of leaves being removed at once. Others, like ficus trees, go into shock if you remove too much at one time.

How to Prune Houseplants for Better Growth and Appearance

Remember: Less is more with pruning! You can always go back and cut off more, but you can’t restore plant material once you remove it.

2. Choose and Prep Your Tools

Pruning houseplants goes best when you have the proper tools available. Make sure you have a sharp set of scissors or garden shears so you cause minimal trauma to the stems.

Consider cleaning your tools beforehand by soaking them in a solution of water with a teaspoon of bleach. This ensures you won’t spread pathogens or disease spores from one plant to another.

How to Prune Houseplants for Better Growth and Appearance

Note: It’s also smart to clean tools before moving from one plant to another.

3. Remove Dead Leaves and Stems

Once you’re ready to prune, start by cutting off all the withered stems and leaves. You may be able to pull them off by hand, depending on how dry they are. Aim to remove them at a 45-degree angle to reduce damage to the plant tissue left behind.

Look for signs of disease and insect infestation at this time. Any infected stems and leaves should be treated or removed.

How to Prune Houseplants for Better Growth and Appearance
4. Trim Off Fading Flowers

Next, go through the plant and remove all dead and wilting flowers. This process, known as deadheading, will encourage any species to produce new buds so you get continuous flowers all season.

You likely won’t harm the plant by pinching these spent blooms, but cutting them off with scissors is also fine. Aim to get as close to the main stem as possible, so you aren’t left with unsightly stems.

How to Prune Houseplants for Better Growth and Appearance
5. Cut Back Overgrown Stems and Branches

It’s now time to reshape the houseplant and remove leggy growth. This is an excellent time to remove leggy growth and reshape the plant to the size you prefer.

Start by pruning back half of the longest branch on the plant, angling the cut at 45 degrees. Trim off any side shoots that look out of place, taking care to cut to just above nodules on the stem. This is the place where leaves meet the stems and buds form. New growth will come from these spots, and removing them will make the plant look sparse.

How to Prune Houseplants for Better Growth and Appearance

Note: Never remove more than 10-20% of a plant’s foliage in one setting. Over-pruning will cause it stress and slow down the overall growth. If you need to remove large amounts of the houseplant, it’s best to wait several weeks between cutting sessions to give the plant a chance to recover.

Optional: Propagate Cuttings for More Plants

There’s no need to toss pruned plant material after tending to your houseplants. If your space allows, you can save these cuttings from propagating them into new plants.

Propagation instructions will vary based on the plant type, so research the variety before starting to determine what steps to take. You may need to lightly bury the stems in soil or place them in water.

How to Prune Houseplants for Better Growth and Appearance
Prune Houseplants for Better Performance

Caring for your houseplants through regular pruning will go a long way towards keeping them in optimal condition. Plan out your pruning strategy carefully, and you’ll be rewarded with healthy plants for the long run.