Simple Guide To Prune Houseplants

If you’re reading this, welcome to plant parenthood 101. Whether you’re just starting out caring for your new plants or managing an indoor jungle with confidence, pruning is one thing that you might come across at some point.

Though it seems like a daunting task, it is in fact, a helpful yet enjoyable activity that comes with the green game. Not only does it keep your indoor gem looking fresh and well-presented but also gives rise to its sustainable growth. A green thumb achievement ticked off right there! So brace yourself and check out the how-tos on pruning houseplants.

Pruning your plants is therapeutic
Pruning your plants is therapeutic // Photo by Lettuce Grow on Unsplash

What Is Pruning?

First things first, for all the newbies, pruning is the process of removing overgrown or dead stems and branches, which gives rise to healthy plant growth. Most outdoor plants, including trees, shrubs and flowering plants like roses thrive when properly pruned and cared for.

4 Benefits of pruning houseplants

1. Remove dead leaves and stems 

The longer you leave damaged and decaying leaves and stems, the quicker that decay can spread to the rest of your plant. By getting rid of those dead parts, you’re injecting new possibilities of energy and healthy leaves for indoor plants. It’s good hygiene!

2. Keeps a good shape and size for indoor spaces

We all love spaces filled with heaps of greenery but not when climbing plants start growing aggressively and taking up so much of your apartment. Pruning is the key to prevent this from happening while giving your plants a more compact shape. You can also use pruning to create some interesting and dynamic shapes with your plants

3. Boost healthy growth

No need to fact check, pruning is definitely one of the quickest processes of stimulating new and healthy growth, only when it’s done properly. Proper pruning can trigger certain hormones in the plant to begin the production of new stems and new blooms.

4. Protect plants from pests and diseases

Pruning goes beyond just simple aesthetics, working its magic to keep pests and diseases away from your plants. Apparently, well-groomed plants ain’t attractive to them (thank God!).

Creating interesting shapes with pruning

Creating interesting shapes with pruning // Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

3 Top tips to prune houseplants

There are many methods of pruning indoor plants. Some are advanced and you need a degree to fully understand the jargon. In this article, however, we will just look at 2 methods – by either trimming off roots or trimming stems.

There are a few things to keep in mind before diving in. Here are our 3 top tips:

1. Use sharp and sanitized gardening shears

Since blunt blades can crush or tear stems, leaving the plant vulnerable to disease. It’s best to get high quality and sharp pruning shears, wipe them with alcohol prior to pruning to ensure a clean cut for the plant. You might also need to wear gloves as some plants may bleed a sticky sap that can damage, your clothes, your floor, and irritate the skin.

2. Take it slow

No need to rush into anything. Keep in mind that it takes a long time for houseplants to grow back once you’ve cut out a substantial amount of their mass. Proceed slowly, observe the plant from all angles before cuttings and take a step back if needed. You don’t want to feel remorse after cutting too much away!

3. Post-pruning care

Healthy plants usually have no trouble recovering from pruning and are found to bounce back real quick within a few weeks. Continue providing your beautiful and manicured plant with adequate care of the water, light, soil and temperature it requires to keep thriving.

Green workstation
Keeping your workstation neat and green // Photo by Shelby Miller on Unsplash

Pruning Techniques

Technique #1: Root Pruning

Root pruning is usually done on a root-bound plant to revive it to optimal health. Plants suffer from being root bound when they are in a pot that is too small for them and their roots start to curl into a dense cluster called a ‘root ball’. Root pruning can also be done on a regular plant to stop it from expanding vertically.

Step 1: Remove the plant

Use a sharp knife or gardening shear, slice through the layer of soil around the plant. Then grab the plant by the base of its trunk (where it is strongest) and pull the plant out of the pot to reveal its root ball.

Step 2: Trim the roots

Examine the whole root ball, use a pronged handtool or a stick to loosen the soil and roots so the roots aren’t so compacted. Also, trim off any thin or damaged roots.

Step 3: Replant the plant

After root pruning, the plant is ready to return to its planter. Put a stone or screen over any drainage holes, then fill the planter with potting soil so that the base of the plant’s stem sits up to one inch below the outer edge of the planter. Proceed to fill in the planter with the remaining soil until the soil reaches just below the rim of the planter.

Step 4: Hydrate

Watering is important during the first couple of weeks after a root prune to ensure the plant has enough hydration to heal. Right after pruning, give your plant a good soak in water. When new growth begins, ensure your plants are dehydrated by checking the soil for moisture and topping it up when it is completely dry.

Top tip: Remove some stems and branches of your plant so the reduced root system has fewer leaves to support. This method helps keeps the plant in a good shape and size. Rest assured that many plants tolerate all this pruning.

Woman cutting soil
Loosening the soil to help pull out the plant // Photo by Stefan C. Asafti on Unsplash

Technique #2: Stem Pruning

This method can encourage both horizontal growth and lateral growth and control the size of your plant, achieving a fuller plant for your indoor garden.

Step 1: Identifying

Take a step back and inspect your plant. Identify leggy stems that are too long and wild. Look for areas that aren’t growing how you like and areas that are too bushy.

Thinning a tree
Thinning

Option 1: Thinning

Thinning effectively controls the size and shape of your plant as new growth is encouraged on the remaining sections of the plant. By cutting off large sections of the stem or branch, up to one-third of each stem’s length, the plant will start to spend its energy on the remaining sections of the plant. This is great if you want to ‘thin’ your plant or encourage it to grow in a certain shape or direction.

Option 2: Heading 

Heading a tree
Heading

Heading is the act of removing the very last section of new shoots (not the entire branch), which are growing vertically. By removing the shoots, heading stimulates new shoots near the cut. This kind of pruning reinvigorates plants to grow bushier in a compact way. It’s especially useful with previously pruned hedges. 

Option 3: Deadheading

You can trim off dead leaves and flower heads at any time by cutting close to the main stem at a ‘node’. This is known as ‘deadheading’.

Step 4: Clean up!

Top tip: Don’t remove more than 25% of the plants mass. This will stress the plant too much and leave it weakened. Also, make sure to cut it with sharp shears to limited the damage done to the plant. The best time to do this is in spring.

Where to make the pruning cuts?

The simple way is to make a single clean cut at least half an inch away from the main trunk or any leaves. This way there is less chance of your plant becoming infected after the operation.

Cutting a plant
Where and how to effectively cut a plant

How do you prune hanging plants?

Like indoor trees, hanging plants can be pruned regularly to keep them from getting too leggy and to encourage a fuller appearance by pulling away dead or damaged leaves. Vines such as Pothos and some varieties of Philodendrons thrive with regular pruning.

To keep your hanging plants looking bushier, trim either directly below a leaf or occasionally snip off new growth to get your plant to sprout new vining stems — rather than having single vines trailing down the hanging basket.

Neat and tidy basil plant
Neat and tidy pruning makes living with plants easy // Photo by Al Kawasa on Unsplash

Q&A – Your pruning questions answered

Do all houseplants need pruning?

Not all plants need pruning but most houseplants benefit after the removal of overgrown branches and dying foliage. A good tidy-up and shaping does no harm but helps to encourage fuller growth and health for your baby plants, plus keeps them away from pests and disease.

How much plant should I remove?

When it comes to pruning houseplants, do so judiciously. If you prune too extensively, it can cause irreparable damage to the plant, and you want to prevent that at all costs. As a good rule of thumb, trim off no more than one-third of the foliage in one pruning session.

It also varies depending on the age and conditions of the plants. For example, if it’s a young tree, follow the one-third rule. The older the tree, the more conservative you should be with cuttings; usually, no more than 10%.

Should I cut dead leaves off houseplants?

Yes. When you’re pruning, always look for dead stems and leaves to remove because they may spread disease to the entire plant if you don’t remove them right away. Just simply cut off the affected area with a sharp tool.

Will pruned leaves grow back?

Healthy plants usually have no trouble recovering from pruning and are found to have new growth within a few weeks. This can vary from plant to plant, so if it’s been a month and your plant still hasn’t changed much post-pruning, don’t worry – that’s a good sign!

If however, your plant starts to die then it’s possible you cut too much or there are other requirements not being met. like not getting enough water and light.

Some plants may droop a bit in the few days following pruning due to a bit of shock, but as long as you don’t over prune, your plant should always bounce back.

When should I prune indoor plants?

Figuring out when to prune houseplants can be confusing as it varies depending on the type of plant and the climate you live in. As a general rule of thumb:

  • Flower and fruit varieties should be pruned in late winter or early spring for maximum crop and flower production
  • Trees and shrubs that bloom in the spring start creating new buds as soon as the old flowers have fallen, if you prune right before, you’ll be removing unopened buds that would otherwise turn into flowers.
  • Woody indoor plants, such as the Areca palm, need year-round pruning to remain healthy and compact.
  • Prune the root ball of your indoor plants every year during springtime when new growth begins.

Though pruning at the wrong time of the year does not necessarily kill your houseplants, but regular improper pruning may put them at risk.

Can I prune houseplants in winter?

Yes. The best time to prune for most houseplants is the beginning of the growing season, which is late winter or early spring when there will be plenty of light to fuel recovery and welcome new growth. So it’s better to hold back on any major pruning during fall and early winter as your plants won’t be growing as quickly, and it could take a longer time for them to recover from being pruned too much.

Cutting back leaves with a sharp cutting tool is essential
Cutting back leaves with a sharp cutting tool is essential // Photo by Lettuce Grow on Unsplash

With all the tips and tricks, you should be ready to start pruning plants now!

If you are new to the whole planting game, check out our guide to planting. Everything from growing to maintaining your houseplants, we’ve got you covered!

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