How to Prune Houseplants | Almanac.com

How to Prune Houseplants

Houseplant overflowing out of a small green pot

Time for spring pruning of indoor plants

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The days are getting longer and the light is getting stronger. Both signal to your houseplants that it is time to get growing. If your plants are looking leggy and tired after a long winter, revive them by giving them a haircut. They will reward you with healthy new, compact growth. Here’s how to prune houseplants.

Prune or pinch?

Basically whether you prune or pinch depends on the size of the plant stem you wish to cut. If it is just a tender growing tip, then you can easily pinch it out between your thumbnail and forefinger. If it is thicker, some type of tool is necessary such as sharp clean scissors, a knife, or razor blade.

Where to cut?

Dormant buds await where the leaf meets the stem. They are ready to grow and send out new branches when the stem is cut just above the bud. Whether you are pruning just to shape the plant or to rejuvenate an overgrown monster, make your cuts just above a leaf node.

How much to remove?

One common rule of thumb states that we should not remove more than ¼ of the plant’s growth each season but an overgrown plant can benefit from a hard spring pruning. 

What is considered hard pruning?

  • Vining and climbing plants such as ivies, pothos, heart-leaf philodendron, and Swedish ivy can be cut back to about 6 inches long or to whatever length you desire.
  • Blossoming plants can be cut back hard after they have finished blooming. Remove as much as 2/3rds of the plant to encourage plenty of new shoots that will give you more flowers during the next blossoming cycle. 
  • Multi-stemmed plants can be cut as low as 2 to 4 inches above the soil and they will come back full and bushy.
  • Some single stem plants such as ficus, dracaena, hibiscus, abutilon, can also be hard pruned to just a few inches above the soil and they will send out new compact growth. Keep their tips pinched and the plants will stay bushy all summer. Be mindful of when flowering plants start to form buds and stop pinching to let them blossom.
  • Other single stemmed plants such as Norfolk Island pine, palms, and orchids should not be pruned at all. 

A word of caution: If your plant has any health issues or doesn’t have a strong root system, the shock of losing all its leaves could kill it! Please take the health of your plant into consideration before you start chopping.

This poor overgrown pothos is a basket case! Time for a haircut!

Basket Case

Don’t be afraid to cut back the leggy ones like my pothos. It hadn’t been pruned in a couple of years and had developed lengthy, mostly leafless, stems that I just kept winding around the pot. Some of the leaves were turning yellow and it was time for it to have a fresh new do for summer. The last time I did this the plant responded almost immediately with bright new growth.

I had no idea how long the stems had gotten on this plant and how bare they were. Time for a “high and tight”.
I know this looks drastic but it will soon rebound with more new growth. I also repotted it in some a new soil.

I also winter over tender perennials like lantana, fuchsia, petunias, and calibrachoa. They respond well to being cut back, repotted, and fertilized. They will be ready to pump out the blossoms as soon as they get back outside.

Before shot!

Fibrous wax begonias weren’t given the Latin name semperflorens—always flowering—for nothing! They earned it! An impulse buy of a 6-pack last spring blossomed non-stop all summer outside and didn’t skip a beat all winter indoors! 

… and after shot!

They didn’t even notice that they had a haircut and continue to happily bloom just waiting for their chance to go outside again.

If you’d like to make more plants, definitely try rooting your cuttings.

Remove the flowers and strip off some of the lower leaves. Then simply place in a glass of water to root. 

These pothos cuttings will form roots in no time and can be potted up for friends. This is one plant that will happily grow in water.

There is no time like the present to give your houseplants a tune-up and get them ready for summer. If your plant has outgrown its pot, take advantage of this opportunity to repot it in fresh soil. If roots are cramped move it up into a larger container—not too big though, only 1 to 2 inches larger will suffice. Once nights are reliably in the 50s, start transitioning them outside for their summer vacation.

See our complete guide to houseplant care.

About The Author

Robin Sweetser

Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. Read More from Robin Sweetser

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