When To Prune Houseplants

To maintain them healthy, pest- and disease-free, and to promote blooming, most houseplants benefit from at least a little shaping. Here is a little tutorial on how to prune houseplants.

Our homes are now filled with beautiful greenery, from the lush and leafy to the little and succulent, thanks to the huge variety of interesting houseplants that are now easily accessible and even the most exotic species rather straightforward to hunt down.

While we adore the urban jungle aesthetic, which even inspired an Instagram hashtag, we still require some space in our houses. So how can we prevent all of our priceless plants from being overgrown? The answer is, of course, with some careful pruning.

To maintain their attractive looks, most houseplants benefit from at least a little shaping. Pruning will improve the appearance of your indoor garden by addressing any arising structural issues and promoting new development. Additionally, since well-maintained plants tend to attract fewer pests and illnesses, it goes without saying that dead leaves and damaged or diseased stems must be removed.

Of course, indoor plants are less impacted by the seasons than their outdoor relatives. Houseplants can be lightly pruned at any time of year, even in the winter. However, if you’re considering a more significant reshaping, late winter or early spring are the best times to start. The additional daylight hours of spring will give the plant the boost it needs to recuperate.

Always use reputable pruning tools, and keep their edges sharp. Stems can be crushed or torn by blunt blades, leaving the plant susceptible to disease. For the plant, a clean cut is considerably healthier.

Pruning should be done carefully if you want to change the shape of your plant. Before opting to chop, take another step back and turn the plant to see it from all sides. It will take a while before a stem that provides symmetry, fullness, or balance is lost and replaced.

If you want to encourage new growth, trim a stem that is too long above a leaf node. Cut as near to the main stem as you can, or directly at the base of the plant, if that’s how your plant grows, if you’re completely removing enormous stems.

The goal of pruning is to create a natural appearance. As a general rule, don’t remove more than 25% of the leaves at one trimming, and if you’re unsure, leave it alone. The best course of action is to try to prevent a dramatic reshape by remaining vigilant.

Many plants—especially ones with flexible stems, like the philodrendron, a popular plant on Instagram—can be kept in shape by routine pinching out. Use your thumb and forefinger to do this, or a precision instrument like our Orchid Snips. To prevent the plant from growing leggy, simply pinch out the growing tips of the stem.

Every flowering plant has its unique bloom cycle, so before you prune, it’s best to do some study on the flowering plant you’ve selected to avoid damaging the flower buds. For example, mature Phalaenopsis orchids can be trained through pruning to bloom once more on an existing plant stem, but a young plant will bloom on a new stem for the following bloom cycle, hence it is preferable to simply cut off the spent stem close to the plant’s base. Prior to pruning, do some research on your specific plants, but as long as you time it correctly in the bloom cycle, pruning might stimulate your plant to flower profusely.

Although trimming can assist to give your houseplants a pleasant size and shape, any attempt to keep a Swiss cheese plant (monstera deliciosa) in a six-inch pot is bound to failure. Of course, the maxim “right plant, right place” is always a good rule of thumb in any gardening.

Therefore, start pruning for houseplants to create a lush, leafy, and exquisitely manicured indoor landscape by having realistic expectations for what pruning can do and respecting the natural size and structure of the plant.

How should leggy houseplants be pruned?

A leggy indoor plant can be pruned to foster the growth of new stems, which will help it regain its former lushness in addition to being moved into more light. Snip just above a node to remove one-third of the length of very long, lanky stems (the point where leaves grow from the stem). If your plant is already producing new shoots from the ground, trimming back gangly stems around it will give the new growth space to absorb sunlight and thrive.

Should I prune my plant’s brown tips?

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We’ve experienced our fair share of brown, decaying leaves as we’ve learned how to properly care for various home plants over the years. We weren’t sure at first whether to take them out or leave them. Here is what we’ve discovered works the best.

Do you need to remove the dead leaves? Yes. Your indoor plants should have brown and withering leaves removed as quickly as possible, but only if they are more than 50% damaged. By removing these leaves, the plant looks better and the healthy foliage that is left can receive more nutrients.

Even though it might appear straightforward, there’s more to it than merely cutting those leaves off. To keep your plant healthy, you must assess how much of the leaf is dying and then carefully remove the damaged areas.

What appearance does a leggy plant have?

A plant that has grown “leggy” typically signifies that it is developing extremely long stems with only a few leaves on top.

Plants seek out light as they grow. They will receive all the light they require and grow normally if they are in a location that is sufficiently bright for them. If they have insufficient light, they will begin looking for more.

Plants will grow long stems in an effort to reach the light because they believe that by growing straight up, where the sun should be, they would find more light. If they begin to stoop, they are likely attempting to move closer to a window.

When pruning, where do you cut the plants?

An awareness of the plant’s growth pattern is necessary for effective pruning. Plants develop from the tip down, which means that a branch or stem’s dominant bud is where new growth first appears.

Snip off the dominant buds on a few stems, spacing the cuts to provide a variety of growth, to prune a plant to promote bushy new growth. Trim some branches down to their root, some back by half, and still others completely. In this manner, the random growth pattern will fill up the plant when it produces new leaves.

Simply removing any dead blooms is what is meant by the pruning technique known as “deadheading.” When a plant blooms, it diverts energy away from new development and onto its blossoms. A flower still uses energy from the plant even when it is fading. Deadheading is frequently required to extend the flowering season and promote healthy development.

Maintaining cleanliness is crucial during pruning. A plant’s tissue might become infected through any wound. Therefore, maintain your pruning tools clean and sterile by wiping them off after each use with a mild bleach and water solution.

A cup of water can be used to root most houseplant cuttings before they are planted to create new houseplants. Even better, succulent clippings can be multiplied by putting them straight in a pot of damp soil. You should have fresh plants developing after a few weeks.

When pruning, where do you make cuts?

Recognize where to cut. Always cut back vegetation to the soil line or to a growing point (branch or bud). NEVER cut off a stem or branch. NEVER “rejuvenate growth” by topping a tree. The plant’s natural shape is destroyed, and it is far more vulnerable to disease, insect pests, and storm damage as a result.

Can trimming promote growth?

Sharp tools should be used for all cuts; secateurs should be used for shoots and smaller branches, while loppers or a pruning saw should be used for larger ones. To avoid dieback of the tissue below the cut, always aim to prune back to just above a healthy bud. Your option, but different shrub species obviously differ in their optimum appearance. Outward-facing buds will urge the plant to branch in that way and build an attractive open structure, whereas inward-facing ones will form a more bird-friendly denser plant. Larger branches shouldn’t be chopped all the way back to the trunk; instead, leave the collar where the two meet unbroken. A first incision made beneath the branch will stop the bark from separating from the trunk. Wound paint is no longer regarded as necessary to cover the cut.

For the majority of species, a plant will recover more quickly the more severely it is clipped. Light pruning will promote branching growth that is slower. Many trees and shrubs can be reshaped using these principles by severely pruning the weak side while sparingly pruning the stronger side. Lightly trimming a few chosen stems on apple and pear trees will encourage the growth of fruiting spurs. By cutting right back (coppicing) to a few inches from the base, many terribly out-of-control overgrown and deformed shrubs can be revitalized. As the new, young growth matures, it can then be controlled to take on the desired form. Dogwoods (Cornus), berberis, and hazel (Corylus) are excellent examples of plants that benefit greatly from feeding. Deciduous shrubs should have significant pruning done at any time during the dormant winter season, but it’s better to wait to prune evergreens until late winter or early spring so they can start photosynthesis earlier.

Both the fresh (this season’s) and the old (previous season’s) growth of shrubs bear flowers. Early spring is the best time to prune plants that are flowering on new wood so that the blossoms can grow later. This group includes fuchsia, Caryopteris, and Buddleja davidii (the butterfly bush). After the previous year’s flowering, species that flower on old wood should be pruned right away; if done in the winter or spring, this year’s flower buds will be lost. This group includes Buddleja globosa, Philadelphus, and Jasmine (Jasminum).

Why do plants in homes have brown tips?

Don’t be fooled by how dry and thirsty brown leaf tips appear to be! Your plant might not even need water. Simple botanical investigation can assist identify the source of the issue. Just carry out the following actions:

1. Take a peek at what’s underground firsthand.

Diagnose the issue by observing what’s happening with weak roots. Although it is simpler with potted plants than with in-ground, landscape plants, a detailed inspection from below is still necessary.

Turn brown-tipped houseplants on their side and gently remove the plant by the base to coax it out of the pot. Most plants are simple to remove. Work it loose carefully if yours sticks. Don’t worry about damaging your plant; this is a common practice among experienced growers.

Avoid completely digging up landscape plants. Instead, concentrate on a specific area. Start at a location where rain drips down to the ground between the plant’s main stem or trunk and the outside border of its leaf canopy. To get a good look at what’s happening in the soil, drill a hole that is 6 to 12 inches deep. Dig multiple holes for larger plants to determine whether any issues appear to be widespread.

2. Check your drainage and dirt.

The soil around plants should typically feel cool and damp to the touch, whether they are safely tucked up in a living room nook or left out in the elements. Plants should never sit in water unless they are native to marshlands or aquatic plants. Whether they are in the ground or pots, roots require air to survive. drowning roots shut down and rot in wet soil, and new roots cannot grow. Plant tips turn brown from thirst if the roots are not strong and able to carry and absorb water.

The soil around the roots of a houseplant should keep its form and not drip water when it is removed from its pot. To ensure that water flows through if the soil is very wet, look for clogged drainage holes and clean them. To make sure you’re not watering your plants excessively, adjust your watering schedule accordingly.

If the dirt in your houseplants crumbles or takes on a hard, dry shape, water isn’t getting to the right places. To the point that water flows down the sides and entirely misses roots, soil might harden or peel away from the sides of pots. To maintain water flowing into the roots, break up any crust and push the dirt back up against the side of the container.

Landscape plants can be grown using the same techniques. If the soil in the planting area is excessively moist, either you or nature overwatered it or the soil is poorly drained. You haven’t watered enough or your soil is draining too quickly if your soil is hard, crusty, or exceptionally dry.

Dig a hole that is 12 inches deep and full of soil to test the landscape drainage. Completely let it drain, then quickly refill it with 12 inches of water. To determine how much water drains per hour, measure the depth of the water at 15-minute intervals. Your soil stays far too wet if less than 1 inch drains per hour. One to six inches per hour is ideal, but more than six inches per hour implies that water evaporates too quickly, depriving your plants of the nutrients they require. 1

If your planting area requires soil amendments, such as Lilly Miller Garden Gypsum to loosen compacted clay soils and improve water and root penetration or earthworm castings to increase organic matter and improve the soil’s ability to hold water and nutrients, soil testing can help you make this determination. Before planting in new outdoor spaces, it is always a good idea to examine the soil.

3. Pay particular attention to the roots.

The condition of their roots and their surroundings can be deduced from their roots. With a few colorful exceptions, healthy roots are white, firm, and smell fresh and earthy. Gray or brown roots typically smell like rot and are dead or dying from too much water, opportunistic illnesses, and damp soil.

Roots cannot be repaired once they become brittle and decay. We need new roots to take hold. Remove rotten roots from indoor plants before repotting them in fresh potting soil for a new start. You can use the same procedure for small garden and landscape plants, but you might require expert assistance with huge plants, such as landscape trees and large bushes. You can get advice on the best course of action from your county extension agent.

For landscape or container plants, roots that wind back on or around themselves can indicate danger. The state of being “root bound” is brought on by these circling or binding roots. This commonly occurs in containers that the plants outgrow or that weren’t big enough when they were first planted.

Established plants in pots should have roots that reach to the soil line but never wrap completely inside the pot. The remaining soil in pots cannot contain enough water to meet the demand if they are encircled by roots. Root-bound plants should be repotted into larger containers, but before doing so, gently release the roots with your hand. In this manner, roots might spread into fresh soil.

Ordinarily, landscape plants don’t have issues with bound roots unless the issue existed at the time of planting or the soil’s composition prevents regular, natural growth. This issue can be avoided in your landscape by conducting a soil test, adding the proper nutrients, and using a strong but gentle touch to break up any binding roots prior to planting.

4. Check for evidence of salt buildup or fertilizer residue.

When subjected to excessive fertilizer and salt buildup in the soil, plant tips may turn brown. Fertilizer burn, often referred to as tip burn, causes the tips of potted plants to turn brown when this occurs. The same issue occurs in landscape plants due to excessive fertilizer use or other elements like pet urine or winter deicing chemicals. Soluble salts accumulate in soil both inside and outside, depriving plant roots of hydration and causing an unnatural drought. Water-stressed plant tips consequently turn brown.

Salt buildup in indoor plants manifests as a white crust on the soil, saucers, and sides of permeable pots. Salts are forced out of the soil by heavily watering it, which also helps the environment around the roots return to normal. Simply place the pot in the bathtub or sink and water it until the soil is well saturated. Repeat the procedure multiple times to fully cleanse the dirt.

Don’t wait for the tips to turn brown if landscaping plants are subjected to overfertilization, salt from the road, or heavy pet use. To clear the soil and avoid tip burn, water plants liberally and frequently. The vigorous watering removes salt deposits. Plants may have been exposed over the winter if they begin to develop brown tips as the soil thaws in the spring. As soon as possible, heavily water the soil.

Feeding plants with a non-burning fertilizer, such as Alaska 5-1-1, will prevent fertilizer burn and will provide gentle, health-improving nutrients without hazardous buildup.

5. Stay on course with recuperating plants.

Adjust your care, especially watering, to keep your plants moving in the correct way once they are back on the road to health. Whether your plants are in a container or the ground, never water them automatically. To test the soil manually, dig down to the depth of your index finger. Wait a few days and recheck if it feels damp. Watering should be done if the soil seems dry. Allow tap water to sit overnight if you plan to water indoor plants with it. Fluoride and other elements that may contribute to brown tips are lessened as a result.

When watered deeply and sparingly, most plants in your house and garden will remain healthy. When watering indoor plants, make sure the entire soil is moist. After a brief period of drying, water the plants once more. A saucer loaded with pebbles at the base of the plant can assist maintain the proper balance of tips and moisture if the humidity in your environment is very low.

Most outdoor plants require the equivalent of at least one inch of rainfall per week, including natural precipitation, during active development seasons. This equates to around 5 gallons of water per square yard when watering. Even on huge landscape trees, the majority of the roots remain in the top 6 to 12 inches of soil. In most soils, one inch of water seeps down to that depth, supplying healthy roots with nutrients and hydrating leaf tips. 1

6. Dispose of the proof.

You don’t need brown tips to serve as a reminder of the past when your plant care regimen is working and your plants are progressing toward excellent health. As the seasons change, landscape plants will take care of the issue, but potted indoor plants could use some assistance.

Take advice from experienced interior designers.

the people who put brown tips behind you and take care of the indoor plants in stores and businesses. Cut away the brown, dead portions with sharp scissors. Just adhere to the leaf’s organic contour. As your plant grows, the cut will still have a small brown line, but the remainder of the leaf will remain healthy and green.

Your plants can switch their brown-tipped leaves for strong, healthy ones with a little inquiry, the required repairs, and continued care. You and your plants may go back on the path to good plant health and natural beauty with the aid of the Pennington line of plant care products.

The Central Garden & Pet Company is the registered owner of the trademark Alaska. The registered trademark Pennington belongs to Pennington Seed, Inc.


1. “Soil Basics” from the Cornell University Department of Horticulture.