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How To Prune Indoor Plants? (Step-By-Step Guide)

Indoor plants may need pruning for a wide range of reasons. There can arise the dire need to cut away dead leaves to stimulate a balanced growth pattern. Pruning can play a significant role in maintaining the plant’s clean appearance and making it presentable.

Pruning can appear intimidating at first, but actually, it’s not more complex than you getting a haircut. While the big and small trees need pruning every 3-5 years, average-sized indoor plants require pruning annually.

But what is the right way to prune indoor plants? Let’s find out.

Follow these simple steps to prune your indoor plants correctly:

  1. Examine the plant properly and identify dead and damaged leaves, stems, or flowers.
  2. Choose the right tool for the task. Sharp kitchen scissors or garden pruning shears should get the job done.
  3. Using the pruning shears, clip off the dead parts on the houseplant, including the stems and the leaves.
  4. If you are pruning a flowering plant, removing any spent flower would be beneficial for the plant.
  5. Choose the right spots and make cuts to shape the plant.
  6. Use the cuttings to propagate and grow a new plant.
  7. Remove any dead matter from the pot.
  8. Clean all the tools before finishing off.

Every plant is unique, with its own needs and preferences.

Naturally, pruning houseplants can prove to be a lot different than pruning outdoor trees and bushes. Thus, let’s dive into how to prune indoor plants efficiently for getting the best results.



Why do you need to prune your indoor plants?

The numerous advantages of pruning are often overlooked by the best of gardeners. We have discussed them below.

Shaping the plant

The majority of plants tend to lose their aesthetic appeal as they grow without proper care.

For example, The Ficus Ginseng plant is meant to look like a miniature/bonsai tree.

But as soon as the branches of the plant grow too long, the plant starts looking shabby. Thus, a significant advantage of pruning is to ensure a beautiful and admire-worthy appearance of your plant.

Stops your plant from getting too huge

There are certain climbing indoor plants and a few other plants that grow extremely fast.

They elongate towards the sun in a rather aggressive way to derive as much energy as possible. This means they are prone to growing tall and occupying too much space. 

Monsteras are a typical example of this scenario. Pruning can prevent this overgrowth and provide a compact shape to your plant. 

A balanced growth

Based on your plant’s light source, it might grow crooked towards the closest window, bend over and fall off the pot.

Even regularly rotating the plant can fail to stimulate balanced growth. This is where pruning comes in to save the day and prevent the plant from going sideways. 

Decreases crowded areas

Plants require an ample amount of airflow and space to thrive. Thus, a crowded environment can hamper your plant’s health considerably as the leaves will rub against each other and cause damage. 

Limited airflow and dampness put the houseplants at risk for mildew. Strategic pruning can thin out the crowded areas in no time. 

What is the best time to prune indoor plants?

When pruning houseplants, it’s essential to realize that all times are not ideal for pruning. Identifying the suitable time to prune your plant can make the entire process much more manageable.

The best time to prune most houseplants is in the early spring, the beginning of the active growing session. During this period, the presence of abundant sunlight will fuel recovery and trigger new growth. 

When the days get longer, and it’s either early summer or the onset of late winter, it is the second-best time for pruning. However, if some light pruning is on your schedule, you can proceed with pruning your houseplants at any time of the year.

For flowering plants, you must avoid pruning immediately before a cycle of flowering. You will, in this way, save any unopened and vulnerable buds from being pruned off, and you can witness the blooming of colorful flowers.

But if you come to learn that your plant’s health is at risk, you cannot afford to wait for the best time.



Supplies needed to prune indoor plants

It will be impossible to achieve the maximum results in pruning without the help of the right tools. You can use several tools like shears, secateurs, loppers, long-reach pruners, and saws for pruning. 

The handheld pruning shears are suitable for pruning indoor plants, as they can easily cut branches up to a ¾ inch thickness. There are three significant types of pruning shears: anvil, bypass, and ratchet.

The most popular is often used to prune houseplants since they act like scissors. As blunt blades can tear the stems, leaving the plants susceptible to diseases, you must maintain a sharp edge of your pruning shears. 

Take a look at the tools needed for pruning:

  • A sharp pair of pruning shears
  • Kitchen scissors
  • Gardening gloves – If the plant is thorny or sticky, you can choose to wear a pair of gardening gloves.
  • A small gardening towel

And a mature indoor plant.

What to do before pruning your indoor plants?

Here are the steps that you should consider before you start pruning your houseplants.

Plan your cuts

Once you have made the cuts, you can’t reverse them. Therefore, it will be wise to have a general plan of the areas you wish to cut. Stand back and try imagining how you would want your plant to look. 

Colored tap and mini Post-It notes can come in handy for marking the leaves and branches. This way, you can make adjustments before initiating the final cuts. You should not get too carried away and overdo the pruning.

While some houseplants can react well to major pruning, others like philodendrons, pothos, snake plants’ growth will become staggered by removing many leaves.

Devoting some time to research the variety of indoor plants you want to prune can help you make the correct choices. Sensitive plants such as ficus trees can go into deep shock if you cut too many leaves at once.

Sanitize your tools

Before you move ahead with pruning, sanitize your tools thoroughly by washing them with soap and water or just running them in the dishwasher. 

Since the blades will directly contact the stems insides, dirty blades can lead to plant infection. It will also be better to disinfect the blades between uses with a small amount of rubbing alcohol.

Different types of pruning

You must determine the type of pruning you must go for before you start the process. Here is a rough outline of the different types of pruning.

  • Maintain pruning: This conservative pruning is usually carried out in spring and continues in the growing season. It mainly includes the removal of decaying plant parts and minor shaping for the health of the plant.
  • Deadhead pruning: This pruning occurs all year round after the flowers begin to decay. It helps improve the look of your plant significantly by removing the decaying flowers. In addition to that, it directs the stored plant energy into new growth.
  • Leaf pruning: Like deadhead pruning, cutting decaying leaves saves the exhausting of the plant’s energy. 
  • Hard pruning: Since this is a more intensive and aggressive pruning, it’s recommended at the start of the growing season itself. It’s intended to clean all the straggly branches, stems in favor of increased growth and reshape the plant. You have to ensure that this pruning does not eliminate more than 25% of the plant volume.

How to prune your indoor plants?

The perfect way to prune your indoor plants will be to make sure the cuts are clean.

On noticing that the stems are being crushed even after using a sharp blade, change the technique, you’re using to make the cuts. Cut the stem horizontally if you were cutting them at an angle initially.

Observe your plant

No matter the reason behind pruning your indoor plants, always observe it keenly before making any cuts.

This observation will guide you to be aware of the parts in your plant that you need to work upon, and the elements which can be left as it is. You can easily determine the out of proportion foliage that you should trim.

Determine your tools

If your indoor plant has slender branches, kitchen scissors will be enough to carry out the pruning. But if the plant has thick branches, go for a pair of sturdy pruning shears.

Also, it is essential to take necessary precautions for handling toxic plants.

Plants like Pencil Cactus have highly toxic saps that act as a severe irritant to the human skin, eyes, and mouth on direct contact. Thus, you must wear gloves and goggles when pruning such plants.

Remove the dead leaves, branches, and stems.

Now, take your sterilized pruning shears to clip off the dead parts on the houseplant. Pull out the rotten stems (if any) at the root, and let the soil be dry before watering the plant the next time.

The plant parts that need urgent attention will have visible discoloration, spotting, and dryness.

Begin with pruning the yellowed, brown, and dying leaves to ensure that the plant can refocus its energy on healthier growth. Also, pest infestation, thankfully, won’t find anything to be attracted to in the absence of dead foliage.

Proceed with caution when your primary objective of pruning is just to alter and groom the plant’s shape. Turn the plant around to get a good view of all the angles after every 2-3 cuts. Once a vital stem responsible for balance and fullness is lost, a replacement will slowly appear.

Deadhead the plant

If you are pruning a flowering houseplant, you should remove all the spent flowers after blooming.

While in plants like Easter Cacti, pinching off the flowers is recommended, but Peace Lilies require their leaves and flowers to be trimmed with shears.

Make the cuts

Indoor plant pruning

When dealing with long and leggy stems of trailing plants, it is recommended to cut the stems at different lengths.

Cutting some stems halfway, others a quarter through, and a few stems three-quarters will allow the new leaves to sprout more randomly. This will eventually result in the plants having an organic look. 

Remember to cut close to the main stem or the base of the plant if you are eradicating large stems.

All trailing plants have nodes along their length, and while pruning, it’s desirable to make the cut above or in between leaf nodes. 

A node is a location where the leaf meets the stems, and dormant buds are present. New growth is expected at the node soon after pruning.

Small bulges appear in plants like pothos and philodendrons, while tiny tubers emerge in plants such as String of Hearts. 

After removing the dying leaves and stems, you can decide to continue with pruning to reduce the overall plant density.

There’s no need to rush and get all of the pruning done in one go, and you can always prune your houseplants after a few weeks again.

Save the healthy cuts

If you want to grow your indoor plant collection, pruning creates an excellent opportunity. You can preserve most of the cuttings from a healthy houseplant for propagation. 

You can do this by rooting the stems in a cup of water and then repotting them to form new plants, and succulent clipping can also be propagated by directly planting them in moist soil. 

But if any of the cuttings show even minor signs of disease, dispose of them off immediately. Composting the infected cuttings can only spread disease among your healthy plants.

Post pruning care

A healthy plant should recover from pruning in only a few weeks and start growing with full force again. 

  • Feeding your indoor plants with the best fertilizers can speed up your plant’s recovery process. Use an all-purpose and water-soluble fertilizer that you can dilute easily. A highly concentrated fertilizer can burn the plant. 
  • You must avoid overwatering the plant after pruning. Check the condition of the soil, and if it isn’t damp, water the plant. 

However, do not get stressed out if the indoor plants get slightly droopy for a short duration.

This means that it is experiencing shock and will get back to its original vigor soon. You just need to stay patient, as the length of the shock can differ from plant to plant.



Final words

Now, you know that pruning isn’t a dangerous activity. You are ready to prune your plants to keep them gorgeously groomed, healthy, and happy with all of this knowledge. 

Remember to set a realistic expectation of the changes that pruning can bring out to your indoor plants’ natural attributes like shape and size. 

We should keep in mind that we cannot prune certain indoor plants like Norfold Island Pines, Moth Orchids, and most Palms.

If the tops of these plants are cut, they will cease to grow and eventually die. This is because these houseplants don’t possess any latent buds. Removing their dominant terminal buds will destroy the entire plant.


Source: Growing Indoor Plants with SuccessAgriculture, and Natural Resources, University of CaliforniaMissouri Botanical Garden.