Pruning 101

Pruning 101

A lot of new houseplant owners get stressed out by having to take something sharp to one of their green children. Although intimidating, it’s almost impossible to go forever without having to prune a plant in your collection. I remember how nervous I was when I finally took a pair of kitchen scissors to one of my first plants; I had no idea what I was doing outside the guidance of the random YouTube video I found. 

Some plants need to be pruned in more specific ways, but this post will steer you a bit clearer by answering the when, why and how of pruning your houseplants.

There are a lot of reasons why you’ll need to give one of your plants a haircut. Plants sometimes shed their oldest leaves, and removing old or dead parts of your plant can help healthy parts thrive more and promote new growth. Giving an overgrown plant a trim can also guide it towards a growing pattern you might find more aesthetic, as not everyone wants or has the room indoors for their plants to go crazy.

When should you prune?

Generally, it’s best to wait to take sharp objects to your plants until you have dead or dying leaves, because removing healthy parts of a plant can stress it out. If you have a dying leaf, don’t see pests, and don’t mind looking at it, leave the leaf until it’s completely dead. At that point, it’ll usually just pull right off of where it’s attached without you having to cut anything.

However, there are a lot of reasons you might want to cut healthy parts of your plant, like if you have one growing out of control. A lot of growth means that the plant is happy and thriving. But if left unattended, overgrown plants can get tangled which can eventually hurt them, or they can take over a space and feel overwhelming. Pruning a plant that’s going wild will help keep it smaller for a bit if you don’t have the room to let it grow or the resources to up-pot yet. 

Another time you might want to cut a plant back is if you just don’t love it anymore and think it needs some sprucing up. Trimming vines or branches that are growing in a way you don’t like can promote a more aesthetic growing pattern. It’s worth mentioning again here that removing healthy parts of the plant can stress it out, so try not to go too nuts.

One more good reason to cut healthy plants is if you want to propagate. Propagation is worthy of its own entire series, but in a weird nutshell it’s a little DIY party where you invite one plant and leave with more, for free. It’s a great time, it’s really rewarding, and I recommend every plant parent try it at some point. More to come on propagating in future posts, so make sure you subscribe on the home page so you don’t miss out.

Getting started is pretty simple. One of the easiest methods of pruning is to just pull leaves off once they’re dead. Give the dying leaf a little tug in the opposite direction of its growth. If you don’t get much resistance from where it attaches to its stem, go ahead and pull and it should come right off. Sometimes they may fall off for you and you don’t even have to do anything but clean them up.

However, if it’s still alive enough to give you resistance and you want to cut it off for whatever reason your lil heart desires, there are a few things to remember. 

If you’re trimming a single leaf, cut as close to the base of the stem as you can, like in the photo above. A plain old stem without its leaf will die, and if you leave more behind than you need to there will just be a brown, dying stem sticking off of your plant.

If you’re trimming a branch or a vine with multiple leaves on it, trim just before the last leaf you want to leave behind. Again, you don’t want to have too much empty stem left, and eventually new growth may generate from that same spot.

Also, no matter where you’re trimming, make sure to cut at an angle that won’t leave a level area where water can collect and potentially cause rot.

The last and most important thing to keep in mind, is that it’s ok to screw it up. Trimming incorrectly one time is really unlikely to kill a whole plant, and nature is adaptable and resilient. Its goal is to live and continue to grow, so if you snip in the wrong spot, your plant will likely be fine. Take a deep breath, get to know your green friends, enjoy the learning process and happy trimming.

May all your plants’ deaths be Slow and Green,


PS - If you need extra help, Slow Green Death is here for you. Visit the Services page at the link below to set up a call where we can talk through exactly how to prune your specific plant.



Original post date: August 9, 2022

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