Houseplants should typically be pruned at the beginning of the growing season, which is late winter or early spring for many varieties. However, woody indoor plants are an exception to this seasonal rule, requiring year-round pruning to remove dead leaves and branches.
A good rule of thumb for flowering species is to prune them just after they have finished flowering. If you prune right before they bloom, you'll be removing unopened buds that would otherwise turn into flowers.
What You'll Need: Pruning shears, Kitchen scissors, Gardening gloves (optional).
At first, take a step back from your houseplant, and look at its structure and shape. Notice whether it is growing spindly, looks fuller on one side, or contains any diseased or dying foliage. Also, check for areas of potential new growth, known as "latent buds." Buds typically occur where the leaf joins the plant stem.
If the plant's branches are thick, such as those of an indoor tree, use pruning shears. If they are slender, kitchen scissors may give you a cleaner cut.
Clip or pinch off dead leaves and stems. If stems have rotted at the root, pull them out, and make sure to let the soil dry out before the plant's next watering.
If you're working with a flowering houseplant, remove all spent flowers by pinching them off or clipping them back as close to the main stem as possible.
Make judicious cuts to encourage new growth. Cut just before a leaf node. Or when cutting back larger stems, cut as close to the main stem as possible. However, do not remove more than 25 percent of the plant.
Proper pruning requires an understanding of the plant's growth pattern. Plants grow from the tip down, meaning new growth emerges from the dominant bud at the end of a branch or stem.
To prune a plant to encourage bushy new growth, snip off the dominant buds on select stems, staggering the cuts to encourage varied growth. Trim some branches back by a quarter, others by a half, and still others all the way back to their base. This way, when the plant leafs out again, the random growth pattern will fill it out.
Deadheading is a type of pruning that simply involves removing any dead flowers. As a plant blooms, it puts energy into its flowers at the expense of new growth. Even as a flower is dying, it still consumes energy from the plant. So to prolong the blooming period and encourage healthy growth, deadheading is often necessary.
When pruning, cleanliness is important. Any cut made to a plant's tissue can expose it to disease. So keep your pruning instruments sharp, and clean and disinfect them between each use with a mild bleach-and-water solution.
Most houseplant cuttings can be saved, rooted in a cup of water, and then planted to form new houseplants. Succulent clippings can even be propagated by planting them directly in a pot of soil and keeping it moist. After a few weeks, you should have new plants growing.
Pruning vines is very similar to pruning general houseplants. However, it involves a little more work. Indoor vines should be encouraged to grow along a support with any wandering stems pruned back. With vines, you might have to do a substantial pruning in the spring or summer to cut them back to a manageable form. Many vines are notoriously rampant growers when they're healthy.
Some houseplants rarely need pruning, and others should never be pruned at all. Palms and Norfolk Island pines both form a terminal dominant bud but do not possess latent buds. That means removing the dominant bud will kill the plant, so it's best to let these species be.
Similarly, many varieties of orchids cannot be pruned beyond removing dead flower spikes. Do so at the point where the spike comes out of the leaves, and hopefully you'll see blooms again after several months.
Although the task of trimming beautiful foliage is sometimes hard for gardeners to swallow, regular pruning keeps most plants healthy and encourages new growth. But when and what to prune depends on the type of plant and the climate you live in. For instance, flowering and fruiting plants prefer to be cut back in late winter or early spring to spur a hearty crop. Trees and shrubs that bloom in the spring start setting new buds as soon as the old flowers have fallen, so it's crucial to prune before those new buds come in. And many other plants need continual trimming to remain vigorous.
Figuring out when to prune your plants can be confusing, but luckily pruning at the wrong time is rarely fatal. Off-cycle pruning might result in fewer flowers or fruit, but it usually won’t harm the plant in the long run. However, avoid pruning too late in the growing season. Doing so will encourage tender new growth that will die in winter weather.
Most fruit trees and berry plants need to be pruned while they are dormant. Failure to do so will result in the plant's steady decline, as it will send out suckers that direct energy away from fruiting branches. The exception to this rule is spring-flowering trees and shrubs. These need to be pruned soon after their flowers fade in late spring and early summer.
Furthermore, most perennial plants need to be cut back entirely either before or after the growing season. And they require regular pruning and deadheading all season long.