How to Prune Houseplants the Right Way: A 15 Step Guide


I noticed that my indoor plants look unhealthy and grow unevenly. Since they are smaller than my outdoor plants, I was not pruning them on a regular basis. After a little research, I found out that indoor plants need routine pruning, as well. 

How to prune houseplants the right way? There are several important steps to follow when pruning indoor plants. Here are the 15 essential steps:

Once I found out the importance of annual pruning, I set out to find out more about proper techniques. Indoor plants can flourish if you pay attention to their specific needs. Follow this guide to correct timing and techniques to become a houseplant pruning master!

1.     Learn about your plant.

When you shop for plants, check the tag to see what zone they grow best in. This is helpful if your houseplant is going to spend some time on the porch, as well. Check the lowest and highest temperatures that your plant can tolerate. 

The growing season for your plant is also something you need to learn about. Growth spurts often accompany beautiful Spring weather. However, not all plants bloom right away. 

Your pruning schedule should coincide with the natural growth patterns of your houseplant. 

2.    Pick the right environment.

The environment in your home is not the same in every room. Find out how much sunlight your plant needs and put it in the correct place. If you choose plants to decorate a specific room, make sure they can thrive in the space.

Other than temperature, you also need the humidity in your home. Mildew can easily form on indoor plants. If you have a plant that prefers a dry climate, for example, don’t put it in or near the bathroom. 

3.    What type of pruning does your plant need?

When you prune on a regular basis, you can easily control the growth of the plant. You should do this when you need to fit a plant into a small space or in a specific part of your home. 

When you do not prune a plant often, it grows as it should in the wild. A severe pruning is necessary to bring a plant back from wild growth. Houseplants that once resided in pots outside, for example, may need a fresh start. 

When you cut a plant back with severe pruning, expect a lot of new growth during the growing season. This new growth is also faster when you execute minor, routine pruning. 

If you generally like the size and shape of your plant, small pruning sessions work well. If you have let the plant grow a lot, start with a severe pruning to get things under control.

4.    Gather your supplies.

Reliable pruning supplies can make the entire job easier. For small plants, you can use sharp scissors. Clippers or sheers made for plants work best, however. Most plant nurseries and hardware stores have a variety of sizes available. 

Keep your shears sharp, so you can make clean cuts on the stems. Dull shears can leave jagged edges, damaging the plant. Proper growth depends on a clean cut. 

Cut flowers set in a vase need angled cuts on the bottom of the stem every 2 or 3 days. This helps them draw in the proper amount of water. Make a list and head to a nearby store to prepare for your new houseplant.  

5.    Cut at angles.

Make cuts to branches at a 45-degree angle. This helps them heal easily from the cut. A cut that is straight across allows water to collect on the end of the branch. This can lead to rotting and fungus. 

A cut that is more than 45 degrees encourages drying out of the stem. This can lead to the absence of new growth and blooms. The entire branch can die off, as well. You can watch a few videos and practice on some fallen branches before pruning your live plant. 

6.    Check leaves and limbs.

There is more to pruning than simply cutting branches. Check your houseplant regularly for dead leaves and broken limbs. It is easy to identify leaves that need to come off the plant. They are brown, dry, or wilted. 

When you prune, try to leave the main stems. Prune the shoots coming of them, instead. There are times when you must shorten the main stem, however, to maintain the shape of your plant. 

7.    Mind the flowers.

You can speed up regrowth by removing dead flowers instead of waiting for them to fall off. Removing dead flowers makes the plant more pleasing to the eye. Dead flowers are unappealing on a decorative item. 

Even if you need to reduce the size of the plant, it is best to leave nodules or buds alone. Growth slows down on stems with buds or flowers on them. When you cut them off, the plant uses resources to grow more on that stem. 

8.    Prune long branches.

When you begin to see branches that are much longer than the others or go in a different direction, you may need to prune them a little differently. You can cut these up to 50 percent of the length off the branch to make it more uniform with the other branches. 

The side shoots on these longer branches may also change the shape of your plant. After achieving the desired length, you can cut the side shoots to get a more tailored look. 

Look online at some picture of the plants you like. You can see what the plant looks like after a year or two of growth. This makes it easier to choose the right spot in your home and the right container. 

9.    Add some shape.

Pruning can be a lot of fun when you want to achieve a special look. Professional gardeners can prune hedges into shapes of animals, for example. You can prune your houseplant to fit perfectly into your home décor. 

If you are starting with a mature plant, it can help to exercise severe pruning so you can start from scratch. When you pick a new plant, adhere to a strict pruning schedule to help the plant grow in the desired direction. 

Stick to consistent pruning and remove only 1/3 of the length of the branches. Start pruning early to train the plant. It is more work to get the shape you want if you allow overgrowth.

10. Pinch in the right place.

Delicate plants, such as Ivy need a different pruning method. The stems on this type of plant are very thin. You do not need to purchase heavy duty tools to prune delicate plants. 

The pinch method works well for most plants with thin, soft stems. Be sure to pinch in the proper place so you do not damage the plant, however. Experts recommend pinching above the node on a stem. 

This method helps you maintain a bushy appearance yet is stops excessive length inside your home. An Ivy plant can take over a large space on a fence or trellis outside. This happens quickly during the growing season. 

Check your indoor vines regularly for excessive growth. Pinching is easy and fast, fitting into even a busy routine. 

11. Know much to cut.

It is easy to go too far when pruning a plant. Take the time to step back and look at the plant as you go. You should only take off 10% to 20% of the plant at one time. 

If you take off too much of the plant, be patient while it grows back. The plant may experience some stunted growth after large pruning. It must work hard to grow back many branches at once. 

If you are not sure about your pruning, it is better to take too little than too much. You can always go back later and cut some more. Look at your plant and compare it with some online photos to see how it should look if you are not sure. 

12. Fertilize at the right time.

Fertilizer helps plants remain healthy and grow well. Fertilizing indoor plants, however, is different than fertilizing your outdoor garden. Indoor plants are in pots. Therefore, any food you add can end up concentrated in the plant. 

Purchase a soluble fertilizer and dilute it properly. You can find fertilizer specifically for potted plants. Pay attention to the directions, so you do not overwhelm your houseplant. 

You also need to fertilize at the right time. Your plant does not need as much nourishment during its dormant season. Fertilize immediately after pruning to give your plant the nutrition it needs to recover.

13. Provide water and drainage. 

Evaporation is slower inside the house. The lack of sunlight can cause your houseplant to stay moist when it needs to dry out a bit. Check the soil daily to make sure it is not too wet. Most indoor plants need water when the top 2-3 inches of the soil becomes dry. 

Proper drainage can also save your plant. Water can concentrate on the pot and cause root rot. It is difficult to save a plant that suffers from this disease. If your pot does not have a drainage hole in the bottom, drill a hole or get a new pot. 

When you first purchase your houseplant, make sure to bring home the proper container. This helps your plant avoid the stress of a container change early in its growth. 

14. Clean it up.

Indoor plants have different challenges than outdoor plants. The air quality, temperature, and humidity vary indoors. Mold can easily grow on indoor plants. 

Dust is also prevalent inside the home. If you do not clean the plant, you may notice dust accumulating on the leaves. This looks unappealing and is not natural for the plant. Simply wipe the leaves with a damp cloth or sponge. 

If you notice some mildew on the surface of the soil, it is best to change out the soil completely. You should also consider moving the plant to a less humid part of the house. A location near a sunny window can help with water evaporation, as well.

15. Move to a new pot?

If you prefer to let your houseplant get bigger during the first few growing seasons, you need to monitor the container. Plants that remain in their original pots stay small. The roots need room to spread out. 

Plants can also become stressed when you repot them, however. You can let your plant settle into its new container for a couple of weeks before you start aggressive pruning. This limits the changes it must go through at the same time. 

If you add plant food when you change out the container, mix it into the soil to avoid concentration in one place. You can also check the roots for signs of root rot while you have the plant out of the pot. Remove damaged roots if you notice this fungus. 

Additional Steps to a Healthy Plant

Once you’ve gotten the hang of pruning, you’re well on your way to providing great care for your plant. Here are some other important considerations for having the happiest and healthiest houseplants.

Change the Soil

A change of soil can keep your plant healthy. You can use the same pot if you are happy with the size of your plant. The soil, however, becomes packed too tightly in the pot over time. This deprives the roots of moisture and air. 

Outdoor plants enjoy soil that is constantly changing. Worms, for example, constantly till the soil. Roots can also spread out as much as they need to. 

There is some controversy over trimming roots. Some people advocate a  1/2- inch or 1/3-inch root trim when you change the soil. An annual soil change should suffice. 

A Little Extra Sunshine

While many plants do well indoors, they are still native to outdoor areas. If your plant is struggling with growth after pruning, it may need some outdoor exposure. Try to set the plant outdoors part of the day to perk it up a bit. 

You do not  have to commit to indoors or outdoors. Potted plants are easy to move and enjoy some natural light and fresh air. You can also place them in a sunroom or next to an open window. 

The proper amount of sunlight helps process nutrients and helps moisture evaporate. Do some research on your plant before you bring it home. Some plants need full sun for several hours each day. Others need indirect sunlight. There are several areas in the home that get optimal natural light. 

Check the Humidity

Humidity is often a constant battle for plants. It is less of a problem if you choose plants that do well in your planting zone. Many people enjoy exotic plants, however. A non-native climate can cause plants to grow differently.

You may not get blooms when the plant is not content with the environment, for example. Bathrooms are major sources of humidity in the home. Plants that need a dry environment should inhabit a room in the house that is far from the bathroom. 

If you have persistent problems with fungus on your plants, consider purchasing a dehumidifier for your home. You can also decrease problems by changing your air filters often. 

Pick the Right Plant

You can prune perfectly and still problems with your plant if it is not the right one for your home. There is plenty of information available online to help with the research of your plants. If you are considering a certain type of plant, read about the best environment for it. 

Plants are not going to freeze indoors; however, you also cannot keep a plant closed in a dark room. Even indoor plants need some natural sunlight. Find out how cold the area near your window gets in the winter. 

Once you know the lowest and highest temperatures in your home, you can look for a plant that is compatible. If you live in a humid or dry area, the indoor climate has similar traits to the outdoors. You can add or remove humidity with some simple accessories and tactics. 

Remove Humidity

Add Humidity

Choose a Variety 

When you want plants to accent different rooms in your home, you can have a lot of fun choosing them. Think about the natural light and temperature of each room you want to decorate. 

You can choose plants with uniquely shaped leaves or colored flowers. You can add to the style by purchasing decorative pots, as well. A variety of plants can give your home more character. Pay attention to the different growth patterns and environmental needs of each plant. 

It only takes a few decorative items to make a plant fit into a décor theme. Shop around to find containers and stands with the perfect colors, shapes, and patterns. Here are some ideas for combining plants and décor. 

Your Health 

Plants are an important part of the environment. They produce oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide. While this is good for your breathing, it also removes toxins from the air. Several houseplants can remove almost 90% of toxins within a 24-hour period. 

The right plants can also help you sleep better, as well. Most plants release carbon dioxide at night when photosynthesis ceases. There are a few plants, however, that release oxygen at night. Among these are succulents and orchids. 

Plants in the home or office also help concentration and improve your mood. Lavender is known for its calming effects.

In the Kitchen 

You can grow many useful things inside the home. An herb garden is a popular option for the kitchen. A kitchen window garden is a great way to both add décor and grow something you can use. 

Think about the herbs that you cook with the most. It is convenient to have your favorite herbs available all the time. You don’t have to run to the store if you need something for a recipe. 

It is refreshing to add mint leaves to your tea. Mint grows quickly and is easy to care for. You can use a large variety of herbs in your home. Some popular options for cooking are rosemary, thyme, and basil. Basil serves many purposes, as it releases oxygen up to 20 hours out of the day. The smell also eases anxiety.  

Pets and Kids

Pets and young children often put things in their mouths that are not edible. Research each plant you choose for your home and yard. Some plants are poisonous if ingested. Highly poisonous plants can harm a pet or child very quickly. 

You may not notice your dog or cat nibbling on your plant. By the time you realize what happened, the pet can become very sick. Children are also very curious. They may pull leaves and flowers off the plant and put them in their mouths. 

Even if you keep the plant in a different room, leaves can fall to the floor and transfer throughout the house. Clever toddlers can often maneuver door handles and climb over baby gates. It is best to refrain from purchasing plants that pose a danger to your family. 

Research the plant before you make a purchase. Some nurseries do not include this information on the tag. There are many beautiful, non-poisonous plants to choose from. Always adhere to some safety measures when you have kids and pets around plants. 

Heavy pots and planters can also fall on curious children and animals. Think through your container choices and locations.       

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a Commitment

Pruning is only one part of caring for your houseplants. Indoor plants need more care because they can’t depend on their environment the same as outdoor plants do. When you bring plants into your home, you must tend to them properly to get good results. 

Check their moisture levels, change the soil, and prune regularly. Purchase extra soil, fertilizer, and pots, so you have what you need. Family members of all ages can help. Let your kids spray the plants with water or scoop new dirt into the plant. 

Moving 

When you move to a new home, you surely want to take your houseplants along. You may have plants that go well with your décor and plan to recreate the look at your new house. Plants can become stressed when their environment changes. 

Try to  recreate the same temperature and humidity at the new home. You may need to put the plant in a different room that you planned to keep it healthy. You can also place your houseplants outdoors until the home is set up. 

People often do home renovations when they move. If you are painting, placing new flooring, or cleaning with harsh chemicals, leave your plants outdoors until the renovations are over. This keeps your plant free of debris and airborne contaminates. 

Professional Help

There are plenty of people that like to enjoy plants, but simply need a little help keeping them alive. If this is you, don’t despair. Professional help is available. It is common to hire a landscaping company for outdoor plants. 

Your indoor plants should not have to suffer, however. If you already have someone that cares for your yard, place your indoor plants outside for a pruning session. If you simply need advice on pruning your plants, visit your local plant nursery to talk to a professional. 

Practice Makes Perfect

Many owners of plants practice for years before they get pruning done right. Talk to friends that garden, research online, or talk to employees at the nursery. Many people that work with plants enjoy sharing their knowledge. 

Your plants may not look exactly how you want them at first. You should keep trying, however. Practice pruning our outdoor plants and watch how they grow, as well. Outdoor plants are often larger, giving you more foliage to practice on. 

You can also get several indoor plants so you can try different things. You may want to try a different shape, pot size, or a new fertilizer. Eventually, most plant owners find the right combination of pruning and maintenance for their collection. 

Conclusion

Plants can make a home look more beautiful. They also bring an element of nature to indoor life. Both outdoor and indoor plants need proper care to thrive. Pruning for houseplants, however, is necessary to help steer growth in the desired direction. You may need the plant to stay a certain size or prefer a decorative shape. Learn about your plant, purchase the proper supplies, and cut stems at an angle to keep your plant healthy and encourage new growth. You can help your houseplants flourish with proper pruning and maintenance. 

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