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How to Prune Houseplants for Healthy Growth

Learn about pruning houseplants with a comprehensive guide on pruning techniques, timings, and tips for optimal growth from PlantVine founder Darryl Tackoor.

This guide was written for Indoor Plants by Darryl Tackoor, plant expert and founder of PlantVine.

Caring for indoor plants is a rewarding journey, and one pivotal step is learning how to prune houseplants. Pruning not only shapes the plant but also promotes healthy growth and beautifies its appearance.

Understanding Why Plants Become Leggy

Legginess in plants, specifically indoor plants, is a common concern for plant enthusiasts. When plants stretch out with long stems and sparse leaves, they're often seeking more light. This phenomenon typically occurs when the plant is not receiving adequate sunlight, causing it to grow taller in search of brighter conditions. Regular pruning can help mitigate this issue, but it's also essential to address the root cause. Ensure your plants receive the right amount of light, either by relocating them or providing supplemental lighting.

Identifying the Right Time to Prune

The growing season, specifically early spring or late winter, is the optimal time for pruning indoor plants. Plants are gearing up for new growth, so they'll recover swiftly from your snips. However, different plants have distinct growth patterns. Familiarizing yourself with specific houseplant care needs, like when to prune a pothos versus a philodendron, is crucial. Keep an eye out for leggy stems, dead leaves, or parts of the plant obstructing sunlight. These signs indicate a need for pruning.

It's a good rule of thumb to consider your plant's health. Avoid pruning during extreme temperatures or stressful periods. For instance, early spring ensures they're in their active growth phase, making recovery from pruning swift and encouraging new stems and leaves.

Before diving in, assess your plant. Some, like succulents, may demand minimal pruning, while flowering plants like orchids may need more attention.

Preparing Your Houseplant for Pruning

Cleanliness is key. Before you prune, clean your pruning shears or pruners with a mild bleach solution. This prevents disease transmission, ensuring your indoor gardening experience remains joyful.

As you examine your plant, identify dead or yellowing leaves. Gentle removal improves your plant's look and boosts air circulation. It also offers better access to areas needing pruning.

Pruning can be messy. Prepare a workspace with a garbage bag or drop cloth, ensuring a clean cut and easy cleanup. Proper preparation is pivotal for a smooth pruning experience, ensuring your indoor trees, like ficus or Norfolk Island pines, and other plants thrive.

Selecting the Right Pruning Techniques

Pruning plants is essential for indoor plant care. Various techniques cater to different plant types:

  • Selective Pruning: Ideal for plants like monstera that might get leggy. By snipping specific branches, you promote a balanced growth.

  • Rejuvenation Pruning: Think of this as a reset button, especially for lackluster plants. Cutting the plant down to its base stimulates new growth. However, ensure it's suitable for your specific plant type.

  • Pinching: A simple method involving removing growing tips or unopened buds with your fingers, leading to a bushier appearance. It's great for plants that tend to elongate, like some philodendrons.

Always use sharp and sanitized tools. Whether you're deadheading dead flowers or removing dead parts, understanding your plant's needs ensures they remain vibrant indoor additions.

Securing Proper Pruning Tools

The right tools are indispensable. Sharp pruning shears designed for indoor plants make the task seamless. Some shears even feature sap grooves to prevent stickiness. For thicker branches or indoor trees, consider pruning saws. For precision tasks, like shaping a succulent or snipping delicate plant leaves, scissors or floral snips are perfect.

Instructions: How to Prune Houseplants

  1. Get Acquainted with Your Plant: Before diving in, take a moment to look over your plant. Are there branches sprawling out of control? Maybe some stems getting tangled up? Or perhaps a few leaves looking a little worse for wear? Pinpoint these areas—they'll be your starting point.

  2. The Right Cut: With your trusty pruning shears (make sure they're sharp and clean!), snip just above a fresh leaf node or budding area. Trust me, your plant will thank you by sprouting new growth.

  3. Shape it Up: If you're into aesthetics (and who isn’t?), selectively prune branches that crisscross or seem to have a growth plan of their own, disrupting your plant's beautiful silhouette.

  4. A Fresh Start: If you're feeling bold and your plant looks tired, why not give rejuvenation pruning a go? Chop the plant down to about one-third of its size. It sounds scary, but it’s like a spa day for your plant. It'll come back fresher and more lively.

  5. Take a Step Back: Don't get lost in the pruning fervor. Every so often, step back and admire your work, ensuring you're on track to getting that picture-perfect plant shape.

  6. Clean As You Go: After you've finished your pruning masterpiece, give the plant a gentle wipe-down. Remove any stray leaves or sap—it'll make your plant look and feel better.

  7. Hydrate: Think of watering post-prune as offering your plant a refreshing drink after a haircut. It helps the plant bounce back and shake off any pruning stress.

  8. Consistency is Key: To keep your plant in tip-top shape, set a pruning routine. Depending on its growth rate, this might be annually or even more often for those enthusiastic growers.

Pruning Guides for Popular Plants


The Philodendron is a large plant in the Araceae family.

Philodendrons are particularly hardy and adaptable. However, they still require pruning of dying or dead leaves.

  • Season: Late spring to early summer is usually the best time to prune philodendrons, although minimal pruning can occur anytime if necessary.

  • Health Check: Prune leaves that are yellowing, browning at the edges, or showing signs of disease.

  • Use Clean Tools: Always use clean, sharp scissors or pruning shears to avoid transmitting diseases.

  • Cut at the Base: Remove dead or yellowing leaves by cutting them at the base, where they meet the stem.

  • Avoid Over-Pruning: Be cautious not to prune too many leaves at once, as it may stress the plant.

Keep in mind when you trim off a philodendron leaf it is unlikely a new leaf will grow to fill the space, so you will have a bare spot,” PlantVine founder and plant expert Darryl Tackoor said. “If my philodendron gets too ‘leggy’ with bare stems, I like to prune it back almost all the way back to the soil and let it flush back out. I use the piece I cut off to make cuttings for propagation.


Monstera deliciosa
Photo: IndoorPlants.comThe Monstera deliciosa is famous for its heart-shaped leaves that can develop holes.

Monsteras, with their recognizable large leaves, also require attentive pruning.

  • Season: Similar to philodendrons, late spring to early summer is optimal. But you can remove dead or dying leaves at any time.

  • Health Check: If you notice leaves that are yellow, brown, or damaged, it's time to prune.

  • Choose the Right Tool: Use a sharp knife or pruning shears.

  • Trim Gently: Cut the leaf at the base near the main stem, ensuring a clean cut.

  • Look for Aerial Roots: If they appear unhealthy, trim them back too.

Sometimes instead of pruning off a whole leaf I trim out just the brown edges and reshape the leaf, that way I keep all the foliage.


alocasia elephant ear indoor plant
The Alocasia plant a broad-leaved, perennial from the family Araceae.

Alocasias have beautiful, arrow-shaped foliage but can be more finicky than philodendrons and monsteras.

  • Season: Early summer, when the plant is actively growing.

  • Health Check: Look for signs like yellowing or wilting leaves.

  • Trim Back Damaged Leaves: Cut back to the stem, but be gentle, as alocasias are more delicate.

  • Cut Above a Leaf Node: If you are trimming a larger section, make sure to cut just above a leaf node.

  • Monitor Water and Humidity: These plants require more care regarding water and humidity, so adjust as necessary after pruning.

For larger alocasias, a sharp knife works better than pruners to remove leaves. It's normal for Alocasias to shed older leaves, this isn't a cause for concern. If your Alocasia sends up pups around the base, try digging them out and potting them instead of pruning them off.

Plants, just like us, sometimes need a little trim to feel and look their best. Pruning isn't just for the 'Gram; it's a ticket to healthier, happier plants. It's about knowing when those leaves need a snip and getting the technique just right.

And once you've done the deed? Keep an eye out. Your houseplants will often tell you, in their own leafy way, what they need next. Whether you're a seasoned green thumb or just getting started, mastering the art of the prune can totally transform your indoor garden game.

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