One easy thing to do is prune away dead and dying leaves and branches. This doesn’t require any special knowledge or skills: if the piece you are considering cutting off it dead, nothing you do to it can hurt the plant. I usually let the dying leaf die completely before removing it. The plant will take all the nutrients it can from the leaf as it is dying. When it is crisp or brown, there is nothing left that the plant can take from it. It is great to keep your plants free of debris such as this. Old leaves block sunlight and restrict airflow.
Sometimes plants can benefit from a little thinning out. Plants that have become unruly and unattractive can have the odd vine or branch snipped off here and shortened there. This is something I have often done with a Pothos or Philodendron when one or two vines get really long and the rest of the plant is spindly. You can take the pieces you’ve cut and plant them up into their own pots. Nipping the long vines will encourage the plant to branch off and become fuller. Thinning out is also recommended for plants that have become so thick that the leaves on the inside of the plant are no longer getting any light.
It takes a little more artistry to mold your plant into an attractive shape. This may not necessarily apply to every houseplant, of course. In general, you may seek to give the plant a rounded appearance or to have a bit of an angle. This is all a matter of taste, but a few simple rules apply: prune when the plant is in a stage of active growth, and always make your cuts just above a node. You should prune when the plant is actively growing so that it can recover from the trimming quickly and begin to look healthy again (a freshly pruned plant may look a bit naked). A node is the place where the leaf of a plant joins the stem. The newest growth on a branch should be considered the “top”, if that is helpful in identifying where the portion above a node is. There is no special reason to make the cut above the node except that it is the most aesthetically pleasing place to make it. You won’t be left with an inch of leafless stem.
Be sure that you use sterile cutting tools whenever pruning your houseplants. Bacterial rots and viruses are a lot more common than you would think. I lost my Schefflera arboricola to a bacterial rot that it had when I brought it home, unbeknownst to me at the time. If I had pruned it and then used that tool on another one of my plants, I would have lost more than just the Schefflera. I generally sterilize my cutting tools with isopropyl alcohol.
As a final note, your plant may need a period of adjustment after a pruning. Just think how you feel after you’ve gotten your hair cut: it takes some getting used to! Skip the fertilizer for a few cycles until you begin to see some new growth. When new leaves begin to emerge, fertilize at half strength a couple of times before switching back to full strength. This will make your plant’s adjustment a smooth and easy one.
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