How to Trim a Houseplant [Everything you should know]

You know it’s important, but cutting your precious houseplant is scary. What if it stops growing or dies? That is a valid concern, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. Let’s discuss everything you need to know to trim your houseplants.

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What Does Trimming A Houseplant Mean?

Trimming a houseplant means cutting off dead or overgrown parts to improve its growth and fullness. It can be as simple as pinching off dead leaves and flowers or as complex and time-consuming as growing a bonsai tree.

Why Do We Trim a Houseplant?

We trim our houseplants for many reasons. The chief one among them is to improve their growth. Pruning or trimming a houseplant is as essential for plant growth as giving them fertilizer.

Plants have limited energy and resources, and we want that to go to the parts we like. Usually, that means new leaves on foliage plants or flowers in flowering plants.

We can trim our houseplants differently to encourage particular desired plant growth effects. With trimming, we can:

  • encourage flower growth
  • control overgrowth
  • encourage branching
  • promote leaf growth for foliage plants
  • promote more flowers
  • Prevent plants from getting root-bound
  • make plants look symmetrical and aesthetically pleasing

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How to Trim Your Houseplants

To Trim any part of your houseplant, you simply need to make clean cuts with extremely sharp scissors or pruning shears. Which tool you use depends on your preference, the size, and the girth of the part of the plant you are cutting. 

Always sanitize your scissors or shears before use and when switching between different plants. That way, you do not contaminate any plant with anything or spread diseases from plant to plant. To ensure this, have some alcohol wipes on hand to wipe down the blade. 

The best practice is to ensure the cuts are at forty-five-degree angles to ensure all the water drips off quickly. This practice does its best to avoid diseases caused by moisture buildup. 

If the trimmed part of the plant is not diseased, experiment with plant propagation or throw it in the compost bin. If it is diseased, try burning it or disposing of it in a way it does not infect plants outside. 

To avoid stunting the plant’s growth, only trim it during the growing season. This advice applies to trimming for shape and not removing dead or dry parts of the plant. Trim summer plants in the summer and winter plants in the winter. 

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Types Of Plant Trimming

There are different types of trimming depending on the end result we want. We get different results by cutting different parts of the plant. Here are the different types of houseplant trimming.

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Trimming Houseplant Leaves

Trimming Off Dead Leaves

When the leaves of a house plant get damaged or turn yellow, brown, or black, we cannot return them to normal. These leaves become bloodsuckers. They only take the plant’s energy without taking part in photosynthesis in return. That means they rob the plant of vital resources. Trimming them improves the plant’s overall growth.

Another reason that we must remove these leaves is that these leaves are dead, and the necrotic plant tissue attracts bacteria, fungus, and parasitic insects. These pests get a chance to infect or infest the rest of the plant. Not to mention these leaves take away from the plant’s beauty. Yellow leaves are a real eyesore, especially on plants with beautiful foliage. 

Remember to trim the leave from as close to the place it connects to the stem as possible. We do not need a little leaf stem poking out and saying hello from the main stem with no leaf attached.

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Trimming Damaged Parts of the Leaves

If Just the tips or edges of the leaves are yellow or damaged, we could still save them. So long as they aren’t fighting any infections. We need a super sharp scissor. I cannot stress this enough, the sharper, the better. Dull scissors will bruise the remaining leaf making the whole exercise pointless. 

With a sharp scissor, cut off the damaged part of the leave while following the natural shape lines of the leaf. If you cut across the leaf in a straight line, the leaf will look butchered. We don’t want that. Even if we cut off a significant part of the leaf, maintaining the same shape lines will help it camouflage itself among the rest of the foliage.

Trimming Bottom Leaves

We also recommend trimming the bottom leaves that are closest to the soil. That is because they receive and retain a lot of moisture from the soil and air. This higher moisture content turns them into a breeding ground for fungal infections.

Protect your plant by removing these leaves. They are the oldest leaves on the plant and typically do not take a significant role in photosynthesis since higher leaves shade them. That means that removing them does more benefit to the plant than harm.

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Trimming Stem to Encourage Branching

When the plant is young, we trim the top of the stem so that it forms bifurcations. This way, the plant grows more branches. More branches mean a fuller, more voluptuous houseplant. 

Why does trimming the top of the stem make a plant grow more branches?

Well, because there is a plant hormone concentrated at the tip or apex of the plant called auxin. These auxins inhibit any side growth and insist that the plant only grows in a straight line upwards like a tree trunk. It does so by directing all the nutrients and growth factors to the tip of the plant. 

This is so that the plant can focus on achieving the maximum height as fast as possible. In the wild, plants need to get tall enough to access sunlight, or they will end up in the shade of a plant.

When we remove the top of the plant, we force the plant to branch out from that point. Since no force directs the nutrients upwards, they spread evenly, and so does the growth. This phenomenon leads to bushier, leafier plants with more capacity for flowering buds, branches of foliage, or vegetable growth.

You must ensure you cut as close to the last leaf node as possible. If you leave too much length from the last leaf node, it will start growing vertically again. Also, ensure you do not trim across the leaf node, or the associated leaves will fall. 

The new branches will start to grow in the next few weeks. Doing this regularly once established branched start to grow vertically makes your plant very full and bushy. The more branches it has, the more foliage and flower buds it can grow.

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Trimming Flowers or Deadheading

Once a flower bud has blossomed, it will not blossom again from the same bud. It would help if you cut off these spent flowers. The process is called deadheading.

If the plant has terminal flower buds, you should cut off the entire branch on which it grew. This will help more flowers grow faster on other branches. 

For perennial flowering plants, deadheading or removing spent flowers is crucial in making them flower more or how you want them to. Take your pruning shears or scissors and cut the flowering stem down to where you see more vigorous vegetative growth or a new flowering shoot.

For example, the leaflets closer to the spent flower will have fewer leaves than the lower leaflets where the hormonal balance of the plants is shifted towards vegetative growth. Cutting it from there ensures that the new shoots will grow more robustly and flower sooner.

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Preemptive Deadheading for Prolonged Flowering

Let’s say you planted your flowering plant a little early in the season, or your perennial plant has started to bud very early. You want to enjoy the blossoms throughout the season and not just so early.

You can preemptively cut off many flowering buds and stems to prevent them from flowering yet. As long as you do not cut more than one-third of the plant off, the plant is safe from suffering shock. 

The new stems and branches will grow and form buds in the coming weeks while the remaining flowers blossom. This practice extends the plant’s flowering time. That way, you can enjoy colorful flowers longer.

Trimming Roots

The roots of plants grow as they would outdoors. Plants aren’t aware that they are confined to a pot. The rule of thumb is that if a plant has grown quite a bit above the soil, its roots must also have grown a bit. In nature, roots compete with other roots and go around obstacles like stones.

However, when plants grow in a pot, the roots face a barrier they cannot get around. So they grow until they meet the pot wall and then turn inwards and grow until the same thing happens again. You are left with a thick knot of roots filling up the whole pot leaving no room for soil or nutrients. 

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When your plant becomes rootbound, it faces issues like:

  • lack of water storage
  • lack of air for roots
  • lack of nutrients despite fertilizing

Some plants like their roots to get a little compact, like the dracaena or snake plant. However, that does not mean you let it get to the point where it lacks water or air. 

How do we know when our houseplant has become rootbound? The most common early-stage indicator is seeing roots grow out of their drainage holes. The houseplant is severely rootbound if you see roots jut out from the top of the pot. 

To prevent your plant from getting rootbound, you have two options. Move it to a larger pot as it grows or trim the roots periodically.  Even when you move it to a larger pot, we recommend trimming the roots back very slightly to trigger new root growth. 

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Trimming the Plant for Shape

Plants grow wild in all directions. You can’t blame them since it’s a jungle out there. Nevertheless, they don’t need to bring the jungle indoors. We raise our houseplants to be like our family, not just mere ornaments. That is why it breaks our heart to cut it to make it grow more symmetrically or look better. 

Some plant owners think it’s better to let it grow all over the place instead of causing pain. We thought it best to let you know that you are not causing the plant any pain by trimming it for aesthetic reasons. You are helping it grow healthier. 

Plants are in a survival mindset. They aim to thrive in the most challenging conditions. They grow the way they do with environmental stressors and other plant competition in mind. You can trim off parts of it when it gets too big or too unshapely, and it won’t even be phased. 

We want to share a pro tip with you. Go a little smaller than you want the plant to look.

That way, it will grow into the shape you want. Plants bounce back terrifically from trimming during the growing season. If you prune it to how you want it, it will grow out of that shape in no time. By going a little smaller, you ensure it stays looking how you want it longer. 

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Trimming Injured Plant Parts

We try our best to avoid disasters, but sometimes a plant pot falls, or a branch gets caught in our sleeve and snaps. It’s heartbreaking to see our plant injured. However, we must act quickly. We should trim the plant properly with sanitized sheers below the damaged portion so it does not develop an infection.

When we trim a plant on purpose, we follow the best practices to ensure it does not get sick. Natural injuries can lead to it getting infected and not looking good. Even if trimming it makes the plant look lopsided, a clean cut looks better than a rough break.

How to Trim a Houseplant
How to Trim a Houseplant

Conclusion

Thinking about cutting the plants we’ve worked so hard to grow is heartbreaking. However, seeing them bounce back healthier than ever with more growth makes us happy again. Pruning your plant makes it fuller and prevents diseases from spreading to the whole plant. Always ensure your blade is sharp and sanitized, and you’ve got nothing to worry about.

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