Gardening Help FAQs

Here are answers to some of the most common questions we receive about garden plants. You will find concise information on general gardening techniques as well as plant selection and care. For detailed information on specific plant pests and problems refer to our Common Garden Pests and Problems page.

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Horticulture Questions and Answers

How do I prune an overgrown indoor plant?

Indoor plants frequently outgrow their allotted spaces, or develop unbalanced growth patterns. Pruning can often correct or prevent such conditions. As an added benefit, pruning stimulates emergence of new shoots from the dormant buds closest to the points of cutting. There are two methods of pruning indoor plants, pinching and cutting back. Only cutting back of overgrown plants will be addressed in this message.

Cutting back usually involves reduction of hardened, or woody, stems to bring plants into harmony with interiorscape designs, and with the physical allocation of growing space.

Major pruning operations, cutting back main stems and principal side shoots, are best done at the beginning of the growing season. If done at other times, the dormant buds, which are normally stimulated by pruning, may be less likely to grow effectively.

This sort of "hard" pruning is best done with clean, sharp pruning shears: the type which work like scissors. Avoid anvil cutters because they are likely to crush stems at the cutting points. Crushing offers access for disease and decay organisms which can, in time, affect your whole plant. If you must use a saw, choose a sharp, clean one with the finest teeth that will get the job done.

When pruning a plant to reduce its height or spread, remember that new growth will quickly replace tissue lost to timid cut-back. If, for example, you wish to salvage a plant which has reached the ceiling, cut it back several feet. That's the only way to have a few years before the problem arises again. As an aside, you may wish to consider starting a new plant, via tip cuttings, from parts which have been removed. Please refer to message number 3709 for information on making cuttings.

To cut back a major stem, make your cut directly above a dormant bud. Such cuts tend to heal quickly and without the formation of an unsightly stub. The cut should be made straight across the stem, or alternatively, on a slant from a point above the dormant bud down to a point on the stem opposite that bud. Never cut downward toward the dormant bud; you will probably damage it. All wounds should be left untreated excepted when working with plants which have a milky sap. In these cases, an ice cube held in contact with the cut surface for a minute or so will lessen the loss of plant fluids.

Plants which may require size reduction of the scope which we have been discussing, include rubber plant, dracaena, bougainvillea, diffenbachia, oleander, and hibiscus. In general palms are not suited to size reduction by this type of drastic pruning.