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Plant Pruning Basics


Plants need a little assistance now and then with shape and size. Pinching and pruning plants will often keep them healthy and happy.

Houseplants require an occasional trim, pinch, and prune to keep them in a manageable and attractive shape. Some types grow leggy while others tend to grab more than their share of surrounding space. Some plants may be aiming for a lopsided imbalance while others need a root "haircut" to maintain size.

Always perform trimming measures during the growing season when plants have the strength to survive. You won't need any tool other than a pair of sharp scissors or pruning shears; pinching means just that: taking your index finger and your thumb and breaking off parts of the plants.

To give your plant a fuller look, pinch off a leaf on the side you would like to see filled in. Do it just above - and as close to - the leaf bud as possible. Other leaf stems will form at this spot. Be selective in which branches your pinch back. They should already bear several leaves as this will put less strain on the plant. Never pinch back a single stem.

Ivies and airplane plants are ideal candidates for pinching, pruning, and then propagating.

You can prune both the tops of plants and the roots. Generally, if you are going to root-prune, it should be done in conjunction with cropping the top. You do not have to root-prune if you are trimming the top of the plant.

Use scissors to prune branches on the plant. Again, a stem should only be removed close to - and above - a leaf bud. If you are trimming back a larger stem, cut it as close to the base as possible.

Root pruning bears some risk in damaging the plant, even when done properly. You should never cut into a thick or fleshy root. Trim only the feathery parts on the outside of the root ball. A rule of thumb is no more than one-third of the root system at any one time and the trimming should be evenly distributed around the plant.

Try to keep the plant's root exposure to a minimum. You should have all equipment in place: newspapers to protect the floor as well as fresh dirt to fill in around the trimmed roots. Once the plant is trimmed, replace it in the pot, leaving a 1- or 2-inch clearance all around. Fill this in with fresh potting soil and water thoroughly.

Pinching and pruning your houseplants is an easy process that will help you keep the greenery within bounds.


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