Gardening Pruning

Protective Pruning for Houseplants

Carefully pruned houseplants actually grow better. Photo: Gardening at 58 North

A guest blog by Jordan at Backyard Boss

Jordan is a husband, father, writer, and long-time nature lover. When he isn’t in the office scratching on notepads or banging away at the keyboard, he can be found outside tending his garden or somewhere exploring the great outdoors.

Pruning is as important as sunlight and water. Not only does it encourage growth, pruning also maintains your plant’s health and protects it from pests and infections. What’s more, pruning large trees or shrubs helps keeping your property, pets, and family safe.

In this post, we discuss the basics of pruning to protect, including the proper steps, tools, benefits, and more.

Pruning plants is about more than simple aesthetics. Sure, adequately pruned plants do look better, but there is a lot more to it than just that. Pruning your plants, in a protective manner, is similar to how and why you clip the fur and nails of your canine or feline companions—it is necessary for their overall well-being and prevents them from developing unnecessary personal issues or unintentionally harming others.

A few of the most noticeable benefits of protective pruning include:

  • Reduced damage to stems and leaves.
  • Prevents the spread of fungus and infections.
  • Keeps the size of your plants optimal/manageable.
  • Increases available sunlight intake.
  • Allows more room for other plants to thrive and grow.
  • Reduces accidents/messes in the home.
Branches tailles d'une ficus sur le plancher.
Pruning indoor trees can help keep their size manageable. Photo: Fikona Greenplants

Regular pruning is best done during the start of each growing season, which is typically early spring or late winter. That said, many houseplants require more frequent protective pruning. On the other hand, some plants, such as evergreens, require little to no pruning at all (aside from obviously brown/dead parts).

Steps to Properly Pruning Houseplants

Knowing when, where, and why to prune your house plants is crucial. Another key lies in mastering the steps of pruning plants.

1. Observation

Observing your plants closely and carefully is the first step. This is how you will find the issues that need addressing. Pay extra attention to the shape and structure of each plant and take note of how much should be removed. Also, keep an eye out for damaged, diseased or dying leaves and stems. You’ll want to note where new growth will occur as well.

2. Gather Proper Tools

Sécateur à manches rouges.
You’ll need pruning shears if you have indoor trees to maintain. Photo:

Step two is rounding up the right tools for the job. For most indoor plants, all you need is a pair of sharp scissors. However, if you have indoor trees you will need a pair of pruning shears. Additionally, garden gloves for your own protection, as well as a spray bottle of water, and your preferred plant food may come in handy.

3. Removal of Dead Matter

Taille sélective d'un arbuste.
Simply clip off des or damaged parts. Photo: Sarah Cuttle,

To get started with the actual job, begin by pinching off or clipping the dead parts. If you are dealing with rotted roots, remove them by pulling them up and then allow time for the soil/growing medium to dry before watering.

4. Deadheading

Suppression des fleurs fanées d'un pélargonium.
You can also just clip off deading and dying flowers. Photo:

This step isn’t required for many plants, but mainly for houseplants that flower. The term “deadheading”  refers to the act of pinching or clipping off old flowers. When doing so, make sure to remove the plant matter as far back towards the primary stem as possible.

5. Pruning

This step includes the main pruning. Simply cut back each stem that you want to remove. If you followed step number one, you will already know what you want to prune and what you want to leave.

Taille d'un hibiscus.
Carefully choose which stems to cut back. Photo: PlantzNThings

Take your time before making the first cut. You can rethink your cuts only before making them. Also, avoid removing more than 25 % or so of the total plant except in severe cases.

If you are cutting off healthy sections of plants, consider keeping them/using them for the propagation of new/additional plants. Also, severely damaged or diseased clippings should be burned or thrown away—never add them to your compost.

6. Aftercare

Most plants that are more or less healthy recover from pruning within days to weeks. But, if your plants take a bit longer, it isn’t anything to be alarmed over. Certain plants experience greater levels of shock.

Continuing to care for your plant as normal, including watering, feeding/fertilizing, and exposing to the correct amount of light helps the bounce-back time.

7. Special Considerations

Some house plants do not need pruning—ever. Orchids and Norfolk Island Pines are two such houseplants. Further, if you do prune these particular species, you are more than likely killing them or permanently damaging them. That said, it pays to do some basic research on all of the plants you keep in your home.

Taille des branches trop longues d'un pathos.
Vining plants need frequent pruning to limit their rampant growth. Photo:

Vines are another type of indoor plants that require special considerations. These species tend to grow somewhat rampantly, especially so when they are healthy. As they grow, random and unnecessary stems need frequent pruning. In addition, extra pruning in the summer and winter also helps promote optimal health and growth for your vines.

Protecting Your Outdoor Plants and Property by Pruning Trees

Suppression d'une branche d'arbre.
Thoughtful tree pruning can help ensure not only beauty, but safety. Photo:

Pruning outdoor plants is done in the same manner that you handle houseplants, for the most part. The biggest difference is in pruning trees for protective purposes. Trees are probably the most dangerous component of your landscaping, even if the thought hasn’t crossed your mind before now.

Taking the time to prune your trees helps reduce structural damage to your home, specifically the roof, gutter system, and windows. Severe weather events, like high winds or severe storms, can cause weakened branches to break off and hit a vehicle or lead to personal injury. In some cases, pruning even prevents damage to your neighbor’s property. Even more, keeping trees pruned properly cuts back on pests like squirrels by eliminating possible habitats.

Aside from avoiding costly repairs and doctor visits, by maintaining your trees adequately you are prolonging their lifespan and reducing the risk of infections spreading to healthy parts. You are also lowering the chance of harmful insects setting up shop there.

More energy is directed to both new growth and healthy branches as well. More light is also able to penetrate the canopy, again promoting a healthier overall tree.

A Final Word About Protective Pruning

Pruning your plants, for both your and their protection, takes little time and effort once you understand what it is that you’re doing, and why. With a bit of practice, it will seem no more mysterious or complicated than watering your garden or cutting your grass. The benefits, however, far outweigh the small learning curve required to get it right. Hopefully, our article helps!

Do you have a secret to protective pruning that you’d like to share with the laidback gardener audience? Comments are more than welcome in the section below.

Good luck pruning your babies!

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

1 comment on “Protective Pruning for Houseplants

  1. Pruning not only eliminates superfluous and damaged growth, it also stimulates more vigorous new growth. it is more obvious in the garden than with houseplants. Inadequate pruning is the main problem with deciduous fruit trees and roses.

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