Pruning & Deadheading Indoor Plants, by Jim Hole

It’s surprising how easily even tough houseplants can be damaged. When leaves or stems are damaged or broken, it’s important to reach for the scissors. You might be tempted to let the plant repair itself, but that will only leave it vulnerable to diseases and pests.

Here are some other reasons to prune your houseplants:

  • For shape: Prune back plants that become overgrown or straggly. Dieffenbachia, for instance, have a tendency to run out of ceiling space. To remedy this problem, simply prune the top at the spot where you would like to encourage branching. Throw the top away, or reroot it in a new pot. In the case of tree-form plants, prune branches that cross through the centre of a plant. It will help maintain a pleasing form and allow sunlight into the centre of these plants.
  • To encourage growth: Keep in mind that the biological purpose of all plants is to reproduce. When you deadhead (remove spent flowers), you are also removing the seeds. By doing so, you trick the plant into thinking it hasn’t fulfilled its reproductive goal. The plant responds by producing more flowerbuds and, eventually, more flowers.
  • To remove disease: Yes, it’s that simple—prune out disease. It’s a good habit to clean your shears after every use, but it’s especially important to wipe them with a solution of water with 10% bleach after pruning out disease. Dry your shears to prevent rust.

Truth & Fiction

It never ceases to amaze me how much bad information gets passed on from generation to generation. I’m not sure what makes us so eager to cling to bad advice, but we all seem to do it.

In an attempt to dispel some of the myths floating around the indoor plant world, here is a list of advice to set the record straight.

  • No, you shouldn’t use milk to shine leaves (a soft cloth will do).
  • No, pebbles won’t help with drainage in a pot (buy pots with drainage holes).
  • No, poinsettias aren’t poisonous
  • (but that doesn’t mean you should eat them).
  • Talking to houseplants will not make them grow (but it might make you
  • feel good!).
  • Plants won’t take the oxygen out of the room (in fact, during photosynthesis they release oxygen).
  • Soil doesn’t have to be moist before you fertilize plants (parched plants won’t absorb more water than they need, so their fertilizer uptake is still controlled).
  • Fertilizer doesn’t cause plants to grow (but light does).