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Pruning houseplants

by Timber Press on September 18, 2013

in Gardening

Wield the pruning shears, and Acalypha wilkesiana ‘Beyond Paradise’ (left) and A. wilkesiana ‘Bourbon Street’ (right) remain sufficiently compact to be windowsill worthy.

Wield the pruning shears, and Acalypha wilkesiana ‘Beyond Paradise’ (left) and A. wilkesiana ‘Bourbon Street’ (right) remain sufficiently compact to be windowsill worthy.

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Not everyone loves to prune, but I do. My mother-in-law used to rant, “How would you feel if someone cut off all your fingers and toes?” after I went on a pruning spree. But when the begonias (or whatever) bristled with new growth, she beamed. I like to keep a tight ship. And I think pruning brings about a sharper picture in the long run.

I’m almost always brandishing pruning shears. Although the rampage against leggy limbs reaches its high point in spring, I hit shaggy appendages whenever they appear. In winter, plants often make stretchy growth because of diminished light. Away it goes. In autumn, when plants re-enter the house after their summer sojourn, they often become too large for their allotted space. Clip. And sometimes I just want to exercise control and encourage a plant to branch out during the summer or sprout fresh from the base in winter. Off with its head. I think good grooming spells the difference between an okay crowd of amateurs and a turned-out kick line of well-rehearsed performers.

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Cut right above the leaf node (in this case, we’re working on a pelargonium) to encourage that side shoot to branch out.

Cut right above the leaf node (in this case, we’re working on a pelargonium) to encourage that side shoot to branch out.

Some plants, such as this acalypha, can become leggy, but make branches from the base. Cut away the old, woody growth and let the young, compact stems have their moment in the sun.

Some plants, such as this acalypha, can become leggy, but make branches from the base. Cut away the old, woody growth and let the young, compact stems have their moment in the sun.

When pruning plants, make your cut right above where the leaf blade juts out, and be sure there is a side sprout waiting in the wings to branch out. Some plants, like begonias and pelargoniums, have what we call “blind eyes” with no side shoots. They might sprout lower down or push another branch up from the base, but they will not branch just below the cut.

If pruning has you quaking in your boots, I can only say that I have never (or almost never) murdered a plant by pruning. I have ended up with some gawky specimens as a result of clueless cuts, but time healed the wounds. And I sometimes chopped too enthusiastically in winter and sent the plant into a temporary tailspin. But if you play it safe and prune in spring, you are on fairly safe ground. Your plants will have more branches and increased bloom, and will form a handsomer picture. Why would you resist?

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Tovah Martin emerged from 25 years working at Logee’s Greenhouses with a serious houseplant addiction and his since then written more than a dozen gardening books. Her articles appear in a broad range of magazines and periodicals, including Country Gardens, Garden Design, Coastal Home, Martha Stewart Living, and House Beautiful. For two years, she served as segment producer and frequent guest on the PBS television series Cultivating Life, and she is a repeat guest on the CBS Sunday Early Show. Tovah teaches houseplant cultivation to Master Gardeners and lectures extensively throughout the country. You may also be interested in the author’s own Web site, PlantsWise.com.

All photos by Kindra Clineff

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Click image to see inside this book:

Tovah Martin’s newest book is no dry encyclopedic volume: Her personal, engaging writing style is as entertaining as it is informative. —Country Gardens

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