Pruning Succulents: Everything You Need to Know

Pruning succulents is an annual task that can keep them healthy and vigorous. This short guide tells you when and how to do it!

Pruning Succulents

Fresh from the store, succulents are so neat and compact. It’s a shame that eventually the leaves die, stems grow, and things get a little crazy. That’s when maintenance comes in. With a good pruning succulents can remain just as tidy as the day you bought them.

Because they’re slow-growing, succulents don’t need frequent trimming. We’re talking once-a-year pruning at most, plus any emergency trims. The process is simple but makes a huge difference!

Useful Items For Pruning Succulents:

Why is Pruning Necessary?

Pruning Succulents
Pruning succulents keeps them healthy and lively. Source: Rosa Say

Pruning succulents isn’t absolutely required. However, it’s always a good idea because of its many benefits. Succulents that are pruned every year or two grow stronger, healthier, and faster. Visually, trimming succulents declutters and revives the arrangement.

Every time you prune, look for the following features to trim:

  • Dead or dying leaves/pads
  • Abnormal-looking growth
  • Stems outgrowing the pot
  • Etiolated stems
  • Dead flower stalks

If part of your succulent is dying from rot or another disease, it needs to be pruned immediately. The rest can be done all at once every year or so. Learning how to trim a cactus or succulent comes with preparation and practice.

Necessary Materials

To prune succulents, you’ll need the following:

Trimming cactus like Euphorbia can be dangerous due to toxic sap. We strongly recommend wearing gloves for these species.

How to Trim Succulents

Etiolated succulents need pruning
Etiolated succulents can be pruned to keep them in an appealing shape. Source: Dave Kleinschmidt

Pruning is simple once you know what you’re doing. We’ve broken it down into three steps for you:

Step 1: Plan

The first thing to do is to plan your pruning session. The best time depends on what type of succulent you have. Flowering succulents should be pruned while dormant and after their blooms have faded. Having recovered from the pruning before the growing season, they’ll be able to put all their energy into flowering again.

Non-flowering succulents should be pruned right before the growing season. This way, the preserved energy can go straight to regrowth.

Step 2: Trim

Before you start pruning, clean your shears with rubbing alcohol or a bleach solution. If using bleach, use one part bleach to nine parts water. Choose a plant to start with and determine what type of pruning you’ll be doing.

Stem Pruning

Focus on the stems if you’re pruning due to oversized plants, flower stalks, or etiolation (stretched out stems). Select a cutting area that’s right above a leaf or stem node. This area will be able to regrow and keep your plant healthy.

Cut the stem at a 45° angle. Be sure to make a clean cut without crushing the stem. Over time, the remaining stem will grow new shoots or rosettes from the cut.

Dead or dying leaves/pads

It’s completely normal for the lower leaves of succulents to die as they age. You can wait for them to fall off themselves or remove them once you notice they’re dying. Leaves that are dying due to rot or another disease must be removed immediately. If left alone, the disease can quickly spread to the rest of the plant.

To remove leaves, simply pluck them off by hand. Cactus pads can be broken off as well. However, never remove just one section of a leaf or pad. If a single part is damaged, the whole thing will have to go. 

If dead leaves or debris are wedged between the branches, retrieve them with tweezers. This is especially helpful when trimming aloe plant.

Abnormal or excessive growth

Whether your succulent is getting too big or has that one weird branch, it’s an easy fix. You can shape your plant and train it to grow the way you want. This works best with bushy succulents that have multiple stems.

If part of your succulent is more sparse than the rest, clip back the stems there. It seems counterproductive at first but pays off. The plant will direct its energy to new growth in that area, eventually filling it out.

New growth will shoot out in the direction of the cut stem. Make your cut with this in mind, especially if the stem is wavy. Also, don’t get carried away with the pruning! Don’t remove more than ⅓ of the plant at a time.

Step 3: Preserve

Propagate succulent tips for more plants
After pruning, healthy tips can be propagated to grow new plants. Source: douneika

Once your succulent is all fixed up, the wounds need to heal. Don’t water the plant until the cuts dry and “scab” over. If you don’t allow them to dry, they can easily start to rot. Clean up any plant material that’s lying on the soil. Not only does debris look messy, they will attract pests.

Instead of throwing away the castoff cuttings, use them for propagation if they’re healthy. Just trim them to the right length, let them dry, and stick them in the soil. Mist the cuttings with a spray bottle until they’ve established roots.

Now that you know the best way to go about pruning succulents, you should do so every year or two. Keep plants looking fresh in between trims by cleaning up debris and removing dead leaves. You can even top the soil with pretty pebbles for a cleaner look.

Now, you can enjoy your beautified succulent! You’ll be amazed at the effect pruning can have.

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