Generally, succulents are easy to maintain — give them sunlight and occasional watering and they’re good to go.
Plus, they are pleasing to the eye and come in lots of shapes, textures, and colors, making them a fun, easy-to-care-for household plant.
But this doesn’t mean you don’t need to trim or prune your succulents from time to time.
Some people fear pruning as it seems like something a more seasoned gardener would do. Plus, what if they cut off too much and damage the plant?
In this guide we will help you successfully (and safely) trim your succulents.
Why is Pruning Your Succulent Necessary?
Succulents are seen as low-maintenance plants, so it might come as a surprise that they need to be pruned. However, succulents grow like normal plants, just at a slower rate.
Below are four reasons why you should prune your succulents.
Maintains succulent health: Pruning isn’t just for aesthetic reasons, it also improves plant health. Removing dead leaves from your succulent reduces the risk of pest infestation and other diseases.
Preserves the compact shape: Most succulents come in a small and compact shape, and if you like that look then pruning is a must. As succulents grow, they grow irregularly. One way to bring them back into their shape is by doing some light pruning.
Encourages new growth: When damaged or unnecessary leaves and branches are trimmed away, it allows the succulent to focus on its growth. So, instead of trying to save a dying leaf, the succulent grows new leaves.
To propagate more succulents: Pruning is a great way to start succulent propagation. Propagation is the process of taking smaller parts of your healthy succulent and growing them into another succulent. It’s a fun, cost-effective way to grow your garden and it starts with a nice pair of pruning scissors.
When is the Best Time to Prune Succulents?
Most gardeners like to prune their succulents just before the growing season. While this does help in the growing process, succulents can be pruned any time of the year.
If you prune just before the growing season, it will heal much faster and grow back even faster. Pruning in their dormancy period is also acceptable, it just takes longer to see any new growth.
How to Prune Succulents
Pruning your succulents shouldn’t be a difficult task. Follow the simple steps detailed below to keep your plant clean and healthy.
Prepare your tools
A pair of clean, sharp scissors is a must for pruning. We recommend cleaning the blades of the scissors with rubbing alcohol or soapy water before using them on your plant.
A pair of tweezers will also be useful in pulling at leaves that are hard to reach with your bare hands.
Remove Dead Leaves from the Base
As time goes on the leaves at the bottom layer start to grow old and shrivel up. This is a natural process but to help your succulents continue to grow, remove these dead leaves.
If the dead leaves aren’t removed they can actually work against the soil, causing it to stay damp instead of drying out after being watered, and leading it to rot.
Plus, when a leaf is completely shriveled up on the top of the soil, they become an excellent hideout for different bugs and pests.
Besides old leaves, it is equally important to pull out any foreign growth that is raiding the pot. These weeds use up the succulent’s water and nutrients.
Trim the stems
For succulents that tend to give out lots of branches, you can trim them to bring to a desired shape.
Choose where you want to trim the plant all the while maintaining their natural shape.
Research the kind of succulent you have before cutting, as some types can produce a sap that, when touched, leads to skin irritation.
To be safe, we recommend wearing gloves whenever you trim your succulents.
Avoid Watering Your Succulents 2 Days After Pruning
Pruning your succulent is literally cutting into your plant and creating openings or “wounds.
A succulent is a living organism that, when cut, will begin to heal itself and grow.
Allow this natural process to occur for 1 to 2 days before going back to your regular “draught and flood” watering schedule.
How to Prune Etiolated Succulents
When some succulents, like Echeveria and Crassula, don’t get enough sunlight they stretch out in search of sunlight.
This is called etiolation and below is a simple guide on how to handle it.
First, cut at the point from where the succulent has started to etiolate, usually a few inches below the rosette. Let the cutting callus for a few days. After it is calloused, you can either plant it in soil or wait for the roots to form and then you can plant it in soil.
For the lower portion, trim off the stem until it is at least half an inch above the soil. Avoid watering it until it is healed in a few weeks. You’ll know as new leaves will start to grow from it.
With the simple steps above, you now have two new plants from a single etiolated succulent.
What to Do with Your Succulent Cuttings?
One of the great things about succulents is so little goes to waste. This is true for the cuttings, or the part of the succulent you removed during pruning.
Instead of throwing them away, you can use the cutting to propagate your succulents.
Propagation is the process of taking part of your succulent, something as small as a leaf, and adding it to another potted soil to grow into another succulent.
To do this correctly, only use the cuttings which were healthy and not dried up or rotten.
Beheading Your Succulent
We know beheading sounds intense. But don’t think of beheading as something final. For succulents, beheading is just the beginning.
But before you bring out the guillotine, know the types of succulents that do well with beheadings, such as:
There are several reasons to behead your succulent, including propagation and stem rot and root decay.
Propagation, which we covered above, is taking part of your succulent (in this case the top or the head) and using it to grow more succulents.
You can, technically, only ever buy one succulent for the rest of your life and still have a house and patio full of hundreds of little potted plants.
Stem rot and root decay is death to a succulent unless you take the extra step and behead your plant. Think of it as cutting off a limb to stop the spreading of infection.
Quick tips for a Successful Succulent Pruning
- Avoid watering for at least 2 days after pruning. Succulents need time to heal and watering too soon after cutting can cause rot.
- Clean pruning scissors after each cut to avoid infection. You can either wipe it with rubbing alcohol or wash it with a soap and water solution.
- Prune just before the active growing season for faster growth.
- Prune flowering varieties after blooming or during their dormant season, usually winter.
- Use gloves when handling cacti and succulents with irritating sap, like Euphorbia and Kalanchoes (harmful for pets and annoying for your skin).
- Use the remaining healthy leaves and cuttings to propagate new succulent plants.
The important thing to remember about succulents is that they are survivors. When you start pruning your succulents, don’t be afraid of making little mistakes, such as cutting too much or not enough.
If you keep your plant in the right type of light and keep up a consistent watering schedule, it will grow.
But pruning your succulent allows it to live a long, happy life while keeping its attractive, compact shape.