As a plant-lover, it can be difficult to watch your succulents grow tall and unwieldy, especially if they were aesthetically pleasing when you first bought them. Fortunately, trimming them is a great solution to make the succulent healthier and more beautiful to look at.
Here’s how you can trim tall succulents in 5 easy steps:
- Get the right pruning equipment.
- Only make cuts at the beginning of the growing season.
- Cut the tips of the succulents.
- Propagate or dispose of succulent cuttings.
- Take out any dead or dying parts of your succulent.
Your succulents can become tall and leggy for various reasons, but by pruning them correctly and using the right tools, you can make them look good as new. This article will guide you through the process of trimming your tall succulents, from choosing the right equipment to potentially propagating your plants.
1. Get the Right Pruning Equipment
Before you start the process of pruning, which is just cutting back the tall and overgrown parts of your succulent, you want to make sure that you have the proper equipment.
Pruning can be a relatively delicate process, so you want to make sure you have sharp and sterilized tools before starting the cutting process.
Different Types of Pruning and Propagating Equipment
Here are the different types of equipment you’ll need for pruning and propagating your succulents:
- Pruning Shears: This tool is a pair of scissors specially designed for the pruning process. These are especially useful if you need to cut back common succulents like jade plants.
- Pruning Knife: If you need to work with tougher plants like cacti, using a pruning knife will be essential. It’s sharp, precise, and allows you to use more force in your cut.
- Disinfectant: Keep disinfectants like isopropyl alcohol on hand. Before making any cuts, you need to use a disinfectant like alcohol to clean your equipment. If you don’t disinfect your shears or pruning knife, you can cause an infection in your succulents.
- Propagation Tray: This item will save you from dealing with a huge mess. These trays keep all of the cuttings in one place, and they make sure that you don’t accidentally spill soil everywhere.
- Cell Tray: These trays will have small cells to plant and organize various cuttings if you choose to propagate your succulents. When you have organized cuttings, you can move them somewhere else once they have gotten bigger and established roots.
- Gloves: When pruning succulents, wearing gloves serves more of a purpose than keeping your hands clean. Gloves are also essential because they protect your hands from sharper ends of succulents like cacti.
Recommendations for Succulent Equipment
Now that you know the different types of equipment you need, you may wonder about the best items to buy, especially if you’re new to succulent pruning and propagation.
For some of the items listed above, I have compiled a list of personal recommendations that you can buy directly from Amazon.com. Things like isopropyl alcohol and gardening gloves should be readily available at most stores, especially local gardening stores.
- Pruning Shears: If you cut back smaller succulents, I strongly recommend this pair of Fiskars Steel Pruning Shears (available on Amazon.com). It’s cost-effective and very sharp, allowing you to make clean cuts when pruning succulents without breaking the bank.
- Pruning Knife: If you need a sharper tool that can cut back thicker plants, I recommend this Gonicc Garden Knife (available on Amazon.com), which comes with a leather sheath. This is an excellent pruning knife option because it’s safe (as it has a sheath) and includes a sharpening stone.
- Propagation Tray: If you choose to propagate your succulents, I recommend this Suparleny Repotting Mat (available on Amazon.com). It’s foldable, waterproof, and has buttons on the corners that allow it to form a tray, catching all the dirt that collects during the pruning and propagation process. This is especially useful if you’ll be propagating inside your house.
- Cell Tray: For a cell tray, if you’d like to organize your cuttings, I recommend this MIXC 144-cell Seed Starter Tray (available on Amazon.com). Once your plants have established roots in their respective cells, you can take them out of their slots and move them to a larger area.
2. Only Make Cuts at the Beginning of the Growing Season
You can prune your succulents whenever you want, but keep in mind that it’s optimal to prune them at the beginning of their growing seasons.
Why You Should Prune Succulents at the Beginning of the Growing Season
While it’s not necessary to prune succulents at the beginning of the growing season, it’s still a smart idea if you want to promote new growth with your succulents.
Especially if you are pruning succulents because they are getting too leggy, pruning a succulent at the beginning of its growing season is still a good choice because you can redirect incoming growth and make your succulent more pleasing to look at. Here are a few of the main reasons why you want to prune succulents at the beginning of the growing season.
- They’ll grow better. When succulents reach their dormancy period, their growth slows down significantly. By trimming them at the beginning of their growing season, they will make up for their lost growth and continue growing.
- It’s easier to fix succulent legginess. When you are trimming a succulent because it is leggy, doing so at the beginning of its growing season will allow for new growth. This will be especially useful if you are putting your succulent in an area with more sunlight, as succulents tend to grow tall and leggy when they are in areas with insufficient light.
- Your succulent will look better. When your succulent is in a condition where it will grow quickly, it can make up for any lost growth during the pruning process, allowing it to look fuller.
Growing Seasons for Popular Succulents
Here are six of the most popular succulents and their respective growing times:
- Jade Plants: The growing season for these plants will run from early spring into the summer and sometimes into very early fall. If you want more growth after pruning, try to plant earlier in the year.
- Zebra Plants: Like jade plants, zebra plants have a growing season of spring and early summer. However, unlike jade plants, you’ll want to prune more towards spring, as there isn’t as large of a gap in the growing season with this succulent.
- Aloe Vera: The best time for growth with aloe plants will be late winter or early spring, different from many other succulents.
- The Snake Plant: If you’re pruning snake plants, you’ll find that they have a relatively short growing season, as they grow best in spring.
- Blue Chalk Sticks (Senecio mandraliscae): The growing period for this succulent is in winter, as it becomes dormant in summer.
- Hens and Chicks (Sempervivum): For this popular succulent, its optimal growing time is in summer, so you want to make sure that it’s hot out before you start pruning.
3. Cut the Tips of the Succulents
Now, you’re ready to start cutting the tall parts of your succulents. There are different processes for cutting regular succulents versus cacti.
Trimming Regular Succulents
Taking either your shears or knife, cut the tips off of your succulent. Make sure that you aren’t cutting more than a few inches off your succulents, as you don’t want to remove any more than a third of the plant at one time during a pruning session.
When trimming, you are finding the tallest portions and cutting them to make them equal to other parts of your succulent.
This is probably the easiest part of the process, as trimming requires little effort. What you do with the cuttings, however, can be a much longer process. I’ll discuss that in the next section about succulent propagation.
While it’s a relatively straightforward process to trim regular succulents, cutting cacti is much different. If you find that your cacti are growing tall and might break, you should trim off the limbs that threaten the plant’s structural integrity.
Other than a large limb that threatens to topple the cactus, the plant typically requires no pruning.
Here are some things to remember when it does:
- Wear gloves. Since this will require careful handling of spines, you have to protect your hands.
- Get a pruning knife and disinfect it. You’ll need a large and sharp knife, for larger specimens of cacti–which is why you need a pruning knife.
- Start cutting right where a limb branches out. When doing this, be very careful that you don’t cut into the central stem of the cactus, as it can damage the plant.
- For smaller cacti, especially those with pads, simply take them off. You still want to be careful in this process, but it won’t require any cutting.
- If you’re in a situation where you need to prune a huge cactus, use a saw. In this instance, you don’t want to use any saw that you have lying around. You need a pruning saw. For situations like these, I recommend this Corona Folding Pruning Saw (available on Amazon.com). It has a curved blade design for faster cutting. This is also a safe way to make more substantial cuts.
4. Propagate or Dispose of Succulent Cuttings
The next step in the process is succulent propagation, which is entirely optional. Whether you would like to proceed with the next step is up to you, but keep in mind that propagation requires little effort and provides many benefits.
If you prefer not to propagate your succulents, you can either throw them away or give them away to someone interested in propagation.
What Is Succulent Propagation?
Now that you’re this far in the process, you may be wondering what propagation is and how it’s possible to multiply succulents just from cuttings or leaves that have fallen off.
Succulent propagation is the process of taking the cuttings or leaves from your succulents and leaving them to callus and form new roots and grow on their own. Succulents store water in their leaves so that they can grow roots on their own without any water.
By propagating your succulents correctly, you can make your original succulent healthier and create new plants.
How To Propagate Your Succulents
If you have your cuttings ready, there are six steps to follow that’ll guide you through the propagation process, these are:
- Take the cuttings or the leaves, and leave them to dry for about a week to callus. You must follow this stop, as the plant needs to scab over. This prevents infection, as a freshly cut plant can take in outside bacteria, similar to a wound.
- Once it scabs over, put it on the top of the soil, but don’t bury it. You don’t need to bury leaves or cuttings when propagating succulents, as they’ll do the work by themselves.
- It can take a few weeks or even months, but eventually, your succulent should start to grow leaves on its own. Don’t water the succulent until you begin to see roots appear.
- Mist your succulents every few days once you have actual roots established. Don’t overwater it, but make sure that it gets enough water, so it doesn’t shrivel up. Just a few spritzs should suffice.
- There’ll be a plantlet growing after a while, and the original leaf you planted will shrivel up once it has given all its nutrients to the plantlet. You can take it out once it’s thoroughly wilted and shriveled up.
- Make sure that you don’t burn your succulents. It can be very easy to burn when it’s young, so a good solution would be purchasing a grow light. Ensure that the plantlet gets adequate light as it grows, or it’ll become leggy again.
How To Propagate Cacti
While it’s a very uncommon occurrence, cacti are succulents that can also grow tall and unwieldy, sometimes presenting themselves as a significant safety concern. If you prune them using the previous instructions, you can still salvage them.
If you have a cactus with pads, repeat the process outlined before by laying the cactus pad on soil and waiting for it to callus and form roots.
If you have larger stems—or even trunks—of cacti, you can still propagate those as well. For these cuttings, you also want to allow it to callus for multiple days. Once they are callused and have formed roots, you can carefully repot them, and in most cases, they can grow as new plants.
Benefits of Succulent Propagation
Succulent propagation can be a very rewarding–although time-consuming–process. Here are the three biggest benefits to succulent propagation:
- You’re redirecting nutrients to the main succulent by taking out the unnecessary portions of your succulent.
- Your original succulent will look much better maintained.
- You can create new plants, either for yourself or as gifts.
5. Take Out Any Dead or Dying Parts of Your Succulent
During the pruning process, make sure to remove all parts of your succulent that are dead or dying, as they can decay and spread disease.
If the dead or dying portions stay in the plant, you’ll find that your succulent may become diseased and can die.
Benefits of Pruning Your Succulents
Pruning your succulents has many benefits beyond the aesthetic difference. Here are three primary benefits of pruning your succulents that you’ll want to keep in mind.
- It keeps them small and manageable: Your succulents can very quickly become leggy, growing in different directions to catch the sunlight. Inadequate sunlight typically leads to legginess, as your succulents will grow toward the sun. Before pruning your succulent, make sure that it’s getting enough sunlight. By pruning your succulents, you are ultimately helping to create a much more manageable plant for yourself.
- It removes any damaged parts, making your succulent healthier: If you have thin, leggy parts to your succulents, keep in mind that they’re sapping the nutrients from the healthier legs. By taking the damaged or leggy parts of your succulent off the plant, more nutrients will be given to the rest of the succulent.
- You can redirect new growth: By taking away the nutrient-sapping legs of your succulent, you are redirecting new growth to the healthier parts of your succulent, making it much healthier. Basically, removing the diseased or damaged parts of the plant reduces competition for nutrients
Whether you are trimming leggy succulents or are trimming varieties of cacti, you now know the proper way to trim and propagate them.
To review, make sure that you follow these steps to trim tall succulents:
- Disinfect your cutting tool.
- Prune at the beginning of the growing season.
- Cut or pull off sections of the plant.
- Leave cuttings aside to callus.
- Wait until your plant forms roots.
- Mist your succulents occasionally.
- Replant the succulent cuttings.
Although propagating and pruning succulents can take a while, it’s worth the work as you make your succulent healthier in the long run.