Sometimes certain plants need haircuts. Just trims though. Like I tell my stylist, “No hack job please, just a light dusting”. I always hate removing material from the beloved plants that I spent so long watching grow into long luscious locks of greenery. But when necessary, it’s for the best. Pruning encourages bushier growth, and some plants can get lanky and lose their fullness. A lot of vine or trailing-type plants are susceptible to this, like Pothos/Epipremnum, Philodendron, Scindapsus, “Wandering Jew” (Tradescantia), etc. Which “Wandering Jew” am I referring to, exactly? The one with the identity crisis.
Here’s my spindly Tradescantia fluminensis ‘Variegata’ before its visit to the salon.
This plant was far too grown out, with almost no foliage at the top. It was rocking that balding hippie look.
So, I got to town with my pruning shears and took off the bulk of the outgrowth. I didn’t just throw out the pieces I cut off though (of course not!); I put them in water to root. Whenever I snip, I save.
It’s easy to propagate most plants in a bottle of water. No rooting hormone needed. All you need is a good pair of scissors like the ones below, a vessel that doesn’t leak, and a sunny windowsill.
Fiskars Steel Pruning Shears, $9.97
(The best pruning shears ever!)
I just so happened to have cuttings of the same plant that I had already propagated months prior, and I planted those at the same time as cutting off length at the bottom. This will help give it more immediate fullness, before new growth is encouraged.
This is how it came out immediately:
Then I waited.
About one month later…
Not too shabby!
Once the cuttings that I had previously propagated formed roots, I planted them to fill the plant out even more.
Just look at that fullness!
But wait, it gets better.
Another month goes by…
We’re back in business! The “Wandering Jew” is no longer wandering yonder. Of course, this process will need to be repeated in about a year or so.
Three month progress due to trimming to promote growth:
Let’s take a look at a little history of my Philodendron hederaceum ‘Brasil’. It’s been around the block a few times.
This is when I first got it. Full, large leaves, and healthy.
Then I drove it across the country from Philadelphia to California during the fall of 2016, and it ended up looking like this.
Sadness. Not only was this plant stressed from the move, but it was also suffering from lack of nutrients, water, light, and maintenance, e.g. pruning. If growing conditions are too dark, the stems will start to get spindly. It’s also important to trim off cuttings here and there to promote bushier growth. After a while the plant can get lanky. If you notice that any of your vines are growing significantly smaller leaves, it’s time for a trim.
So, I took off a ton of cuttings, and propagated them in water.
Some made their way into their own pots.
Now, every single propagation from the old pot is planted back together where they all originally came from, and it looks a little something like this.
Four years later, this is same exact plant. It’s been through a lot. It may not have as large of leaves as it did when I first got it, but it is full! I know it may seem counterintuitive, but this was achieved from cutting it back.
Recently, I propagated my Tradescantia spathacea, a.k.a. Moses-in-the-Cradle plant. As soon as I trimmed it in only two places, I was awarded with all of this immediate new growth!
So where do you cut? Wherever you see an aerial root, cut below the node. This will leave the internode sticking out from the plant you cut from, so feel free to cut it off right above the node at the bottom of the internode. When you stick the cutting in water, wherever there are aerial roots, roots will start to grow. Make sure the aerial roots maintain contact with water.
I’ve made a visual diagram for you. You can cut at either place where I drew the red lines on the stem. I would normally cut either one or the other, not both, but cutting both won’t hurt it. If I were to cut this particular stem, I would cut along the bottom red line and make sure that both of the aerial roots I’ve pointed out are under water.
Because I’m a plant nerd, I am fascinated by the science behind this. The main stem (apical meristem) of a plant contains the largest amount of the growth hormone, auxin, than anywhere else in the plant. This actually prohibits growth by any lateral buds, which maintains apical dominance. The buds and aerial roots are dormant. When you cut off a portion of the plant on the main stem, the auxin is no longer produced in that area, which breaks the dormancy of the rest of the plant and promotes bushier growth.
Thanks for reading, and I’d love to hear about your adventures in plant cutting propagation!
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