Succulent Plant Pruning – How And When To Prune Succulents

By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden

There are many reasons for pruning succulent plants. Keep reading to learn more about succulent plant pruning and the reasons for doing so.

Reasons for Cutting a Succulent Plant

Adult succulents growing in too little light often stretch out, a common reason for pruning succulent plants. This involves a process called beheading, or removing the top part of the plant. When cutting a succulent, use sharp, clean pruners to avoid disease or start rot in the stem.

Not as bad as it sounds, beheading your plant provides at least one new plant and possibly more, depending on the length of the stem. The remaining base will likely have some leaves or grow new leaves or both. You can remove leaves and propagate them for new plants. The top that was removed will callous over to be replanted. It is a common practice to let all plant parts scab over before planting them. This prevents the succulent piece from taking in too much water, which is usually fatal.

Some plants grow new babies from the bottom of the stem. Learning when to prune succulents will depend on the size of the babies and the room remaining in the container. You may like the look of a full container with smaller plants dangling and pushing over the edges. If so, don’t feel forced to prune until the overall health of the plant cannot be maintained. Succulent plant pruning only becomes necessary when the mother plant appears in decline.

When to Prune Succulents

Cutting a succulent is needed when:

  • The succulent dies after flowering (some do)
  • It is overgrown, leaning or too crowded
  • Stretched out (too tall, with bare space between the leaves)
  • Bottom leaves die (these can usually be removed without cutting)
  • Disease control

If you have succulents, you may also have a cactus or two in your collection. So what about pruning cactus plants? Ideally, you’ve planted your cactus in an area with plenty of room for growth. But, if it has overgrown and can cause danger, pruning may be needed. Cut padded cactus at the joints, never removing part of a pad.

Pruning succulent plants makes your arrangements last longer in the same container, while allowing you to multiply your plants. Pruning cactus helps keep them within a safe location. Always wear protective clothing, such as thick gloves, when working with a potentially dangerous plant.

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Read more about General Cactus Care

How to Prune Succulents

Succulents store water in their thick, fleshy leaves. Some succulents produce branching stems covered with attractive foliage, and others are more prized for their colorful flowers. Most succulents thrive in drier conditions, although nearly all make suitable houseplants if your outdoor climate is too wet. While most types do not require pruning, some branching succulents can benefit from a light trim to maintain their size and shape to thrive in a small garden bed or container.


Examine the leaves on the stem you plan to prune to determine where you should cut the stem. Find a leaf or leaf node pointed in the direction you want the stem to grow, then cut the stem just above this spot. The new growth at the pruning spot will branch in the direction of the leaf or leaf node.

Cut through the stem within 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) of the desired leaf or node. Cut at a 45-degree angle using a clean, sharp knife.

Remove up to a third of each stem's length as you prune. For trailing succulents, vary the size of each pruned stem to give the plant more visual interest.

Prune succulents in early spring, just before new growth begins. Prune flowering varieties after blooming or during the dormant winter season.

The cuttings from succulent pruning can root and grow into new plants. Plant the cuttings in a pot of moist potting soil and keep the soil moist until the cuttings root and show signs of new growth.


Some succulents, such as Euphorbia, produce an irritating sap. Wear gloves when pruning succulents to protect your skin.


SUCCULENTOPEDIA: Browse succulents by Genus, Family, Scientific Name, Common Name, Origin, or cacti by Genus

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How to Prune Dead Leaves From Succulents

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The thick, fleshy leaves and stems of succulent plants survive for a long time but they eventually shrivel and die. It's natural for some leaves to die on the plants, although rarely it can indicate disease. Promptly pruning off the dead leaves improves the look of the plants and prevents any disease organisms from spreading. Regular pruning shears can crush the succulent stems so it's better to use a sterilized, sharp knife or a razor blade to make clean cuts.

Fill a bowl with nine parts water and one part household bleach. Dip the knife into the solution between each cut to disinfect it and prevent the spread of disease, a concern when pruning away dead foliage.

Cut through off single dead leaves at the base where they connect to a stem. For succulents that form rosettes from the plant crown, cut off the leaf at its base but avoid cutting into the crown of the plant.

Trim off entire stems or branches when the leaves on the stem are all dead or showing decline on succulent varieties that produce trunk-like growth. Find a swollen leaf node on the stem beneath the dead portion. Cut through the stem 1/4 inch above the node.

Slice off dead sections of rope-like succulents, such as Rhipsalis paradoxa, between two leaf sections. These produce long ropes of foliage connected by a thin stem. Cut through the stem to remove only the damaged end sections. Remove the entire rope at the base if all the foliage is dead.

Tools you’ll need to begin pruning your plants

Like most things in life, if you want to do the job, you’re only going to be as good as the set of tools you’re given. Let’s go through some top level garden tools needed for pruning plants.

Hand pruners - For thin stems and leaves

Lopper - For thicker stems and shrubs

Splitting axe - For thick branches on trees

Watch the video: Pruning Succulents

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