How to Cut Back Leggy Flowers and Plants


Straggly plants are unsightly but can be encouraged to bush out by pruning back some of the top growth. If you look at a long shoot, you'll see that there are small buds at the base of each leaf. The bud at the tip of the shoot is dominant and will continue to grow. If that is removed, however, the side buds, the ones at the leaf bases, will sprout. So instead of one long shoot you have many shorter ones. Whenever possible, cut the longest shoots at a point below some lower branches that will hide the bare stems.

Step 1

Take the longest shoot of your plant and, using sharp pruning shears, cut it back about 1/4 inch above a leaf node, the place where the leaf attaches to the shoot. Choose a node that is slightly below the tips of shoots or branches around it. Make the cut at slight angle to the stem rather than directly across it. This helps moisture to flow away from the cut.

Step 2

Take your next longest shoot and, again, cut it back above a leaf node that is hidden by the surrounding growth. If your flower or plant has no shorter stems, don't worry. Cut back the longer ones about half way. The new growth this forces out will soon hide the cuts.

Step 3

Continue removing a third to a half of each shoot that seems especially long and leggy.

Step 4

Take each shorter branch and remove the tip, the dominant bud. This will promote bushy growth on these branches and prevent them from lengthening.

Tips and Warnings

  • Avoid cutting any branch or shoot back to a point where there are no leaves. Some plants will sprout from buds in these more woody areas, but some will not and the branch will simply die. If you need to reduce the size of the plant more severely, do it in stages. Cut back the longest growth to side leaves. Wait until new growth appears from lower on the branch and then cut back to those leaves.

Things You'll Need

  • Pruning shears


  • The Fun Place: Pruning Landscape Plants
  • North Carolina State University: Pruning Shrubs
Keywords: pruning back plants, pruning leggy flowers, rejuvenating straggly plants

About this Author

Over the past 30 years, Mara Grey has sold plants in nurseries, designed gardens and volunteered as a Master Gardener. She is the author of "The Lazy Gardener" and "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Flower Gardening" and has a Bachelor of Science in botany.