Pruning and Trimming Succulents

Succulent plants often need pruning to remove unruly or overgrown growth, and their dead or dying stems, leaves, and flower stems trimmed.
Succulent Growth

Succulent Growth

©Rustic White Photography

Rustic White Photography

In addition to being among the most exotic-looking and easy-to-grow garden plants, succulents are fleshy plants that store water in leaves, stems, or both, and come in a huge assortment of interesting shapes, sizes, and colors, often with stunning flowers and unique frills or spines.

However, some get quite large or sprawl outwards and can outgrow their garden space or container, getting quite unruly and in need neatening up. Succulent plants often need pruning just like any other kind of garden favorites, for size control, to shape them better, or to propagate them for more plants. And though most succulents can seal off damaged parts, it is always good to quickly remove broken, diseased, or dead leaves, stems and flower stalks. 

Though landscape maintenance crews have been known to use string trimmers to quickly remove spent flowers from low-growing Sedum and other succulent groundcovers, this can be tricky and requires a steady hand. For cleaner cuts less likely to decay, it is much better to use clean clippers, a sharp knife, or a pruning saw with fine teeth. If plants are diseased, avoid spreading the problem by swabbing or dipping blades in alcohol before starting or when cutting lots of plants.

When pruning succulents with spines or milky sap, wear gloves, especially around members of the Euphorbia genus such as pencil cactus or crown of thorns, whose milky sap is very irritating to some gardeners.

Echeveria, Graptopetalum, Crassula, Aeonium, Yucca, and other long-stem or multi-branched succulents can be kept compact with occasional pruning. Because new growth typically sprouts near the end of cut ends, simply prune stems to where you want new growth to emerge. You can train some to grow in different directions by cutting just above a small branch or bud that is pointing the right direction; this is often done by growers of succulent bonsai.

In many cases, the cut-off portions can be allowed to dry a few days and then rooted in well-drained potting soil, or stuck into a planter or wall hanging for rooting right in place.

Trimming succulents grown in-ground outdoors is best done in early spring just before new growth begins; year-round tropical species can be pruned nearly any time the weather or indoor temperatures are warm. Prune flowering varieties while dormant in the winter, or soon after blooming. In the case of Agaves, which after flowering usually die down completely leaving only small sucker or offset plants at their base, remove the entire dead flowering stem and dried flattened leaves, to make room for more to grow from basal offsets.

Remember, most succulents are very forgiving after being shaped or neatened up, and often the cuttings can be rooted to start new plants elsewhere.

Simple Succulents 03:34

Our expert shares her secrets for growing and selecting succulents.

Next Up

What is a Succulent Plant

Succulent plants, from tropical to cold hardy, come in astounding variety of sometimes bizarre shapes, colors, and unique features; they have fleshy leaves or stems which help them store water for weeks or months.

Succulent Gardens

Succulent gardens, both indoors and out, are interesting, low maintenance, and easy, and contain a variety of sometimes-bizarre plants in many shapes, sizes, colors, and features. The most crucial things they need are bright light, and well-drained soils that never stay wet.

Caring for Succulents

Succulents are pretty low maintenance compared with other garden plants, but do have certain requirements for light, water and fertilizer.

Transplanting and Propagating Succulents

Succulent plants are very easy to transplant into different garden settings, and are perhaps the easiest plants of all to grow from cuttings, division, stem cutting, and rooted leaves.

Growing Succulents Outdoors

Create the right conditions for growing exotic-looking hardy succulents outdoors in an garden, anywhere in the country.

Types of Succulents

Succulent plants offer an incredible array of types, sizes, shapes, colors, flowers, fruits, garden uses, and temperature tolerances, coming from a wide range between tropical jungles, deserts, mountains, and extremely cold climates.

Different Colors of Succulents

Succulent plants come in a vast array of leaf shapes and colors, enough to satisfy the designer eye in any gardener.

Aloe Succulents

Aloe is a large group of succulent plants with rosettes of thick, juicy leaves and bloom spires topped with beautiful clusters of mostly red or yellow hummingbird-attracting flowers. Many popular Aloes tolerate frost or short freezes.

Succulent Plants

Succulent plants are those with juicy leaves or stems for holding water through long periods of drought. They come in a vast array of shapes, colors, sizes, unique features, and temperature tolerance, are suitable for growing in dry garden areas or in containers both indoors and out.

Hen and Chicks Succulents

Forget proper Latin names of plants; this never-ending debate among horticulturists and botanists gets thrown out the window when it comes to common or local names for plants. Case in point: Hens and chicks succulents.

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