Prayer Plants (Maranta leuconeura) are not always easy to grow, but they are stunning when you can keep them happy. They’re not the fastest-growing houseplants around, but Prayer Plant can get noticeably bigger over just a few months. So you may be wondering: should I prune my Prayer Plant? If so, how?
Pruning a Prayer Plant keeps it looking neat and healthy, and encourages new growth. Cut back your Prayer Plant if it looks leggy or getting too large, or to remove any dying leaves and stems. Pruning is a simple process – just use some sterilized, sharp garden shears to cleanly cut the Prayer Plant to the desired size.
I’ll admit that I killed a couple of Prayer Plants before I got the hang of taking care of them. Because of that experience, I was hesitant to prune my healthy Maranta even though it had some pieces that were long and unruly. What if I damaged it? Would it just die on me? These aren’t the easiest plants around, so I definitely did my homework before pruning for the first time. Here’s what I’ve learned from my research and experimenting with different techniques.
Do Prayer Plants Need To Be Pruned?
It isn’t strictly necessary to prune a Prayer Plant, but most people will want to do so at least once every few years. That’s because the way a Prayer Plant naturally grows doesn’t always suit the way people want their houseplants to look.
In their natural habitat, Prayer Plants grow low to the ground on the tropical forest floors of South America. In those conditions, they spread either via underground rhizomes or by producing new roots from their trailing stems. Like other vining plants, Marantas will continue to grow longer and longer stems if they aren’t pruned, and they usually get leggy and sparse if they grow too long.
When young Prayer Plants are sold in stores, they generally look like a plant that grows straight up from the soil. That is because these plants are propagated from the stem cuttings of mature plants. Plant producers maximize their profit by potting the shortest possible stems that will grow into a new plant.
It’s only after the Prayer Plant starts to get more mature that its vines grow long enough to trail over the side of the pot. This could be a surprise if you weren’t expecting it, especially if you’re familiar with cousins of the Prayer Plant that do grow vertically, like Calatheas or Stromanthe.
I wouldn’t recommend trying to keep your Prayer Plant from trailing, since working against its natural growth will just frustrate you over time. But you can definitely trim it back if the stems are getting too long or flopping onto the floor.
If you are hesitant about pruning your Prayer Plant, remember that plants in nature lose leaves and stems all the time and are none the worse for it. In the protected environment of your home, your Prayer Plants aren’t exposed to storms, high winds, or being trampled by animals. They rarely lose leaves without human intervention. Pruning eliminates weak or unhealthy stems, allowing the plant to focus its energy on new and healthy growth.
I have also been lucky enough to have one of my Prayer Plants bloom over the past few months! Their flowers aren’t big or showy, but I still like seeing them. After the flowers die off, they leave behind a stalk that quickly turns brown and dies. I usually cut the stalk back as soon as all the buds on it have finished blooming.
Reasons to Prune a Prayer Plant
The most common reasons for pruning a Prayer Plant are listed below. Then scroll down to find more details about each one in the section below.
The main reasons people choose to prune Prayer Plants are:
To keep the plant looking bushy and compact: Pruning off longer stems keeps a Prayer Plant full and balanced in the pot. Over time, Prayer Plants can get leggy, especially if they are not getting quite enough light. By pruning the plant, you also have some cuttings that can be propagated to fill in bare areas in the pot. More on this later.
To encourage new growth: If you cut your Prayer Plant’s stem just below a node, your plant is likely to generate a new leaf or stem from that node. You can use this method to encourage growth on parts of the plant that are more sparse.
To keep the plant healthy: Regular maintenance pruning is necessary to keep the plant looking its best. All plants shed some old growth or get damaged leaves now and then, so removing them should be a regular part of your plant care routine.
Pruning a Prayer Plant That Is Too Big or Too Long
Prayer Plants can get noticeably bigger in the space of just one growing season. Many of us want to grow our houseplants to be as big and impressive as possible, but there are plenty of reasons that you might want to keep a Prayer Plant small.
Maybe you prefer to keep it in the same container instead of sizing up, or you might just be at the limit of available plant space. Or maybe some of the longer stems are getting untidy. Whatever the reason, pruning a Prayer Plant to get the right size and shape can help you reach your goals.
For more detailed information specific to pruning a fast-growing Prayer Plant, head over to this article: How to Cut Back a Prayer Plant That is Growing Too Quickly.
Pruning a Prayer Plant to Encourage New Growth
Sometimes Marantas grow a lot on one side and not much at all on the other. Occasionally rotating the plant can help, but you might also want to strategically prune it to grow more in the desired areas.
After you prune your Prayer Plant, new leaves and stems should emerge from the node closest to the cut you made. Remember that this is best done in the spring or early summer to get maximum growth throughout the growing season.
Pruning to Keep Your Prayer Plant Healthy
This type of pruning is meant to remove damaged, dying, or dead growth. Most people will want to do this type of maintenance pruning periodically, even if they don’t cut back their Marantas for any other reason.
You might also need to prune off parts of your Prayer Plant as part of an attempt to save it from a serious insect infestation. Sometimes it is easier to remove major portions of the plant than to try to treat it.
Unlike the two pruning methods listed above, you do not need to restrict this type of pruning to a particular season or worry about doing it too often. Any time you see a leaf turning yellow or brown on your Prayer Plant, or if it accidentally gets torn or broken, go ahead and cut that part off. Unfortunately, a damaged leaf can’t regain its health and will eventually die and fall off anyway. A quick removal will keep your plant healthy and looking good.
What to Use For Pruning Prayer Plants
You don’t need any specialized tools to prune a Prayer Plant. Their stems don’t get very thick or woody, so you shouldn’t need to invest in any heavy-duty pruning shears. The most important factor is sharpness. Dull shears can crush the stem instead of cutting through it cleanly.
If you don’t already have pruning shears, these are a great option to add to your collection: Fiskars Pruning Scissors. They are large enough to cut through a fairly thick stem, but slim enough to reach into the tighter spots in a bushy plant.
Remember to sterilize your cutting tools before you prune with them to avoid spreading bacteria to the plant. I use regular 70% rubbing alcohol to clean my tools, although you can also use household bleach diluted to 10% strength.
When is the Best Time of Year for Pruning?
The best time of year for pruning is during the spring or early summer. This timing allows your plant to make the most of the growing season. Since pruning can be slightly stressful, your plant will have the maximum available energy to devote to growth and recovery.
It is better to do all of your major pruning at the same time, instead of cutting off pieces here and there. You should avoid removing more than 25% of the plant’s volume at one time, if possible, unless you are trying to save the plant from pests or disease.
The worst season to prune your Prayer Plant is winter. During this time, it will be mostly inactive in a state of energy conservation. Any serious pruning could cause the plant to experience shock as it may not have enough resources to heal the cuts. On the other hand, you can remove dead or dying growth at any time, as this doesn’t require any recovery.
Where to Cut a Prayer Plant for Pruning
There’s no single correct place to cut a Prayer Plant for pruning; it depends on your goals. You will want to consider both the appearance of the plant and the effect your pruning will have on its future growth.
If you are pruning away dead or dying growth, cut away as much of the leaf or stem as possible without damaging the surrounding healthy parts. Leaves and stems that are fully dried and dead can sometimes be removed just by gently pulling them off the plant without cutting.
Pruning to control size or growth takes a bit more consideration, but it is not difficult. Start with your final goal in mind: are you hoping to propagate a lot of cuttings to start a new plant? Do you want to even out your Prayer Plant so it looks more balanced?
Determine which stems you want to prune, and then check where the petioles (where a leaf joins the stem) and nodes (where new growth emerges from the stem) are located. If you are pruning to generate new growth, make sure you leave the node still attached to the plant. Growth generally emerges from the node closest to the cut.
On the other hand, if you are hoping to propagate from your cuttings, make sure you have at least one complete node on the piece you cut off. The section below will explain more about how to propagate Prayer Plants, but the primary consideration when deciding where to prune is that the node on your cutting is fully intact. Without a node (and preferably a leaf or two), your cutting will never grow into a new plant.
A Note About Nodes
If you’re not sure what I mean when I refer to nodes, they are simply the part of a plant where new growth (roots, leaves, stems) can emerge. To identify nodes, take a look at your Prayer Plant’s stems. The node is noticeably thicker than the rest of the stem and may be a lighter green color than the rest of the stem. Any place where a stem splits into two or a leaf petiole emerges has a node.
Propagate What You Prune
Propagating Prayer Plants is easy! They can be propagated in the same way as other vining plants like Philodendron or Pothos. These types of plants can produce new roots directly from their stems. While Prayer Plants do produce flowers and seeds, propagating them from cuttings is by far the easier option.
I usually like to propagate a few stems simultaneously to create a new Prayer Plant pot – just one stem looks lonely. You can also propagate it right in the same pot as the original plant if you want to make it look fuller.
To propagate, prune an appropriate cutting from the mother plant. The cut piece should include at least one leaf and a node. To ensure you do not accidentally damage the node when you’re cutting, cut at least a half-inch away from it.
Once you have your cutting, place it in a container of water, so the node is completely submerged but the leaf is not touching the water. Do not allow any leaves to be under the waterline, as they will soon start to break down from the moisture. Prayer Plant stems also sometimes have a kind of sheath over their stems – you should remove those if they are submerged.
Place the container with your cutting(s) in a location similar to where your other Prayer Plant is growing. It should be in a place with indirect sunlight, high humidity, and away from drafts and cool temperatures. You could use a plastic back over the cutting to create a higher humidity, greenhouse-like environment to encourage even faster propagation, just make sure it still has some airflow and the bag doesn’t touch the leaves.
Within a few weeks, you will see small roots start to emerge from the Prayer Plant cutting. Change the water every few days, or at least once a week. Once the roots are a few inches long, you can transfer the cutting to a small pot of soil. Before long, it should start to establish itself.
Putting It All Together
Pruning Prayer Plants is not only possible but highly encouraged for keeping these plants looking healthy. The pruning method may be different depending on your reason for wanting to cut it back. Remember to evaluate the node’s location before you cut, so you can get the type of growth you want from your Prayer Plant.
It is normal to be hesitant about pruning your Prayer Plants for the first time, regardless of why you need to do it. But don’t worry! They can withstand significant pruning and should spring back with even more healthy and vigorous growth afterward.