How To Keep Plants Small? A 5-Step Simple Guide With Pictures

If you’re here, you probably have at least one plant that your room can’t accommodate anymore because it’s too large. You’re thinking of moving it, but where? Only if there was a way to keep plants small. Wait, there is!

If you’re looking for effective methods to keep plants small, you’re not alone – many people email me asking me this exact same question.

In short, the best way to keep plants small is by pruning their roots. Other methods to do it include:

  • Cut the tips from right above the first bud on each stem to keep plants small and bushy.

  • For herbaceous flowering plants, trim their tips when they show new growth, in spring.

  • Use small pots

  • Keep the right temperature, about 77 degrees F (25 C)

And that is not all. Here is a surprising one: use alcohol on your plants to stunt their growth. The alcohol solution has to be diluted (4-6% percent alcohol) and excludes beer or wine. If you’re thirsty for more on this topic and want to see what happens if you feed your plant alcohol, check out my article here. It answers the old-age question if plants can get drunk and offers lots of insights into the effect of alcohol on plants.

Also, if you’re a fan of the small, shallow containers, I think you’ll find interesting this article here where I talk about the best plants for shallow pots. These plants are quite popular, nothing too exotic and the shallow pots look so good, am I right?

Okay now, let’s dig in a little deeper and see how we can do all that stuff efficiently.

The main thing to do when you want to stunt your plant’s growth? Pruning.

Not only is it an efficient way to keep plants small, but pruning is necessary for the plant’s health. Keeping a healthy root system for your plant is beneficial in so many ways.

Pruning can be done on both roots or stems, depending on what you want to achieve, so let’s see the difference between the two:

  1. Pruning the roots: It’s done on a root-bound plant to retrieve optimal health or on a regular plant to stop it from growing taller.

  2. Pruning the stems: It’ is done to encourage horizontal growth, achieving fuller houseplants.

Simple guidelines for root pruning

In this article, we’re going to talk about root pruning. So, if you want to keep plants small, get root pruning right by following these simple guidelines:

  • Only cut thin roots. Do not cut any tap roots or bulbs, unless you want the plant to die.

  • Prune up to a third of the root system. You still want your plant to keep a good deal of its roots in order to survive.

  • Use a sharp tool for pruning to make sure the cuts are as clean as possible

  • Make vertical cuts on any outer roots. This prevents the plant from growing circularly.

Now that we’ve established the best practices for a successful root pruning, let’s see exactly how to prune the roots of your plant with a step by step guide.

Step by step guide on how to prune the roots of your plant

1. Secure the plant before you turn it upside down.

Hold the main stem of the plant between your index finger and your middle finger, so your palm covers the surface of the potting soil, like this:

How to keep plants small? Guide step 1. Hand holding houseplant by the stems.

2. Turn your pot upside down.

The idea is to get the plant out safely, so gently turn it upside down and hit the bottom of the pot a few times on the outside.

You can also shake it a bit if necessary. It will make some wiggle room so the plant can easily detach and slide out.

How to keep plants small? Guide step 2. Hands turn potted houseplant upside down.

3. Take a good look at the root system of your houseplant.

If you notice that your plant is rootbound but otherwise healthy – roots are creamy-white colored and firm, slice a third of the rooting system with a sharp blade.

A rootbound plant means that the roots of the plant have grown so much that they have completely taken all the space in the pot and are shaped like the pot. This is how a healthy but rootbound plant looks like:

How to keep plants small? Guide step 3. Houseplant on table with its roots at sight.

If your houseplant is not rootbound, with a pair of sharp scissors trim a third of the roots. Usually, it means trimming the clean roots sticking out of the soil. For reference, this is how a non-rootbound plant looks like:

How to keep plants small? Guide step 4. Hand with glove holding a houseplant with roots at sight.

4. Put your houseplant back into the pot. Once you are happy with the trim, fill a third of the pot with soil and place your houseplant back in the pot. Cover it with some more soil until the pot is full.

How to keep plants small? Guide step 5. Hand with glove holding a houseplant with its root at sight and a pot under it.

5. Do it again when necessary. Repeat every year in winter or as needed, if you see that your houseplant is growing too fast.

By the way, in this guide you can notice that I used a plastic pot, which is one of the most versatile type of pots that your plant can stay in.

The material of the container can have various effects on the plant. See this article here where I list all the pros and cons of keeping houseplants in containers made of different materials.

How do I make my plants grow bushier?

If you want your houseplants to be bigger, but don’t want them to grow too tall, I will present you with a few tricks to achieve short but bushy plants.

We’ll take Hibiscus as an example of this. Hibiscus is a beautiful plant that, like many others, is genetically predisposed to grow tall, but it looks even better when it’s wide. So how do you make it grow bushier?

To make any tall plant grow bushier all you have to do is cut the plant’s stems right above the second or third bud so it can develop new growth. The cut has to be as close to the leaf nodes as possible.

Pinching is a very common technique used to force the plant to grow two new stems instead of the main stem that was removed.

You can pinch any plant that has soft stems. Some plants that are good candidates for pinching are herbs, like basil and rosemary or flowering plants, like Hibiscus, Peace Lily, or Anthurium.

So there you go, this is the trick for growing bushier plants. Do it and thank me later!

By the way, if you ever owned a bushy plant, you’ll know that while it makes every room look good, it can also make a lot of mess. Because it grows horizontally, its width usually exceeds the pot’s width, so it can leave organic matter on the floor. This is just a little heads up for you to know what to expect from it.

Very small indoor plants

If you like small plants but don’t want to spend time keeping them short, nature has your back! Here’s a list with what I think are the most beautiful houseplants that stay small:

Succulents

These include cacti too, of course. You can’t go wrong with them. They are tiny, cute, easy to take care of, and really spice up any room they’re in. A very good choice!

Chinese Money Plant

A small, but bold houseplant. Her round-shaped leaves are quite large but very few and it doesn’t grow bigger than one foot, so it is easy to think of it as the perfect choice when it comes to small foliage plants.

Spider plant

A classic, am I right? The fact that it is so easy to grow this lovely, bushy houseplant makes it a great candidate for busy owners or small apartments.

Polka dot plant

How can anyone resist her attractive colored leaves? Because she’s not green, she doesn’t need much direct sunlight, so it is rather not picky to be taken care of. Although she can grow tall in her natural habitat, when grown as an indoor plant, she stays small and cute.

Dwarf Dracaena

Just like her name suggests, this house plant looks like a small cute tree in your living

room. She grows slowly, about 4 inches (10 cm) a year and it can so you won’t need to worry about keeping her small. It comes naturally with Janet Craig!

Sansevieria

This genus of flowering plants has a variety of really slow growers. They usually stop growing at about 1 foot tall. Think of the Snake Plant. Her interesting foliage pattern is a plus and makes it the star of your home.

Help! My plant is growing too tall

If your plant is growing too tall and you don’t know how to control its growth, check out this simple table that shows you exactly what you need to do depending on what you want to achieve from your houseplant.

Quick guide on keeping your houseplants smaller

What's your goal Level of difficulty What you need to do
Keep plant small and thin 4/5 - Prune the roots once a year. - Prune or pinch the stems every spring. - Remove new stems regularly. - Keep it in a small pot.
Keep plant short and bushy 3/5 - Prune the roots once a year. - Prune or pinch the stems in spring, right above the second bud on the stem.
Now, although this article is teaching you how to keep your plants small, maybe you would find it useful if I shared a bit of insight into how to encourage your plant to grow taller, in case you change your mind in the future.

Quick guide on how to grow your plants taller

What's your goal Level of difficulty What you need to do
Grow plant tall and thin 2/5 - Avoid pruning the roots (only a bit if it is root-bound) - Remove any horizontal growth. - Move it to a larger pot
Grow plant tall and bushy 1/5 - If the plant is bushy by nature, let genetics work, you don’t have to do anything! - If the plant is naturally thin, cut some of its stems above the second bud on the stem. - Move it to a larger pot
That’s it for today. Stay green, y’all!

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