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The general structure of a Cordyline makes it challenging to prune them because most people are never quite sure where to cut them, especially for those who have never done it before. On top of this, you may worry about ruining the shape or at worst, killing it.
With the foliage being the dominant feature, one might expect pruning to be only the removal of the leaves and removal of the flowers (if you are lucky enough to get them) but this is not the whole process. Pruning Cordylines is not a complicated procedure and I will show you this below. Before we look closely at this, let us first discover the best time to actually prune these hardy palm-type trees and why you might need to prune them in the first place.
For those only looking for a quick answer on how to prune Cordylines, you can cut them as far down the main stem as you want to. You can even cut them back to ground level and they will pretty much always grow back again. It is important to note that you should really only undertake your pruning in the Spring, probably around April-May.
The best time to prune Cordylines
It is tempting to prune Cordylines at any given time. However, it is best to do this after winter and in the Spring, usually around April/May. It is vital to prune Cordylines at the right time so that you give them plenty of time to recuperate before the new growth sets in. Cordylines thrive when you prune them in spring as it encourages abundant leaf growth and a fuller shape. But undertaking this process in the spring also limits the risk of any further damage being caused by hard winters.
Cutting the Cordyline back severely allows growth to dominate the bottom of the stem which you can use for easy shaping. You can also utilize pruning as a method of reducing the plant’s height.
It is also common to prune Cordylines after a hard winter has killed off the main head, leaving just a bare trunk and dead foliage.
How to prune Cordylines when the time comes
Pruning Cordylines is actually easier than you might expect. All you will need is a sharp pair of secateurs for smaller Cordylines or a good pruning saw for larger ones that have thicker trunks. It is better to work with sharp cutting tools to avoid jagged areas that offer pockets for pests/diseases to hide.
Armed with the sanitised cutting tools, cut the stem as far down as you feel is needed and to the preferred height you want your Cordyline to be, leaving just the stem bare. You can cut back the plant by half, as close to the ground as you want or even to just below the head if that is what you want to do.
I know it seems brutal, but this procedure is good for the plant and they will bounce back again in spring and over the summer. Once the new growth appears, these are little green buds that emerge from the stem, you will need to remove some of the unwanted shoots to just leave a few. Each one of these tiny buds will grow into a new head, so I tend to just leave 3-4 of them when I am pruning my Cordyline.
Usually, the new buds will form just below the point where you cut the main stem. Because of this, I usually leave some buds just underneath the point where I cut off the stem and remove all of the buds that are lower down. If you cut the main stem back to ground level, they will grow new heads from ground level, usually 3-6 new heads.
Caring for Cordylines after pruning
After undergoing a hard pruning, you need some care to give them the best start possible. Nursing the plant back to health includes providing sufficient water, some feed to give them a boost and mulch to add new goodness to the soil and help retain moisture.
Mulching is especially helpful in preventing unwanted pests such as earwigs from attacking the plant. You can source organic mulch in the form of just using a layer of compost, leaf mould or even bark. Mulching also helps keep the soil moist while regulating the temperature and helps to keep the weeds under control.
Having suffered through such a major pruning, it is essential that you give the plant some nutrients. A plant with access to nutrients is likely to recover at a faster rate than a malnourished plant would. Giving Cordylines well-rotted manure or general-purpose fertiliser will give the plants enough resources to support the incoming growth. I actually like to feed them a liquid seaweed feed.
Protecting Cordylines during the winter
One of the most common reasons for gardeners pruning their Cordylines is that a hard winter has killed the main head and leaves. One of the best ways to avoid this in the first place is to give them a little winter protection. Personally, I always tie the leaves up, in an upward fashion, using some twine to protect the crown.
I also wrap them in fleece to give the plant that extra bit of protection, if the size allows. Any potted cordylines I tend to move into my greenhouse, however, a conservatory will work just as well. If you are unable to do this, try to move it to a sheltered area of the garden and wrap the pot up in sacking to help protect the roots.
Pruning Cordylines can be a little daunting, but it’s often well worth doing and they pretty much always bounce back, usually even better than before. Your Cordylines will bask in the glory of rejuvenation and look neater when the new growth sets in, out with the brown and yellow leaves and in with the fresh green ones.
Cordylines don’t need pruning like some plants, but you can do it occasionally to maintain a neat and stunning Cordyline shape, as well as give them a new lease of life. They are tough plants, so do not worry, they will spring back like nothing ever happened.
One final thing we would like to mention is to just be aware that it’s usually just the green Cordylines and some of the red varieties that can be planted outside. The more exotic-looking varieties are usually too tender or need to be brought indoors over winter as they are not hardy enough to survive the winter outside.