Trim cordylines for better growth

Cordyline2 - Copy


Cordylines are reliable, hard-working plants from the tropics and subtropics and today are grown all round the world in warm-temperate to equatorial climates.  In cooler climates they are popular indoor plants and continued breeding now brings us cordylines in bright stripes and splodges of cream, peach, orange, red, burgundy, pink, yellow, cream and many shades of green.

This range of colour, and the leaf shape that varies from strap-thin to broad and fleshy makes them ideal year-round foundation plants.

Only problem is, cordylines get very straggly once the stems start to gain height.  Where I live, gardens are full of such sad and ragged-looking specimens, because people don’t know how to manage them.

The secret with keeping your cordylines in good shape – and colour – is to be ruthless and cut off their heads!  Yes!  Decapitate them with gusto and they’ll serve you well for many years.

Cordylines look at their best when keeping a low profile. So when a cordyline becomes too tall and straggly for its position, take a clean, sharp pair of secateurs, shears or loppers and remove top growth, leaving about 1 foot (40 cms) of bare stem.  The amount of stem left standing is not critical and may depend on what height you wish to maintain your plant – taller growth at the back of a bed, shorter growth in front.

This can be done at any time of year though I prefer to do it at the start of the cool season, so the plant can remain dormant for a while and gather its strength for a boost of new growth when the warm weather starts again. Where I live, most rainfall occurs in summer. HOWEVER, do NOT do this where you have a lot of cool season rainfall because the leafless plants will tend to rot if left in cold, wet ground.  In such climates, do your cutting back at the end of the cool season.

To encourage new growth when warm weather starts, add some compost or blood and bone around the base of the plant. Water well but don’t over-do it because cordylines will rot if the ground is saturated for long periods.  Like most tropical foliage plants, cordylines benefit most from regular misting.

Dracaenas can also be cut back in this way, when they become too tall and straggly.

For more information on managing tropical foliage plants go to



8 thoughts on “Trim cordylines for better growth

  1. My husband has just cut off the lower leaves plus they both had young shoots on..I’m furious as I wanted to put up the young shoots ,they were quite prolific.
    It august & we live on coast in south uk.
    Has he done wrong , I mean cutting it

  2. How long before you see the new growth after you trim them. I trimmed them a few weeks ago in March and still do not see any action.

  3. Hello
    I was wondering if you had any tips on how to rejuvenate my beautiful pink cordyline. I had it potted in part shade but then planted in a more sunny spot as I thought it might be outgrowing the pot. Now she’s struggling and no leaves are growing on any of the stem except at the top 😪 do you have any suggestions? Should I re pot? Will the leaves return on the lower stem?

    • Yes, I would repot. And put into a position where there is light shade and protection from direct midday sun. Water lightly and don’t allow potting soil to dry out – but don’t let it become soggy, either. No fertiliser until there is some regrowth, then use a half-strength liquid fertiliser. Once the cordyline is doing well again you can plant in a lightly-shaded position in the garden. Soil should be a light sandy loam – cordylines thrive in sandy souls but not in clay. Cordylines are tough plants and will usually respond to a bit of care even when they appear to be nothing more than a dead stick!

  4. I’m actually trying to to get tall plants, (cordyline red star). i have three with trunks from 1 to 2 foot. Trunks are inch and a half in diameter. Is there anything i can do to get thicker trunks or will they get thicker over time?

    • Tall AND thick-stemmed takes some management. The trunks do thicken a bit over time but the best way to achieve this is to cut them back each year, at the end of summer/hot season, for two years. They will grow up tall again but the stems will be thicker towards the base, though top growth will remain thinner. Repeated cutting back will increase thickening, with new growth spouting from the top and sides of stem.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s