How to prune or cut back Crown of Thorns

love_the_yard(z9A Jax FL)May 18, 2014

I need advice on my Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia milii). I was able to easily root COT and have them in pots all over my yard. They add such reliable color and are never not in bloom. How can you not love that? All of the plants in the photos below came from one single red and one single pink plant.

The problem is that some of these rooted cuttings are getting a leggy and top heavy. Would you prune these? If so, where along the stem would you make the cut?

I have noticed, from a few COT that got frozen back, that no matter where the freeze damage stops along the stem, new growth is almost always (but not 100%) from the roots. Most of the time (but not 100%), there is no new growth along the healthy branches. New growth comes up straight up from the soil line even though there are healthy branches. So that makes me wonder if should I cut these back off near the soil? It doesn't seem like there is any advantage to leaving 3-4" of stem because it will be left just waving there in the air with no leaves or flowers. I'm afraid it will be an eyesore sticking up in the middle of the plant. What do you think? Anyone have any good info about cutting back COT?

The closest I could find was this Martha Stewart video linked below but it is just completely worthless. She hacks this poor lady's COT up to pieces, doesn't address the lady's questions and really doesn't have a clue. I swear Martha is just shooting from the hip as she goes along and she as much as says so:

Martha: I'm going to trim off this dead wood...Oh look... it just breaks right off.

Martha: Don't you think it is a little tall?

Sweet lady: Definitely.

Martha: maybe we can cut it down a little bit... there's nothing happening down here... so if we just sort-of cut it off here...

Sweet lady: Will it sprout down at the bottom?

Martha: I don't know if it will or not but we'll see.
(You don't know? You'll see?! )

And then Martha runs off with all of the cuttings.

Of course, we never do see. There is no post-op follow-up.

So what would you do?

Carol in Jacksonville

Here is a link that might be useful: Martha Stewart - Pruning and Propagating Crown of Thorns Plants

This post was edited by love_the_yard on Sun, May 18, 14 at 11:58

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zzackey(8b GA)

I would put them in bigger pots and prune when they get bigger. I used to live in Vero Beach. I grew mine in the yard. I cut them and let the cuttings dry a few days before I potted them up.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2014 at 5:35PM
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love_the_yard(z9A Jax FL)

Hi Zackey,

Thanks for the help. When you cut yours back, did you cut them at the ground? Or at some length above the ground? From where did the new growth come? I'm not worried about rooting cuttings so much as where to make my cuts.

Thanks so much!

    Bookmark   May 18, 2014 at 9:36PM
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love_the_yard(z9A Jax FL)

Ok, so let's do an experiment.

Both of these plants came from the same mother plant. Both were rooted cuttings, cut on the same day (March 18, 2013) and rooted at the same time. They have been growing in same conditions:

One cut at 4" above the soil; the other cut just slightly above the soil line:

I'll let these harden off in the shade for about 4-5 days and then pot up to root. They will stay in the shade while rooting. No watering while rooting:

In the name of science.

Stay tuned...

This post was edited by love_the_yard on Tue, May 20, 14 at 18:48

    Bookmark   May 20, 2014 at 6:33PM
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I'm sooo glad you are doing this, Carol! I have about 20 cot in pots and have been looking at them for months wondering how to cut them back. I've done some before and been left with a bare stem just like you I'll be waiting for the results of your experiment.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2014 at 7:34AM
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juneroses Z9a Cntrl Fl

Thanks from me too, Carol. I was hoping someone would pipe up with an answer.

I have a common COT - corally pink color - that was getting tall. I cut back the tallest stalk and rooted the cutting. Now, one year later, the cutting is nearly as big as the mother. Both have a lovely shape with nicely spaced branches, etc.

THEN...I bought a larger flowered Thai variety at a plant fair. It's grown much taller but, except for the ring of branches at the base that it came with, there've been no more. I pruned the tall stalk and replanted the mother plant in a larger pot. This allowed me to bury the branches in the soil so right now it does look bushy.

Meanwhile I again rooted the cutting. The cutting is growing just like mom - a tall stalk with a ring of branches at the base. Plus neither of the Thais seem willing to drop their now empty flower stalk. These just keep hanging on.

The Thai flower clusters are impressive, but I prefer the form of the regular one.


    Bookmark   May 21, 2014 at 7:52AM
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Hello Carol, thank for the experiment.
I have a huge collection of COT, but never have much luck with cuttings. I killed most of my cuttings.
I cut, dry them for few days, but when I plant them, I felt so sorry for them and I always over water. You said, no water while rooting. For how long?
I am sorry, I haven't check back with this forum for awhile.
I also got many big pots with frozen branches over the winter. They don't look so good right now.
p.s. I didn't do anything but cut down the main stem.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2014 at 6:25PM
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love_the_yard(z9A Jax FL)

Hester, June and Marie, I'm so glad you posted! It's a lot more fun to think that a few people are interested than I am talking to myself. :) I know you all have beautiful COTs. I'm glad there are some other COT-lovers besides me! :)

Watered the two plants that got the severe cuttings for the first time today. Careful to water around them the perimeter of the pot and pour no water directly into/onto the cut stem.

Potted up the two hardened-off stems on Thursday. That might seem too soon but they seemed ready, all the white sap had dried up, and this time of year is prime growing time - I hate to waste/lose any days early in the year. Rooting a cutting of anything in May vs. rooting it in September is light-years different. Things want to grow in May; not so much in September. In the fall, they are tired and ready to go to sleep. So I was eager to get them off to the races while the year is still young.

Marie, the secret to rooting cuttings is no watering but also, like I said above, doing it early in the year. Start by drying your cuttings in shade - NO sun. You probably already know and do that. When you pot them up, you can pot them at any depth. Just be sure to put them deep enough that they don't fall over. Next, keep them in shade while rooting. We know that these plants love sun but not while rooting. 100% shade or dappled sunlight during the rooting process. Next, do not water for maybe... hmmm... three weeks? I will let you know as I follow these stem cuttings. I haven't rooted any since last year and it's hard for me to remember. I don't use hard and fast time-frames as much as a gut feel. I will let you know when I first water these new ones and we'll count the days. I have been very successful in rooting both Milii and Lomi with this method, in fact, I don't think I have ever lost a cutting.

Marie, also don't toss out your plants with frozen branches. I had many with the same problem and they are all coming back from the roots (except for one Milii and one Lomi). All of the rest are putting up new growth from the roots and this last Lomi is going to get a few more weeks to do it because it feels firm at the base. Maybe yours are doing the same?... because you are right, mine don't look so good either! I know that they will spend the night in my kitchen on hard-freeze nights next winter. The screened-in porch just did not cut it.

All for now on COTS,

    Bookmark   May 24, 2014 at 11:36AM
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about frozen plants...maybe cut back to undamaged part of plant. Of course it might be damaged all the way to the ground.

to make a nice full plant I like to place 3 cuttings in the same pot :-)

    Bookmark   May 24, 2014 at 3:35PM
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love_the_yard(z9A Jax FL)

Laura, that's a good idea. I may try that! I assume you are using a larger pot... or rooting COTs with few leaves? I wouldn't have room for more than one cutting in a 4" or 6" pot but an 8" or 10" would work great.

Here's an update on the experiment:

Nothing happening here. It's going to take awhile:

The cuttings below are doing fine. Not time to water them yet. Remember that COTs are succulents and they store a lot of water. It takes a long time for them to get dehydrated if they are kept in the shade. These will stay in full shade all of the time while rooting:

By the way, those two clay pots are the exact same size. Isn't that an interesting optical illusion. :)


This post was edited by love_the_yard on Sat, May 31, 14 at 14:25

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 2:16PM
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Carol, I post my COT on Cacti and succulents forum on May 31 2014

I will NOT water for 3 weeks like you said, next time I do cuttings.

Thank you for suggestion.


    Bookmark   June 4, 2014 at 4:47PM
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I'm curious to know how your experiment is coming along. Did the mother plants grow new branches?

I just received the pictured COT from a lady from church yesterday. As you can see, it's quite leggy!

My husband thinks we should just cut 6-7" from the top and root them. Of course, I don't know the first thing about rooting these, but from reading your posts, I think I may just give it a try...



    Bookmark   July 28, 2014 at 10:37AM
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zzackey(8b GA)

I would cut the plant two thirds of the way back so it can get bushy. I take about a 4 inch cutting. Taking most of the leaves off except for a few at the top. I always watered mine and they got rained on. I only watered them a few times a week.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2014 at 12:40PM
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I bumped this up as I am wondering how your plants look. I also cut some of the biggest stems and so far, not much has happened. they haven't rotted where I cut so that's something.
All blooms have stopped as I've finally learned that they will bloom in low light (the Thai ones) and will start looking good late fall.
so they sit in pots out of the way until it's time for display.
When you can, let us know how you did.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2014 at 12:46PM
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I have mostly Thai COT. The picture doesn't do the flowers justice as they are more luminous in real life ... and as mentioned, barely ever out of bloom. I cut them about four weeks ago so that was the end of bloom, but it's coming back. They are branching out below where cut, but they were well branched to begin with and I cut mostly top growth. They are mostly behaving as you would expect any plant.

Getting rooting down is tricky. I've had many rot. I've also had my best luck rooting in water after the cutting has dried some. Still working on figuring out the easiest technique. Trying the pot-up-keep-in-the-shade-but-don't-water method presently. What's for sure is that when they rot, it's almost instantaneous from top to bottom.

Last year was their first winter (east Hillsborough). The first frost I covered them. By the later 2 or 3 frosts, I had given up and didn't). They were unharmed (to my shock!) don't know how much they could take. Wish I could make covering easier. Would like some of those smudge pots they burned in orange groves during freezing weather back in the day. (Those are probably antiques now.)

    Bookmark   August 17, 2014 at 1:42PM
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wow - those are beautiful! Mine are pathetic in comparision.
You've prompted me into doing more cutting to get branching.
Thanks for the pics -

Carol are you out there??!!

    Bookmark   August 18, 2014 at 3:11PM
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love_the_yard(z9A Jax FL)

Hi Hester and Everyone,

Sorry I haven't been around much lately. It's been a busy summer and not much gardening.

Sadly, the two experimental crown-of-thorns did absolutely nothing. Today they look exactly the same as they did in my post of May 31, 2014. No growth whatsoever. I'm pretty sure if I had taken better care, they would have done fine. They get too much shade at the back of the porch and I didn't give them regular waterings.

On the other hand, the two cuttings rooted without any problem. That's probably because I gave them the same care as their mothers and for them (the cuttings), it was proper, LOL! They took off and a month later, I gave them to some friends.

I will have to repeat the experiment in the future when I can do a better job with the follow-up care. I still have the two mother plants and may move them out to a full-sun situation for the next couple months while there is a little bit of growing season left. It would be interesting to see what happens.

Carol in Jacksonville

    Bookmark   August 18, 2014 at 6:15PM
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Thanks, Carol
I'll keep trying!
Sorry you haven't had time to do much gardening - I know how you love it.
I think at this point, we are all looking forward to fall - here in Sarasota, it's been incredibly humid, hot and dry. Very weird for summer with no rain.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 7:25AM
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