Prune cast-iron plant to bring back evergreen beauty


Does your cast-iron plant look ratty? I have several large clumps of Aspidistra elatior in my shady garden, and their frayed and browned leaf tips were really bugging me.


So yesterday I pulled on my gloves, got out my hand pruners, and went to work on them. Completely browned leaves easily pull out with a gentle tug. Partially browned or ugly frayed leaves just need to be snipped at the base (or as far down as you can reach) and then pulled out. Look what a difference 10 minutes of pruning makes!

Over the years I have had a number of clients tell me not to put Aspidistra in their shady gardens because it can look ragged after a while. But all it takes is a simple pruning for cast-iron plant to be lush and beautiful again.

If you have a shady, dry garden (zones 7-10), and especially if deer are present, you don’t want to be without this tried-and-true performer, which will green up your garden year-round.

And speaking of great foliage, remember to join me tomorrow for Foliage Follow-Up, in which we celebrate all things leafy! Save your flowers for Bloom Day, and join me tomorrow for leaf love.

All material © 2006-2011 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

21 Responses

  1. Cyndy says:

    Interesting – I think of this plant as a sad looking house plant – didn’t know it could have a handsome life outdoors. Will file away for a z7 garden in the future!

  2. Chris F says:

    Pam, do you have pruning or treatment suggestions for sad succulents? I misjudged the hardiness and although I did put frost cloth over my night-blooming cereus and my others I think the root might be alive. How much do I prune? The one plant (which is one of those that isn’t jade but has similar leaves-forgot the name) has brown spots and green spots. I need some suggestions. In fact, a post where you talk about how you are triaging your garden would be great!

    Chris, I did a post about cutting back frozen succulents and other plants last year. That cold snap occurred in January, so I advised waiting until Valentine’s Day to cut anything back. Since the cold happened a little later this year, I went ahead and cut out damaged succulent leaves last weekend, and this is when I always do my big mid-February cut-back of perennials and grasses. We may still get a few freezes, but spring growth is already beginning (on certain plants), so it’s a good time to cut back. But protect your tender plants well if we get another hard freeze. —Pam

  3. Susan (Gardensage) says:

    My large cast iron plant looks just like yours did. I’ll be getting busy with my pruners. Thanks.

  4. Phillip says:

    Thanks for reminding me. This sounds like a good job for this weekend.

  5. Weeder says:

    Not to mention that I don’t think its possible to kill a Cast Iron Plant! There are several clumps of them in a spot behind my house. I know they have been there at least 60 years, possibly 70. The deer won’t eat them but the fawns sometimes bed down beneath them and then explode out from under when I innocently wander past. Apparently I have a strong heart. LOL

  6. Darla says:

    I believe I may be the only person in my neighborhood without these plants…will remedy that as soon as Julie drives by..nice tips here.

  7. Surprisingly it survives outside in Uk too. We have just put it into the sheltered courtyard of our hospice garden. Thanks for the tidiness tip! Best wishes Robert

  8. Sylvia McCormick-Wormley says:

    I love these plants for vertical accent and deep green, year round shrubs that are dependably evergreen. As Pam explanins, the yearly maintenance is so simple. I consider them very low maintenance. Don’t plant them in full Texas sun with no water….I have seen them die without at least filtered shade even though they are ‘Cast Iron’.

  9. I want my Aspidistra to be that big!!!

  10. Hello Pam,

    What great advice and proof what a little TLC can do for a plant. I think sometimes gardeners shy away too quickly from plants that only need a little attention now and then to make them look their best.

  11. Donna says:

    I too look at this as a house plant. They often look like that too.

  12. RBell says:

    Yeppers – I tend to trim ‘em early every spring. Makes a big difference. Even heard Skip Richter once say to cut ‘em to the ground late in winter – but I can’t imagine not having their evergreen presence. So just a cleanup for me.

  13. Why do we treat them with so much disrespect? Give them a little compost, lots of shade and a nice word once in a while and I find them looking like a million bucks. It needs a new name. Cast Iron Plant…..what a bummer. Can’t we come up with something more elegant for such a great southern plant?

  14. Iron plants prefer shade? That explains a lot. Time to move my pathetic specimen before it’s too late. Thanks for the tip.

  15. [...] The shapely, silvery gray trunks of native Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana) stand out against evergreen cast-iron plant (Aspidistra elatior), which I just pruned. [...]

  16. When I saw that you had pruned that in your foliage post, I wondered how you would have done that. Now, I know. What a difference that made!

  17. Dan says:

    I have a potted cast iron plant,will it survive winters in N. MS. Planning to plant outside in spring…so can I leave in ground for the winter???

    Dan, I have no idea, as I live in Austin. I’d suggest calling your local independent nursery to ask. —Pam

  18. Jody says:

    I have these planted as a hedge against my house in a fully shaded area. Probably 8 or so of them. How can I get them to thicken up – they are a little sparse in between. Are they slow growers? The other ones around the neighborhood all look like nice big clumps. Perhaps I planted too few? I’m in Austin.

    They are a little slow, Jody. Give them a bit of extra water this summer, and be patient as they fill in. —Pam

  19. Darla says:

    Thanks for the tip. Where might I find the natural wood-fencing behind your plant?

    Those are shaggy cedar posts attached to a chain-link fence, Darla. Try West Cedar Post Yard in New Braunfels. —Pam

  20. Robin says:

    Pam, somehow I missed this post in February when you wrote it. Every 2-3 years, I completely shear my Cast Iron plants to the ground. I did the large ones in my front yard this year. By June, they’ll be full of fresh new leaves again. Learned that from Skip Bayless. Of course, if they are holding a prominent space in your spring landscape, they’ll be bare for a couple of months.

    Good tip, Robin. Thanks for sharing it. —Pam

  21. Donna Ketchbaw says:

    Pam, I had a o-scape rock garden done almost 2 years ago on the north-west side of my house….lots of heat in summer & hot west sun in afternoon. The landscape person put 4 cast iron plants in the garden. They have done really well, but I must prune them now because last winter was fierce here, and they did take a beating. Anyway, to let your readers know that cast iron plants will survive in sun & heat, and also…if hungry enough, a deer will eat them when all else fails, and my flaming yucca stems, as well, but everything is recovering, slow but sure.
    Donna