If you cut all the leaves off a plant it can cause it to die back. Most plants can not recover if all of their leaves are removed. There are some exceptions and the occasional hard prune can be done to woody shrubs like camellias and hydrangeas. Deciduous plants will naturally lose all of their leaves over fall and winter but for evergreen plants it is best not to remove all of the leaves.
This article will explore what can happen if you remove all of the leaves off of a plant. What happens will depend on the type of plant, the age and the way that it grows.
Here are the main results of cutting off all the leaves from trees and shrubs.
1. The plant will decrease its rate of photosynthesis
Removing all of a plant’s leaves will decrease the rate of photosynthesis. This is the method that the plant uses to create energy to grow by capturing sunlight and turning them into carbohydrates. This will significantly slow the growth rate of the plant and it will put all of its remaining energy into growing new leaves to replace them.
If the plant does not have enough energy or water left in its system to replace the leaves the plant can die back entirely.
2. The stem can die back before new leaves appear
If the plant is young or has a weaker root system the plant can die back completely if all of its leaves are removed. If the plant is not able to photosynthesize effectively it will cause the stem to die back and its growth will stop.
3. The plant can take a long time to recover (if it does)
Removing all of the leaves will usually place all plants in a state of dormancy even if they eventually do recover. Some plants including hydrangeas do benefit from a hard prune at the end of fall when the weather turns cool.
These plants slow their growth to a stop and the stems will grow new leaves when the warm weather returns. Any plant that has all of its leaves removed will take months to recover and some never do.
Removing all the leaves from palms
Palms will not respond well if all of their leaves are cut off and will usually die as a result. When pruning palms it is important to leave at least 2 rows of healthy leaves so it can continue to photosynthesize and grow.
Removing all of the leaves off plants growing from rhizomes
Plants growing from rhizomes will store a lot of their energy in the rhizome or large root base. This rhizome can store nutrients and water meaning that the plant can continue to grow if all of the leaves are cut off.
A great example of this is the canna lily. These plants grow from underground rhizomes that will grow new growth points or buds along the root. Over winter many canna lily stems will grow back and can be cut off 2-3 inches above the soil line.
The canna lily rhizome will stay dormant in the soil until the next spring when the weather warms up and the new buds will emerge. The stems will grow large and tall again and new flowers will appear in spring, summer and fall.
What happens to a plant if you cut off all of the leaves
Most of the time if you remove all of the leaves off of a plant its growth will slow, it will place all of its energy into growing new leaves. If this happen during spring then the plant can grow leaves back quickly depending on the species.
If this happens during the colder months of winter then the plant can stay dormant until spring arrives. Almost all of the leaves of my old plectranthus have been cut off this year to tidy up the plant for new growth next year. The plant will stay with very few leaves until spring arrives.
Will leaves grow back if you cut them?
If leaves are cut in half or in pieces they will not grow back. Once the leaf has been cut then it will turn yellow or brown on the cut edge and then can die back. Some larger, strong leaves like bird of paradise can remain on the plant and stay green even if they are cut but they can tear easily.
Can a plant recover with no leaves?
Some plants can recover with no leaves. Plants that are naturally dormant over winter like apples, pears, peaches, plums and maples will all recover as soon as the warm weather arrives in spring.
Some plants however will not recover if all of their leaves are removed. Many shrubs, palms and trees will not live if their leaves are completely stripped. If this has happened to your plant due to extreme weather pests or birds then here are a few steps to follow.
Trim back any damaged stems to 1/3 of the length. Water the tree well in spring and give it a light dose of pelleted chicken manure. This will give it a burst of nitrogen to support new leaf growth.
Does taking a leaf cutting kill the plant?
Taking a leaf cutting on most plants will not kill it. As long as the plant has other leaves left on it to photosynthesize then it will continue to grow. It is important to only take leaf cuttings from healthy plants that are in their growth phase. Do this in spring when the plant is growing rapidly and will replace the leaf with new ones.
Spring is a great time to take leaf cuttings from succulents. You can simple break off leaves from the base of the plant and place them on top off good quality potting soil. Leave them on the soil and keep the soil moist until you see new leaves appearing. Once the leaf cutting has roots it can be transplanted to a new space.
What Happens When You Cut All the Leaves off a Plant | Summary
When you cut all the leaves off a plant it will slow the plant’s growth, cause it to go into a dormant phase and put all of its energy into replacing the leaves. This will happen when the weather is warm and the plant is getting enough water. If all of the leaves on a plant are removed during winter, the plant can stay leafless until the weather gets warm again.
Removing all of the leaves off of some plants can actually kill the plant. It is best not to remove any more than 1/3 of the leaf coverage of any plant unless it is growing from a rhizome. Plants like canna lilies can grow new stems again even if all of their leaves are removed.
I am an accredited practicing dietitian, experienced gardener and a dedicated cook. I love writing and sharing my experience so you can learn from my successes and mistakes.