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Leggy Houseplants: Why Plants Stretch Out and What to Do About It
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Leggy Houseplants: Why Plants Stretch Out and What to Do About It

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We made it through winter and are excited to welcome spring! This time of year we hear a lot of concern over "leggy" houseplants. Not to worry! We have all the answers: what this means, why this happens, and what we can do about it.

What does it mean to have “leggy” houseplants? We have a resident chicken named Leggy, and her long slender legs are perfect representatives of this gangly houseplant phenomenon.

Leggy, Our Resident Bantam Hen | Pistils Nursery

The term describes plants that have long spindly stems with sparse leaves, or vines with long internodes and leaves just at the ends. Sometimes described as “etoliated,” these plants spent winter stretching for sunlight and dropping their lower leaves to conserve energy. So it makes sense that when sunlight hours are shorter, our plants start to get “leggy.” Not to fret!—with springtime sun on its way, we can give our plants a little refresh and shape them into their former, luscious looks.

Leggy Ludisia | Pistils Nursery

How can you help a houseplant grow denser and less leggy?

1. Increase Amount of Light

Move leggy houseplants to a position with brighter sunlight to encourage new bushy growth. You can also supplement your houseplants' light source with grow lights, especially in darker times of the year. You can also turn your houseplants periodically to keep your plants round and symmetric. 

2. Increase Humidity

Some plants become leggy if they are not given an ample amount of humidity or moisture in the air. Some of these include: Hoya, Scindapsus, and Begonia. Consider positioning a humidifier nearby or building a pebble tray if your home has dry air.

Begonia Avalanche - Pistils Nursery

3. Preening and Pinching

To encourage new growth and branching stems, you can cut leggy houseplants just above the nodes or growth points. This is an easy way to keep houseplants compact.
      Every spring we use sanitized, sharp shears to perform springtime maintenance. We trim the leaves or vines that might be a little yellow, have brown spots, or have grown leggy and stretched out. When we trim and shape our plants, we make sure not to cut off more than ⅓ of the total foliage. Out with the old and in with the new.

4. Propagate

If you want to make a fuller pot or fix a plant's "bald top" (or leafless area near the soil), you can propagate the long vines or tall stems of a plant and repot it with the original after the cutting has rooted. Check out our propagation blog for specifics, but plants that generally benefit from this are: Ficus and other indoor trees, succulents, Epipremnum and other vining plants.
      Another way to encourage branching is to make shallow cuts on a branch to expose the tender plant tissue below the tough exterior. A Fiddle Leaf Fig, for instance, might grow a new branch if you make shallow cuts across a leafless node.
      If you have a String of Hearts, String of Pearls, or another "curtain plant" with a bald top, you can wrap the leafless parts of the vines back on top of the soil to encourage the leafless nodes to root. To help this process along, try misting the soil every few days and make sure the rooting nodes are exposed to enough bright light to encourage growth.

Propagate your Houseplants - Pistils Nursery

We love all of our houseplants, even if they look stretched out and sparse, but it’s rewarding to freshen them up and watch them grow densely in the spring and summer months. We can learn a thing of two from our plants as they start to relax and take in the extra sunshine. Winter is hard for a lot of us, the the longer days and extra sun encourage us all to grow.

By Bee Oxford