It’s happened to all of us. Suddenly, your big, beautiful tropical plant is only putting out small new growth; tiny little leaves that look puny and immature compared to the rest of the plant. What’s worse, they often wilt shortly after they appear!

There are a few reasons why your indoor plants might put out small new growth. In today’s edition of Pistils Rx, we tackle a few of the most common (and easiest to remedy)!

Why is my houseplant putting out small new growth?

Reason 1: Accumulated Salts.

Wait, what? Salts?

Yes, you read correctly. Salts. The water that you diligently provide your indoor plant is chock-full of dissolved mineral salts (more or less depending on your water quality and whether it’s soft or hard). Over time, these salts come out of solution and build up in your soil. Ever seen a white or yellow, somewhat crusty ring appear on your pot or on top of the soil? These are those mineral salts, building up in your pot and hurting your plant! They also have a habit of showing up around drainage holes, or even on the outside of pots made out of a porous material like terra cotta. A salt build-up in your pot can do all sorts of damage to your plant (they suck water out of the roots), and one of the most noticeable symptoms is small new growth.

The solution?

Luckily, this is an easy one to fix! When it’s watering time, you’ll want to leach your pot of accumulated salts, rather than just giving the plant its normal hydration. Here’s how:
1 – If a salt crust has formed, manually remove this first, taking care not to remove more than 1/4″ of soil.
2 – Slowly pour a large volume of water into your pot, making sure to saturate the entire pot. Going slowly assures it’s absorbed, not just flowing down the sides of the pot.
3 – Wait a bit, until you see water draining out of the bottom of the pot. Then add more water to flush the pot completely. Water with about double the volume of the pot. Keep pouring water though until the soil has been saturated several times.

If your pot has no drainage, or you can tell that the salt build-up is extreme, it’s time to repot your plant with fresh soil.

You’ll want to leach all your pots every 4-6 months to inhibit buildup. When you water, make sure not to let the pots sit in excess water – they’ll just soak those salts back up and the problem will get worse.

Reason 2: Not Enough Light.

The plants you buy at your local nursery have spent the majority of their lives in a greenhouse with optimal light. Here in dark, grey Portland, it’s rare that our homes have the sufficient light needed to grow to their full potential. This often results in new growth being small and immature. This is especially common in plants with a lot of distinction between the mature and immature leaves, like Monstera deliciosa, which require bright light to get the “split” and “holes” in large leaves.

If your plant has moved from a bright to a dim spot and is putting out small new growth, you might try moving it closer to a light source (whether artificial or natural), taking care to avoid too much direct sun if your plant is tropical.

If your plant looks out of balance, not to worry! Most tropicals respond well to pruning, especially those with vining habits. If you prune off stems with small new growth, your plant will respond by pushing out new stems. If the plant is now getting sufficient light, these leaves should take on the mature, large form.

Reason 3: Over-watering.

Over-watering is the number 1 culprit for all plant problems, including the problem of small new growth. Over-watering damages (and ultimately) rots plant roots, which can make your plant behave very strangely (for example, your over-watered plant can wilt as if it’s thirsty, even though it’s actually drowning!).

In the case of our topic today, whether due to root damage or just over-enthusiasm about getting so much water and not knowing what to do with it, over-watered plants often produce tiny new leaves around the base of the plant that can wilt just as soon as they appear. This is especially common in tropicals with clumping habits like Philodendron Selloum and Gloriosum.

You can clip these new leaves off for starters; they’re not going to get bigger. Then, pull your plant out of its pot and take a good look at the roots to assess the damage. Clip off any that appear black brown or mushy. Ensure your pot has proper drainage, re-pot, and give the plant some time to recover.

What strategies have you used to make your houseplants stop putting out small new growth? What plant problems would you like us to take on next time in Pistils Rx? Share your feedback and questions in the comments!

Pistils Nursery


Why has my parlour palm got small,hard lumps where the leaves join the stems and leaves are turning brown and dying

— Lynne Jones