Why Your Houseplants Look Leggy (And How to Fix This Common Problem)

That scraggly, stretched out plant can become lush and full again.

Leggy is a term that gets thrown around a lot about houseplants because it's one of the most common problems you can run into with your indoor garden. So what exactly does legginess in plants mean? It's when a plant looks like it's all legs (or stems rather) with stretched out, spindly growth and sparse leaves. Why does this happen? Because the plant is doing everything it can to get its leaves into more light so it can make enough energy to survive. Reaching in the direction of the available rays, stems grow longer and thinner and drop leaves that the plant can't support with its limited food reserves. But good news: you can easily fix a leggy houseplant with these tips.

leggy geranium plants in window sill of country home
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How to Fix a Leggy Houseplant

Weak, thin, leggy stems is your plant's way of telling you that you've put it in a spot where it can't get enough light. Different plants have different light needs, so it's important to find out exactly how much light your particular plant requires for healthy growth. Then you can match its location to the brightness it needs

Knowing the direction a window faces will help you figure out the amount of light your plants can get when parked nearby. For example, pothos grows well in low light and will thrive in a north-facing window. A geranium, on the other hand, demands very bright light and will stretch, becoming lanky in the same north window. A south or southwest window is the best place for a high-light plant because it will get the most intense sun exposure.

Houseplants are generally classified into three light level groups: low, medium, and high.

If your home doesn't have adequate natural light for your houseplants, you can supplement with artificial lighting. This can be especially helpful in winter, when the sun's rays aren't as intense and the daylength is shorter. Whether you use a household lamp or a specialized growing light, choose LED or fluorescent bulbs for the best results. Incandescent bulbs don't provide all the wave lengths of light that plants need, causing them to continue stretching to find light.

setcresea houseplant
Jay Wilde

Prune Back Your Leggy Houseplant

In addition to moving a leggy houseplant into more light, you can cut it back to encourage new stems to sprout and grow in to restore your plant to its former lushness. Trim off exceptionally long, lanky stems by one-third their length, snipping just above a node (the point where leaves grow from the stem). If your plant already has new shoots coming up from the base of the plant, removing gangly stems around it will give the fresh growth room to soak up the sun and flourish.

After the haircut, water your plants well. The soil around plants growing in high-light areas dries faster than plants in low-light spaces, so make sure to adjust how often you are watering accordingly. After three or four weeks in the new light location, your plant should start to look fuller and healthier. At this point, you can add a little houseplant fertilizer, following package directions.

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