How to Fix Leggy Plants for a Lush Indoor Garden

Those scraggly, stretched-out plants can become full again—and the solution for leggy plants may be as simple as tweaking your lighting.

You've probably heard houseplants described as "leggy," a vague-sounding diagnosis that's actually one of the most common issues amongst indoor plantings. What exactly are leggy plants? Think of them as the botanical equivalent of gawky teenagers. These plants are "all legs," with stretched-out stems standing in for limbs, along with spindly growth and sparse leaves.

Legginess is not just an awkward phrase some plants go through before they blossom. It's a sign the plant is straining to position its leaves in the sunlight, enabling it to produce enough energy to stay alive. Reaching in the direction of available rays, stems grow longer and thinner and drop leaves that the plant can't support with its limited food reserves. Fortunately, with a few smart interventions, you can help your houseplant regain its lushness.

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

Weak, thin, leggy—these stem issues are your plant's way of telling you it's living in a spot without enough light. Different plants have different light needs, so it's important to find out exactly how much light your particular houseplant 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 how much light is streaming through it—and determine which plants will thrive when parked there. For example, pothos grows well in low light and will do well in a north-facing window. A geranium, on the other hand, demands very bright light, so it will stretch and turn lanky in the same north window. A south or southwest window is the best place for a high-light plant, since it will enjoy the most intense sun exposure there.

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

If your home lacks adequate natural light for your houseplants, supplement with artificial lighting. This can be especially helpful in winter, when the sun's rays aren't as intense and the days are 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 wavelengths of light houseplants need, so they'll continue stretching to find light, resulting in leggy plants.

setcresea houseplant
Jay Wilde

How to Prune a Leggy Houseplant

You've solved the light problem, but is there any way to tame the legginess once it's already happened? Yes—you can cut leggy plants back to encourage new stems to sprout, restoring your plants to lushness. Trim any exceptionally long, lanky stems, removing a third of their length and 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 nearby gangly stems will give the fresh growth room to soak up the sun and flourish.

Adjust Your Watering Habits

After giving them a trim, water your plants well. The soil around those growing in high-light areas dries faster than the soil of those in low-light spaces, so make sure to adjust how often you water 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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