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There are five main ways to help a plant to look less leggy:
- Stake them up
- Cut them back
- Give them more light
- Propagate them
- Plant multiple plants together
Yeah, yeah, it’s a philodendron in the picture. They get leggy too.
I go back and forth when it comes to leggy plants. I like them when they’re hanging because I think the legginess gives a nice silhouette, whereas a fuller plant can well, get in your way and block out all the light.
But when they get leggy on shelves and on the floor, they can look a bit…sad and unloved, which isn’t really the vibe I’m after.
If your plant is leggy, it doesn’t mean it’s unhealthy, or that you’re a bad plant parent. It’s just natural.
What does leggy mean?
Leggy just means that your plant is growing and growing and growing but not producing that many leaves. You sometimes hear plants being referred to as spindly, which is the same as being leggy.
Here is a leggy satin pothos. TECHNICALLY not a pothos (nothing technical about it, it’s simply…not a pothos, but never mind, it looks like and is leggy, so fit for my purposes) but definitely leggy.
You can see the stem that I’m holding has big gaps between leaves (called internodal spaces because, er, it’s the space between nodes).
My Pothos Marble queen (actually a pothos) isn’t leggy. There’s only small gaps between the nodes.
Why do plants get leggy?
There are several reasons why plants get leggy:
1 – They don’t get enough light
Vining plants vine because they’re trying to grow towards the light. As they get further up, they grow bigger leaves closer together on the vine to take advantage of all the light.
If a plant is trailing, they’ll receive less light, and consequently will grow smaller leaves further apart and look leggy. There’s no advantage to them growing a lot of big leaves because the energy expended the growing a massive leaf won’t be recouped by the light received.
It’s a way for the plant to grow without expending unnecessary energy.
Many plants send out runners or vines to go looking for light. Some, like hoyas, will sometimes grow leaves along that vine. Others grow leaves on the end of the vine, leaving the vine bare.
2 – It’s dropped leaves
Plants can drop leaves for a variety of reasons. My Monstera adansonii grew very leggy despite small internodal spaces, because it got thrips and lost a load of leaves
So how do we stop plants from getting leggy?
Stake them up
If you give a plant a moss pole, trellis, or even bamboo cane to grow up, you can replicate the conditions under which it’ll grow bigger leaves.
In the wild, vining plants wind around trees to get to the light, so by providing it with a ‘tree’ to grow up, you can convince it to grow bigger leaves more closely together.
This does work, but it’s obviously not a quick solution. If you don’t like the look of leggy plants and you’re not after the trailing look, introducing a stake early on will lead to bigger, fuller growth in the future.
Cut them back
This is another long term approach to creating fuller plant,s so if you’re after a quick fix look further down the article.
If you cut back the leggy growth not only will you er, not have a leggy plant any more, but the plant will be able to put its energy into growing bigger leaves, rather than sustaining the leggy growth that’s not getting enough light.
I know it sounds counterintuitive to cut a plant back to make it fuller, but it works, promise.
My Monstera adansonii was one long, leggy vine, so I cut it back hard – literally to the soil – and a few weeks later it’s growing really well:
I propagated the cuttings in my Aerogarden, and they could go back in with their mother to make a fuller plant (they’re actually going in a terrarium though).
Give them more light
The main reason plants grow leggily (what you mean, that’s not a word?) is that they’re not getting enough light.
Therefore, it stands to reason that if you give a plant more light, it’ll grow less leggy.
You know what I mean.
The easiest way to do this is to move your plant to a brighter spot. Just make sure you don’t move from a low light position to full sun, because you’ll be dealing with the opposite problem, which is leaves burned to a fookin’ crisp.
And whilst legginess is a personal preference, only psychopaths prefer their plants dead.
Grow lights are another option. This is the one I recommend BUT it’s a professional grow light, so needs suspending. I have mine hung from an Ikea cabinet, but they’re designed to be suspended from hooks in the ceiling.
It works incredibly well though – my plants grow suuuper fast and because they dry out much quicker, they force me to check on them more often, which is probably a good thing.
You can 100% use normal LED lights in lamps to make your own grow lights. Grow lights aren’t special – they’re just incredibly bright. You can get bulbs to put in lamps that will definitely help increase the light. The ones I linked to provide about 800 lumens, the grow light provides, ahem, 22,216. So, er, quite a lot more. But 800 is better than nothing!
This is following on from cutting them back, but it’s a great way to reduce waste.
You can propagate the cuttings you snipped, and then plant them back in the soil for an immediately bushier plant. Yay!
Actually, I wouldn’t recommend that because
I’m a killjoy that doesn’t want you to have full plants it’s easier to check on the progress of propagations if you put the cuttings in water.
When you cut the plant back, be sure to have a few leaf nodes. If you’re not sure if you have a node, remove a few leaves and make sure the point you removed a leaf from is in the water.
(Also be sure to put your cutting in the right way up. Sounds obvious, but I’ve accidentally dunked a few cuttings in head-first in my time, and then wondered why I’m not seeing roots)
Once your cuttings have roots an inch or so long, pop them back in with the mother plant, being sure to keep the soil moist whilst the cutting transitions.
Propagating vines in the same pot
Remember this picture of my Marble queen?
See the little clip?
The clip is to hold the vine over the substrate so the aerial roots makes contact with it.
The idea is that each node will root, and be able to produce a new growth point. Even if that doesn’t work, the plant looks a lot fuller:
Both look fine, I prefer a more compact, full plant. The end goal to have a few vines, stick a moss pole in the middle, and grow her under a grow light. Many pothos, this one included, will grow massive leaves with splits in them if they’re allowed to mature, so that’s the end game!
Plant multiple plants together
Right, rich people, this one’s for you.
Instead of buying one plant, buy a few of the same type and whack them all in a pot together. Hey presto! Instant big-ass plant!
A few tips though:
- Don’t re pot straight away. Give them all time to acclimatise to your home. Not so instant I suppose. Read up on repotting here.
- You can pot up different types of pothos or philodendron together for a really cool display. Just make sure they all require the same care.
- Be vigilant about pests. You don’t want to bring home one infested plant and spread it to the others
- Some plants grow big roots and won’t really like this approach in the long run – monstera deliciosa aren’t fans, and I feel like ZZ plants would struggle.
I don’t actually know if monstera deliciosa, in particular, don’t like to be potted together, or if they’re just always mentioned as a cautionary tale because so many people try to get fuller plants by potting up loads of cuttings together.
I’m worried because I have three monstera potted up together. They’re currently in a pot that’s far too big for them, but in 20 years or so I may regret my decision 😂😂😂
You can always trim the roots if you want – it’s kind of risky, but also, when I wanted to put my Monstera together I trimmed a tonne of roots and it was 100% fine.
It’s best to go with plants that have small root systems – pothos and calathea are good options.
I was plant shopping at the weekend and found these two Calathea Beauty Star at Dean’s garden centre in York. They’re teeny tiny, but I’m going to plant them together so by the end of the year they’ll hopefully be the size of one normal plant. For £5.98 for two, you really can’t complain.
Let them get leggy
If you like the trailing look, absolutely go for it. I think it creates a gorgeous, soft effect, but personally I only have one trailing plant. Not because I don’t like how they look or anything, but because they’re a ballache to water.
I have a MASSIVE philodendron scandens over my fish tank and it’s a pain. I have to get it down and soak it because I don’t want to get water in the fish tank electrics, and the thing has attached itself to its pot (the roots coil out of the bottom), so repotting isn’t really an option.
It’s a menace. Looks cool as hell though.
And so concludes my tips on leggy plants. If you have any questions, then either leave me a comment or email me here.