​​Leggy Plants? What Causes It and How You Can Fix It

​​Leggy Plants? What Causes It and How You Can Fix It

Last Updated On: May 13, 2023

Leggy plants might sound exotic and even a bit sexy, but they’re often the result of being placed in a spot where the growing conditions are not ideal. More often than not, the condition is due to the lack of light. However, did you know that there are more factors at play? Let’s explore the causes, from the most common to the lesser known, and discover the solutions. The next time you encounter a leggy plant you’ll know exactly how to deal with it!

Causes of Leggy Plants and the Solutions

Indoor plants are often victims of this condition, although there are some outdoor plants that grow leggy as well. If you’re in the dark when it comes to addressing leggy plants, then we’ll help you get your plants healthier and bushier in no time!

What Do Leggy Plants Look Like?

Leggy plants are ones that have grown too much stem without enough leaves. This means they’re generally tall, but lack that full, healthy look of other plants. Leggy plants will typically have too few leaves for their size, and may be bending or leaning. In some extreme cases, they may even collapse under their own weight.

Cause: Inadequate Lighting

This is by far the most common reason why plants become leggy in the first place. Needing light to survive, the plant extends its stems and branches to reach for more light. As a result, the plant forms long stems and branches with fewer leaves than usual, giving them their characteristic leggy look.

The technical term for this condition is etiolation, and this happens because the plant needs light to produce chlorophyll, which is essential for photosynthesis. Without chlorophyll, the plant stretches itself toward the nearest light source, becoming leggy in the process of producing and conserving energy for its survival.

Solution: Provide Adequate Lighting

Whether the source is natural or artificial, plants will become less leggy when they are given the right amount of light. For instance, you might have a leggy plant placed in a dark corner, but it can also happen in bright areas that aren’t getting enough light. You have at least two options: place the plant in a higher light area or utilize grow lights.

Windows are great options, especially if they bring in bright, indirect light. Even if you don’t have any windows, you can always use grow lights, which are available in many garden centers and online stores. Just remember to rotate your plants regularly to ensure all sides receive equal amounts of light exposure!

Cause: Overcrowding Plants

When plants are placed too close together, they will compete for light, air, water, and nutrients. Competition for these important elements usually causes them to stretch out and become leggy. You might end up with tall plants with few leaves, and the plant may not last for long.

Solution: Space Plants Out

Plants need their own space to stand out, so give them enough room to breathe and grow. If you have grouped indoor plants, try giving them more space apart. You can even give each plant its own place, spreading your green decor out even more.

If you have many plants growing in one container, consider replanting them into individual pots. This way, you end up with more plants that you can grow to be healthier and bushier than ever before. Always keep in mind the ideal spacing for the plants you’re growing as it can vary quite a bit.

Cause: Improper Nutrients

Nutrients are important when it comes to having healthy plants. In this case, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing and lead to legginess. Usually, this happens due to excess nitrogen. On the flip side, the same thing can happen when a plant is not given enough nutrients.

Poor soil condition is often the primary reason, with overfeeding or underfeeding being the secondary one. You’ll notice the plant becoming lengthy and weak with small and sparse leaves under these conditions. Compacted soil or soil with poor drainage can also worsen the situation.

Solution: Correct Feeding

To keep your plants from becoming leggy, ensure that they are grown in soil that is well-draining and rich in nutrients. Use high-quality potting mixes, and add compost to your soil to improve the nutrient content. When using commercial fertilizers, make sure to follow the instructions and take care not to add too much.

This is especially important if you’re growing plants in containers. Plus, make sure that the containers have enough drainage holes so that the soil and the plant’s roots don’t sit in water.

Cause: Poor Pruning Habits

While pruning is often done to encourage bushier growth in plants, it can sometimes cause them to become leggy if done incorrectly or at the wrong time. In response to being pruned and losing their leaves, plants often stretch out in an attempt to reach more light. On the other hand, if you don’t prune indoor plants at all, many can become leggy as well.

Solution: Prune as Needed

You’ll need to follow a few guidelines for this. First, only prune plants that are healthy and have enough leaves to sustain themselves after being pruned. You should also avoid pruning plants that aren’t actively growing as this can place extra stress on the plant.

Finally, prune only the part that needs to be removed, aside from dead and decaying parts of the plant. Remember, over-pruning can also stress out the plant and encourage it to become leggy. A good rule of thumb is to never prune back more than ⅔ of a plant at once.

Cause: High Temperatures

Heat can cause plants to give off more water, making them dehydrated. In response to the lack of water in the cells, a plant will stretch out and become spindly. Plus, dehydration can make the plant produce fewer leaves to conserve energy.

This makes the stem stretch out even more as the plant tries to reach more sunlight in order to compensate for the reduced number and size of leaves. Left unresolved, the plant eventually ends up leggy, weak, and susceptible to pests and diseases.

Solution: Protect from the Heat

You can shelter your plant from the heat by providing it with shade from the harsh noon and afternoon sun. Also, you can use fans or misters to help cool the air and lower the temperature around the plant. If you live in an area where temperatures can soar during the summer, then it’s best to water your plants regularly as well.

Regular watering will prevent dehydration and stress in plants. Just make sure that you water your plants early in the morning so that they’re prepared to face the hot day ahead.

Using Supports

One thing to keep in mind is that the process of fixing a leggy plant can take a couple of weeks. During this time, it’s important to add support to your plant. Otherwise, it risks falling over due to its own weight.

Plant stakes are an easy way to support your plant. These can be attached with twine, and help keep it upright while it gains more strength. For larger plants, trellis or similar structures can add extra support. This can usually be removed once the issue has been fixed and the plant is no longer in danger of falling over.

Fixing Leggy Plants

With the causes and solutions to leggy plants in your stock gardening arsenal, you’re bound to have healthier and bushier plants in no time. Give them some love, some time, and some patience on your part, and you’ll be rewarded with flourishing foliage right inside your home!

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