The Monstera is one of the most coveted indoor plants. With its famous fenestrations or holes in the leaves, this plant has grown to popularity like no other.
This article discusses a common problem with indoor cultivars of Monstera deliciosa and Monstera adansonii: legginess. Read on to find out the causes of this condition and how to address it.
When you notice your Monstera plant becoming leggy, you should transfer it to a spot with brighter, indirect natural light. Additionally, with a combination of pruning and training, proper nutrition, and a cooler environment, your plant will be able to take on a more desirable shape.
Normal Growth Vs Legginess
Monsteras are actually climbing vine that typically latches onto large trees in their natural habitat. Indoor, these plants, especially when they’re younger, will resemble a shrub.
The difference between a healthy Monstera taking the natural course of growing into a vine and a leggy Monstera is the thickness of its stems, the size of its leaves, the length of its internodes.
Leggy Monsteras will have longer and thinner stems without the full, large leaves.
The leaves of a leggy Monstera will also be spaced further apart. If you feel like you’re seeing more stems than the leaf, then that’s a leggy plant.
Causes of Legginess in Monstera
Lack of Light
The main cause of legginess is suboptimal lighting conditions. Monsteras thrive in the understory of rainforests and thus have developed two responses to light, depending on the intensity.
Generally, a Monstera loves indirect light and will grow towards it. If your plant is not getting enough light, it will stretch out towards a light source.
Your Monstera knows that with light, it will be able to perform photosynthesis thus making food for the entire plant.
On the other end of the spectrum, Monsteras are known to grow well in shade or partial light.
The low light mimics the conditions in the jungle where the plant is under a tree. This signals to the plant that it can start climbing.
Without enough light, your Monstera will extend to find a light source or search for something to climb unto.
As the plant stretches out, the stems elongate disproportionally and weaken. This phenomenon is called etiolation and is the leading cause of legginess.
Another cause for legginess is overcrowded roots. Without ample space, rootbound plants may have experienced abnormal growth patterns due to poor absorption of nutrition and moisture.
Some roots basically choke others off. This often happens when your Monstera is in a pot that is too small.
Additionally, when the roots take up most of the space inside a small pot nutrient and moisture-holding soil is displaced. Not enough soil can translate to not enough water and nutrients.
Too Much Fertilizer
On some occasions, your Monstera can grow too fast. This happens when excessive nitrogen is made available to your plant, especially at the earlier stages.
You can think of it as a non-sustainable growth spurt. Too much nutrient will lead monstera to develop cells faster than normal growth. The result is a weak, long stem that is prone to mechanical damage.
Monsteras are tropical plants and thrive in temperatures between 68-86°F (20-30°C). Above 86°F (30°C), your Monstera will overheat.
In the case of younger seedlings, increased temperatures may also cause growth spurts.
Similar to overexposure to nitrogen, stems may grow in length without the proper structure needed for its support.
Monsteras go into a dormancy period during the winter to prevent etiolation.
The plant knows that during the cooler months, days are shorter, and the plant will not receive the amount of sunlight that it needs to sustain its growth.
Because of this, your plant will go into dormancy when temperatures drop.
As such, if you notice your plant is beginning to look leggy, you can manipulate the temperature to address the issue.
How to Fix Leggy Monsteras
Let There Be Light
The easiest thing you can do to fix your leggy Monstera is to relocate it to a brighter place.
Monsteras need bright, indirect light for extended periods, similar to the conditions in a rainforest understory.
Fun fact: the more light your Monstera receives, the higher the chances for fenestrations to present themselves.
So as you fix the problem with legginess, you’ll also encourage the plant to produce those gorgeous leaf patterns that all Monstera lovers covet.
The light should be strong enough for you to be able to read comfortably. Rooms with windows facing the south or east are ideal.
You’ll just need to make sure the light is filtered (with a sheer curtain or bouncing off a wall for example).
Avoid placing your Monstera in direct sunlight (direct line of sight of the sun) as excessive direct light may cause your plant’s leaves to have sunburn.
Your Monstera is a hardy little thing so it can take around 2-3 hours of direct sun. Above, that may be a bit much for your plant to handle.
I’m a big fan of measuring things instead of playing it by ear or gut feel. This leaves fewer things up to chance.
Technically speaking, for your Monstera plant to thrive, with its medium-light requirement, it needs 200-500FC (foot-candles) and 75-200FC to survive.
A floor candle is a unit of measurement of brightness: number of watts per square foot.
To measure the brightness in your room, simple lux meters (or better yet PAR meters, which register a wider range of light wavelengths) are available at your favorite plant store. (Source: University of Arizona Division of Agriculture)
Rotating Your Plant
If your light source only reaches one side of your plant, the other side may become leggy. To avoid this, you can rotate your plant periodically.
Provide Artificial Light
If you sense that you are unable to give your plant enough natural light, artificial lights are also a viable alternative.
There are many options to choose from when selecting appropriate lighting. There are all sorts of designs, technologies, wattages, color temperatures, all at different price points.
The important thing to determine is the number of lumens needed. To do this you can follow this formula:
|400FC x space plant occupies in square feet||100FC x space plant occupies in square feet|
Assuming your plant occupies a 2ft x 2ft space, to survive, you’ll need lights that give off 400 lumens and for the plant to thrive.
You’ll want one with 1600 lumens. Most bulbs will have this measurement indicated on the packaging.
Plants are actually more sensitive to light than the human eye. It senses a wider range of wavelengths including ultraviolet and infrared which serve different functions.
Blue light is preferred for growing foliage. It is directly linked to chlorophyll production, resulting in strong, healthy stems and leaves.
Thus, in choosing your artificial lighting, you’ll need to determine the proper color temperature.
Higher color temperatures (5000-6500 Kelvin) contain more blue light and are great for your Monsteras.
Full Spectrum Grow Lights would be great but as a more economic option, you could always go with “daylight” LED bulbs.
Remember: Sunlight is always the best option as it contains the complete spectrum of wavelengths that plants need to grow. Thus, use as much natural light as you can.
If dust or soil accumulates on the leaves, the plant may be unable to maximize the sunlight it needs to perform the essential task of photosynthesis.
So wiping down your leaves every so often might be a good idea. The same goes for your windows.
Dust and debris on windows may be preventing light from coming into a room, so cleaning these may help in increasing the brightness of a room.
Using a Suitable Pot Size
The problem with using an incorrect pot size is the tendency for your Monstera to be overcrowded.
When your plant is overcrowded, the light does not reach all parts of the plant, and portions of your Monstera may begin to seek out more light and become leggy in the process.
That’s above the soil. What we don’t see as readily is the overcrowding beneath the surface.
Rootbound Monsteras tend to have abnormal growth patterns because of the poor absorption of nutrients and water.
To address the overcrowding issue, you can either repot your plant, train it on a structure, or prune your plant.
If your plant is already overcrowded, you can upgrade to a larger pot. Be careful when choosing your pot. The root ball should occupy around 1/3 of the new pot.
Any larger and you’ll run the risk of root rot when the plant is not big enough to absorb the water.
Use soil mixed with fillers like coco coir, peat moss, perlite, or orchid bark. This ensures that the soil has good drainage. For more best practices on repotting do check out my previous posts.
Hopefully, with the more spacious accommodations, your Monstera roots will not feel cramped and allow them to absorb the much-needed moisture and nutrition that your plant craves, especially with the introduction of the proper amount of soil.
Since the Monstera is a vine, it can be trained onto a structure, similar to a topiary. You’ll see many people using a moss or coco coir pole.
By attaching your plant to a vertical structure, the leaves will be exposed to more lights and may not need to extend themselves, thus reducing the legginess.
When trained on to a pole, the plant will look less misshapen and all over the place.
Done correctly, your Monstera takes on a more compact shape; without having to cut off some of the gorgeous leaves.
An added benefit of training on a stake is better air circulation, preventing the growth of molds or bacteria. With the height, it’s more impressive too!
Pruning and Propagation
Another way you can make your plant appear bushier is by pruning. You can influence your plant to grow in a certain way by cutting unwanted mature foliage and new growth.
Further, aerial roots and dry leaves can also be removed if they are preventing some of your leaves from receiving the proper dose of sunshine.
If you are pruning your Monstera anyway, instead of discarding the cuttings, why not propagate them instead?
You’ll just need to be slightly more mindful of where you cut the mature foliage.
To guide you as you prune or propagate your leggy Monstera here is a step-by-step guide:
Prepare Your Tools
Use a sharp utility knife or pruning scissors. Washing your hands and sterilizing your tools will also reduce the possibility of spreading bacteria and diseases.
You may also want to consider wearing gloves since the sap of the Monstera can be irritating to some.
Have an End Goal in Mind
Before you even begin to cut, try to visualize what shape you want your plant to take.
Identify which leaves to remove. From here, identify which leaves are worth saving for propagation.
Remove any diseased or dried leaves. By removing the growing tips of the stem, known as the meristem, certain hormones are triggered, signaling the plant to grow laterally.
Instead of a continuous vertical growth pattern, the clusters of cells on the stem will grow outward, creating a bushier plant.
The growing tip is the bump on the stem where a new leaf emerges. Remove it by pinching it off or using a sharp knife or pruners.
For cuttings that are meant for propagation, if possible cut at the node. Try to include a bulge or a portion of the node with a cutting.
This will give the cutting a higher probability of rooting. If you are pruning to simply control the size of the plant this is not an issue.
After every cut, take a couple of steps back to assess if you are closer to your desired shape.
Always remember when cutting back a plant, you should never cut more than 30% of foliage to prevent the plant from going into shock.
Try to prune your plant during its growing season to allow your plant to recover faster. Any cuttings for propagation will also have a higher chance of rooting.
Once you’ve completed pruning your Monstera, gather the cuttings that can be used for propagation.
Place them in a container with clean water to allow them to take root. Change the water weekly. When enough roots appear, they can be transferred into a pot.
Alternatively, Monstera cuttings can be propagated directly in the soil. To increase the chances of successful propagation, you can dip the stems in a rooting hormone solution before propagation.
Air Layering is another propagation technique that can be done. A cutting is placed at the joint of an aerial root and a leaf axil and wrapped with moist sphagnum moss.
The cutting and moss are kept in place with some string and plastic wrap. The plastic wrap should still allow airflow.
A cutting can be attached to the joint of an aerial root and leaf axil. Roots should start to appear within a couple of months.
Once roots begin to appear, the cutting can be planted in soil elsewhere.
Grow Slow and Steady
One of the reasons that the Monstera is so popular is because of how fast it grows. Seeing leaves unfurl right before your eyes is such a fulfilling experience.
Unfortunately, too much of a good thing can be bad. If your plant is not hardy enough, the rapid growth of the stems is not so desirable.
What we want are thick and healthy stems that will be able to support large leaves.
For proper development of robust foliage and stems, your Monstera plant will benefit from a low-strength, balanced fertilizer.
Some growers recommend a 20-20-20 liquid solution that is watered down. This can be done monthly during the growth phase and every other month during the more dormant, cooler months.
The watered-down fertilizer can be a replacement for the scheduled watering regimen.
As an alternative, you can also use a slow-release, balanced, granular fertilizer, which should provide enough additional nutrients for six months.
Maintain Low Temperature Around Monstera
To trick your plant to grow slower, creating shorter internodes, you can transfer your plant to a location that is cooler but with bright conditions.
This is the reason why rooms with Southern and Eastern facing windows are preferred.
The Southern facing room will maximize the amount of sunlight that comes into space, while the Eastern facing room will allow cooler morning light to come in.
Monsteras are one of the plants that bring much fulfillment to an indoor plant enthusiast. It grows rapidly and is rather easy to take care of.
Even if your plant does show signs of legginess, it’s easy to correct. But as with anything, prevention is better than a cure, so don’t wait for your plants to become leggy.
Give it the proper conditions to thrive: proper amount of light, temperature, pruning regimen, and nutrition.