Skip to Content

4 Causes of Leggy Wandering Jew (And How to Fix It)

It’s upsetting to see your otherwise thick and bushy wandering jew (Zebrina tradescantia) grow leggy. This will make your plant look sparse, spindly, and unattractive. Let’s figure out why your wandering Jew is leggy and how to fix it.

Due to a lack of light, a Wandering Jew’s growth is often leggy. Pruning and adequate lighting should be used to correct the leggy growth. Repotting your leggy-inch plant with fresh growing medium and the appropriate pot size can also help it thrive. To keep your plant bushy, pinch it back every now and then.

Leggy Wandering Jew
Leggy Wandering Jew

What Does Leggy Wandering Jew Mean?

A leggy wandering jew is often a sign that something is wrong with its growing conditions. It’s a sure sign that your plant isn’t getting enough light.

A healthy wandering jew is said to be full, thick, and bushy. It has beautiful dark green and purple leaves that are broad, lush, and perky.

It will grow sparsely, unevenly, and leggy if it does not receive adequate lighting.

The leaves are frequently smaller, scraggly, and scarce. Legginess is also characterized by long internodes.

This is because your wandering jew is devoting the majority of its energy to reaching for the much-needed light.

The side facing the light source will be elongated and stretching, while the opposite side will show little to no growth.

Some of the shaded leaves may also lose their lovely purple variegation. The stems may become weak, slender, and spindly as it attempts to lean towards the light source.

During the dark winter months, leggy or floppy growth is common. That is the time of year when the days are shorter and the nights are much longer.

The same is true if you put your wandering jew in a dark corner or a room with an obstructed window.

It should be noted that a leggy wandering jew can also be a sign of too much nitrogen from fertilizer application.

This is usually caused by using too much high-nitrogen fertilizer in the early spring. Temperature stress and insufficient pot size can both have the same effect.

Causes of Leggy Wandering Jew

[1] Lack of Light

The most likely cause of a leggy wandering Jew is insufficient or incorrect lighting. Weak, spindly, and leggy growth is a common problem for low-light plants, and the wandering jew is no exception.

To carry out photosynthesis efficiently, your plant requires a sufficient amount of bright light. In other words, it uses light to generate sugars and the energy it requires to grow.

When there is a lack of light, your wandering jew goes into survival mode. As a result, it will devote a large portion of its energy to finding the light.

That is why the internodes lengthen to allow the leaves to get closer to the light source.

This leggy growth is most noticeable during the winter as the sunny days shorten. This is also the time when your wandering Jew goes into hibernation.

Your plant’s problems with low light don’t stop there. You’re also likely to provide your wandering jew with more water than it requires.

Because it slows growth, moisture usage and loss are reduced, and the potting mix takes longer to dry out.

Unfortunately, your wandering Jew dislikes standing on “wet feet.” Because of root rot below the soil level, the older and lower leaves will most likely lose variegation and begin to yellow.

If you discover squishy, black, or brown roots, it’s time to take action!

Other notable symptoms of wandering jew lacking light include:

  • Stunted growth, usually witnessed on the side facing away from the light source
  • Leaning towards the light source
  • Loss of variegation, giving the leaves a washed-out or bleached look
  • Yellowing of foliage
  • Loss of lower leaves

(Source: North Carolina State University)

How to Fix

The best way to solve this problem is to relocate your plant to a brighter location. The wandering jew plant thrives in both direct and indirect sunlight. However, excessive direct sunlight will scorch and sunburn your plant.

 [2] Excessive Fertilizer

Wandering jew plants, like most plants native to tropical climates, grow quickly. They tend to slow down during the winter and then pick up again in the spring.

The issue arises from feeding it too much fertilizer, particularly high-nitrogen feed.

At the start of spring, your wandering jew will grow quickly. This head starts in growth can lead to more greenery development.

Your plant’s foliage development may not be able to keep up with the spike, resulting in a leggy appearance.

The problem with leggy growth caused by too much nitrogen-rich fertilizer is one of quantity over quality.

Instead of producing robust stems steadily, it will produce longer, spindly stems at a much faster rate. That will not help your wandering Jew in the long run.

How to Fix

Despite its vigorous growth, a wandering jew plant does not require much fertilizer.

Once every 4 to 6 weeks, a general-purpose water-soluble houseplant fertilizer (Check the latest price on Amazon here)  should suffice. Make sure to dilute the fertilizer to half the strength specified on the label.

 [3] Wrong Pot Size

Again, wandering jew plants are aggressive growers, especially when properly fed and lit.

If the leggy growth is accompanied by roots that push through the pot’s bottom, it has outgrown the container.

Your plant’s leggy growth is a sign that it needs more help and resources. Remember that if allowed, the wandering Jew can turn into a creeping plant.

A fast-growing plant may also quickly deplete the resources in the growing medium, resulting in a leggy appearance.

How to Fix

Repotting your wandering jew plant every 18-36 months is a good rule of thumb.

Consider switching to a larger pot if it has outgrown its current container. It should be at least a couple of inches wider than the current pot. You must do so in the early spring, just before the growth spurt.

 [4] Temperature Stress

High temperatures, like too much fertilizer, will encourage your wandering jew plant to grow much faster. This will result in the formation of long, spindly stems.

Foliage development will have little time to catch up, resulting in leggy growth.

How to Fix

This usually happens indoors when the central heating is on full blast. As a result, you should move your plant away from radiators, fireplaces, heating vents, and heaters.

How to Fix Leggy Wandering Jew 

How to Prune Wandering Jew

As an aggressive grower, your wandering jew plant can get too leggy if not tamed. You must prune out some leggy stems. This action will encourage your plant to grow thicker, fuller, and wider.

Here’s how to prune your wandering jew:

  1. Ensure your pruning shears are clean and disinfected. Keep them soaked in undiluted kitchen disinfectant for around 5 minutes. Alternatively, you can prepare your own by mixing one part bleach with nine parts water.
  2. Start by trimming off the usual suspects. These include discolored leaves, weak stems, leggy stems, and those with yellowed or dead leaves.
  3. Also, trim off or pinch weak, thin growths and dead leaves
  4. Cut off spent flowers to make sure the energy is diverted to growth and seed production
  5. If you want to keep your wandering jew thick, bushy, and compact, consider pruning out the long spindly tendrils, as well.
  6. If the stems have reached 6-8 inches in length, drastic pruning is needed. You can prune back the whole wandering jew plant by 25%. This will facilitate a more robust and bushy appearance.
  7. Pick up the pruned-out materials from the base of the plant. You can bag them and dispose of them properly. Alternatively, you can toss them in your compost.
  8. I prefer to remove the leggy growths and set them aside as cuttings. That saves me a great deal when it comes to propagating and extending my collection.

Pinching Wandering Jew

Pinching your wandering jew plants, like pruning, will encourage more branching. This promotes a fuller, more compact, and bushier appearance. Pinch back the stems by at least one-quarter when doing so.

For each pruned stem, your plant will most likely produce two new stems. This reciprocated growth will give your wandering jew a more complete appearance.

Can I Cut The Top Off My Wandering Jew?

It is acceptable to cut the top of your wandering jew. It grows quickly and produces more lush leaves and strong stems.

Once the stems reach six to eight inches in length, you must cut off at least 25% of them. The cuttings can be used to propagate the plant (more on this ahead).

Repotting Using Right Soil

Nutrient imbalances can sometimes cause leggy growth. It’s possible that the growing medium is the wrong type, is no longer fertile, or is deficient in certain nutrients.

As a result, you should consider repotting your wandering jew with the proper potting mix.

Fortunately for you, wandering jew plants aren’t fussy about soil. They’ll thrive in a general-purpose commercial potting mix. However, the medium must drain well, as root rot can develop in wet conditions.

Consider adding equal parts peat moss, sand, perlite, or vermiculite to improve drainage. You can also add some organic matter. In my experience, substituting sphagnum moss or coco coir for it can be useful.

Using Suitable Pot Size

Because they are heavy growers, wandering jew plants can become root-bound. As a result, you must swab outgrown containers to make room for larger pots.

Choose a pot with about an inch of “breathing” space for your wandering jew’s roots when choosing the next container.

It should be an inch or two wider than the previous container as a general rule. It’s better to err on the side of caution than to end up with a container that’s too small for your plant.

Of course, the pot should be well-draining. At the very least, it should have one drainage hole at the bottom.

Provide Enough Light

Your wandering jew should be seated in front of an east-facing window if at all possible. It will benefit from the soft morning sun this way. Also, stay out of the hot, sweltering afternoon sun.

However, because winter days are short, you should park it near a south-facing window so that it can absorb sunlight throughout the day.

Just make sure it’s at least a few feet away from the window. Alternatively, a sheer curtain can be used to protect your plant.

If natural sunlight is insufficient during the winter, your next best bet is to install some grow lights.

LED lights are my preference because they are energy-efficient and produce bright light. Plus, you can put your wandering Jew almost anywhere in your house!

Maintain Low Temperature Around Your Leggy Wandering Jew

Your wandering jew plant will benefit from a slightly warmer but not overly hot environment. Maintain temperatures between 65 – 75°F (18-24°C). It should be kept away from heated mats, radiators, and other sources of heat.

Propagation

You can easily propagate your wandering jew using the stem cutting obtained from correcting the leggy growth. Here’s how:

  1. Prepare stem cuttings that are at least one inch long. Each cutting should have at least one leaf (preferably two leaves). The cut should be just below the node.
  2. Propagate the cutting in a fresh potting mix cut-side down. You can apply some rooting hormone to the cut end, but it’s not necessary.
  3. Irrigate the cuttings regularly
  4. The roots will start establishing after a few weeks.
  5. Alternatively, you can set the stem cutting in a water jar. Transplant once the roots develop.
  6. Repot the seedling into a new permanent pot once the roots reach an inch (3cm) long. A 2-inch pot with 1+ draining holes is ideal.

Why Is My Wandering Jew Growing Straight Up?

Your wandering jew can grow straight up for a number of reasons.

  • Poor lighting – This is especially the case if the room has no well-lit window, making ceiling-placed light bulbs the only viable source. Your plant is growing upwards in search of light.
  • Underwatering – The leggy upright growth is caused by excessive thirst
  • Low humidity – You’ll likely see this during winter when the HVAC system is running.