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The monstera, also referred to as the split-leaf philodendron, is known for its beautiful and bold leaves, not its stems.
While it is a climbing vine that can scale your walls, its focus is mainly on its foliage. After all, it’s impossible to miss out on the allure of the broad heart-shaped split leaves.
In the right conditions that mimic Central American growing conditions (USDA 10 to 12), you enjoy these leaves and may even notice some cream flowers at some point.
But when you falter and fail to meet its needs, the plant stops producing such showy leaves. It can even (gasp) produce long, weak vines that stretch for feet on end, creating a scraggly-looking plant. And no monstera parent plant wants that.
So, what causes such leggy growth, how do you play a part in this, and how can you stop this growth in its tracks?
A monstera will become leggy when you are not meeting it’s requirements for water, nutrients, and light. And in the case of leggy growth, the stakes are high that you have faltered in one of these critical areas.
Once the problem is identified, you need to take steps to fix it. For example if the light is inadequate, move it to partial light.
Let’s find out:
What Is Meant by The Term Leggy Monstera?
The monstera is an avid grower if left in the right conditions. The plant, which is native to rainforests in Central America, grows by one to two feet on average per year.
That’s a gain of 0.3 to 0.6 meters each year. That’s why you can have a towering plant in a matter of years. But this growth does not feature stem elongation alone.
Instead, it’s accompanied by leaves that can be as long as three feet (0.9 meters)! As such, the growth is outward and upward, creating quite a beautiful sight.
Leggy monsteras also have long stems. However, the stems have lengthy internodal distances coupled with fewer and smaller leaves.
Moreover, these stems are weak and unable to support the hefty leaves characteristic of the plant. Thus, such a plant will appear sickly and will rob you of the chance to enjoy beautiful foliage.
All types of monsteras can become leggy when they do not get what they want.
So, if you notice an increased elongation in the stems, which does not accompany normal stem thickness and leaf production, you should have some concerns.
What Causes Your Monstera to Become Leggy?
Leggy growth is common in houseplants. Often, it owes to insufficient light, poor watering practices, and underfeeding.
And you find that in the case of the monstera, these issues play a big part in whether the plant becomes leggy. What concerns can result in leggy growth in your plant?
The Plant Has Poor Access to Light
The monstera is a climbing evergreen plant that grows in the forest and relies on its aerial roots to attach to tree trunks.
This growth allows it to reach greater heights where it can enjoy dappled or filtered light.
The photons from this light trigger photosynthesis, allowing the plant to make food and giving it the energy to grow taller. And this energy also plays a role in the growth of healthy leaves and strong vines.
But what does this have to do with leggy growth? When your monstera does not receive optimal lighting, it can either stop growing or seek light to trigger photosynthesis.
If the plant is in a low-lit room or near a light source, it will start growing towards this light. The plant will compensate for the production of leaves to have enough energy to keep growing.
Thus, it will produce small leaves with smaller splits. The leaves will also feel weak and will not make as much food and energy as the monstera needs.
The monstera will focus on elongating its stems in the hope of reaching more light to create more food.
And because it has low energy, the resultant stems will be long and weak. That’s the relationship between the leggy growth in your monstera and the lighting used.
The Plant is Rootbound
Monsteras grow quite fast, and to maintain this growth rate, they rely on their roots to absorb the key nutrients to their healthy development.
The roots keep growing outward and downward, increasing in size to take up more nutrients. And eventually, they start wrapping around the root ball when they no longer have enough space to occupy.
As they do this, they displace the soil around them, thus having a smaller medium to hold onto water and nutrients.
If you do not fix this issue, the roots start intertwining and circling the pot’s base, displacing more soil. If this goes unchecked, the roots end up without access to soil and thus cannot access water or nutrients.
Such a plant starts exhibiting leggy growth, not because it wants to reach more light but because it lacks the energy to support healthy stem and leaf development.
Such a plant may show leaf curling and wilting, poor or no growth, and may be prone to pest infestations. Besides, you can tell it is rootbound because it has roots on the soil surface, with others coming out of the drainage holes.
The Plant Requires Optimal Temperature
The monstera is a tropical plant that grows in a rainforest. It thus does well in USDA zones 10 to 12, which have consistently warm temperatures.
Ideally, the plant should be within the 65 to 75 Fahrenheit degree range. The plant becomes stressed when the temperatures are above this range by a big gap.
The heat can damage its foliage, thus affecting its ability to make food and generate energy. And that would result in elongated and weak stems.
The heat may also increase the transpiration and evaporation rates and exceed the water absorption rate in the roots.
Thus, the leaves would droop, keeping them from making adequate food. Lower temperatures are not ideal either, as these encourage dormancy in the plant.
The Plant is Overfed
Every monstera needs water, nutrients, and light to grow. So, how can nutrients affect your monstera, and why would they play a part in its leggy growth?
Let’s start with underfeeding when a plant lacks adequate nutrients to support plant processes. An underfed plant will not have elongated stems but will have poor or no growth coupled with small leaves.
But an overfed plant will have a different growth pattern. It will develop elongated stems owing to the fast cell development, and such stems will appear weak and will be prone to damage.
Often, this results from access to too much nitrogen, especially in the first stages of growth.
The Plant Needs More Water
Monsteras are hardy plants and can go long periods without water and still grow well. However, this hardiness depends on the existing factors.
For example, a plant growing in sufficient light will use up most of its water to convert the photons from the light into food. As such, it will use up its water quite fast. Other reasons that could cause underwatering include:
- Growing the plant in a poor potting mix, and
- Not watering the plant enough in the summer when the temperatures soar.
Such a plant cannot maintain its turgor pressure, and its transpiration, evaporation, and photosynthesis activities will take a hit.
Eventually, this will affect its energy, resulting in leggy growth. Watering is not a standard regimen, and you cannot follow the same schedule for each season.
Have you resonated with any of these causes? The first step to dealing with any issue is identifying that it exists and narrowing down on what caused it. And you have nailed the first stage.
How To Fix a Leggy Monstera
Dealing with a leggy monstera is easy. First, you must understand what resulted in the leggy growth. And secondly, you must find a permanent way to put an end to this issue. Solutions include:
Fixing the Lighting
The monstera grows in forests under the canopies of taller trees. It has grown accustomed to partial light, also known as bright and indirect light.
You must thus find a spot that matches this kind of exposure. If you expose it to too much light, e.g., direct sunlight, its leaves will burn and will not have the ability to make food and energize the plant.
And if you leave the plant in low light, it will lack the energy to grow, and leggy growth will reoccur. It’s all about finding a balance between these two types of exposure. You can position your plant as follows:
1) Leave it in bright and indirect light
The monstera prefers partial light but can withstand the full sun for two to three hours. As such, you can place it near or against an east-facing window where it can receive some direct rays in the morning.
Or place it near a south-facing window where it can receive bright and indirect light all day. Avoid the west-facing windows as these have harsh afternoon rays that can damage the plant foliage.
Does this mean the monstera should never be in the full sun? Ideally, you should limit their exposure. But once in a while, you can leave the plant outside as this encourages healthy leaf development.
2) Move the plant
If only one side of the monstera receives light, the other side may start showing signs of leggy growth. You may notice that one side has full growth, but the other seems weak.
In this case, the light exposure is adequate but only hits one side of the monstera. You can move the plant to a spot where the light hits the plant on all sides.
And if this is not possible, you can rotate the plant each week to allow each section to photosynthesize.
3) Add supplemental lighting
Do you live in a house where the natural lighting is not enough? Maybe the windows are too small, or barriers are getting in the way of full exposure.
Then you can always rely on artificial lighting. A monstera can do well with 200 to 500-foot candles, as these have medium-light intensity.
And artificial lights can provide this exposure quite well. Moreover, they feature the same light wavelengths as natural sunlight, which are beneficial to the healthy growth of the monstera.
You need to figure out the space in square feet the plant covers and multiply this by 400-foot candles. For example, for a monstera that takes up 2 square feet, you would need to use 800-foot candles.
LED lights are the most cost-effective, but you can also try other lights.
Please note that artificial lighting can burn the monstera’s foliage if placed too close to the plant. So, maintain a distance of about 10 inches between the plant and the light.
4) Keep the leaves clean
Did you know that the stomata in leaves must remain open for your plant to absorb as much light as it needs? Often, we focus on situating our plants near light.
But when we leave them near windows and other entryways, they get into contact with dust and dirt that settle on the leaves.
And because the plants don’t get rained on, the dirt remains on the leaf surfaces. Try wiping the leaves occasionally to eliminate this build-up, and do the same for your windows. It might surprise you that the issue all this time was the dirt.
5) Training the monstera
Monsteras cling to tree trunks with their aerial roots when growing in the wild. And this helps them reach more light to support their growth.
While you may not have trees growing in your home, you can still replicate something similar. You need to use a moss pole the same size as your plant and insert it into the potting mix.
Then use fasteners to wrap the monstera around the pole. The aerial roots will respond to the moss as it is like the bark of trees and will soon start attaching to it.
In a few weeks, you can remove the fasteners, and the plant will keep growing attached to the pole for a better aesthetic and light reach.
Keep in mind that the sun is always the best source of light. So, use that to your advantage whenever you can get some bright and indirect light.
Fixing the Rootbound Monstera
Monsteras do not like being rootbound, which affects their nutrient and water uptake and weakens them. You can restore the health of your plant in two ways:
1) Splitting the monstera
To do this, you must wet the soil around the plant’s root ball the day before splitting it. Then wiggle the plant out of the pot and examine its roots.
Find the natural divides in the root system such that you split the parent monstera into several other plants.
Then prepare a fresh potting mix, plant the original plant in this mix and use other mixes for the other plants.
You can also give away the other plants if you do not have adequate space for them or turn them into compost. Remember to water the monstera to allow it to acclimate to its new home.
2) Repotting the monstera
Young monsteras have fast growth rates and need repotting at least once a year. Older ones can withstand being rootbound to a slight extent, and you can thus repot them every two to three years.
Repotting them is easy. Wet the soil in the current pot the day before the repotting. Then find a pot that is 2 inches bigger than the previous pot.
Getting a bigger one can result in overwatering issues that would further hamper the plant’s growth. Fill the new pot with a well-draining soil mix to a third of its level.
Then add the monstera and cover it with the rest of the soil, leaving an inch between the top of the soil and the edge of the pot. Water the plant and leave it in a spot with adequate lighting.
Please note that the monstera produces calcium oxalate, a toxic substance when ingested by humans and pets – and is also irritating to the skin.
As such, you should always wear gloves when handling the monstera, especially when splitting it, as the sap may get onto your skin.
Fixing Temperature Issues
Maintaining an optimal temperature range for the monstera is easy. What you need is to:
- Grow the monstera in its recommended USDA zones (10 to 12) as these have conditions like those of rainforests,
- Gauge the temperature of your home by using a thermometer and take note of its levels in the colder months. If it falls below optimal, add heating to the room or move the plant to a warmer section in the house. And if it goes beyond the upper limit, move the plant to a cooler room or add some cooling vents near it.
- Keep an eye on your plant and watch out for signs that the temperature is not ideal. E.g., when its growth stalls or the plant seems leggy, increase the temperatures.
Most monsteras will become dormant in the winter to prevent leggy growth. But if this does not happen, you must step in and make the conditions suitable for your plant.
Fixing Overfeeding in Monsteras
Your monstera grows relatively fast and large by itself, and you do not need to amend it much, especially if you use a nutrient-rich potting mix. However, you can always give the plant a boost by:
- Feeding it during the active growing season (not during dormancy as this can burn the roots and harm the plant),
- Using a balanced 20-20-20 liquid feed and diluting it to half its strength to avoid overpowering the plant,
- Adding the feed when watering the plant gives it time to absorb the nutrients before the next watering session.
Please note that if a plant is already overfed, you need to reduce the feed you give it. Focus on flushing the soil or repotting the plant to reduce its access to the said nutrients.
Also, to avoid overfeeding, stop watering the monstera with the feed once you notice excess liquid coming from the drainage holes. Adding more would only oversaturate the soil.
Fixing the Underwatered Monstera
The amount of water your plant needs will depend on the season, its maturity, and its soil mix. You can abide by the following rules to protect your monstera from weak growth:
- Water the plant regularly during its active growing season. Generally, it will need moderate watering every week. But you can always check if it needs more water by digging two inches into the soil and checking if it feels moist. Only water when the soil feels dry; else, you can overwater the plant.
- Allow the soil to dry out between the waterings.
- Cut back on watering the plant when it goes dormant and water it once a month or as needed based on the state of the soil.
- Keep the plant moist during the active growing season by misting its leaves. It will replicate the humidity in the rainforest. Or place a bowl with water near the plant so the evaporating water will moisten the plant.
- Evaluate the potting soil used for the monstera. It should be well-draining with a moderate water retention rate. Go for peat-based potting mixes and repot your plant if the current soil mix has a high drainage rate.
Monitoring water levels in the soil is not always easy. You can reduce your workload by investing in a moisture meter which you can use for the monstera and other houseplants to be on the safe side.
How Do I Strengthen My Monstera Stems?
Stems that have already developed with leggy growth will remain so for the most part. However, this depends on the cause of the leggy growth.
Thus, you can boost them by watering the plant often, feeding it, and leaving it in bright and direct light. If the stems still don’t seem strong, your best bet lies in pruning them to make way for stronger development in the future.
How To Prevent Legginess in Your Monstera in The Future
Leggy growth results from not adhering to the proper care requirements for the monstera. Thus, you can prevent it by:
- Ensuring your plant has access to bright and indirect light and altering the light exposure as you see fit,
- Feeding your plant in the growing season and not bombarding it with too much nitrogen as this can cause elongated growth,
- Watering it regularly in the growing season if the soil feels dry and cutting back on watering in the dormancy stages,
- Using the right size of pot for your monstera and splitting or repotting it when it outgrows its current pot, and
- Maintaining the temperature range between 65- and 75-degrees Fahrenheit and moving the plant to warmer or cooler zones as you see fit.
The goal is to let your plant thrive at the right time rather than pushing for growth or holding the plant back. Easy does it.
How To Prune a Leggy Monstera
All the fixes mentioned above will only work to prevent leggy growth in the future but cannot deal with the already present growth
. Does this mean you must deal with a leggy monstera forever? Not at all. You can prune the leggy growth and encourage healthier growth as follows:
- Wait for the growing season as this will give the plant the chance to recover in time before it goes into a dormant stage,
- Wash your hands and cover them with gloves to avoid touching the sap of the monstera,
- Clean a sharp tool to ensure it does not spread any pathogens to the plant parts which you will prune,
- Start by removing all the damaged and dying leaves on the plant. Find where the leaves emerge from the stem and snip them off at that point,
- Cut off the stems that seem leggy. Doing this will trigger growth hormones that will encourage more stems to emanate from that point, thus resulting in bushy growth.
- Ensure you do not cut back the plant by more than 30%. While you may want to eliminate all the leggy sections, cutting back too much can send the plant into shock. So, focus on the most affected parts and leave the rest on the monstera. Once the plant recovers, you can deal with the sections you feel are not aesthetically pleasing enough.
That’s all it takes to get rid of the leggy growth. Remember to position the plant in a spot with enough light and feed it adequate water to allow it to heal fast.
How To Propagate a Leggy Monstera
How about using the cuttings from the pruning above to grow a new monstera plant? Rather than cutting the leaves where they meet the stem, you will need to cut off the vines at the node.
Ensure that each cutting has a node with at least one leaf, which will encourage it to root. Take the cuttings and place them in a container with water.
You can also use soil as a medium, but this can encourage overwatering, so you must be careful when watering the cutting.
Allow the cutting to remain in the water, changing it weekly until you notice enough roots coming from the cutting. You can now move the cutting to a pot filled with fresh well-draining potting soil.
Your monstera will exhibit leggy growth if you overfeed or underfeed it with any of the care requirements covered in this guide.
For example, if you give it too much nitrogen, it will suffer elongation. If you leave it in low light, the same fate will follow. Thus, you must find a way to even out the extremes to protect your plant.