Leggy Pilea? Ways to Grow a Bushy Chinese Money Plant


The Pilea plant has become a part of everyone’s wish list. This lovely small-sized plant has become one of the most sought-after houseplants because it’s the perfect decoration for any living space. However, if you find your Pilea looking less beautiful than when you first had it, you might wonder what’s going on.

A common problem is you get a leggy Pilea, and the plant becomes stretched out. If you’ve noticed that your Pilea becomes leggy and leaning to a particular side, there are some ways to bring it back to its original beauty. Here’s everything you need to know about leggy Pilea and how to regain the orb-like shape that this plant is known for.

What Is Leggy Pilea?

Pilea peperomioides, also known as the Chinese money plant, lefse plant, missionary plant, pancake plant, or just Pilea, is one of the most good-natured houseplants that originates from Yunnan, a southwestern province in China. When you hear about a leggy Pilea, it means that the houseplant has become bare and stretched out, creating a messy look.

Etiolation is the scientific name of this problem. When the plant doesn’t receive enough light, it results in long, weak stems and smaller leaves. Sometimes, the leaves also become pale yellow. A leggy Pilea has elongated and droopy branches rather than bushy and round in shape.

What Causes Leggy Growth?

The answer to this question is quite simple. Pileas become leggy due to inadequate sunlight. Sunlight is necessary because the plant uses light energy to convert carbon dioxide into food. When it doesn’t receive adequate light, it adjusts the way it grows and stretches towards the light to continue photosynthesizing light into food and nutrients.

If you’re wondering what the symptoms of a leggy Pilea are, here are some of the few telltale signs that it needs more light:

Stretching Towards the Light

Pilea is known for its unique features, such as bush-like shape and upright posture. That’s why it’s very easy to identify if your plant is getting leggy. If the plant isn’t getting enough light, especially during the warmer months, it grows faster. It tries to stretch towards the nearest light source, which elongates its stems.

Pale Yellow Leaves

While the leaves of Pilea turn pale yellow for several reasons, what separates the color change caused by inadequate sunlight from sunburn and overwatering is the lack of color intensity.

The color changes into pale yellow or almost white, which tells you that your Pilea needs more sunlight. This usually happens at the older leaves growing at the bottom of the plant. When your Pilea doesn’t have adequate light, it doesn’t release enough chlorophyll, a natural compound giving the plants their green color.

Leaves Dropping at an Alarming Rate

It’s quite normal for a plant’s leaves to drop to allow new leaves to grow. However, if the leaves fall successively at an alarming rate, it’s probably something else. This is especially when the leaves turn pale yellow or pale white.

Smaller Leaves

While there are several reasons why your Pilea has small leaves, such as overfertilizing and root damage, the leading cause of why the leaves become smaller is inadequate light.

How to Make a Pilea Bushy?

Unfortunately, once your Pilea is damaged, it can’t be undone. But don’t worry. There’s still hope. You can still help your Pilea recover and become bushy again. Here are some of the things you need to consider to encourage your Pilea to be fuller and bushier.

Light requirements

Pilea needs adequate indirect light. While it may survive in low light conditions, the leaves may become discolored. Too much direct sunlight can also cause sunburn and crispy leaves. That’s why you should find a good spot where the plant can get the correct amount of light it needs.

Temperature requirements

Pilea prefer temperatures ranging between 60-75°F (15-24°C). It doesn’t like when the temperature drops below 50°F. That’s why it needs extra care during the winter, especially if it’s placed in an unheated conservatory.

Watering requirements

Like any other plant, the amount of water your Pilea needs depends on the temperature and humidity of where it is placed. The best way to know when your Pilea needs watering is by testing the topsoil using your finger. If the upper half-inch is dry, you need to water the plant. The plant also needs less watering during the winter because it isn’t actively growing. Its pot should also have drainage holes to prevent water from sitting in.

Soil requirements

Find good quality and well-drained soil to help your Pilea recover from leggy. You can also use an all-purpose soil mixed with perlite to allow water to drain.

Pests & problems

Another reason why your plant may fail to thrive is pest infestation. Some of the common houseplant pests are spider mites and mealybugs. So, if you find that your Pilea is infested with these bugs, you can apply a natural insecticide made from neem oil or soap. You can also use liquid alcohol and cotton to remove them. Just make sure that the eggs are removed to avoid reemerging on the plant.

Can you cut the top off a Pilea?

The short answer is yes. A healthy plant sends energy and nutrients in all directions. Thus, when you cut the top off a Pilea, the energy which is supposedly transmitted to the removed branch redirects to the new growth and helps fill out your plant.

You can select where to position the cut. For example, if you notice some new sprouts coming out on the stem, you can cut just above that portion to get the best results. Use a clean and sharp pair of scissors to cut the Pilea at the selected location. The bottom part will sprout new and healthy growth as soon as you do this.

Turning a Leggy Pilea into a Bushy Beauty!

Now you know some of the common signs of a leggy Pilea and what you can do to help it recover. If your plant has seen better days and suddenly becomes leggy, the very first step to do is move it to a new location where it can receive adequate, indirect light. If it still doesn’t work out, your plant may need to be repotted, cut, or fertilized. Just follow this guide to remedy the problem, and soon, it will bounce back to be the Pilea of your dreams.

About the author 

Paul - Better Houseplants

Loves orchids and foliage houseplants. Always trying to be a better plant parent. Let's get growing!

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