In the wild, prayer plants (Maranta leuconeura) are low-growing plants that naturally spread laterally. However, some gardeners who grow them indoors prefer their plants to stay compact and grow upward. Luckily, there are some ways to fix prayer plants that grow sideways.
You can fix a prayer plant that’s growing sideways by providing it with adequate sunlight. Insufficient light can cause your plant to grow long stems with fewer leaves. Prayer plants also droop and grow laterally due to poor watering practices, so you must follow a proper watering routine.
This article will discuss in more detail how you can fix your prayer plant that’s growing sideways. I’ll also share some tips to prevent it from doing so in the first place. Read on to learn more!
1. Remove the Shoots That Grow Sideways
Prayer plants are primarily grown as indoor plants in the US due to their high sensitivity to low temperatures. Under the right environmental conditions, your prayer plant will grow perky with vibrant leaves. However, several issues can make them more likely to grow sideways.
Before your plant starts growing actively in spring, locate the stems extending laterally. You must remove these stems because they’ll continue growing sideways.
Find where they start to bend and cut below the point of curvature using sterile garden shears. If such a point starts very low, you can cut the stem to the ground. Doing this in spring will allow your plant enough time to bounce back and grow a more upright stem.
Remember to cut ½ – 1 inch (1.27-2.5 cm) above a leaf node at a 45° angle. Remove laterally growing branches to make your plant look more compact.
You can also prune the old and heavy leaves every fall as the temperatures drop and the plant becomes less active. Otherwise, the excessive weight can cause your plant to droop and continue growing horizontally.
The heavy leaves can be an issue during the cold season as you reduce the watering frequency. With less water, the plant’s stems won’t be as rigid and will likely fall over from the weight of the leaves.
Pruning is just one way to fix the issue. You must also address the underlying reasons your prayer plant is growing sideways to ensure the new growth won’t bend again.
To learn more about the possible reasons your prayer plant looks leggy, you can read my article on the topic: 6 Reasons Why a Prayer Plant Looks Leggy.
2. Provide Your Plant With Adequate Sunlight
Unlike most other houseplants, prayer plants don’t need too much light. Nevertheless, you must provide them with enough sunlight to help them thrive. They can grow well in partial shade but will likely wilt and die when kept in deep shade for too long.
Maranta species respond to light in a more unique way than other plants. Their popular trait is to fold up their leaves at very low levels or in the absence of light and open them up again at sunrise. This trait is called photonasty.
They also exhibit another light-sensitive reaction called positive phototropism. This happens when you grow your prayer plant in an area with insufficient light, making them become leggy and grow laterally in search of a light source.
Insufficient light may also prevent your prayer plant from growing new leaves.
To ensure your prayer plant gets enough sunlight, place it next to a bright window with white curtains. Let the curtains filter the light to protect your plant’s leaves from burns.
Rotate your pot at a 90-180° angle every time you water it to allow the leaves from all sides to receive enough light and prevent the plant from bending again. Otherwise, the shaded areas will start looking dull and leggy.
3. Follow a Proper Watering Routine
Prayer plants need sufficient water to grow optimally. Moisture from the soil and the air plays a vital role not only in the growth but also in the behavior of prayer plants.
For instance, their natural tendency to fold their leaves at night depends largely on how much water is in their veins. If there isn’t enough water, the veins won’t be able to pull the leaves to close at night.
On the other hand, too much water can cause plant cells to become turgid, causing the veins to become too rigid and preventing the leaf from closing.
A similar issue is also observable in plant stems. If your prayer plant has insufficient water, the stem becomes limp and starts drooping. Fixing your watering schedule before the plant begins growing laterally can fix the problem.
However, overwatering your plant to compensate can worsen the situation. Although it can make the stems more rigid, the leaves may droop and eventually wilt. Overwatering can also present new problems, such as root rot.
Adjusting your watering routine can help fix the issue of lateral growth only after the affected stems are cut. For example, watering your plant adequately when the stems have already started growing sideways will encourage them to continue growing that way.
With that said, fixing your watering routine after pruning the stems will encourage new shoots and growth to extend upward.
The best way to ensure your prayer plants are properly watered is to ensure they grow in a well-draining loamy substrate with good water retention. Under such a condition, you can water your plant once a week during the warm seasons and once every two weeks in the fall and winter.
Young prayer plants have shallow roots, so it’s best to keep the upper 2 inches (5 cm) of the soil damp. This will ensure the young shoots grow upwards instead of sideways.
If you’re new to raising a prayer plant, you can find your rhythm by checking the soil regularly. Observe how quickly the upper inch (2.5 cm) of the soil dries up. Add enough water to saturate the dry upper layer.
Mature and more established prayer plants have longer roots reaching around the soil in your pot. In that case, you can wait until the upper 2 inches (5 cm) is dry before deeply watering your plant.
4. Promote Growth Through Regular Pruning
Pruning your prayer plant regularly—at least twice a year—will encourage it to grow more bushy while preventing it from growing sideways.
Remove damaged old leaves every fall as the outside temperatures drop below 50 °F (10 °C) and your indoor temperature stays below 70 °F (21 °C). Before the plant starts growing in the spring, you can prune the stems that have grown horizontally.
5. Take Cuttings of Mature Plants and Repot Them
Prayer plants spread by rhizomes. And if the pot is crowded, the stems growing on the outermost side will likely grow sideways. If this were the underlying issue, dividing your overgrown prayer plants could fix the problem.
It usually takes about 2-3 years before you’ll have to divide and repot your mature prayer plants. Ensure that the new soil or potting mix has the same characteristics as the original to encourage your plant to thrive.
Maranta species are typically propagated from cuttings or rhizomes. Pruning the branches growing laterally or cutting the overgrown roots will give you new prayer plants that you can train to grow upright using stakes or another type of support system.
6. Train Your Plant to Grow Upright With a Stake
Removing the shoots that grow sideways and addressing the underlying causes are often enough to ensure your prayer plant stays upright.
However, suppose your prayer plant still seems eager to grow laterally despite your efforts. In that case, you can train the stems to grow upright using a stake. You can tie the stems to the pole with twine, which you can adjust as the plant grows taller.
Note that prayer plants are not climbers so you’ll need to adjust the ties regularly. Also, removing the pole or stake won’t guarantee that your plant will remain upright, especially if it has thick foliage and long stems. You’ll have more success keeping a prayer plant upright as long as it remains below a foot (30 cm) tall.
You must also be careful when using stakes for your prayer plant. Maranta species typically have shallow roots that can easily get damaged from improper stake placement. You can insert the stake into the soil right after repotting your prayer plant to know where the safe spot is.
Training the plant to grow upright from the start can save you a lot of time and effort trying to change its growth direction later on, so make sure not to skip this step. However, keep in mind that this approach works quicker and better with newer, less established plants.
Prayer plants tend to spread sideways naturally as part of their natural growth habit. However, they can also grow upward, and some indoor gardeners prefer this behavior for a more compact houseplant.
You can fix your prayer plant’s orientation by pruning lateral growth, providing it with sufficient sunlight and water, or training it to grow upward using a stake. Be sure to identify the underlying cause so that you can address it properly and effectively.