What To Do When Pilea Isn’t Growing Straight

Pilea (Pilea peperomioides) is prized for its singular leaves on long branches that jut out of the central stem in a globular pattern. The main stem has to remain upright to maintain such an attractive appearance. However, your plant may need human intervention to keep it growing straight.

If your Pilea isn’t growing straight, you should rotate the plant regularly to ensure all sides receive enough sunlight and prevent legginess. You can also use a stake to guide the stem. However, if your plant is over 5 years old, you need to grow a new one since the stem naturally twists over time.

The rest of the article will discuss in more detail how to encourage your Pilea plant to grow upward. So if you want to keep that unique look on your plant for longer, read on!

Key Takeaways

  • Regular Rotation: Turn your Pilea frequently to ensure even sunlight exposure, preventing legginess.
  • Staking for Support: Use a stake to guide the stem and maintain upright growth, especially for younger plants.
  • Propagate Older Plants: Plants over 5 years old tend to naturally twist; propagate new plants for continued straight growth.
  • Balanced Sunlight: Ensure bright, indirect sunlight for at least 4 hours daily.
  • Adequate Hydration: Water properly to maintain stem rigidity, but avoid overwatering.
  • Consider Grow Lights: Use blue light-rich grow lights to keep plants short and compact.

Strategies to Ensure Upright Growth

The genus Pilea consists of over 600 diverse species, ranging from vines to small shrubs. The most commonly grown Pilea houseplant in the US is the Pilea peperomioides, also known as the pancake plant or Chinese Money plant due to its distinctive leaf shape and growth pattern.

The key to the pancake plant’s appearance is the straightness of the central stem. If it bends, the plant loses the circular formation of the leaves due to uneven weight distribution and growth.

In this article, we will focus on Pilea peperomioides. However, you’ll find most of the tips discussed below helpful in keeping most Pilea shrub cultivars growing straighter.

1. Balanced Sunlight Exposure

Plant stems naturally lean towards a light source, especially when they aren’t getting enough sunlight. This behavior is called phototropism, and Pilea is no exception.

Pilea grows best with bright but indirect sunlight for at least 4 hours daily. It can still grow in partial shade, but the likelihood of the stem bending increases. 

You can rotate your plant about 90-180° weekly to ensure all sides receive enough sunlight. Otherwise, the leaves on the shadier side will droop or wilt, and the stem will likely grow longer toward your window.

Under bright artificial light, 8-12 hours of exposure daily should suffice. However, you must place the light directly above the plant to encourage the stem to grow straight. 

A grow light rich in blue light is also helpful in keeping your Pilea short and compact, reducing the risk of the stem bending or twisting. Moreover, it aids in keeping your Pilea leaves dark and vibrant green in color.

A fluorescent lamp is a suitable and cheap alternative to grow lights, as you can learn in my other article.

However, adjusting sunlight exposure and duration for mature and taller Pilea plants may not be enough to encourage them to grow straighter. This is especially true if the plant has already bent significantly.

In this case, you should use structural support while ensuring the plant still receives adequate sunlight on all sides.

2. Using a Stake for Support

On average, Pilea shrubs live for 8-10 years. Many gardeners typically don’t let their plants last that long as their central stems naturally bend over time as they get longer. 

Based on experience, you can keep your plant short for longer with proper lighting. As discussed, blue light helps keep the plant short.

Meanwhile, if your Pilea plant is growing at a normal pace and the stem is starting to bend, you can help keep it upright by tying it against a thin wooden or plastic stake. Regular bamboo sticks will also work fine.

However, one challenge with this method is that the petioles or branches of a Pilea plant grow in all directions. Therefore, you may want to adjust the ties to accommodate the plant’s growth and avoid damaging the leaves.

Pro-tip: With adequate care, Pilea grows rather quickly, so you must check the plant’s growth every time you water it to make the necessary adjustments.

3. Adequate Hydration

Water helps keep plant cells rigid, giving the stems better structural support to remain upright. So if your Pilea is constantly dehydrated, its leaves will start drooping, and the central stem will eventually become limp and bend.

Rehydrating your plant will help it perk up. However, it’s best not to overdo it. Pilea plants have short roots that won’t benefit much from a one-time deep watering, especially when they’re recovering from dehydration.

Pilea typically requires well-draining soil in a small to average-sized pot. Therefore, the substrate shouldn’t hold too much water for a long time. Otherwise, the roots will get damaged, causing new problems.

Usually, you should allow the upper third of the soil to feel dry before adding more water. However, if your plant is bending due to dehydration, you can slightly increase the watering frequency. For instance, you can add more water as soon as the upper ½-1 inch (1.25-2.5 cm) gets dry.

When increasing your watering frequency, ensure your plant receives enough sunlight. This will encourage the excess moisture to evaporate more quickly and prevent root rot.

Moreover, it’s best to use tepid distilled water to prevent the risk of salt buildup from tap water. These salts can give the undersides of your Pilea leaves a speckled white appearance. They can also prevent the plant’s roots from absorbing water from the soil.

4. Propagating Older Plants

If your Pilea plant is over five years old, it may be mature enough to resist help from hydration, rotation, or staking. These methods may no longer prove effective in leading your plant’s central stem to grow straighter.

Although some Pilea plants can live for more than ten years when properly taken care of indoors, it’s usually only possible if they spent most of their early years (up to seven years) as short and compact plants below 12 inches (30 cm) tall.

As the plant adds a few inches to its stem, it gradually twists, making it challenging to guide with a stake. This is due to the irregular pattern of the leaf nodes against the stem. The unpredictable nature of where the leaf nodes develop on the stem forces it to twist at irregular angles.

Therefore, even if you provide the plant with enough sunlight and water, it might still refuse to grow the way you want. In that case, it may be best to propagate it and grow a new Pilea plant. The good news is that it’s relatively easy to propagate a Pilea plant from babies formed from the rhizomes.

Ideally, you should propagate your plant every year after the third year. This is mainly because the Pilea plant produces new shoots through rhizomes. When grown in pots, this situation can lead to overcrowding and compromise the mother plant’s health.

Watch the video below to see how to cut the baby Pilea plants from the mother plant:

Ensuring your new Pilea plant gets enough sunlight and water can help it grow straighter. It’s also a good opportunity to learn and improve on the areas you may have missed with your previous plant.

Final Thoughts

A Pilea shrub, such as the Chinese Money plant, looks best when it grows upright. Providing your plant with its basic needs, such as sunlight and water, at adequate levels is often enough to prevent legginess and leaning over. A stake can also add structural support for taller plants.

However, the central stems of Pilea shrubs are also known to twist naturally with age due to the irregular pattern of the new leaf nodes. Therefore, knowing when and how to propagate your plant is also a valuable skill to have.

Dr. Moritz Picot

Dr. Moritz Picot is a horticulture enthusiast and the founder of TheGrowingLeaf.com, where he serves as the lead content writer. He established the website in 2022 as a valuable resource for both gardening aficionados and beginners, compiling all the gardening tips he has accumulated over the past 25 years. Alex has a passion for nurturing plants, transforming backyards into inviting spaces, and sharing his knowledge with the world.

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