Why Are Your Plant’s Leaves Getting Smaller? 5 Reasons Why

Growing plants is a rewarding and enjoyable pastime, and your plants can bring you a lot of joy. As a plant lover, you might become concerned if your plant shows signs of poor health, such as the leaves getting smaller. Why does this happen? 

Your plant’s leaves are getting smaller due to incorrect watering or fertilizing. Too much sunlight or shade or a pest infestation are other common causes. It could also be that your plant has simply outgrown its pot. 

In this article, I’ll discuss these causes in-depth, and will provide some helpful solutions. Let’s get to it! 

Why Your Plant’s Leaves Are Getting Smaller

When your plant’s leaves are getting noticeably smaller, it’s cause for concern and you’ll likely want to take action as soon as possible. Before launching into the fixes, it’s a good idea to determine why your plant’s leaves are becoming smaller: 

Incorrect Watering

Watering your plant incorrectly is the main reason it might be developing smaller leaves. Incorrect watering can refer to under- or overwatering. 

Underwatering your plant can make the leaves develop a dry texture and appearance, and they can look shriveled up and flat. On the other hand, overwatering can cause the plant to be oversaturated and, in extreme cases, the cells will burst, giving the leaves a soggy and droopy appearance. 

If you live in an area with heavy water (an excess mineral content), the excess salt can accumulate in the soil, preventing your plant from using the nutrients it needs for healthy leaf growth. 

Excess salt in your plant’s soil is more likely if you live in a hard water area, and use tap water to water your plant. 

Incorrect Light Conditions

Sunlight is vital for all plants because it helps them to photosynthesize. This involves using the energy from the sun to create sugars in the cells, which are vital for healthy growth. 

If your plant does not receive enough sunlight, it may become malnourished, and unable to grow to its optimal size. The leaves may appear smaller than they should be, and the plant’s overall size will also be smaller. 

On the flip side, plants that receive too much sunlight may have leaves that appear dried out and scorched. The leaves can also have dried out and brown spots, and the leaf edges can start to flake off, making them appear smaller than theyb should. 

Pest Infestation

Plants are vulnerable to pest infestations, which can quickly change their appearance and health, resulting in smaller-lloking leaves. 

Some common plant pests include: 

  • Mealybugs. These tiny, light-colored, and fluffy-looking insects can look like little tufts of cotton, moving slowly along the leaf. They are challenging to treat, especially if there are many mealybugs on the plant because they cover themselves with a waxy residue that repels most insecticides.  
  • Aphids. Aphids suck sap from plants, causing deformed and unhealthy-looking leaves. Their infestations can result in disease taking hold of your plant, ultimately leading to plant death. Aphids can best be identified by their soft, squishy appearance on the stems or undersides of leaves. They are usually light green or yellow in color. 
  • Spider mites. Spider mites are incredibly tiny and fast. It’s generally difficult to see them on plants but because they are closely related to spiders, they leave small webs behind. This is often the first sign of a mite infestation. These pests will suck the surface of leaves, draining the plant of its ability to photosynthesize, reducing leaf size, and ultimately killing the plant if not treated. 

Using Fertilizer Incorrectly

Many new plant parents might not know when or how to fertilize their plants. However, sometimes even experienced gardeners might make a mistake when choosing the proper amount and type of fertilizer. 

When it comes to fertilizers, a one-size-fits-all approach does not apply. Different plant varieties require different kinds and amounts of fertilizer. Indoor plants typically need lower concentrations of fertilizers than plants grown outdoors. 

During the winter, plants usually don’t need any fertilizer, and adding fertilizer in the colder months can stress them unnecessarily. One of the main signs of stress in a plant is stunted growth, including stunted leaf growth. 

Since most fertilizers contain salt, overfertilizing your plant can leave too much salt in the soil, preventing your plant from taking the nutrients and water it needs. A dehydrated plant will soon show signs of stress as well. 

If you have recently added fertilizer to your plant and are witnessing a change in leaf size, you might have added too much fertilizer or the wrong kind. 

The Pot Is No Longer Suitable

If you’ve had your potted plant for a while without changing the pot, the reason for the smaller leaves could be that the plant is root-bound and the pot is now too small.  

As plants grow above the soil, their roots below the soil develop a complex network of roots which absorb water and nutrients and transport it around the plant. As the plant grows larger, thicker and longer roots are needed to support the plant. 

If the roots are trapped inside a pot, they will grow until they run out of space. Once the roots run out of room, the plant can suffer as a result because the root system can no longer support the needs of the whole plant. 

The plant then can’t grow any larger, and smaller leaves might be the first evidence that a plant needs to be repotted. 

4 Easy Fixes for Small Leaves

Now that you’ve determined what could be causing your plant’s leaves to be too small, you’re probably eager to fix the problem. Here are four easy fixes:  

1. Change Your Watering Schedule

If you believe that the way in which you water your plant is to blame for the smaller than usual leaves, change your watering schedule. Before doing so, it’s worth researching the correct way to water your particular plant. A suitable watering schedule for one plant will not necessarily be good for another variety. 

Prayer plants, for example, only need to be watered once every one to two weeks. The soil should not dry out completely but only halfway until you water them again. 

Once you know the correct way to water your plant, try and follow it as closely as possible so that your plant can be as healthy as possible and have decent-sized leaves. 

2. Place Your Plant In the Correct Light Conditions

Similar to how each plant has its own watering requirements, optimal light conditions will vary from plant variety to variety. 

As you did when you researched your plant’s best watering schedule, check which light conditions it needs to thrive and produce healthy-looking leaves. 

By moving your plant’s location, offering it more sunlight by trimming larger plants in its way or adding a grow light (if you don’t get enough sun), your plant could be much happier. 

3. Remove Pests

If your plant shows signs of a visible pest infestation, the solution is to remove them. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of gently wiping them off with a soft, damp cloth, or removing them with tweezers. However, you could also try one of the methods below: 

  • Gently misting your plant with water to make the bugs fall off
  • Cleaning the plant with a gentle soap and water, and following up with a quick wipe with an alcohol pad
  • Wiping the plant with neem oil (which will not only kill the bugs but also help repel them going forward)
  • Introducing ladybugs or lacewings to your greenhouse (these bugs prey on pests, such as mealybugs)

4. Repot Your Plant

If the issue is with the size of your pot’s plant, find a larger pot and  repot it. You can do this by following these easy steps: 

  1. Gently ease your plant out of the pot, and remove the soil from the roots. 
  2. Place the plant in the larger pot and fill it with new potting soil that is suitable for your plant.
  3. Water your plant as you normally would, and enjoy its inevitable growth spurt.

Final Thoughts

If your plant’s leaves are too small, there could be various reasons for this issue: 

  • Incorrect watering
  • Incorrect light conditions (too much sun or shade)
  • Pest infestation
  • Incorrect use of fertilizer
  • The pot has become too small for the plant

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of TheGrowingLeaf.com, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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