Why Jade Plants Get Leggy & Leaning (and How to Fix It)

Jade plants are popular for their miniature tree-like form, with a short but sturdy trunk and plump green leaves. Although generally low maintenance, they can benefit from extra care to maintain their health and shape.

Jade plants can get leggy or lean due to the following reasons:

  1. Insufficient light 
  2. Underwatering and overwatering
  3. Nutrient imbalance
  4. Limited space for root growth
  5. Improper potting
  6. Overgrowth

This article will dig into the possible causes and how to address them. I’ll also share some preventive, maintenance, and pruning tips to keep your plants healthy and looking their best.

Jade Plant Growth: An Overview

Jade plants (Crassula ovata) are native to sandy slopes and shrubby forests in semi-arid regions of South Africa. To adapt to their environment, they have developed the following features:

  • Thick trunk: Young jade plants have green, fleshy stems that gradually develop a grayish-brown outer layer (bark). The sturdier mature trunk helps support the heavy branches and leaves and keeps the plant upright.
  • Succulent leaves: The plump, coin-shaped leaves store extra moisture to give the plant drought tolerance.
  • Shallow roots: In the wild, the roots spread shallow but wide to absorb rainwater quickly. Their spread also helps anchor the plant to keep it from falling over despite growing in loose soil and sometimes sloped ground.

Due to different—and sometimes suboptimal—conditions indoors, jade plants might not be able to maximize their growth potential. Consequently, the plant may exhibit the following structural issues:

  • Leggy growth: This is characterized by unnaturally long stems that bend toward the window or light source. The leaves may also become dense on the side exposed to light while sparse on the other. In jade plants, more branches and leaves may grow on the light-exposed area, giving your plant a lopsided appearance.
  • Leaning: The entire trunk may lean to one side due to asymmetrical root or foliage growth. If the trunk has mushy or weak sections due to rot or developmental issues, it might also bend or tilt.

Reasons for Leggy and Leaning Plants

Legginess or leaning can indicate problems that may be detrimental to your plant’s health and appearance. It’s important to identify the correct cause and fix the issue promptly.

Here are the common reasons to watch out for:

Insufficient Light

In the wild, jade plants grow alongside low shrubs, so they receive direct sunlight all day. They don’t have to grow tall to reach for the sun because there’s little to no shade around them.

As a result, they can invest their energy in developing a sturdy trunk and maintaining lush foliage. They remain compact for several years with a round-shaped canopy of dense branches and leaves.

Without enough light, the trunk and branches will undergo etiolation for better access to sunlight. The side of the plant exposed to insufficient light will grow longer toward the light source, such as a window or lamp.

Jade leaves typically grow in clusters at the tips of the branches. Their weight can cause the long but flimsy branches to droop. Consequently, the trunk may also tilt.

You can fix the problem by cutting back the leggy growth regardless of the season. Indoor jade plants are very tolerant to pruning and will bounce back when kept in optimal conditions. However, they will grow new branches more quickly when pruned during spring or summer.

Refer to the following steps for proper pruning and care adjustment:

  1. Look for a node where you want new and healthier branches to emerge. Be sure there are at least two pairs of leaves below that node for photosynthesis
  2. Make a clean cut a quarter to a half inch (0.6-1.3 cm) above that node using sharp, sterile pruning shears. 
  3. Sterilize the shears with isopropyl alcohol between cuts to prevent the spread of plant pathogens.
  4. Lightly brush cinnamon powder over the cuts to prevent infection.
  5. Acclimate your plant to direct morning sunlight by gradually moving it closer to an eastern window. If you have a southern or western window, you may filter the light with sheer curtains until your plant is well-adjusted to more intense light.
  6. Rotate the plant by 90-180° weekly to encourage balanced new growth.
  7. Increase the watering frequency accordingly because brighter light means faster metabolism and moisture loss. Check the soil moisture and water your plant as soon as the soil is dry halfway through.

Once properly acclimated, it is best to leave the plant near the sunniest window in your home to keep it compact and prevent the new branches from growing leggy.

If your home has inadequate natural light or obstructed windows, I recommend using full-spectrum grow lights. Position a 40-watt bulb 12 inches (30 cm) directly above the plant, and keep it on for 12-16 hours daily.

As your plant recovers and puts on new growth, pinch new and tender shoots emerging from unwanted directions. You may use sterile bonsai scissors or your clean fingernails. This will help control your plant’s size and shape and give it a compact and bushier look.

Underwatering and Overwatering

Inside the thick trunk and fleshy branches of jade plants are water channels that efficiently store and transport moisture as needed. Jade plants are resilient, but consistently poor watering practices can cause them to lean or bend.

Here’s how:

  • Underwatered young stems and branches lose their turgidity. As a member of Crassulaceae family of succulents, jade plants have collapsible cell walls that may fold within when dehydrated, giving the plant a droopy appearance.
  • Overwatering increases the risk of root rot and bacterial soft rot. Once the decay climbs to the stems, the pathogens can damage the plant cell walls and turn the affected area soft and mushy. The plant may then droop or lean.

Due to their collapsible cell walls, jade plants can resist desiccation. Leaning due to underwatering is easy to fix as the plant can quickly regain its turgidity when adequately watered.

Here’s how:

  1. Soak the bottom half of the pot in a tub of water to allow the roots to draw moisture from the drainage holes. 
  2. Leave the pot soaked for 10-30 minutes to ensure the soil is evenly saturated and relieve small hydrophobic soil clumps that might have formed due to excessive dryness.
  3. Remove the pot from the water bath when the soil surface feels moist.
  4. Leave the pot on a drip tray to remove the excess moisture before placing it back in its usual spot.

Occasional overwatering doesn’t lead to mushy stems. Conversely, chronic overwatering can cause mushy stems, which indicate the presence of rot-causing pathogens within. 

It’s impossible to save your plant completely if the rot has reached the stems. However, you can propagate the remaining healthy sections with these tips:

  1. Make a clean cut a half-inch (1.3 cm) above the mushy section using sterile shears or a knife. You don’t need to worry about the nodes because the goal is to find where the infection ends.
  2. Check the inner layer of the stem. A healthy stem should be green inside. Black or brown sections indicate rot.
  3. Discard the infected base because there is no cure. The pathogen will just continue to spread within the remaining tissues of the plant.
  4. Sterilize the shears and cut again about an inch (2.5 cm) above the detached stem.
  5. Keep going until there’s no more sign of rot. Since the rot-causing pathogens enter the plant from the roots, you’ll have better chances of finding a healthy or unaffected section as you cut upward one section at a time.
  6. Remember to clean the blade between each cut. 
  7. You can plant the remainder or collect 4-6-inch (10-15 cm) stem cuttings. Remember to brush the wounds with cinnamon powder to prevent infection.
  8. Remove the leaves at the bottom node. You may use these leaves for propagation, too. Just ensure there’s a bit of the node attached to the petiole.
  9. Let the cuttings form a callus in the next 3-7 days in a cool, dry room. Keep them away from direct sunlight.
  10. Plant the cuttings in moist coco peat or perlite.
  11. Place them in a warm room with bright, indirect light. You may cover the setup with clear plastic to maintain humid conditions (60%) and prevent the cuttings from drying out.

If there aren’t viable stem cuttings, you can propagate the plant through healthy-looking leaves. 

Here’s a brief guide on the propagation options and substrates:

Cutting TypeSubstratePurpose and Advantage
StemFiltered waterEasier to see the developing roots
100% coco peat or perliteBest for cuttings from plants damaged by rot because they’re sterile

Good drainage and aeration but may require misting every 2-3 days to prevent the cuttings from drying out
Standard jade plant soil mixReadily available if you have extra soil from a previous repotting
LeafStandard jade plant soil mixReadily available if you have extra soil from a previous repotting

Under optimal conditions, the cuttings will develop roots within 3 weeks. However, if the plant was stressed due to overwatering and rot, it can take 2-3 months before the new roots grow long enough. 

Pro tip: Avoid pulling out the cuttings to check for root growth because the young roots are typically thin and fragile. I usually wait until they put out at least three pairs of tiny new leaves before transplanting. The new growth is a good sign that the roots are growing and the plant is recovering.

Remember the following watering tips to help your plant grow new and healthy shoots:

  • Check the soil moisture 10-14 days after watering using your fingers or a wooden chopstick.
  • Water the plant when the upper half of the potting mix is dry. Pour the water directly into the soil, swirling the watering can’s spout around the pot to ensure that the soil is evenly saturated.
  • Let the excess moisture drip out of the drainage holes.
  • Bottom water the plant once every 2 months (or after 3-4 times of top watering) to remove hydrophobic clumps that build up over time.

Nutrient Imbalance

Jade plants grow slowly and don’t require frequent fertilization. However, the potting soil can be depleted of nutrients over time, especially if your plants haven’t been repotted for several years.

Nitrogen, phosphorus, and calcium are three essential nutrients for stem development and mechanical stability. Without them, the new stems will be flimsy and more susceptible to drooping or leaning.

You can confirm the lack of these nutrients with these additional symptoms:

  • Yellowing of older or bottom leaves (nitrogen)
  • Lack of flowers (phosphorus)
  • Yellowing of younger leaves (calcium)
  • Stunted growth

To fix the problem, prune the leggy branches and pinch the discolored leaves. Remember to limit pruning to 30% of the plant’s volume. You may continue pruning after a month after the plant has put on new branches and/or leaf buds.

Feed your plant a 10-10-10 NPK liquid fertilizer with calcium, iron, and magnesium micronutrients. Dilute it to half the recommended strength, and incorporate it every time you water your plant (once every 2-3 weeks) from spring until summer.

With proper feeding and optimal conditions, the new growth should appear healthier.

Limited Space for Root Growth

Jade plants don’t mind being a bit rootbound because they have shallow and fine roots. However, if they remain in the same pot for too long, the overgrown roots may displace the soil and cause the plant to tilt.

Here are the signs that your plant needs repotting:

  • Roots coming out of the soil surface and the drainage holes
  • Displaced soil, resulting in water quickly draining out of the pot
  • Cracks on the pot walls

It’s best to repot your jade plant as soon as you see the abovementioned signs. This will prevent your plant from leaning or falling over. A good rule of thumb is to repot young plants (less than 5 years old) every 2 years and older plants (5 years or more old) every 3-5 years.

Jade plants have fragile roots. To ensure they don’t get stressed from repotting, follow these steps:

  1. Water the plant deeply 2 days before repotting. If the water drains out quickly, you can water the plant from the bottom for ten minutes.
  2. Run a flat knife or spatula around the edges of the pot to loosen the soil and ensure you don’t damage the roots.
  3. Carefully slide the plant out and loosen the soil off the rootball using a wooden chopstick or a hand cultivator.
  4. Inspect the roots for signs of rot (black, mushy) or desiccation (brown and crisp). Brown roots with white tips are healthy and actively growing. Prune only those that are dried or rotten using sterile shears.
  5. Repot the plant in a well-draining soil mix and appropriate pot, which I’ll discuss further below.
  6. Spread the roots over the moist soil mix and bury the bottom inch (2.5 cm) of the trunk. Tamp the soil tightly around the roots to keep the trunk upright.
  7. Place the plant in its usual bright and warm spot. Avoid placing it in a significantly different environment to avoid transplant shock.
  8. Wait a whole week before watering your plant deeply. After the initial watering, revert to your regular plant care schedule. For instance, wait until the soil is dry halfway through before watering again.

Improper Potting

A jade plant is also more likely to lean or fall over if planted in an incorrect pot that’s too small and/or too light for its size. In addition, the use of incorrect substrate can cause watering problems, which can lead to weaker stems.

Soil that contains too much peat will hold excess water. As the plant absorbs the moisture, it can prompt the cells to become longer, leading to leggy growth.

Conversely, soil that contains too much sand is more likely to become hydrophobic if frequently allowed to dry out completely. The soil repels water, and the roots remain dehydrated, leading to collapsed plant cells and leaning stems.

After confirming that the legginess or leaning is due to improper potting, you must repot your plant

Here are some essential things to remember when preparing a pot and substrate for jade plants:

Correct Pot or Container

Choose a pot material that’s heavy to support the weight of the dense foliage and breathable to facilitate faster soil drainage. I recommend using an unglazed terracotta pot with drainage holes.

Pot size is also important to accommodate root growth for the next several years. However, avoid using oversized pots, which can retain excess moisture that can lead to overwatering problems.

Below are some guidelines I go by when repotting my jade plants:

Plant AgeRepotting FrequencyPot Size
Less than 5 years old (cuttings or divisions)Every 1-2 years2 inches (5 cm) wider and deeper than the old one
5-10 years oldEvery 3-5 years2 inches (5 cm) wider but the same depth as the old one.
Over 10 years oldEvery 3-5 yearsSame size as the old pot

For divisions: 2 inches (5 cm) wider and deeper than the rootball

Correct Soil Mix

Prepare a well-draining substrate, such as a high-quality succulent mix or a compost-perlite mix.

Alternatively, you can make a homemade soil mix containing the following materials in equal parts:

  • Standard potting soil which contains peat and loam
  • Horticultural sand
  • Perlite/pumice

Mix them well to ensure even water infiltration.

Overgrowth

Undisturbed jade plants can become top-heavy as they grow. Regular pruning during spring and/or summer can help maintain an even distribution of weight and prevent the stems or branches from bending or breaking.

The heavy foliage is also more likely to cause the stem to lean or fall over if the plant has lopsided growth due to improper pruning.

You may prune the plant with the following considerations:

  1. Locate dead, damaged, or discolored leaves and branches and cut them first. Always use sterile shears and wipe the blades with rubbing alcohol between cuts.
  2. Examine the plant to find branches growing in unwanted directions, drooping, or getting leggy.
  3. Cut ¼-½ inch (0.6-1.3 cm) above the node where you want new branches to sprout.

Remember: Avoid pruning more than a third of the plant at once. If there’s too much foliage to remove, prune the leaves and branches on the denser side of the plant first to promote balanced growth and better air circulation. Wait a month before pruning again.

If the main stem is still leaning, consider staking the plant for support and to encourage it to grow a thicker, sturdier trunk.

Here’s how:

  1. Prepare a bamboo stake 6 inches (15 cm) taller than the plant.
  2. Position the stake an inch (2.5 cm) away from the base of the plant—behind the point of leaning.
  3. Bury the bottom at least 6 inches (15 cm) deep—being careful not to damage the roots.
  4. Pull the stem back toward the stake and secure it using soft twist ties or Velcro garden tape. Avoid pulling it too tightly. Ensure the tie or tape isn’t digging into the stem.
  5. Add more ties or tape 2-3 inches (5-7.6 cm) apart until the stem looks upright. 
  6. Adjust or loosen the tie or tape as the stem becomes thicker and add more as it grows taller.

This process requires patience, as it can take years of proper care and environment before the stem matures enough to develop a woody outer layer.

Preventive Measures for Upright and Healthy Growth

Jade plants are resilient and can bounce back even after heavy pruning. It also helps if you correctly identify the issue and make necessary adjustments to the care practices and growing conditions.

However, it can take several months or years of adequate care to grow enough foliage and achieve its desired appearance after the treatment. That’s why proper and consistent care is crucial to prevent this problem in the first place.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

Routine Care Schedule

Even low-maintenance succulents like jade plants require a solid care routine to stay healthy and vibrant. I recommend creating a plant journal until you’re more confident with the routine.

You can avoid legginess, leaning, and several other common problems with the following care tips:

  • Give your plant at least 4 hours of direct morning sunlight for optimum growth. It may also do well with 8 hours of bright indirect light, but it will grow more slowly.
  • Set an alarm or reminder to check the soil moisture 10-14 days after watering. This will help you avoid over- or underwatering your plant.
  • If the top inch (2.5 cm) of the soil dries out, aerate it using a hand cultivator to improve air circulation and water infiltration.
  • Water your plant when the top half of the pot is dry.
  • Rotate the pot every time you water the plant so it’s easier to remember.
  • Inspect for signs of pests, such as cottony white fluff, fine webs, or honeydew. Remove the pests as soon as you spot them using a cotton swab with rubbing alcohol.
  • Feed your plant a 10-10-10 NPK fertilizer during the growing season. Apply a thin layer of granular fertilizer over the soil surface in early spring and early summer. Be sure to water deeply after feeding. Alternatively, you can use a half-strength liquid fertilizer from early spring to late summer once a month.
  • Cut or pinch tender terminal stem tips to promote lateral branching and bushier growth. Do this only after your jade plant is over 2 years old because younger plants need the foliage to generate food and energy.
  • Prune unruly branches and overgrown leaves once a month from spring until summer.
  • Pinch damaged leaves or healthy leaf buds growing in unwanted directions along the stem any time of the year. 
  • Repot your plants when they show signs of being rootbound. Refer to the frequency guidelines and techniques discussed above.

Seasonal Considerations

Jade plants are naturally slow growers, but you can help them grow faster with healthier stems, branches, and leaves in spring by giving them a break during the cold seasons.

You may adjust the environmental conditions and watering routine in fall and winter with the following tips:

  • Reduce the light intensity by giving your plant 8 hours of bright indirect light daily (no direct sunlight). You must still rotate the pot regularly to avoid leaning and legginess.
  • Reduce watering frequency by waiting until the upper ⅔ of the pot is dry before watering.
  • Stop fertilizing your plant 2-4 weeks before the first fall frost.
  • Maintain daytime temperatures around 70 °F (21 °C) and nighttime temperatures between 50 and 55 °F (10 and 13 °C).

These conditions will prompt your plant to minimize metabolic activities. The slower growth during the cold seasons will help your plant store enough energy to enter a growth spurt when you revert to regular care and environmental conditions in the spring.

Final Thoughts

Leaning and legginess in jade plants are often reversible conditions. You can fix them by pruning the unruly or unhealthy branches and leaves and improving your plant care practices.

However, it can take a long time for the plant to replace the pruned sections. Maintaining a solid care routine is crucial to avoid the tedious treatment process or potentially discarding your plant due to irreversible issues, such as fungal or bacterial rot.

Don’t worry if your jade plant is getting leggy or leaning. Observe your plant carefully and refer to the tips discussed above to help it bounce back. Be patient and consistent with your care routine.

If you’ve experienced the same and tried a different yet effective approach, feel free to share it by leaving a comment for fellow jade plant enthusiasts.

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