Why Plants Get Leggy? ( Top 4 Reasons )

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Leggy plants are fairly common no matter if the plants are growing indoors or outside in the garden. The truth is that some plants will get leggy at one point in their life, usually, it is in the early stages when they try to grow as fast and as big as possible. The problem with leggy plants is that not only do they look relatively bad but the actual plants take a massive risk while getting leggy, oftentimes leggy plants are the first ones to die off in case of a storm or if they get some disease.

When a plant becomes leggy, it typically means that it is growing with long stems and fewer leaves towards the top. This happens when plants are searching for light. If they are placed in a sufficiently bright spot, they will receive the adequate light they need, leading to normal growth patterns.

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In some cases, you might find that the same types of plants are grown right next to each other but only one of them gets leggy, usually, this tends to happen when there is too much competition for sunlight. In case all of your plants are leggy in a small area of your garden then this usually tends to happen when they do not get enough sunlight or there is way too much nitrogen in the soil. Some plants tend to grow rather tall, and you need to stake them especially if they tend to get leggy like Lilies for more information check out my recent article Oriental Lily ( Oriental Hybrid Lilies ).

Why Plants Get Leggy?

Plants can become leggy when they grow tall and spindly with excessive stem length and fewer leaves. This condition typically occurs when plants don’t receive sufficient light or face crowded growing conditions. In an attempt to reach for more light, the plant stretches its stems, resulting in weak and elongated growth. Insufficient light can be a common problem indoors or in shady areas of the garden.

To prevent leggy growth, it’s important to provide plants with adequate sunlight or artificial lighting, ensuring they receive the recommended hours of light for their specific species. Proper spacing between plants is also crucial to allow for adequate air circulation and light penetration. Regular pruning and pinching of the growing tips can help promote bushier growth and prevent legginess.

Plants Get Leggy If They Are In Partial Or Full Shade

Even if a plant is growing in partial or full shade it still knows where the sunlight is. Oftentimes plants will try to reach the sunlight as fast as possible, if there are enough nutrients in the soil they will focus all of their energy on growing and thus they become leggy after a couple of weeks. The easy fix for this is to simply replant them in an area where they get full sun for at least a couple of hours a day.

If your indoor plants are starting to get leggy then it is a good idea to place them next to a window that has full sun for a couple of hours every day. In case you can not replant them then observe what is causing the shade, it might be as simple as cutting down a branch or two which is shading them. If you want to know what happens when you plant a full sun-loving plant into shade then check out my recent article Can Full Sun Plants Grow In Shade? ( Top 5 Outcomes ).

Excess Nitrogen Can Make Plants Leggy

Nitrogen is very important to all plants, however, too much nitrogen can make them leggy. When there is excess nitrogen in the soil most plants will focus on growing as tall and fast as possible, oftentimes growing a lot of leaves but few to no flowers. Usually, this tends to happen to perennial plants, which will focus on growing if there is too much nitrogen in the soil rather than flowering, the good news is that the next year they will definitely flower.

Usually, too much nitrogen is caused by fertilizing way too much, simply cut back on the fertilizer and you are good to go. If you are using compost in addition to a slow-release fertilizer then stick with just the compost. If you only use fertilizer then use one that doesn’t contain that much nitrogen. Leggy plants tend to be stressed out which attracts slugs and snails, for more information check out my recent article Can Plants Recover From Slug And Snail Damage?.

Competition From Other Plants Can Make Them Leggy

If your garden is jam-packed with plants then a lot of them will simply be out-competed. It is the survival of the fittest in most flower gardens, and the plants that grow the tallest to reach full sun will live so they tend to get leggy. While other plants that grow slower will be in a permanent shade from the competing plants and more often than not they will slowly die off. Usually, this is more common for new flower beds or flower gardens, until things get established there will be a lot of leggy plants.

You have to edit the flower garden from time to time, take a close look at which plants tend to crowd out and grow over the others and simply thin them out a bit. The good news is that this problem will sort itself out in a couple of months, the bad news is that once a storm comes most of your plants will simply flop over.

Plants From Nurseries Tend To Get Leggy

If you got some plants from your local nursery then you probably have noticed that some of them tend to get leggy, and in the worst case they also can flop over. The main reason for this is because in the nurseries they get plenty of artificial light and a lot of fertilizer. As there is no wind in these nurseries the plant will not develop a strong root system or a strong stem. As soon as you plant them in the garden with the first wind they will get floppy and in a desperate attempt to grow tall they will get leggy.

The easy fix for this is to cut the plant back once you have planted it, it will take some time until the plant gets used to the new conditions like wind, partial sun, rain, and so on.

Key Takeaways

  • The main reason why plants get leggy is due to inadequate sunlight, oftentimes plants will try to reach full sun as fast as possible and this will make them leggy. In addition to this, too much nitrogen can make the plants focus on growing as tall and as fast as possible, this will result in a leggy plant that will not flower for some time. Too much competition from other plants can also get plants leggy, so you have to thin out the taller plants to give the shorter plants a chance to establish themselves.
  • If you planted the garden this year then you need to give it time to establish, take out the ones that tend to grow way too fast, and allow other plants to get to the full sun as well.