Improve Growth of Straggly House Plants

A friend requested my help for her Devil’s Ivy plant. It is not as attractive as it used to be. Stems growing out of the pot have lost leaves giving it a straggly look. Growth at the ends of the stems is thick and pretty, but leaves on the lower stems are turning yellow and dropping off. She wants to know how to get the lower stems to grow new leaves.

This plant has a combination of problems. Plants naturally transfer nutrients such as nitrogen from older leaves to new growth which is more efficient at producing food. After turning yellow, the old leaves naturally drop off. Newer stems and leaves often grow toward the light. Higher light conditions make them more productive.

Yellowing and dropping of older leaves can be reduced by keeping fertilizer at optimum levels. If you are using a liquid or soluble fertilizer, frequent application is needed. Most indoor plant fertilizers have a rate for application every time you water plants. I like to use a coated slow release or timed release fertilizer which needs to be applied only once every 2 to 3 months. The pellets are coated with a porous plastic which allows water to flow into the pellets and dissolve a little fertilizer every time water is applied. However, I watch leaf color, and whenever I notice a slight yellowing of older leaves, I supplement with liquid fertilizer or add a few more timed release pellets.

It is also helpful to move plants closer to windows to increase the amount of light which they receive this time of year.

The only way to stimulate new growth on lower stems is to cut them back so plants are forced to grow there. If you have a number of stems growing out of the pot, you might want to cut back one or two at a time.

Another method is to cut 4 to 5 inches off the tips of new growth and root them in a glass of water. After rooting, they can be planted in the pot, producing new growth near the pot. A combination of all 3 methods would produce the best results.

This time of year when there isn’t much gardening outside, it is fun to start new plants by placing several cuttings into a new pot of soil and covering with plastic until they are rooted.

The last approach is one my daughter discovered. “I know why Dad’s indoor plants are always attractive. Whenever an old plant starts to deteriorate, he just replaces it with a new one.”

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