If you’re a fan of indoor plants, then you’ve probably come across the dieffenbachia. This popular houseplant is known for its large, lush leaves and easy care requirements. However, one common problem with this plant is that it can often become leggy.
In this article, we’ll talk about what causes dieffenbachia plants to become leggy, what to do if it happens, and how to prevent this from happening in the first place.
What is Dieffenbachia?
Dieffenbachia, also known as dumb cane, is a tropical plant native to Central and South America. It’s a popular houseplant because it’s relatively easy to care for, and it can tolerate low light conditions.
Dieffenbachia plants can grow to be quite large, reaching up to six feet in height. They have large, oval-shaped leaves that are usually variegated with white or yellow streaks running through them.
What Does Leggy Mean?
If you’re new to gardening or having indoor plants, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard the word “leggy” before —at least not in this context.
When a plant grows leggy, it means that it’s tall and thin, often with few leaves at the top. When dieffenbachias get leggy, they can actually start to tip over, as the stems aren’t strong enough to hold the weight of their leaves.
Leggy plants are often the result of too little light. The plant will start to stretch and grow taller in an attempt to reach the light source.
This process is called etiolation, and it can cause the plant to become weak and lopsided.
What Causes Dieffenbachia Plants to Become Leggy?
There are a few different reasons why your dieffenbachia might start to grow leggy. Whether it’s a lack of lighting, drastic temperature changes, overwatering, or root problems, there’s almost always a solution.
So don’t worry —your leggy dieffenbachia isn’t too far gone to save. With proper care, you’ll be able to get it back to a healthy and robust appearance.
1 – Overwatering
Overwatering is one of the most common reasons why dieffenbachias become leggy. When these plants are overwatered, their roots start to rot.
This prevents the plant from getting the nutrients it needs, which causes it to become weak and leggy. If you think your plant might be overwatered, check the soil —if it’s soggy or waterlogged, that’s a sure sign that you need to cut back on watering.
Dieffenbachias are known for being able to withstand long periods of neglect, so overwatering is an easy mistake to make if you’re not careful. If you’ve been watering more than once every two weeks, then overwatering is a real possibility.
If you think your dieffenbachia has been overwatered, stop watering immediately. Let the soil dry out completely before watering again, giving it at least two weeks.
If you suspect root rot, you’ll need to take action as soon as possible. First, you’ll need to stop watering immediately.
Remove the plant from its pot, and cut away all affected areas —you’ll be able to tell by the rotting plant and root material which parts are affected. Make sure to also completely remove all soil sticking to the root themselves.
Throw away the old soil from the pot, and disinfect the pot using a bleach and water mixture of 1/10. Allow the pot to dry completely, and replant your salvaged dieffenbachia in fresh soil.
Water it thoroughly, and wait for two weeks before watering again.
2 – Drastic Temperature Changes
Dieffenbachias are tropical plants, which means they prefer warm and humid conditions. If the temperature fluctuates too much, it can cause the plant to become leggy.
These plants do best in temperatures between 68-86 degrees Fahrenheit (20-30 degrees Celsius). If the temperature drops below 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius), it can damage the leaves. If it gets any colder than that, it can kill the plant entirely.
If you keep your dieffenbachia near a drafty window or door, that could be causing its leaves to drop and its stems to grow longer. Make sure to move your plant away from any drafts, and if possible, raise the humidity around it using a humidifier.
Sometimes, a sudden drop in temperature will shock the plant, causing it to drop leaves for several days. But this usually stops once the plant’s environment has remained stable.
Stability is important for most indoor plants, so make sure you keep your dieffenbachia in an area of your home that doesn’t get cold (like next to a window during the winter), or overly hot (like in a small kitchen).
3 – Lack of Lighting
Not enough light is another common cause of etiolation in dieffenbachias. These plants need bright, indirect sunlight in order to thrive.
If they’re not getting enough light, they will start to stretch and grow taller in an attempt to reach the light source. This will cause the plant to become leggy, and its leaves will be smaller than usual.
If your dieffenbachia isn’t getting enough light, move it to a brighter location. But make sure the light is indirect —direct sunlight can scorch the leaves.
If you can’t provide bright, indirect sunlight, you can supplement with artificial lighting using grow lights. Keep the lights on for 12-16 hours per day to give your plant the light it needs to stay healthy.
Just make sure that the light is filtered, as direct UV rays aren’t good for dieffenbachias.
4 – Root Problems
Sometimes, root problems are to blame for a leggy dieffenbachia. Roots are what plants use to absorb nutrients from soil for healthy growth.
When the roots rot from overwatering, they become unable to absorb nutrients from the soil and decompose instead. However, root rot isn’t the only root problem you might come across.
A problem inherent in indoor plants is the limitation of the pots in which they are grown. Plants in the wild have all the space they need to stretch their roots and reach for nutrients wherever they can find it.
Potted plants, on the other hand, are confined to a much smaller space. Over time, the roots of a potted plant will start to circle the inside of the pot looking for room to grow. When this happens, it’s called root bounding.
Root bounding doesn’t happen overnight —it takes months or even years for a plant to become severely root bound. But when it does, it essentially starts to suffocate itself, which can cause all sorts of problems, including leggy growth.
If you think your dieffenbachia is root bound, you’ll need to repot it in a larger pot using fresh soil. Be sure to loosen up the roots before replanting, so they can spread out properly.
If you don’t want to repot into a larger pot, the other option is to prune the roots. This essentially means that you remove the plant from its pot, spread the roots out, and trim them back.
This will put the plant under a lot of stress at first, but it will bounce back with proper watering and nutrients.
5 – Fertilizer Issues
Another common cause of leggy dieffenbachias is fertilizer problems. These plants need to be fertilized regularly —about once a month to once every six weeks— in order to stay healthy.
But if you’re using too much fertilizer, or the wrong type of fertilizer, it can cause the plant to grow too quickly, or will stunt its growth, which can make it leggy.
Cut back on the amount you’re using, or fertilize less frequently. It’s also important to use a fertilizer that’s specifically designed for indoor plants.
A 20-20-20 fertilizer is perfect for dieffenbachia. These have a more balanced concentration of nutrients than fertilizers for outdoor plants, which is what you want.
What to Do if Your Dieffenbachia is Leggy
Now that you know some of the common causes of leggy dieffenbachias, what can you do if your plant is already stretched out? The first step is to try and identify the problem.
Is it a lack of light, root problems, or fertilizer issues? Once you’ve done that, you can take steps to correct the problem.
There are a lot of potential reasons for leggy dieffenbachia which we’ve already gone over, but don’t worry too much —there’s a high probability that the reason for your dieffenbachia’s leggy-ness is probably lack of sunlight.
If your plant isn’t getting enough light, move it to a brighter location. Yes, we know that they’re supposed to grow in darker areas, but sunlight is still an essential part of a plant’s healthy growth.
If moving it to a brighter location doesn’t work, supplement with artificial lighting using grow lights. Just make sure that the light is filtered, so it’s not too intense for the plant.
LED lights are typically a good option, as they don’t heat up to the point of scorching your plant like direct sunlight would.
Root problems are best addressed by repotting into a larger pot using fresh soil. But if you don’t want to do that, you can try pruning the roots. This will put the plant under stress at first, but it should recover with proper watering and nutrients.
As we mentioned before, fertilizer problems are often the result of using too much fertilizer or the wrong type of fertilizer. If you think this is the problem, cut back on how much fertilizer you’re using or fertilize less frequently.
It’s also important to make sure that you’re using a fertilizer specifically designed for indoor plants like dieffenbachias. A 20-20-20 fertilizer is perfect for these plants.
Preventing Leggy Dieffenbachias
The best way to deal with leggy dieffenbachias is to prevent them from happening in the first place. And thankfully, that’s not too difficult to do.
As we’ve mentioned, one of the main reasons dieffenbachias grow leggy is lack of sunlight. If you want to keep your plant healthy and prevent it from getting too tall, make sure it’s getting enough light.
Plants have an amazing talent for reaching for things they need, whether its sunlight above or nutrients below, but unfortunately this is to their detriment when confined to pots indoors. So keep your dieffenbachia from having to reach for sunlight by keeping it in a brighter room.
These plants need bright, filtered light —direct sunlight is too intense for them. If you can’t provide enough natural light, supplement with artificial lighting using grow lights.
It’s also important to fertilize regularly —about once a month or so— using a fertilizer specifically designed for indoor plants like dieffenbachias. But make sure to only fertilize during the spring and summer months when they’re actively growing.
Fertilizing during the fall and winter will stunt the plant’s growth and possibly harm it.
How to Keep Your Dieffenbachia Bushy
The best way to keep your dieffenbachias thick and bushy is by pruning them regularly.
By cutting off growth from the top of the plant, you will encourage new growth to occur further down. This will help the plant grow full and compact. Just make sure to use sharp, clean shears so you don’t damage the plant.
Pruning is also a good way to deal with leggy dieffenbachias that have already stretched out. Just cut off the leggy growth and it will encourage new growth further down the plant.
What if My Dieffenbachia is Already Leggy?
If your dieffenbachia is already leggy, and if pruning top growth doesn’t encourage new growth below, then you can always top the plant entirely and start from scratch.
To top the plant, simply cut off all stems, leaving 2-4 inches of stem above the soil. This will allow new growth to start from lower down, and give you a chance to maintain a shorter plant.
Dieffenbachias are beautiful, easy-to-care-for houseplants that make a great addition to any indoor space. But they can sometimes grow leggy if they don’t get enough sunlight or nutrients.
If your dieffenbachia is looking leggy, try moving it to a brighter location or supplementing it with artificial light. You may also need to fertilize more regularly using a fertilizer designed for indoor plants.
And finally, you can keep your plant from getting too tall by pruning it regularly. With a little care, you can keep your dieffenbachia healthy and prevent it from getting leggy.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.