Prayer Plants (Maranta leuconeura) are popular houseplants because of their beautifully patterned oval leaves that change position throughout the day. Although these plants are attractive and easy to find, they can be a bit demanding. One frequent issue with Prayer Plants is that they can get leggy and stretched out as they grow over time.
How can you get your Prayer Plant to look dense and full? Prayer Plants look bushy and compact when there are more leaves, closer together. The key to growing a full Prayer Plant is to provide plenty of sunlight, so the stems don’t have to stretch toward the sun. You can also help your Prayer Plant look bushier by pruning and propagating longer stems and rotating the plant regularly.
As your Prayer Plant puts out new growth, you may find its appearance has changed in ways you don’t like. Unlike some other members of its family, like Calathea or Stromanthe species, Maranta leuconeura doesn’t create new growth from the base of the plant. Instead, this plant produces longer stems with additional nodes, and growth emerges from those nodes.
Prayer Plants in the Wild
Understanding how Prayer Plants grow in the wild is our best way to predict how we can successfully grow them indoors. Maranta species originate from tropical forests of Central and South America, where the climate is warm and humid year-round. Since they are low-growers that grow under trees, they are not used to direct sunlight. Instead, they are happiest with bright filtered or dappled sunlight throughout the day.
Prayer Plants are well adapted to a typical home’s temperature and light levels, since humans are comfortable in similar conditions. However, most homes don’t have the high humidity that these plants prefer. It can be a challenge keeping the humidity up around your plants.
Since Prayer Plants are from an environment with frequent rain showers, they do not like to get dry between waterings. Unlike some other plants that can tolerate (or even prefer) some dry periods, Marantas and their relatives like to have consistently moist soil.
Prayer Plants’ growth pattern over time can be surprising to some people who purchase a smaller, immature Prayer Plant. But if you see them in the wild, you can get a good sense of their natural way of growing. They trail and grow in clumps, acting as a ground cover in some places.
What To Expect From Your Indoor Prayer Plant
Naturally, conditions are much different for a Prayer Plant kept indoors than in the wild. They do not have the opportunity to grow and spread in the same way they do outdoors. Usually, the specimen you purchase will be several cuttings planted together in the same pot, which gives the plant the appearance of being a compact, upright grower.
Over time, as the plant matures and grows, it starts to get longer stems which split off and terminate in their own leaves. These will trail over the side of the pot and can even get long enough to drape onto the floor if you don’t prune them. When it comes to growth patterns, you can think of Prayer Plants as similar to other vining plants like philodendrons or pothos.
With the right conditions, a Prayer Plant can grow noticeably in just a few months. New growth does not come from the plant’s base but instead from nodes on each stem. Over time, as more leaves develop farther away from the base, a Prayer Plant can start to look unbalanced or bare on the top.
People who prefer a Prayer Plant that looks full and bushy may find the plant less and less attractive as it grows. Luckily, there are some ways to get a fuller and bushier Prayer Plant by working with your plant’s preferred growth habits.
How to Get Your Prayer Plant Fuller and Bushier
Tip 1: Give Your Prayer Plant Enough Light
Provide plenty of medium, indirect (or filtered) light. Prayer Plants can survive in lower light conditions than many other tropical plants, but they need optimal light levels to stay compact and bushy.
Prayer Plants can take a bit of direct sun, but no more than a few hours per day. They thrive in north or east-facing windows that are bright but not sunny. When Marantas don’t get enough light, they start to stretch toward the light source and can become leggy. I’ll explain more about leggy Prayer Plants in the sections below.
Light is one of the most critical factors for your success in growing Prayer Plants, so I also recommend you read this article to get all the important facts: What Light is Best for Prayer Plants.
Tip 2: Prune Your Prayer Plant
It may seem counterintuitive to cut a plant to get it to grow fuller, but you can use pruning to control how a Prayer Plant grows. The section of a Prayer Plant that gets more light will probably grow faster, leading the plant to be unbalanced in the pot.
If you prune correctly, your Prayer Plant will send out new growth from the area you’ve cut. You need to ensure that you’re cutting the stem right above a node, leaving the node attached to the plant. Use sterilized gardening shears or a knife to make a clean cut and avoid infection.
Once the cut heals, the Prayer Plant will start to produce new growth from the node next to where you pruned. If certain stems are starting to get stretched and leggy, pruning them is the best way to produce more compact and full growth.
For more on how to prune a Prayer Plant, look through this article: How to Cut Back a Prayer Plant That is Growing Too Quickly.
Tip 3: Propagate Cuttings
As your Prayer Plant’s stems start to get longer and develop multiple leaves, you can use that growth to give your plant a fuller look. Maranta leuconeura is easy to propagate from stem cuttings, so don’t throw away the cuttings when you prune this plant.
If you want to propagate new Prayer Plants, make sure your stem cuttings include at least one node. A node is necessary for new growth to occur. Nodes can be identified as the slightly thicker part of the stem next to where leaf petioles emerge.
The stem cuttings can be propagated in water, soil, or moss. Use the rooted cuttings to fill in any bare spots in the pot to create a fuller, bushier plant. Be careful not to damage any of the existing roots when you are adding cuttings. I use a pencil or chopstick to make a hole in the potting mix bigger than the stem. If there is resistance when making the hole, it is probably because some roots are in the way. Find more information on cutting Prayer Plants here.
Tip 4: Rotate Your Prayer Plant.
When you grow plants indoors, they are usually only getting light from one side – where the window is. This is different from the conditions in nature, where sunlight would fall on the plant more-or-less equally from all sides.
Even plants that get optimal amounts of sunlight have a pattern of growing toward the light source. If there is not enough light, this stretching is even more pronounced. A good way to keep your plant from getting unbalanced with a lot of growth on the window side compared to the darker side is to rotate it regularly.
If your Prayer Plant is already a lot fuller on one side than the other, you could go ahead and turn that entire side so it faces away from the window. As future growth comes in, it will naturally move toward the window and thus the center of the pot, creating a more bushy appearance.
Leggy Prayer Plants: What They Look Like and Why It Happens
The term “leggy” describes plants that look more sparse and stretched out than normal. Plants look leggy when the distance between nodes is stretched out, and they look full and bushy if there are a lot of nodes (and therefore leaves) close together.
When the space between nodes (called internodes) is more extended, the leaves are farther away from each other and overlap less. Since Prayer Plants have such large leaves, they can hide some legginess and still look good. But a very leggy Maranta begins to take on a scraggly or unhealthy appearance. Although a leggy plant isn’t necessarily unhealthy, they develop this appearance due to insufficient light, which can cause other problems.
Plants become leggy when they don’t have access to enough sunlight. The natural response of a Prayer Plant that can’t get enough sun in its current location is to stretch and reach for more light. This elongates the distance between nodes and results in plants looking sad and sparse.
Leggy Prayer Plants: How to Fix It
Marantas get leggy because they don’t have enough light. A Prayer Plant’s response to this circumstance is to get its leaves closer to the light source – in most cases, the closest window. By growing longer stems, the plant attempts to capture enough sun to support itself.
The best way to prevent or fix legginess in a Prayer Plant is to give it more light. This could mean moving it to a brighter spot in your home or investing in a grow light if you don’t have an appropriate spot. Remember that plants use sunlight to convert to energy, so legginess can be considered a sign that your plant is “hungry” for more light.
For a Prayer Plant that has already developed some leggy stems, those stems cannot go back to being more compact even if you fix the light situation. New growth will come in fuller (and probably faster) if the plant gets enough light.
You can leave the leggy stems on your Prayer Plant – they won’t hurt anything. Or, if you don’t like the way they look, you can cut them off for propagation.
Putting It All Together
Since most of us buy immature Prayer Plants, it can be a surprise to see how they grow over time, and insufficient sunlight can cause them to stretch out and get leggy. You can get a fuller and bushier-looking Prayer Plant by making sure it has plenty of sunlight, pruning regularly, and rotating your plant. To fill in a pot, you can propagate some of your cuttings and put them in alongside your established plant.
There are several ways to get your Prayer Plant to have lots of leaves and look lush and full, but in the end, it all comes down to sunlight. Give your Prayer Plant plenty of light, and it will grow to an impressive specimen.