Sometimes your Anthurium grows so tall that it seems like it’s trying to escape its pot. The lovely Flamingo Flower doesn’t look nearly as elegant with a stem so long that it bends under the weight of its own foliage. So what went wrong? And how can you fix your leggy and floppy Anthurium?
If your Anthurium’s main stem is too long but otherwise healthy, you can repot it in a deeper container or slice off the top off and replant it as a cutting. On the other hand, if the stems and petioles look stretched-out and fragile, it usually means the plant is getting too little light, and you’ll need to relocate it to solve the problem.
Although Anthuriums don’t like direct sun, they’re not shade plants. And when they don’t get enough access to the bright indirect light they desire, they stretch out in search of it. But is light your issue? Or is there something else at play? Read on to learn how to help your specific Anthurium and get it back to its healthiest self.
Why Do Anthuriums Get Leggy?
Before we dive into solutions, we need to make sure we’re clear on the problem. There are actually two different things people mean when they talk about leggy Anthuriums.
First, there’s the classic meaning of “leggy”: the plant’s stems, petioles, or both have grown way out of proportion to its foliage. This is most definitely an unhealthy condition, and if it goes on long enough, it can cause the plant to collapse under its own weight.
The second possible meaning is that the vine-like lower portion of an Anthurium has grown a long way out of the soil. This can also cause the plant to bend and tilt in odd ways, and the aerial roots that sprout from the sides may look untidy.
But this second kind of legginess isn’t actually a sign of poor health – just the opposite, in fact. We’ll look at each one in turn, discussing what’s causing it and how to correct it.
Tall, Pale, and Fragile Anthurium Stalks
Anthuriums that are stretched out and fragile is what we might call “true” legginess, and it can occur in almost any plant that isn’t getting enough sunlight to thrive. The organism responds by putting all its energy into growing tall in a desperate bid to shoot up out of the shadow of neighboring plants and rocks.
But this won’t help it if there’s no sun to find – like, say, if the plant’s owner has stuck it in a north-facing room in the shadow of the tall building next door.
Another possible cause is a nutrition issue. Most Anthurium growers provide a little bit of fertilizer to keep the plant healthy while it’s growing. But too much nitrogen right at the beginning of the growing season can cause a burst of growth to the leaves and stems, resulting in an unbalanced, floppy plant.
Proper Lighting For Leggy Anthuriums
The first thing to try if you notice this type of legginess is to move your plant someplace where it will receive more light. Many people, knowing that Anthuriums come from the jungle and don’t like direct sun, assume that means they’re low-light plants. That’s not the case!
Anthuriums are greedy but picky. They like plenty of light; they just prefer it to be reflected or filtered – as it would be in their natural environment below the rainforest canopy. Place your Flamingo Flower in a room that receives light throughout the day – but don’t set it right by a window.
It’s possible that your home doesn’t have a location that’s up to the exacting standards of an Anthurium. In that case, you can give it a boost by setting it up below a grow light.
There are lots of different options on the market, but Anthuriums will probably do best with LED lights like the Sansi 15W LED Bulb. These produce less heat than their alternatives, which means they’re unlikely to scorch your Flamingo Flower’s leaves.
Want more information on using grow lights for indoor plants? Take a look at our detailed article on the subject.
Fertilizer Issues In Leggy Anthuriums
As we mentioned above, dumping a bunch of nitrogen into your Anthurium’s system all at once is another way to get a leggy plant. When it comes to nutrition, Flamingo flowers prefer to sip, not gulp. Give them a slow, steady trickle of dilute fertilizer rather than a big burst.
Start with a liquid fertilizer that’s higher in phosphorus than nitrogen or potassium – a flowering formula intended for orchids will usually work well – and dilute it to roughly ¼ of the strength recommended on the package. Include that with each watering during the spring and summer. Don’t fertilize at all when your plant is dormant during the cold months.
If you’re looking for an in-depth guide to fertilizing your Anthurium, we’ve got one of those too.
Anthuriums With Out-Of-Control Stems
Let’s say your Anthurium isn’t getting spindly and weak, but it’s developed a long stem that’s pushing the plant way up and out of the soil. And its roots are getting unruly, sprouting off of the main stalk and creeping up through the surface of the soil.
Well, first, may I say: Congratulations! It can be tough to provide the right combination of light, humidity, water, and nutrients to help these rainforest plants thrive indoors. But you’ve done exactly that. What you’re seeing is an Anthurium that’s doing so well that it’s growing past the bounds of its container.
Wild Anthuriums like to grow high above the ground. That vine-like central stalk is designed to climb over tree trunks or cliffs. And those pale tendrils it’s producing are aerial roots meant for sipping water vapor from the air.
However, even healthy growth isn’t always pretty. Anthuriums at this stage often start to look fairly shaggy, and they may flop over instead of standing upright. So how can you restore your Flamingo Flower’s tasteful beauty?
Repotting Your Leggy Anthurium
The simplest solution is to transfer the plant to a deeper, wider pot. Like a little kid pushing the mess in his room under the bed, you can just bury the untidy exposed stem. The aerial roots will quickly adapt to life underground.
You should be able to estimate the size of the new pot pretty easily based on the above-ground height of your Anthurium’s stem. You’ll generally want one that’s at least 2-4 inches larger than the current container.
Make sure the new pot has drainage holes! Poor drainage is one of the most common killers of indoor Anthuriums. You should use a coarse and well-draining potting mix for the same reason.
Commercial orchid mix is a good base, and you may want to aerate it even more by mixing in some chunkier components like pine bark, charcoal, coarse perlite, and coconut husk.
Water your plant thoroughly ahead of time, anywhere from a day to a few hours before the operation. You want the roots in good shape to reduce transplant shock from the big move. Trim away any dead growth, and remove the stipules – those little brown husks clinging to the sides of the stem.
Once you’ve got your Anthurium out of its container, clean away as much soil as possible from the root system. If it’s really rootbound, it’s best to trim back the longer roots, starting with the lowest ones and working your way up. You can remove up to a third of the existing roots without causing your plant much distress.
Now place it in its new pot, setting it low enough that the leafless portion of the stem is covered, and fill in the fresh potting mix around it. Give it another thorough watering, and keep it in slightly lower-light conditions for a few days while it gets back on its feet. Once your Anthurium begins producing new growth again, you can move it to a permanent location with more light.
Cutting Back a Leggy Anthurium
Maybe you read the previous paragraph and started wondering where in your house you could even fit a pot big enough to contain your sprawling Anthurium.
If the plant has gotten so tall that just burying the trunk isn’t practical, you can always chop off the top portion and replant that. That may sound crazy. Didn’t we say a minute ago how difficult Anthuriums are to grow? Here’s the thing: although Flamingo Flowers are fussy about their growing conditions, they’re not fragile plants. Transplanted cuttings will bounce back remarkably well.
To cut your Anthurium, start by putting on some gloves. These plants produce a sap that can cause skin irritation. Use a set of sterile shears to clip off the stem 3-6 inches below the lowest petioles. You want the cutting to retain a few aerial roots. Part of the reason this method works so well is that the Anthurium already has a head start on developing a new root system.
As with repotting, you should trim away any dead or dying growth. The plant will need all its strength to build back its root system, so don’t make it waste energy supporting fading leaves.
Prepare the same type of potting mix described above, and again, select a pot with drainage holes. Push the stem into the soil, placing it deep enough that the bare portion is covered. You’ll probably need to lightly pack the mix around the base of your Anthurium to keep it upright.
Water the new cutting well and place it in dimmer lighting for a few days while it recovers from surgery. Cuttings will do best in humid conditions, so you should mist the plant periodically to ensure it stays moist. Some experts recommend placing a plastic bag over it to retain as much humidity as possible.
Two For the Price of One
The lower portion of your plant will probably survive the operation as well. Treat it right, and it will grow back just as healthy as before, giving you a second Anthurium free of charge.
Don’t leave it in its current container, though. It’s likely pot-bound at this point, especially if you see roots poking up through the surface of the potting mix. And if you fertilize your Anthurium, the old soil may contain a buildup of mineral salts that will hamper the plant’s growth.
Instead, repot the plant according to the instructions above. You should see a new stem emerge within a few weeks. In less than a year, your Anthurium should be blooming once again.
If you think that this could be a handy way to propagate Anthuriums for gifts or resale, you’re absolutely right. Depending on how much the stems have branched, you may be able to get three or four new Flamingo Flowers from a single mature plant.
Whether your Anthurium is wobbling on fragile stalks or towering on a bushy stem, you should now be well-prepared to get it under control. Remember that it’s usually a good idea to repot the plant every few years even if it’s not growing like crazy – salt buildup in the roots will start to bother most Anthuriums over time.
Apart from that, make sure your plant is getting the right balance of light, moisture, and nutrition, and it should stay healthy and beautiful for years to come.