A Monstera deliciosa, like all plants, can suffer from a lack of sunlight and end up looking sparse and leggy. The problem itself is easy to diagnose, but what can you do to stop it? What does it mean when a Monstera is “leggy,” and how do you fix it?
A Monstera becomes leggy when it doesn’t have access to enough light, causing it to become elongated and sparse. Once diagnosed, a leggy Monstera can be fixed by pruning back the leggy growth and ensuring that the plant gets enough sunlight moving forward.
Any time your plant starts to look less-than-healthy, it can be nerve-wracking. Fortunately, leggy is an easy issue to fix. So don’t fear! Keep reading, and I’ll cover what causes the problem, what you need to do to fix it, what kind of light a Monstera needs, and how to accommodate Monsteras in low-light situations.
What Does “Leggy” Mean?
The term “leggy” is probably something you’ve come across either in houseplant forums or when trying to diagnosis some issue with your Monstera. Despite how common the term is, it’s rarely ever clearly defined.
A leggy Monstera is a Monstera that does not have enough access to light and, as a result, becomes stretched out, with sparse foliage and long stems. A leggy Monstera tends to stretch towards whatever light source it can. Many different plants can become leggy, so this may be something that you’ve seen in other houseplants.
Why Monsteras Become Leggy
Monsteras become leggy because they don’t have access to enough sunlight. This is a natural response in plants, especially when you consider the fact that Monsteras are climbers. They have evolved to grow longer to reach more light—they’ll try to do the same thing inside if a room is too dim or doesn’t get enough continuous light during the day.
This is a fairly common problem in Monsteras and is one of the least detrimental to the overall health of the plant. While your Monstera won’t grow well in a situation like this, it won’t die either.
A leggy Monstera isn’t a beautiful Monstera, though, so fixing this problem is a priority for most of us. Monsteras that don’t have their light needs met tend to grow smaller, thinner leaves and usually won’t develop fenestrations, making the plant less attractive.
How Much Light Does a Monstera Need
In general, a Monstera needs at least six hours of bright, indirect sunlight a day. But the more you can give it (while keeping within a normal daytime/nighttime routine), the better.
Variations in regional sunlight can have a significant impact on your Monstera’s growth. For example, Monsteras living in northern regions further from the equator require a lot more sunlight throughout the day due to the weakness of the light that is available.
Monsteras do well in windows that face the east, south, or west. This is because of the volume and intensity of light that windows facing these directions get. Windows facing the east get bright morning sunlight, which tends to be less harsh than what it would get later in the day. Windows that face the south get a lot of sunlight all day long. Windows facing the west get intense sunlight in the afternoons. This is only a brief overview, but you can read more about that here.
The most important trait in Monstera lighting is the intensity of the light it receives. It is vital that a Monstera only be exposed to bright, indirect sunlight; direct sunlight can seriously damage the plant, resulting in yellowing and burnt leaves. Left unattended too long, a Monstera in direct sunlight will wilt and die.
Other Signs Your Monstera Isn’t Getting Enough Light
Besides being leggy, a Monstera will show you other signs that it isn’t receiving enough sunlight. One of the first things you may notice is that your Monstera leaves are becoming discolored, usually turning yellow at the tips. This can also indicate that there are issues with watering, so this may require some diagnostics.
Besides discoloration, a Monstera that doesn’t receive enough light will grow very slowly, if at all. Monsteras are known for being aggressive growers, so if it is the proper season and you haven’t noticed much (or any) growth, you should reevaluate the amount of light your plant is getting.
Monsteras that don’t get enough sunlight will also fail to develop some of the key characteristics of the species. The leaves often won’t reach full size but instead will end up small and thin instead of large and waxy.
Most importantly, though, a Monstera with inadequate access to sunlight won’t develop fenestrations in its leaves, which is arguably the most well-known feature of the plant. Fenestrations are the splits and slits that develop in the leaves of established Monsteras. For whatever reason, Monsteras that struggle to get enough sunlight are unlikely to have these.
You should note, though, that fenestrations only develop in mature plants that are approximately two years old or older. If you have a very young Monstera, you won’t see any splits in its leaves for a year or two, no matter how much indirect light it receives.
How To Prune Back Leggy Growth
If you have a Monstera that has become leggy, one of the only ways to fix the look of the plant is to address the underlying issue and then prune back the leggy growth. This seems a little bit intimidating, but the process is pretty simple.
Pruning should be done in the spring and early summer before your Monstera enters its growing season. This ensures that it has enough energy to quickly repair the cuts that have been made, helping to prevent infections or pest invasions.
Before pruning your Monstera, it’s important to gather your supplies. You’ll need a pair of clean, sharp shears and some kind of sterilizing agent. While I recommend a diluted bleach mixture, there are plenty of other options.
When you’re ready, the process is simple: Identify the parts of the Monstera that need to be trimmed. Any growth that is sparse or damaged can be taken off safely. Plan before you get started, so you aren’t overwhelmed.
Once you’ve picked the stems that need to be trimmed, trace them back to the node or main stem. Cut it at a slight angle, making sure to not cut the main stem because damage to it can result in infections that will harm the plant.
Though it is unlikely to cause a severe reaction, you may want to wear gloves while handling the Monstera. The sap can cause dermal irritation due to a compound called calcium oxalate that Monsteras produce. If you don’t wear gloves, be sure to wash your hands well after handling.
Preventing Legginess in the Future
The only way to prevent legginess in your Monstera is to make sure that it gets enough light. However, this is easier said than done, especially in places that might not be able to accommodate the plant’s light needs.
If you have a space in your home that gets the light your Monstera needs, it’s as easy as moving it there and keeping an eye on it for any indications that the plant isn’t feeling well, such as drooping or wilting leaves. It’s unlikely that you’ll encounter something like this unless the Monstera begins getting too much light.
If that isn’t an option for you: don’t worry. A grow light can be a great alternative to natural light and can work in any space or budget. For those willing to invest, there are all kinds of awesome light fixtures and lamps; for the casual plant keeper that wants to make sure their plants have enough light in the winter months, there are also bulbs that can be put into any regular lamp.
We have a great article that outlines all the best options for grow lights for houseplants here, but if you want a quick recommendation, I always suggest the Sansi 15 Watt LED Bulb. The Sansi bulb has a regular E26 base, which means you can put it into a lamp you already own. This inexpensive bulb has made a massive difference in my own plants’ health.
Legginess in a Monstera isn’t the end of the world. These plants are known for their incredible hardiness, so they can take a lot of variations in their recommended care. Just be sure to watch for any signs that your plant is unhappy, like small leaves, slow growth, or a lack of fenestration in a mature plant. Catching a problem early can make a big difference.