Variegated plants are all the rage, and one of the most striking is Hypoestes phyllostachya, better known as the polka dot plant.
These plants are best known for their leaves, which sport specks a polka-dotted appearance.
However, this is a relatively fast-growing plant notorious for becoming leggy if not carefully maintained.
So what do you do when the plant becomes leggy?
6 Ways To Fix A Leggy Polka Dot Plant
Sadly, it’s actually normal for a polka dot plant to become leggy, but there are things you can do to coax it into a more compact growth habit.
Here are 6 ways to adjust your care methods to ensure your plant is fuller and more compact.
Adjust the Temperature
Polka dot plants fare best in temperatures between 65° and 80° degrees Fahrenheit with a humidity level of at least 50% percent.
However, hot and humid conditions will encourage faster growth, so one way to slow the plant down is to keep it in a room where the temperature remains between 65° and 70° degrees Fahrenheit and has 50% to 55% percent humidity levels.
This will still allow the plant to thrive, but it might slow down the growth rate to prevent it from getting too laggy.
Just be careful not to let the temperature drop below 65° degrees Fahrenheit for prolonged periods, as this can easily harm your plant.
This is perhaps the single most common reason your polka dot plant will become leggy.
Insufficient sunlight will cause the plant to seek out the nearest light source, and it will stretch as quickly as possible to reach that goal.
This means long, thin stems that are often growing at an angle.
Preventing this sort of leggy growth is simply moving the plant to a more amount of light.
For polka dot plants, you should aim for bright, indirect sunlight.
This can be achieved in several ways, including:
- East or west-facing window will allow the plant to get plenty of morning (or evening) sun and shelter it from the harsher afternoon sun’s rays.
- When moving the plant to a room with a south-facing window, put it to one side of the window where the sunlight won’t hit it directly.
- Alternatively, you can put a sheer curtain in the window to diffuse the sunlight.
No matter which of these methods you choose, the result will be the same—a healthy plant with more vibrant variegation and less legginess.
Prune The Plant
Pruning has two benefits when it comes to a polka dot plant.
The first is obvious: it allows you to shape the plant and shorten any leggy stems.
When you prune a polka dot plant, the cuttings can be used for propagation, and the parent plant will grow a little fuller before it tries to stretch out again.
The second is to keep the plant alive.
Polka dot plants are one of many species that flower only once, then die.
By regularly pruning your plant, you can prevent it from blooming, which will extend its lifespan.
The flowers themselves are fairly unremarkable, so it’s definitely not worth letting your plant die to see them.
You can do the following pruning steps:
- Lightly prune your plant once per month during its growing season without harming the plant.
- It might be tempting to pinch the plant, but polka dot plants are known to have a higher risk of infection if you don’t make a clean cut. To prevent this, use sharp, sterile shears and cut the stems at an angle.
Reduce The Container Size
A common mistake people make when using containers is to give it a bigger pot thinking it will mean less repotting down the road.
Unfortunately, all of that extra room has some serious downsides.
For starters, water and nutrients will be out of reach of the roots, leading to toxic buildups or fungal growth.
But more importantly, an opportunistic plant such as Hypoestes phyllostachya will try to expand to fill that space.
The result is laggy growth.
A 4″ to 6″ inch diameter pot is generally perfect for a small to medium polka dot plant.
This will restrict its growth once it reaches a specific size and can significantly reduce the risk of legginess when paired with regular pruning.
You will still need to repot the plant in fresh soil every 2 years or so, and you can use this time to determine if the plant is rootbound.
You can graduate to one container size larger to better accommodate the plant.
Use Less Fertilizer
Avoid giving it too much food if you don’t want your polka dot plant to turn into a bean pole.
You can feed y0our plant every 2 to 4 weeks during the growing season, using the dosage recommended on your fertilizer’s packaging.
When you need to prune more often and feed the plant every 2 weeks, cut back to once per month.
Always cut back to monthly feedings in autumn as the plant is getting ready for its dormant stage and stop completely during the winter months.
Likewise, if you’re feeding your plant monthly and the growth rate is too slow, you can increase the frequency every 2 to 3 weeks until you find the best balance.
Another option is to reduce the dosage.
For example, if you’re feeding the plant a 20-20-20 liquid houseplant fertilizer at half strength, consider switching to a 10-10-10 fertilizer at half strength or a 5-5-5 at full strength.
As long as the NPK is balanced, the plant will still get what it needs, just in a smaller dosage.
Use the Soak-And-Dry Method
Proper watering is important for any plant, and accidentally underwatering your polka dot plant is a common cause of leggy growth.
Likewise, overwatering can lead to root rot or push oxygen from the soil, which can produce symptoms similar to underwatering as the roots can’t properly absorb water and nutrients.
The soak-and-dry method ensures you give your plant just the right amount of water and is easy to master.
Here are the following steps:
- Simply stick your finger in the soil and water if it feels dry 1” inch down.
- Use room temperature water and pour slowly and evenly onto the soil, working your way around the plant.
- Stop when the soil surface can no longer absorb weather at the same rate you’re pouring, or you see moisture beginning to seep from the drainage holes.