4 Signs Your Pilea Needs More Light
Have you ever wondered what your Pilea would say if it could talk? Would it say, “don’t worry, I’m just entering a slow period” when the days start getting shorter in early October? Or could it be saying “you really need to chill with the fertilizer” in the middle of February?
Alas, we’ll never have the fun of conversing with our houseplants. But if we pay close attention, we can read their body language pretty accurately.
Here are a few telltale signs that your Pilea plant needs more light.
1. Your Pilea is really stretching towards the light.
One of the unique beauty features of a Pilea plant must certainly be its tree-like shape. While a lot of other popular houseplants grow their leaves very close to the ground, Pilea is famous for their upright posture and trunk-like hardy stem. So it might be easy to miss the signs of a leggy Pilea.
If your Pilea is not getting enough bright indirect light, especially in the warm months when it’s growing at a faster pace, it will try to reach for it by stretching towards the nearest source of natural light.
Another sign to watch out for in a leggy Pilea is the distance between the leaves. Your Pilea is stretching because of low light conditions if it has a lot of space between the leaves, where the petiole attaches to the stem. In the case of insufficient light, the internodes (the spaces where the leaf petioles emerge from) are spaced further apart from each other.
If the foliage crown is not too heavy and robust, then your plant will just keep stretching, often at a 45-degree angle. However, if your Pilea is top heavy, it might stretch at a lower angle, and even start twisting and turning towards the light.
As your plant gets older and heavier, it will start toppling sideways. Personally, we’re quite partial to a twisty Pilea, and its stem is strong enough to support the weight. But if you prefer your Pilea upright, you can either move it closer to a source of light (duh, yeah!) or rotate it every couple of weeks so that it doesn’t get to lean on one side for too long. However, make sure you rotate it incrementally (about 15 degrees every time) and don’t shock your plant by having it face away from the light all of a sudden.
One good way to support a leggy Pilea is by propping it upright on a trellis. For a more frugal option, you can use whatever you have handy, such as a bamboo or plastic pole, a stake or a wood dowel.
2. Your Pilea’s leaves are turning pale yellow.
Pilea leaves turn yellow for a number of reasons. What distinguishes the yellow leaves caused by a lack of sunlight from yellow leaves caused by overwatering or sunburn is the intensity of the color. Or better said, the lack of intensity.
Your plant needs more light if its leaves turn pale yellow, almost white. This is true especially for the older leaves which are growing at the bottom. This is because when a plant doesn’t get enough light, it doesn’t produce enough chlorophyll, which is the pigment that gives plants their green color.
The job of the chlorophyll pigment is to absorb light and transfer the energy absorbed from said light to energy-storing molecules that the plant can use. But if your Pilea isn’t exposed to enough light, it won’t have enough green pigment in the leaves.
The bad news is that once a leaf turns pale yellow, there’s no reversing that. The good news is that this usually happens to bottom leaves, so just simply let them drop by themselves or remove them if you think them unsightly. As you fix the light problem, the new leaves should come up bright green and healthy.
3. Your Pilea is dropping leaves at an alarming rate.
We admit, what may be alarming to some plant parents doesn’t even register with others, so this is highly subjective. We’ve explained the reason for leaf dropping in our previous point, so the mechanics are the same - not getting enough light.
Some leaf drop on your Pilea is normal, as older houseplants do drop bottom leaves occasionally as new leaves form on top. This is very common with upright plants such as Pilea, schefflera, ficus and cane, for example.
However, when you notice leaves dropping in quick succession, say every few days, then you have a reason to worry. This is especially true if it happens in conjunction with the leaves turning pale-white or pale-yellow.
One of the tricky aspects of losing leaves, especially for inexperienced plant parents, is that it’s commonly attributed to the plant not getting enough water. So unsuspecting plants which are struggling through a lack of adequate light now have to contend with being overwatered by well-meaning people. But we hope you’ve learned this lesson by now: not everything is fixed by watering.
4. Your Pilea has small leaves.
Yup, a small Pilea leaf is as cute as a button. There are a few reasons why small leaves happen, such as root damage, overfertilizing and your Pilea being root bound. However, it’s very common for the main cause of small leaves to be insufficient light.
It’s perfectly normal for the leaves of baby Pilea to be small, as it is for the new foliage that is growing from the top of the stem of your mature Pilea plant. So no need to worry about that.
Small leaves are only a sign of trouble when the fresh leaves stay small even months after they’ve first popped up. There’s hope though, as you should be seeing signs of growth for these leaves as soon as you improve your plant’s light regimen.
We hope that having read this guide, you are now a master plant communicator. Or at least you’re well-versed in reading your plant’s body language when it comes to light preference.
Next step: have a look at our guide on the best light environment for your Pilea. It’s chock full of advice on what turns this plant into a happy camper.
And if you happen to be reading this early in the dark season, here’s a good guide on how to spoil your Pilea plant with a little bit of artificial light.