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How Can I Train My Pilea?

If you’ve ever felt a little bit jealous looking at pictures of perfect Pilea “trees,” then this post is for you. You should know that Pilea trees don’t just happen accidentally; these tree-like structures need to be trained with patience and precision over the span of a few years.

why is my pilea not growing

As your Pilea grows into a mature plant (often past the two-year mark), it will train itself whether you like it or not. While on the outside the stem of the Pilea plant may look rigid and covered in bark-like coating, on the inside the stem is fibrous and malleable. This allows the plant to reach towards a source of light in order to get the best coverage possible on the leaves.

If you’re in the habit of rotating your Pilea regularly, the reaching shouldn’t be a problem, as your plant will keep growing straight to course-correct every time you adjust its orientation. However, if you’re slacking on the plant rotating task (don’t worry, most of us do!), the result will often be a plant that’s got a bit of a hunchback. This has no bearing on its health, but if you prefer a more intentional esthetic, here’s are two looks you could go for (and one that you should definitely avoid):

1. The cascading Pilea look

We think there’s no prettier plant than a lush Pilea cascading off a shelf. There’s an elegance to its canopy that will bring even the most boring room decor to life.

The cascading Pilea look is the easiest to achieve by just … doing nothing. Well, doing nothing in terms of training the plant, anyway. You still have to take care of it and make sure it reaches maturity.

As your Pilea grows more leaves, the top becomes heavier and the stem grows taller. That’s when, if not offered some prop support, your Pilea will start to bend down, while still trying to reach towards the light. At this point, some plant keepers choose to stake the plant, while more adventurous ones just chop off the top and start again.

But if you let the plant just dangle off a shelf, the stem is malleable enough to sustain the weight of the foliage crown. One way to achieve a fuller look is if you let your Pilea trail down and allow the space behind it to fill up with Pilea babies.

A word of advice though: if you choose this look for your Pilea, it will be hard to transition back to an upright plant if you change your mind. You could try to gently stake it and transition it into a vertical plant, but it will be a very slow process and you may end up damaging the plant.

Make sure that your plant is in a heavy pot that counterbalances the weight and prevents it from toppling over. And of course, take extra precautions to make sure your Pilea is secured if kids or pets decide to investigate it closer.

2. The Pilea tree look

If you want to achieve this look, you need to take a few extra steps. First of all, make sure your Pilea is in a deep enough pot that allows staking. As soon as you notice your plant leaning over, place the stake in the soil in the opposite direction and secure the plant stem to the stake with a piece of twine.

We recommend choosing a natural fabric tie (cotton, hemp, sisal) and avoiding plastic ties (such as zip ties and nylon strings) that are too rigid and may cut into the surface of the stem. See if you can find a wider piece of ribbon so that it doesn’t end up digging a friction line (a trench) into the woody stem of your plant.

If your plant is still relatively short, a couple of bamboo chopsticks placed strategically in the soil a few inches apart from the stem might be the best staking option. However, for a more permanent structure you can use wood dowels, metal rods or bamboo sticks from your local DIY store.

When you pick your stake, opt for a piece that’s taller than your plant to allow for future growth.

How not to train your Pilea

There is, however, one way you shouldn’t attempt to train your Pilea: the braided look. You may have seen pictures of braided sansevierias, bamboo plants and money trees, and thought that Pilea would look just as cute. We strongly recommend against trying to train your Pilea by braiding it around other plants. Due to the stem of the Pilea not being flat enough, and the crown of the plant being too round, training your Pilea in a braid will likely only damage the plant.

At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide how you want your Pilea to look in your space. Whether you’re going for the imposing upright tree shape or the more gnarly fluid look, we think you can’t go wrong with a Pilea piece of decor in your home.

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