We think there are two types of Pilea people in this world: those who love their lean Pilea trees and those who prefer rotund Pilea bushes. We love all types of Pilea plants, but if you’re one of the plant parents who worry about their Pilea becoming too top-heavy, this post is for you.
You’ll recognize a top-heavy Pilea by its elongated stem that is growing thriving leaves at the tip. There are three main reasons why a Pilea becomes top heavy:
You have an old Pilea.
Congratulations! Your Pilea becoming top heavy shows that you’ve been taking good care of it, and it has reached maturity. It’s not unusual for Pilea owners to become concerned that their plant is losing its lower leaves as it grows. But dropping old foliage is normal (and should be expected), as long as the plant still shows signs of growth (either from the top of the stem, or through baby Pilea growing alongside the mother-plant).
Naturally, as the plant grows, the stem becomes elongated and solidifies into a wood-like structure. The stem of an older plant also changes color, and at maturity it reaches a dark-burgundy (sometimes dark-brown) hue. By this point, the plant will also look top-heavy, having lost its older leaves.
Your Pilea had a sudden growth spurt.
Your Pilea may become top-heavy after a growth spurt. Maybe the conditions were just right in its environment (in terms of humidity, light and soil quality), or you may have helped it along with too much fertilizer. In this case, the plant looks tall and skinny, with its leaves still being relatively small in diameter. There’s nothing wrong with your Pilea, but try to avoid overfertilizing it. You want the energy of the plant to go towards putting out healthy leaves, not towards growing its stem.
Your Pilea is reaching for the light.
Pilea plants prefer bright indirect light (check out this guide about the best light for your plant). If it doesn’t get enough light, especially in the warm months when it’s growing, then it will try to reach for it by lengthening towards a source of light. Etiolated plants (this means they’re deprived of light) tend to grow spindly and pale. This scenario is not very common with Pilea plants, but it could happen if the plant is left in a dark environment for too long.
Another telltale sign that your Pilea is stretching because of low light conditions is if it has a lot of space between the leaves, where the petiole attaches to the stem. In this case, the internodes - the spaces where the leaf petioles emerge - grow further apart from each other and the stems become weak and spindly.
Now that you know the causes, here are three ways you can fix a top-heavy Pilea “tree.”
1. Give it some support
The easiest way to support a top-heavy Pilea is by adding a stake or a mini-trellis to its pot. You can use whatever you have on hand (wood stakes, metal rods or plastic poles) or you can get a simple thick wooden dowel from a DIY store. Place the stake in the ground about two inches away from the stem, on the opposite side from where the Pilea plant is leaning. Then gently bring the Pilea upright, and secure it to the stake or the pole with a ribbon or a piece of twine. See if you can find a wider piece of string so that it doesn’t end up digging a friction line (a trench) into the stem of your plant.
You can also opt for a small trellis and secure the plant with several ties at different points along the stem. Bamboo sticks are also a good idea, as long as the stick is at least as tall as your Pilea.
2. Let it twist and turn
A twisty Pilea is absolutely gorgeous, if that’s more your style. As your plant gets older and heavier, it will start toppling sideways. The stem of an old Pilea is sturdy enough to support the extra weight and bend, as long as it doesn’t have added external weight to it. (We’re not the ones to be pointing fingers at pets and toddlers, but if you know, you know.)
You can let your Pilea hang off a tall shelf perch or allow it to lean against a hard surface.
3. Behead it!
Ok, this is the nuclear option, but it IS an option when it comes to a top-heavy Pilea.
If you chop off the top of your Pilea, you can regrow both sides into new plants. Here’s how to do it: using a clean sharp knife, chop off the stem close to where it pokes out from under the soil. If the stem is very etiolated, you can even remove a few inches off the stem before rerooting it.
Place the bit that you just cut in water - a tall vessel might be needed to keep it from toppling over. Refresh the water every week (or more often if it gets too dirty) and watch as your Pilea grows new roots. Once the plant has grown a new root structure (a process that may take a month or longer), you can repot it into a new container.
As for the stump that’s left in the pot after beheading - this can be regrown too, so definitely don’t dispose of it. Keep watering it, but slow down the watering schedule since the plant doesn’t have foliage to transpire through anymore. After a while, you’ll notice new baby plants emerging from the side of the old stump. And thus, the Pilea circle of life starts again.
As you can see, a top-heavy Pilea is not a sign of failure. You can just love it as it is, imperfections and all, or you can try to tame it a bit. The choice is yours.