We think the most frustrating part of plant parenthood is having to troubleshoot a dying plant. But at least in this scenario, there are some telltale signs of plant distress. The second most frustrating scenario, in our opinion, is when your plant is surviving just fine, but it seems to have stopped growing.
If you’ve ever wondered, “Why is my Pilea not growing?” then this post is for you.
But before we answer this million-dollar question, let’s get a few things straight.
Often, the glamorous plants featured on Instagram accounts are already mature plants that took years to get to the size they were when their hashtag started trending. Don’t let this discourage you. As they say, comparison is the thief of joy, and we’ve certainly noticed this also applies to the plant world.
Much like outdoor plants, Pilea plants have a growing season, so your Pilea will enter a period of dormancy in the cold and dark months. This happens because the plant is storing energy in anticipation of the coming short days and lower temperatures. You really can’t (and shouldn’t try to) trick it into growing using grow lights or fertilizer. Let your plant rest and recover, and it will reward you come spring.
So if you happen to have purchased your plant in the fall or winter, it will take a while before you start seeing new growth. This is true for both top growth (your Pilea plant getting taller and shooting out more leaves from the top of the stem), and offshoot growth.
Most Pilea plants produce babies (little offshoots that turn into new plants) year-round. However, in the winter, the period of rest between producing babies might be longer, and the babes will grow slower than their spring counterparts.
With these caveats in mind, here are some of the most common causes why your plant is not growing when it should be.
1. You’ve recently brought the plant home (or into a new environment).
Houseplants take some time to adapt to a new environment, just as humans do.
Often, the shock of new conditions (light, temperature, humidity) might send your plant into shock and stunt its growth. That’s ok, and it’s perfectly normal. In this case, all you need to do is be patient (we know, easier said than done), and give your plant the space it needs to ease into its new life. How long will that take? The answer is, predictably, it depends. But we think a good rule of thumb is about a month.
If your Pilea doesn’t start showing new signs of growth after the first month of bringing it home, here are other reasons why that might happen:
2. Your Pilea is overpotted.
This is a common problem when you get Pilea babies, and less of a problem if your plant is already mature. Over-potting occurs when the plant is placed in a larger pot than it can handle. Yes, there is such a thing as too large a pot for a plant.
When it comes to choosing the right pot for your plant, the misconception of “the bigger, the better” seems to prevail. But the size of the roots (what’s below ground) matters more than the size of the crown (what’s above ground) when you repot your Pilea. The roots of this plant are relatively small compared to the size of the crown.
Larger pots hold more soil, which takes a much longer time to dry out between watering sessions. As a result, instead of expending its energy growing above ground, your plant is busy trying to fill in the space below ground.
As a rule, select a pot that’s about two inches larger in diameter than the root ball. This will allow ample room for growth as the plant matures. No matter what size or shape you choose, make sure the container has proper drainage holes.
3. Your Pilea isn’t getting enough water.
If your Pilea’s growth is stunted, then it’s probably missing one of the three vital elements of plant wellness - water, light, soil. Luckily, the water one is the easiest one to fix.
We talk a lot about how easy it is to overwater your Pilea. And that is probably the most common mistake we see new plant parents make.
However, there is such a thing as underwatering your plant (with an anecdote circulating in our plant circle of someone not watering their Pilea for a full month - don’t be that someone).
How can you tell that your Pilea needs to be watered? It’s dry not only across the surface of the soil, but also two inches deep. You can use your finger or a stick to test the moisture depth. If the soil is still dry two inches below the surface, then it’s time to water your plant.
Pilea plants like a thorough soaking, so let the water run out of the bottom of the pot when you’re watering them. And try not to get into the habit of pouring your leftover tap water into your plant pot every time you want to empty your glass. This only encourages shallow root development and is not conducive to long-term plant growth.
4. Your Pilea is too dirty.
If your plant’s leaves are caked in a thick layer of dust, this will interfere with photosynthesis and clog the pores of the plant (stomata). In turn, this will have an effect on the growth of your Pilea.
You can clean the leaves using a rag and clean warm water, or by simply putting the whole plant in the shower under running water. Let the water fall on the leaves and on the surface of the potting mix for 15-20 seconds. Once you’re done, let the excess water come out of the drainage holes.
While you’re at it, keep your windows clean to allow in as much light and sunshine as possible. And remember that light patterns change across the seasons, so pay attention to how the light falls on your plant in any given month. Here’s an in-depth guide on finding the best light for your Pilea.
5. The soil is depleted of nutrients.
We’re not quick to recommend fertilizing because we noticed that it is often overused in the plant-lover community. In our misguided chase for instant gratification, we overfertilize because we want bigger plants, and we want them now. So we try to force nature to operate on our own timeline. That being said, we do think there’s a time and a place to fertilize, and this may be the final troubleshooting step for a Pilea plant that hasn’t been growing.
The easiest way is to add organic liquid fertilizer to your plant once a month. Do not fertilize your plant when it’s dormant, but only in the growing season. All fertilizers need to be diluted in water (you don’t want to burn your plants), so always follow the instructions on the bottle.
Another way to fix soil that has a nutrient deficiency is by repotting your Pilea in fresh soil. Keep in mind that a lot of the potting soil on the market comes with slow-release fertilizer built-in (usually good for 3-4 months, but check the bag), so make sure you don’t fertilize a plant that has recently been repotted.
We hope that these steps make it easy to troubleshoot a Pilea that refuses to grow in its normal growing season. Patience is the name of the game when it comes to keeping houseplants. Think of it as you being on their schedule rather than the plants getting on yours.