You may or may not have fittonia (fit-TOH-neeuh) before, but there’s little denying the attraction of these tropical plants.
Commonly referred to as nerve plants, there are only two accepted species in this Peruvian member of the Acanthaceae family: Fittonia albivenis and Fittonia gigantea.
These beautiful perennials are known as the mosaic plant feature pink, red, yellow, or white veins along with their green foliage and are known to produce small white or off-white flowers.
But whether you own one of the Big Two, a cultivar, or one of the three Fittonias which have not yet been determined to be either a Fittonia variant or a distinct species, there’s one problem that’s easy to run into – leggy growth.
What Makes My Fittonia Leggy and How Do You Fix It?
Fittonias only develop new growth at the stem tips, so it’s very easy to end up with a leggy plant accidentally.
The three most common causes of this are lighting, feeding, and pruning, but they’re thankfully all just as easy to solve as they are to cause.
The problem with some plants is you can forget how quickly they can grow.
In most cases, this just means a little extra length to cut back.
Unfortunately, Fittonias only grow leaves at the apex of each stem, so leaving one alone for too long may result in something that vaguely resembles a tiny palm tree.
However, it’s never too late to get this kind of leggy growth under control.
Have a look at each stem of your fittonia and decide how far down you want the leaves to be.
This is where you’ll need to prune it.
Using sharp, sterile shears, snip the stem at this point.
New growth will form at the cut tip, allowing the plant to become fuller and more compact.
Tip: Instead of throwing away your leaf cuttings, consider using them for propagation.
Another common cause of leggy Fittonias is poor lighting.
Direct sunlight can be harmful to a fittonia, scorching its leaves and causing it to dehydrate.
However, not enough light can cause it to become scraggly.
One easy way to tell if there’s a lighting problem is if the leaves are all bending in one direction.
This would suggest only one part of your plant is getting bright light, and you can remedy this by rotating the plant regularly.
Such bending may lead to one side of the plant becoming leggy if not addressed.
More importantly, you should check on your fittonia several times over a day to understand how much light it’s getting and when.
Ideally, the plant needs bright, indirect light, which can equate to one of three scenarios:
- The plant is in a sunny window, protected by a sheer curtain, or right beside such a window.
- The plant is in a sunny spot but partially sheltered by the leaves of another plant to receive dappled sunlight.
- The plant is in a location that gets direct sunlight in the morning or evening but is partially shaded during midday.
You want your Fittonia to get around 5 to 6 hours of bright sunlight daily in all three of these cases.
If the plant isn’t getting sufficient light, move it to a better spot.
Note that you may have to prune it back a little afterward to encourage healthier growth.
Tip: In more northern climates where the sun is less intense, you can use artificial lighting to augment an indoor Fittonia plant’s light supply, although it will still need access to actual sunlight.
Place close to fluorescent light or at a safe distance from metal halide or sodium lamps for the best results.
More on Fittonia Care:
Too Much Food
Finally, too much of a good thing is always bad, and fertilizer is no exception.
In the case of Fittonias, this excess food will encourage the plant to grow at a faster rate but at the cost of healthy growth.
Instead, it will stretch out and become leggy and more sparse.
Pay attention to how much and how often you feed your fittonia.
A 5-5-5- NPK liquid fertilizer diluted by half is perfect. Apply according to the packaging instructions in between waterings and cutting back during its dormant months.
In the event you believe you’ve been giving it too much fertilizer, cut back on how much you use and give the plant a pruning to reshape it to where you want it.
You may also wish to flush the soil on the next watering to ensure no excess fertilizer remains and skip the next feeding to get its growth rate back to normal.