It’s fun to grow plants in the garden but also stressful to see them suffer. One of the problems I faced was watching some of my plants growing sideways.
Your plants are growing sideways because they are leaning towards the light received at one side. They may grow sideways because that side has become heavy with foliage. The plant may lean if the soil is loose on one side causing loose roots.
There are also other problems such as lack of pruning, windy conditions, lack of support, and poor soil conditions that can cause this problem.
I’ve listed all of these below and the steps you can take to resolve the issue and get your plant growing strong and healthy again.
1. Insufficient Sunlight
A vast majority of plants need a lot of sun exposure to stay healthy. There are some exceptions, but most garden-variety cultivars need as much sun as they can get!
Sunlight is responsible for photosynthesis. The plant uses that exposure to convert light energy into glucose, storing it for future growth. Without sunlight, plants are sure to shrivel up and die. Some plants may only require a little bit of sun, but they need it nonetheless.
Plants go out of their way to get the nutrients and sunlight they need. While we don’t see much movement in real-time, plants are fully capable of altering the way they grow. We see it all the time with sunflowers, vines, and everything in between! The phenomenon is known as phototropism.
Scientists believe that a hormone called auxin creates movement. Usually, auxin spreads throughout the plant evenly. But when it’s exposed to light, the hormone tends to move to the plant’s shadier parts. It shuttles from one plant cell to the next to avoid the sun.
This hormone helps produce stronger growth. Because it prefers to live in the shade, its unbalanced presence in plants creates the leaning effect. It’s what makes plants stretch to the sun.
Unless your plant is in a greenhouse, there’s a good chance that it only gets sun from one side. Thus, it appears to grow sideways!
The most obvious solution here is to move your plant to an area that gets more sunlight.
The sunlight requirements for plants vary from species to species. Do a little research on your plants to get a better idea of what they need. Generally, most plants should get about 12 to 15 hours of sun exposure per day. About six of those hours should be direct exposure.
Keep an eye on your plants and monitor the situation. Something as simple as shadows from a tree branch could deprive them of their energy source. Modify the surroundings as you see fit, or move your plants to a nice open spot.
If movement isn’t possible, you could try regular rotation. Giving your potted plants a quarter turn every two weeks or so will counteract the effects of phototropism. It’ll address the sideways appearance and should fix growth imbalances.
2. Poor Soil Conditions
Sometimes, it’s the soil that’s to blame for sideways growth. There are a couple of potential soil issues to look into.
The first is erosion. Soil erosion refers to the process of degradation that occurs over time. Harsh rains can wash away some of the upper layers of soil, ruining the medium’s structure. Even in pots, erosion is a real problem in windy or rain-prone areas.
When the soil washes away, it leaves the root structure in peril. Not only does it deplete some of your plant’s access to water and nutrients, but it can also dramatically decrease root depth. Without proper soil structure, the roots have no choice but to shorten. As a result, they lose some of the stability they require to grow straight up.
Another possible problem is overly-fertilized soils. Usually, fertilizer is a good thing! But, you can overdo things by adding too much nitrogen. Nitrogen is an essential nutrient that contributes to stem and foliage growth.
When there’s too much of it in the soil, your plant might focus its energy on producing longer stems rather than flowers or fruits. It may become leggy, eventually toppling over under the weight of its lengthy foliage.
Depending on the severity of the issue, a transplant may be in order! Transplantation can provide you with an immediate solution. Move the plant to a container or garden bed that offers dense and stable soil. This will give it a chance to spread its roots and corrects its growth pattern.
If the issue doesn’t require immediate attention, you may be able to amend the soil yourself.
To address excess nitrogen, consider applying a layer of mulch. Mulch may help to draw out some of the nitrogen, leaving the soil perfectly balanced for healthy growth.
To address erosion, mulch can come in handy, too! Place the mulch on bare patches of soil. It prevents physical movement, protecting it from overhead splashes. Plus, it minimizes water evaporation and feeds your plants.
3. Lack of Support
Many plants require physical support once they start getting into the brunt of their growth cycle. We’re not talking about leggy plants that are already deformed. We’re referring to perfectly healthy plants that aren’t strong enough to stand up on their own!
Vining plants always need vertical supports. Otherwise, they will spread horizontally as far as they can. However, many flowers and fruiting plants require it, too. Take, for example, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and gourds. Even notoriously tall plants, such as the sunflower, may need it.
It all depends on the growth process. Skinny stems plus dense foliage and heavy fruits result in e lean. If you don’t address it quickly, your plant may end up falling altogether. It may even become malformed as it continues to grow sideways.
Luckily, addressing a lack of support is very easy. All you need are a couple of garden stakes!
Staking your plant will take some of the stress off the stems. It ensures that your plant continues to grow upward and helps to avoid deformed development. In many cases, the stake will give the plant a chance to strengthen its stems to stand on its own later.
The technique offers a couple of other benefits, too. For one, it keeps any flowers or fruit off the ground. This is essential, as it prevents mold and disease from taking over. Secondly, it improves air circulation in the plant. Better air circulation strengthens the stems and avoids standing water issues.
Finally, it improves the plant’s ability to take in sunlight. Staking exposes more of the plant’s leaves to its source of energy, which is always a plus!
To support your plant, gently insert a stake into the soil near its base. Make sure you avoid damaging the root system! Then, use some ties to attach the main stem to the stake.
You can also utilize a caging system. The cage allows the plant to fall onto the supports as it grows.
4. Windy Conditions
The wind is like a double-edged sword for plants. On the one hand, it’s very beneficial. Wind helps to spread seeds and speed up the evaporation rate of excess water. Plus, it strengthens plant stems.
Every time the wind pushes your plant, it creates a little bit of stress. The plant responds by altering its growth pattern. It focuses on producing shorter and stronger stems rather than tons of excess foliage.
But of course, plants can only do so much to protect themselves. Too much wind can cause irreversible damage.
Strong bursts are capable of snapping stems in half, effectively killing the plant in the process. Gale-force winds are so strong that they can topple full-grown trees.
Even light, consistent wind can cause trouble. The stress on the stems can permanently alter its growth pattern, resulting in a significant lean.
You have a couple of ways to address wind problems. The right choice for you will depend on the intensity of the wind.
For regular light breezes, a support system might do the trick. You can place a stake on the opposite side of the wind pattern, counteracting the stress put on the plant. Alternatively, you can use a cage to ensure that your plant receives support no matter the direction the wind pushes it.
If that doesn’t work, you can create a wind barrier. Full fences are your best bet. But, natural alternatives like dense bushes work well, too. The only caveat here is that you must make sure that your wind barrier isn’t blocking out the sun, too.
Finally, you could always move the plant to a safer space. We always recommend exposing your plants to a little wind. However, they should never be in a spot that gets super strong winds. Otherwise, they will become stunted and damaged.
5. Lack of Pruning
Pruning is a task that gets a bad rep. Many newer gardeners avoid it altogether because they don’t see the point in slicing off perfectly healthy plant stems.
In reality, it’s a pivotal part of plant maintenance that can prevent a litany of issues. One common problem that comes from a lack of pruning is sideways growth!
As your plant gets top-heavy, it will lose its ability to support itself. The more weight put on the main stem, the worse it gets. Eventually, the excess weight will cause it to lean to one side.
In some cases, plants can develop more growth on one side. The process may occur due to inadequate sun exposure as we discussed earlier. However, many other factors come into play too.
Uneven growth will force the plant to grow sideways, ruining the look of your plant. It may even cause physical damage and disease later on.
You should always make pruning a part of your annual maintenance duties. Remove any dead or dying branches. Then, focus on the overall shape and density of the plant.
You can use pruning to manipulate the plant’s profile. Remove some bulk in the middle to promote better air circulation or slice off some top growth to manage its height. Of course, you should always address unevenness by snipping excessive growth on the sides. Keep it balanced to ensure that it stays vertical.
If you’re dealing with a tall plant or tree, consult an arborist. They can examine the plant and come up with the right course of action based on its needs.