Are you noticing something off about your plant? Perhaps the leaves are becoming pale in color or the stems appear to be stretching and becoming weak. Etiolation is likely to blame. In this article, we explain what etiolation is, why it happens, and what you can do to combat it.

What is etiolation?

You likely learned about a process called photosynthesis in grade school science class. During photosynthesis, plants capture sunlight and convert it into energy. In order to survive and maintain strength, plants will strive to get as much sunlight as they can. In darker environments, plants sometimes stretch to receive as much light as possible — possibly from a nearby window or another light source. This stretching is called etiolation. Characteristics of etiolation include long, leggy growth and weak stems. The stems and leaves are often pale in color, typically white or yellow. The pale color is caused by a lack of chlorophyll – the pigment in leaves that makes them green. Internodes (the length between growing points on a stem) are longer and leaves are sparse.

When plants are grouped together tightly, become overgrown or placed in low light, they will etiolate. Etiolation should be avoided with indoor plants as best as possible because the resulting plant growth is weak, leggy and unattractive.

How can I help my plant overcome etiolation?

The best ways to overcome etiolation are to select sites with proper light, space plants appropriately, and keep them pruned properly to allow light to penetrate all plant surfaces as best as possible.

Have a plant care question? Find the answer here.