Rotating Houseplants, Important But Often Overlooked

Failure to Rotate

Old Swiss Cheese Philo in limited light is reaching hard toward it's light source.
Old Swiss Cheese Philo in limited light is reaching hard toward it's light source. | Source

Damage caused by rotation neglect.

Houseplant rotation should be a regular maintenance feature for any interior plant, however the signs that this basic up keep has been overlooked are found in numerous examples.

You may have seen; a tree or cane type plant that casually leans to one side in the middle of a hallway, a ficus tree that is leaf bare on one side with uncontrolled growth on the other, or a Marginata with it's crown face smashed up against a window while a naked stem faces inside occupants. An example lies in the photo to the right, this struggling Philodendron has been left to grow and stretch in one direction, desperately reaching toward its light source, creating a plant that is completely bare on one side, and spindly overgrown on the other.

Understanding the importance of regular rotation is vital for maintaining healthy happy houseplants.

Light Makes Plants Move

Why Rotate Houseplants?

In most interior spaces light sources are not available evenly overhead like the vast blue sky outside, more likely a window provides light, in some cases it may be a skylight, or some sort of beneficial overhead lighting source. For example a fluorescent light does not move across the ceiling as the day goes on, a window does not move around the room.

Plants always grow toward light, and since our interior light sources are fixed Houseplants will begin to grow in a very targeted fashion toward the light source. If a plant is left to it's own devices to seek an interior light source it can begin to tilt itself, or grow very off balance toward that light. In order to prevent this from happening and keep your plant looking great for the long term regular rotation is recommended.

If a light source is off to one side, which it usually is, rotation will cause the plant to signal that the light source is in a different place as it is rotated. These signals will produce growth and productivity where foliage is exposed to the light. If the light source is periodically present at different places all around the plant it will signal productivity and growth to different areas all around the plant, producing balanced foliage production. Trees, and cane type plants will be less likely to lean to one side or another desperately reaching for a light source.

Basically the reason we rotate plants is to distribute light evenly around the entire plant body. When a plant is outdoors the light moves, but indoors we must create this effect by moving the plant around it's stationary light source to create the same effect.

The objective is to achieve aesthetic symmetry.

How and when to Rotate a Houseplant

How and when a plant should be rotated depends on; the kind of plant, and the lighting situation.

If you have a fast growing plant like a Ficus in front of a good natural light source like a window, the rotations could be periodic and dramatic. In such a situation some light would be reaching the whole plant but would not be evenly distributed. The Ficus would begin to grow more vigorously on the side toward the window than the side away. In this case a 180 degree turn would be fine about every 2 months allowing each side to even out, and preventing the plant from growing into the window. Regular pruning would also be recommended in such a situation.

With a plant like a Philodendron that enjoys moderate light, and is in a moderate light condition, with exposure on only one side, rotation should be frequent. Such a scenario would create a plant that would reach toward the light on one side, and would defoliate on the side that is away from the light. To maintain balance this plant should have regular (90 degree) rotations, about once a month to maintain foliar balance.

For plants in lower light conditions, either slow or fast growers, the rotations should be very frequent and incremental. A weekly or bi-weekly 45 degree turn would be best to prevent or reduce uneven defoliating and discoloration.


Houseplant Rotation Summary

Rotating your houseplant will allow you to enjoy a well rounded, symmetrical, healthy plant for a very long time. It will keep you plant well suited to the space in which it has been placed, and it will simply look better when rotated than if it was not.

Know that as you rotate your plant it may look a little odd for a short period of time if an area facing away from the primary light source, this should correct itself within a couple days after the plant senses the light source.

Don't forget this very important aspect of maintaining a healthy indoor plant.

Rotate away!

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Questions and Comments Welcome!!! 4 comments

flacoinohio profile image

flacoinohio 4 years ago from Ohio

Interesting, I never really thought about it, but I instinctively rotate my now three year old poinsetta plant, it leans towards the window during the day and after a week or so the new growth is weaving into the older growth. The newer growth also has larger leaves which I find undesirable until they flower which happened in mid February this year after our furnace went out for two days. It bloomed in June last year after we turned on the air conditioner.


thoughthole profile image

thoughthole 4 years ago from Utah Author

Flacionohio it is equally interesting that you have managed a Poinsettia for 3 yrs.


flacoinohio profile image

flacoinohio 4 years ago from Ohio

I will write a small hub about it and post a picture, it is more of a bush really.


thoughthole profile image

thoughthole 4 years ago from Utah Author

I'll keep my eye out for it sounds interesting especially if you had success re producing red bracts indoors, a feat not easy to come by.

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