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Rotating Houseplants Is Important but Often Overlooked

I have more than eight years of hands-on experience in the horticultural maintenance industry and shares many tricks of the trade.

What Happens If a Plant Does Not Get Rotated?

Rotation should be a regular maintenance procedure for any interior plant; however, you can often see signs that this basic upkeep has been overlooked.

You may have seen:

  • A tree or cane type plant that casually leans to one side in the middle of a hallway.
  • A ficus that is leaf-bare on one side with uncontrolled growth on the other.
  • A plant that clearly demonstrates the reaching effect as the plant has grown toward light.

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

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

If a plant is left to its own devices, it can begin to tilt or grow very off-balance toward the light. In order to prevent this from happening and keep your plant looking great for the long term, regular rotation is recommended. These rotations will produce growth and productivity where foliage is exposed to the light.

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 simulate this effect by moving the plant.

The objective is to achieve an aesthetic symmetry.

Light Makes Plants Move

How & When to Rotate

How and when a plant should be rotated depends on the kind of plant it is 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. In this case a 180 degree turn would be fine about every two 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 remains in relative darkness. 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.

Make Moving Easy

There are a few things to keep in mind when selecting a place for your plant to live in your home that will assist in making it easier to maintain it in the long run in regard to rotation and other general maintenance activities.

  • Make sure to place your plant in an accessible space, so that physical manipulation of the pot is a safe, & simple chore.
  • Be mindful of the size and weight of pottery. Obviously the larger, and heavier a container the more it would inhibit ones motivation to move it. Thinking ahead when choosing the method of planting (direct potted vs. staged nursery pot in decorative planter), and a containers material can go a long way in preventing future problems that could discourage appropriate maintenance.
  • Often lighter weight pottery solutions, or keeping plants in nursery pots seated inside decorative containers are superior solutions for managing long term maintenance issues. Nursery pots are very easy to move, and can even be placed in a new decorative container in case interior design needs change without the need to disturb root systems with repotting.
  • Using plant coasters, felt feet, cork mats, and plant stands can definitely aid in moving planters while protecting surroundings.

Other Things to Look for After Turning a Plant

  • Once your plant has been turned it may have noticeably lopsided foliage on one side. If you are the patient type, and are able to deal with the asymmetry for a while foliage will begin to grow on the opposite side and eventually balance out. If a symmetrical appearance is important pruning can be employed to trim the overgrown side, and bring the overall shape back into balance. Keep in mind that not all types of indoor plants can be trimmed. Most cane type plants will need to balance themselves out with growth movement.
  • Check for, and remove dead foliage that may have accumulated on either side of the plant. Most often the side that has been receiving the least light will contain the most dead foliar material.
  • When dealing with a cane type plant, most commonly any in the Draceana family, leaning canes are a common occurrence. Leaning canes can be corrected by physically pushing the canes back into upright position and packing soil around the base of the cane to support it while it reorients itself to the new positioning.
  • Dust may have accumulated if positioning had made one side of the plant less accessible than the other. Be sure to do a thorough all around dust off. If you are so inclined a good hand wiping with a mild dish soap, and water solution might be a great idea.
  • Some plants may require stringy stems to be re-positioned to avoid protruding out into a walking space of the like. As mentioned above pruning can also be a good solution to this type of issue.

In Summary

Rotating your houseplant will allow you to enjoy a 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.

Consistent attention to regularly turning your plants can aid in inspecting and heading off other potential issues of cleanliness, pests, unsightly growth, and the possibility of plants tipping over due weight displacement or leaning.

Know that as you rotate your plant, it may look a little asymmetrical for a short period of time, but 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 plants.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: How does the rotation of the plant affect how much it leans?

Answer: Plant rotation or lack of doing so is the most common cause of most issues of leaning. All plants will grow toward their light source, so unless light comes from directly overhead it is a given that a foliage will grow more on the side toward light, and foliage away from the light source will gradually turn toward the light source, all combined this will ultimately create weight imbalance causing the plant to literally lean, or just appear asymmetrical.

Question: How often should an indoor plant be turned daily?

Answer: Most indoor plants should only need rotating every 2-3 months depending on their light exposure. Rotating daily would be excessive and unnecessary, it would not harm the plant but it also would not benefit it. Essentially a lot of work for no real return.

Question: Which direction should a plant be rotated, clockwise, or counter-clockwise?

Answer: It does not matter which direction a plant is rotated. If it is rotated clockwise, it is a good idea to continue to rotate clockwise for all future rotations.

Questions and Comments Welcome!!!

Brittany on November 18, 2019:

When one turns their indoor plants, how much should they turn? --1/4", 1/2", 1"...?

thoughthole (author) from Utah on March 31, 2012:

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.

flacoinohio from Ohio on March 31, 2012:

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

thoughthole (author) from Utah on March 31, 2012:

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

flacoinohio from Ohio on March 30, 2012:

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.