When the leaves of your houseplants curl it is a sign of stress, this can be caused by a variety of factors, improper watering or light, heat stress, inadequate fertilization or because of pests. It is important that when you see these signs of stress that you take action to prevent further harm to your plants.
Both underwatering AND overwatering can cause leaves to curl
When soil is dry for too long your plant will struggle to get the required moisture to survive, the leaves will begin to brown and curl at the tips. The reason plants show this water loss in the leaves first as they are the furthest away from the root system and require the most amount of work to keep hydrated, just like how when it is cold outside, your fingers and toes feel colder than the rest off your body as it tries to keep warm.
Leaves can also curl when a plant is overwatered too. An overwatered plant will begin to wilt and the leaves will curl down as the plant droops. Overwatering can also lead to root rot and curling leaves is a symptom of that dieses too.
How do you fix this?
Well it is really quite simple, you need to water your plant properly, make sure it has adequate and have a good watering schedule. I wrote an article all about the best way to water your plants and promote strong root growth, check it out!
Insufficient and excessive light can cause leaves to curl
You’re probably thinking that everything causes leaves to curl at this point, but plants need an ideal environment to thrive, it does take trial and error to be able to provide this but we all learned this way.
When your plant isn’t getting enough light, the stems can get thin and flimsy. The leaves can change colour and curl up. To solve this you’ll need to move the plant out of the shade and into more light, you likely don’t have to do anything extreme and put it right next to a window, just move it to a slightly sunnier spot which gets light for more hours of the day. If this doesn’t fix the issue in a week or so maybe it needs more light or possibly the issue is something else entirely.
Too much light, can also cause leaves to curl, it can be very noticeable in older leaves which curl at the tip. In conjunction with this, the newer leaves may be smaller than normal and may be pale with brown edges, this is because when a plant is overexposed to light, it doesn’t produce as much chlorophyll (this is the pigment which gives leaves their green color). To fix curling leaves from too much light, move your houseplant to a location that receives more appropriate light for the type of plant that you have, again it might not be a big move and trial and error is all part of the process. It is important to get to know your plants and all of their individual requirements, this will assist you in giving them the best care possible.
Is heat stress making your leaves curl?
Leaves that lose color, feel crispy and begin to curl inward can be a sign of a plant suffering from heat stress. Has it been unusually hot in the last few days? Plants feel the heat too but unfortunately for them, they can’t just turn on the air conditioning or move to a cooler spot, they’re stuck where they are. Placing plants near heat sources like space heaters or radiators also causes rapid evaporation and can lead to heat stress. Room temperatures of 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celcius) and above are not advisable for indoor plants.
How do you fix this?
This fix is a little bit harder, first thing is to get the plant somewhere which is a little more heat appropriate, this may be a different room or part of the house. Next is to assess the damage to the plant, if the leaves are extremely crispy and beyond saving, it is best to cut them away so the plant can focus on healing everywhere else. It hurts to have to trim back your plant, but it is all for the best and will help it grow stronger and healthier.
Not fertilizing your plants can cause leaves to curl
The leaves of plants also tend to curl and become discolored when there are nutrient deficiencies.
Common nutrients which need to be available are:
When plants don’t have these nutrients available the leaves will curl. To avoid this from happening it is important to fertilize your plants every 6 months or so. This can be using any range of liquid or pellet fertilizers.
Pest infestation can lead to curling leaves
Pests living on and nibbling away at your plants can become a serious issue. Sucking insects like aphids and mealybugs cause leaves to become distorted and they then begin to curl. These pests can often be found on the underside of your leaves or around the stem at the base of leaves.
Whiteflies are another pest that can cause the leaves of your plant to curl upwards. These pests are almost translucent and can be hard to spot. They too attach themselves to the underside of the leaves, where they suck out the moisture. As we now know, moisture loss is a key contributor to curling leaves.
To get rid of pests you can treat plants with pesticide (you can get our favourite kind on Amazon here). If you don’t want to use commercial insecticides or find them too costly, you can try using neem oil instead (you can find it also on Amazon here). Repeat applications until all the pests are gone. This may take up to 2 weeks to completely get rid of pests but it is entirely worth it to save your plants.
Pests can be prevented by using sticky traps which will attract them. These traps are often an indication that there is a potential problem rather than a total solution so if you see the sticky traps filling up with pests, it’s time to give your plants a thorough check. You can keep traps like these around your plants to act as an early warning sign, they also help to get rid of small flies and fungus gnats.
There is no substitute for proper care and attention when it comes to maximizing the health and the lifespan of your plants. But there is no guaranteed way of preventing infections, infestations and some environmental factors. This means that you will likely encounter this issue many times within your life.
Try to recreate the natural habitat of each plant as best you can in terms of heat, light and watering regime, this will give them the best chance at thriving and becoming healthy happy plants. Also take into account the nutrients each would naturally receive and benefit from and ensure you provide these in the most effective way, your plants will thank you!
When you’re watering your plants, make it part of your routine to check the leaves, including the undersides for signs of ill health or unwanted parasites.
Research care guides and tips for each plant that you own and try to build up an inventory of common plant knowledge so that you are as prepared as you can be to tackle the most problems. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn about a hobby you’re passionate about such as growing.
By following these steps you should be able to enjoy many years of healthy plants. If you’re new to keeping houseplants, try not to worry about trying to remember everything all at once. Also, don’t stress when you find yourself tackling issues like this, we all have and continue to do so.