Calathea Curled Leaves – Causes & Treatment of Leaf Curl

Calathea Curled Leaves

Calathea leaf curl is a sign that there is something wrong with your plant. One of the benefits of the fussiness of this plant is that it gives you a lot of visual symptoms to work with.

And calathea curled leaves is one of those cues that tell you certain things are happening and you should investigated.

The key here is to identify the cause of the curling leaves.

Because there are a few potential causes, it is important to be thorough when diagnosing the cause. The good news is, once you figure out what’s causing it, the leaves will eventually uncurl.

Calathea Curled Leaves: Why is My Calathea Plant Leaves Curling?

In general, calathea leaves curling is a sign of moisture issues, in this case dehydration. As such, the first things to check are underwatering and low humidity. Similarly, too much heat can also cause leaves to curl.

Of course, excess heat does not only mean that the plant is experiencing heat stress it also means that moisture is drying up faster.

The reason why your calathea leaves curl is that it is a way for the plant to decease the amount of water it is losing. And in doing so, it hopes to slow down more water loss which will worsen the problem.

That said, like most plant problems, there is usually more than one possible cause.

So, if you checked a curling calathea plant for lack of water and it seems it is not dehydrated, consider looking into the following.

Calathea curled leaves can also be caused by too much light or root damage. With the latter, curling leaves are the result of root rot, disease or overfertilizing.

To help you diagnose and fix the problem, I’ll discuss each the possible causes of calathea curled leaves below.

How Do You Fix Calathea Leaf Curl?

The fastest way to fix calathea curled leaves is to solve the underlying issue that is causing the problem. That’s because curled calathea leaves are a symptom that is not happy about something.

As mentioned before, calathea plants are finicky.

This means that if you don’t give them something they want, they’ll quickly show you they’re not satisfied with the care.

Although this can be a hassle (and why they are not the easiest plants to care for), seeing the symptoms allows you to quickly eliminate potential issues on your way to fixing the problem.

For me, I prefer a plant that shows me the trouble signs early enough so I can take action to fix (and potentially save it from further damage).

In contrast, I am not a big fan of plants that only reveal problems when the issue has gotten really bad. Because by then, I may not be able to do anything to fix the issue (since it is too late).

Therefore, when you see a calathea curling its leaves, it means it is in distress. In short, it is not a healthy plant.

Here’s a quick checklist of what to go through. Remember, there are a few possible causes to curled leaves in Calathea plants. Therefore, you need to go through a process of elimination to find the exact cause.

The list below will let you start with the most probable causes and work your way down.

  1. Add humidity – before you do, check what the humidity is where you calathea plant is located. This is why I like to have a digital hygrometer near my plants. I take a quick look at the readings every morning. This gives me an idea of what the recent humidity ahs been. Therefore, I know what levels can be problematic to certain plants in case they act up in the next week or so. Calatheas like high humidity. Ideally, try to maintain 50% humidity or higher. When humidity gets too low, its leaves will curl. Therefore, increase humidity if this happens.
  2. Adjust your watering routine – the other thing besides humidity that calatheas are fussy about is water. If the calathea has curled leaves, it usually means it is not getting enough water. in fact, it is likely dehydrated. But before you add water, check the soil. It should feel very dry. If it is not dry, then underwatering is not the cause for your curling calathea. If the soil is very dry, add water and adjust your schedule to avoid this from happening again.
  3. Use distilled water or rainwater – another thing about calatheas that makes them harder to care for are their sensitivities. One of these has to do with tap water. If your tap has too many minerals in it, the water will be toxic. Therefore, if this is the case, go with rainwater or distilled water.
  4. Move the plant from the light – too much direct sun or strong light will likewise damage its leaves. When you leave it somewhere that it cannot tolerate, its leaves will be the first one to show any symptoms. And they will curl.
  5. Keep the plant in moderate temperature – calatheas are tropical plants. Therefore, it enjoys warm conditions. Its ideal temperature is between 60 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Go too far above or below this, and you’ll see the plant get fussy.

By going through this short list of potential problems points and addressing any possible causes, you should be able to remedy calathea curled leaves and help the plant feel more comfortable as you’ve taken out the sources of its stress.

That said, it does take a week for the improvements to show. Therefore, monitor it after you’ve made the changes.

If things persist, go through the list again and test each one again.

 

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Reasons Why Your Calathea Leaves are Curling

Now that you get the basic idea of what’s causing calathea leaf curl in your plant, it is time to go into detail. This way, you’re better able to diagnose each potential issue and know what to do (and what to avoid) when trying to solve the problem.

 

Insufficient Humidity

At the top of the list of lack of humidity or dry air. Humidity is basically the measure of how much moisture there is in the air. The higher the humidity, the more moisture there is. And the drier the air is, the lower the humidity.

This is why humidity shoots up when it is about to rain or raining. Similarly, if you live in the desert, humidity tends to be low (usually in the 30% range or even lower than that).

Calathea plants like humid environments. They’re like this because they come from South America’s tropical rainforests. Therefore, they get a lot of humidity there.

Thus, the ideal humidity for most calathea plants is 50% and higher.

When there isn’t enough humidity, you’ll notice your calathea’s leaves turn yellow and curl. The edges of the leaves will likewise get dry, crispy and brittle such that when you touch then, they’ll break into very small pieces.

As such maintaining sufficient humidity is important to keep your calathea plant healthy.

And the easiest way to check or monitor humidity is to have a digital hygrometer near your plants. This will let you easily tell what the humidity is in a given location (room) and any time of the day.

Also, it is important to know that the weather forecast humidity will be very different from what you have in your home due to microclimates.

Similarly, different rooms in your homes have varying humidity levels. For example, the bathroom and kitchen typically are higher humidity areas (since we use a lot of water there).

So, what can you do if you suspect humidity is causing calathea leaf curl?

Mist the plant – this is the simplest way to give it a humidity boost. However, the downside is that misting or spraying with room temperature water into the air around the plant and leaves is very temporary. It gives the plant some moisture for about 2 to 4 hours. Therefore, you need to keep misting every so often. Depending on how low humidity gets, this could be daily, once every 2 days or 3 times a week. Additionally, check how much of a boost misting gives you. If it is not enough to bring humidity around the plant high enough, then the extra effort is not really worth it. So, try something else.

  • Invest in a humidifier – this is the most obvious. It also allows you to precisely set the target humidity level. Of course, like all devices, there are big and small humidifier. Also, there are some basic ones and more sophisticated ones. Finally, there are affordable and expensive units. In most cases, cost will vary based on how much floor area the humidifier can cover. Plus, its quality and features. Therefore, the downside here is, the better the product, the more you need to spend. Also, don’t forget that there’s some maintenance required as well to keep the device in running condition.
  • Pebble tray – this is a favorite of mine and many home growers because it is free and it is hands-free. By that I mean you don’t need to keep repeating it like misting. It is more set it and forget it, at least until it is time to refill the tray with water. To do so, place the pot in a tray or container of water. But keep the pot above the liquid. This way when the water evaporates, it increases humidity above and around the plant.
  • Group it with other plants – if you have many houseplants you can place them together. Plants transpire (much like how we perspire). So as the moisture exit the pores on their leaves and evaporate, in will boost humidity. Obviously, the more plants you have (and the bigger the plants), the more they will transpire. So, the results here can vary significantly.
  • Move the plant – as mentioned, the bathroom and kitchen have higher humidity. You can likewise keep the plant in a greenhouse, mini greenhouse, terrarium or grow cabinet. These are some options where you can control the environmental factors.

calathea curled leaves

source: wikimedia commons

 

Improper Watering

The next potential issue is watering. While related to humidity, watering is more about how much moisture you add to the soil. in contrast, humidity is about moisture in the air.

So, while they’re linked, they’re not the same thing.

That said, the higher the humidity, the less you need to water. And the lower the humidity, the more water the plant will need to stay happy.

With calathea leaf curl, the problem is usually dehydration. As such, it lacks water.

The thing is, humidity and watering are the two things calatheas are most fussy about. So, take your time to get to know the plant.

Once you get the hang of these two factors, the rest are easy.

Basically, calathea don’t like extremes when it comes to water.

This means avoid too much water or too little water. Of the two, overwatering is more dangerous by far since it can lead to root rot.

However, if you let your calathea dry out too much, its leaves will curl, turn brown, wilt and droop. When you see these symptoms, it is a sign that the soil is dry.

Because both over and underwatering can be issues for the plant, always check the soil before doing anything. This is the only way you can verify if your suspicion is correct. So, never skip this step.

To do so, stick your finger into the soil down about 1-2 inches from the surface. This will get to about the second knuckle in your index finger.

Only water the plant if the soil is dry at that depth. Never before that.

If your calathea has leaf curl in all likelihood the soil is dry all the way down. You can insert a wooden stick all the way down to the bottom of the pot. When you take it out, the wet part of the wood will tell you how much of the soil is wet.

If the soil is completely dry, water the plant.

However, if the soil is moist or the stick comes up wet near the top, it means that plant has enough water. Don’t add more.

Calatheas are susceptible to overwatering which can lead to root rot.

 

Water Quality

Another aspect of water to consider is the quality. In many cases, tap water should not be an issue. However, the calatheas are sensitive to water with high mineral content.

The problem is that many municipalities will add chemicals including fluoride, chlorine and others into the tap water.  Some more than others.

So, if you happen to live in a locale where there’s more mineral in the tap, your calathea may react negatively and curl its leaves.

If there’s a lot of salt in your tap water, you’ll see the plant’s colors fade and wilt as well. On the other hand, hard water can lead to yellow leaf edges.

So what can you do?

  • Use distilled water – this is a good option but not really practical due to the cost over time.
  • Filter or purify the water – this also comes with costs but it is more manageable. By installing a water filter in your faucet, you can get rid of the chemicals and minerals in your tap water.
  • Collect rainwater – this is free and takes little effort. Just set a rain barrel or any barrel to collect rain when it falls. Make sure to sue a screen to keep leaves and debris out of the water. The downside is it is not always feasible depending on where you live. You need to have consistent rain to make this work.
  • Let the chemicals evaporate – this is often the most practical option. Collect tap water in large buckets or containers (enough to water the plant), Then set them somewhere with room temperature overnight. This will allow the chemicals to evaporate by morning. Therefore, you can use it safely on your calathea without risking curling leaves.

 

Too Much Light

Calatheas are not big plants. As such, in the wild, they live below the taller plants and trees. This means they get the benefit of the forest canopy.

This is why they enjoy moderate to warm temperature. It is also why they are more tolerant to low light.

However, because the brunt of the sun’s rays are blocked by larger trees, it also means that the calathea’s tolerance for intense light and direct sun is limited.

This is why it thrives in medium to bright, indirect or filtered light. And also why it cannot take hours of mid-day or summer sun.

If there’s too much bright light, full sun or direct sunlight its leaves will eventually get damaged.

The most obvious symptom is that it will lose the white lines on its leaves. Over time the leaves can get sunburn as well leaving you with burn spots or marks.

So, in an effort to reduce its exposure to the harsh light, the calathea leaves curl up. This decreases its surface area, so fewer parts of the leaves get hit by the sun’s rays.

The good news is, if you catch it early enough before leaf damage actually occurs, you can move the plant to a less intense bright spot. This will alleviate the light stress and allow the leaves the uncurl in about 1 to 2 days.

 

Extreme Temperatures

As mentioned above, although calatheas are native to South America where temperatures can get scorching hot, they’re shaded by larger trees in the forest.

Therefore, their ideal temperature range is between 60 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Like water, extreme temperatures are both bad for the plant.

However, the affect the plant in different ways.

When it gets too hot, the soil will quickly dry up. Therefore, if you don’t adjust your watering schedule, you’ll notice calathea leaf curl as they shrivel up.

The quick fix is to adjust the thermostat. Or, move the plant to a different location that is not as hot.

As such, be wary of hot summer days when the temperature suddenly spikes up.

On the other hand, you also want to watch out for the cold.

Since calatheas come from tropical South America, they don’t experience snow. This means they are not cold hardy.

Therefore, try to avoid leaving the plant in conditions below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. It also cannot tolerate outdoor winters (if you have snow in your area).

Cold environments like these will ultimately cause cold injury and damage to the plant.

Indoors, this means avoid placing the plant near heaters, radiators, fireplaces, air conditioner and the like. In addition to not being able to tolerate very hot or cold, it also hates temperature fluctuations.

As such, only leave the plant outdoors in USDA Hardiness Zones 10 through 12 during the colder months. In these regions, you can keep the plant outside all year long if you wish.

But anywhere else colder, be sure to take it back inside late fall and winter. You can let it vacation outside when the weather warms up in spring and summer.

 

Why Are My Calathea Leaves Not Opening or Closing?

In addition to calathea leaf curl, another common question I get is why their calathea leaves are  not opening or closing.

Basically, calatheas are prayer plants.

They get their name because their leaves are open during daytime. But these will close at night.

They will fold up and point upwards like hands in prayer (which is where they get their name).

The reason for this is energy efficiency and conservation.

In the morning, when there is light, the plant will open its leaves in order to absorb as much light as possible. It needs light for photosynthesis to support its growth and energy needs.

At night, when darkness comes, it will close its leaves and fold then up to conserve energy.

Therefore, if your calathea’s leaves don’t open, it means there isn’t enough light to entice it to open up. It’s like the plant’s internal sensor isn’t triggered because there’s insufficient light.

So, move the plant to somewhere brighter and its leaves will eventually open.

On the other hand, if the leaves don’t close at night, it likely means the location is not dark enough. Again, this lack of darkness does not trigger its internal sensor.

So, move the plant to a darker location (at night).

 

Conclusion

Calathea leaf curl is something you should take seriously. It is a sign that the plant is under stress and therefore, unhealthy. The good news is, calathea curled leaves are simple to diagnose and fix.

Leaves curling are very obvious in that one look and you know what’s happening.

However, the tricky part is figuring out what the underlying cause it.

Because there are many possible reasons for calathea leaves vurling, you need to eliminate them one by one to get to the actual cause.