Why is My Bird of Paradise Leaves Curling?

Bird of Paradise leaves curling means something is going on. And it is almost always not good.

So, even if the plant looks healthy and has good color, it is important to start taking action to identify what’s really happening.

From experience, waiting and hoping that things resolve themselves never has a good outcome.

Why is My Bird of Paradise Leaves Curling? Lack of water, low humidity and temperature changes are usually the main causes of curling leaves on this plant.

But it can also be caused by too much fertilizer, excess light and pests.

Why is My Bird of Paradise Leaves Curling?

Underwatering / Lack of Moisture in Soil Causes Curled Leaves

Like all plants, the bird of paradise needs moisture. Given a choice, it loves moist soil that’s consistently stays that way.

The best way to water the plant is to let the soil dry out slightly before adding more water.

However, the plant does not like drying out completely. So, never let the entire root ball go bone dry.

Even worse is allowing it to stay in that dry state for a long time.

Water is essential to plants because it is used for many different functions. As a broad-leafed plant, the bird or paradise will lose most of its moisture through transpiration as well.

And without water or lack of water will cause the plant to wilt. That’s because the water and water pressure is what keeps the main stem of the plant upright.

Lack of water means a limp stem that bends over.

Additionally, underwatering can also make a bird of paradise leaves curl and turn brown.

 

How to Fix This

First, you need to confirm that underwatering is in fact happening.

To do so, check the soil. Use your hands and feel the surface.

If the soil feels wet or moist, then underwatering is not the reason why the bird of paradise leaves are curling.

But if the soil feels dry, stick your finger as deep as you can into the soil. If it feels dry there as well you’re onto something.

Usually leaves curl when the soil is very dry. So, you can actually unpot the plant and see if the entire root ball is very dry.

If the soil feels quite dry, then it is time to rehydrate the plant.

Bottom watering is the way to go.

Just place the pot into a larger container, sink or bathtub that has water to about a quarter the height of the pot.

Then let the soil absorb the water at its own pace.

This can take 10 to 40 minutes depending on how big your plant is. So, just leave it.

Take the pot out of the water when the soil is moist around the top 2-3 inches. This tells you the soil has been rehydrated.

Finally, let the excess moisture drain completely to avoid overwatering and waterlogging.

 

Overwatering and Root Rot

The reason it is very important to check the soil is that dry before adding water is that bird of paradise leaves curling can be caused by overwatering as well.

If you end up adding more water to an already overwatered plant, you end up making things a lot worse.

So, always check the soil.

Unfortunately, when leaves curl due to overwatering, it usually means there is root rot occurring as well.

Why?

Root rot occurs due to overwatering because the roots end up in too much water. As a result, they cannot breathe.

If the water does not drain or go down soon, the roots eventually suffocate and die.

Thus, you have rotten roots.

Rotten roots mean the roots don’t function anymore because they’ve died and rotted. So, they cannot absorb moisture or nutrients from the soil.

It does not matter how much fertilizer and water you add to the soil. The roots just cannot take in anything.

The more rotten roots, the less function there is. And the plant gets dehydrated and malnourished in the process.

When there isn’t enough water getting absorbed by the roots, the plant become underwatered. This leaves to your bird of paradise leaves curling and turning brown.

 

How to Fix This

If you check the soil and the soil is wet or soggy, then immediately unpot the plant.

In most cases, there will be root rot.

If there is no root rot, repot the plant and thank your lucky stars. Pot the plant in dry, well-draining potting mix to allow it to start recovering.

But if there is root rot, assess the damage.

If all the roots or almost all the roots are rotten, there’s no way to save the plant. So, try to propagate it using rhizome cuttings.

The plant can’t be propagated from stem cuttings. So, you need to find at least one healthy part of the rhizome with healthy roots.

Cut that and plant the rhizome cuttings with the leaves in a new pot.

As for the mother plant, there’s nothing you can do but throw it in the trash.

However, if only part of the root system is rotten, then the bird of paradise is salvageable.

Prune the rotten roots. If you remove more than 1/3 of the root system, prune the same amount of plant above the soil.

Cutting the plant’s size will give the remaining roots a better chance of survival and recovery.

Then, plant the smaller, remaining bird of paradise in its own pot with well-draining soil. Don’t water for at least a week to help the plant recover.

 

Lack of Humidity

Bird of Paradise like high humidity. Ideally, they want humidity between 60% to 70%.

Although, they will tolerate 50% humidity and slightly lower.

As tropical plants, they are used to not only warm to hot climates but also humid ones as well. And this humidity is fairly consistent all year round.

Indoors, this can be a problem since most homes have humidity between 20% to 50%.

Additionally, be very careful with air conditioners, heaters and radiators as they dry out the air in the rooms they run in.

Similarly, winters are notorious for dry air as well.

So, if your bird of paradise leaves are curling, humidity is usually one of the things you want to make sure to check.

Low humidity will cause the leaves to curl. It can also cause the leaf margins and tips and turn brown as well.

The best way to check for humidity is to use a hygrometer.

This will let you instantly know what the humidity is in any room in the home.

 

How to Fix This

There are a few ways to fix low humidity.

The most important thing to know is that you don’t need to increase humidity in your entire home or even the room the plant is in.

As long as the air around the plant has enough moisture, that will keep the plant happy.

A simple way to increase humidity around the plant is mist it twice a week. Be careful not to overdo this. Wetting the leaves or leaving water droplets on the leaves increase the risk of fungal infections.

Another option is to use a humidifier.

This is the most obvious solution. But it requires spending some money. And make sure you get a big enough device to maintain the humidity level your plant or plants need.

One of my favorites is using a pebble tray. You can likewise use a humidity tray.

Both works the same way. And you just place the pot above the pebbles or the grate and the water beneath will evaporate over time to increase humidity around the plant.

Both methods are easy to DIY at home. And they are free.

 

Related

 

Tap Water Quality

Tap water contains salts, chlorine, fluoride and other minerals. These are added by the city to make the water safe to drink.

Unfortunately, birds of paradise can be sensitive to highly mineralized water.

That said, not all tap water will cause side effects for the plant. Only that that are hard or have high levels of these minerals.

So, if you use highly mineralized water to hydrate your bird of paradise, the excess salts build up in the soil each time you water.

Eventually this can lead to fertilizer burn, root damage leaves turning brown and curling.

 

How to Fix This

If tap water quality is the problem, you have a few options.

You can use rainwater. You do have to collect the rainwater in a barrel or something similar.

Another option is to use filtered watered. This way you can filter the incoming tap water and use the resulting water for the plants.

A third option is to use tap water. But leave it in room temperature at least overnight.

This is enough time for the chemicals to evaporate so come time to use the water on the plants, it will be safe to do so.

As for the existing salt build up in soil, you can flush that by running water through the potting mix for a few minutes.

Don’t forget to allow the plant to completely dry after.

 

Excess Light Causes Curling Leaves

Excess light is another cause of leaf curl. However, it is one of the lower likelihoods causes.

That’s because too much light often causes lead discoloration and possibly scorching.

Less occasionally, it can lead to leaf curling.

Why?

Lots of light, especially intense, harsh light brings heat. And it usually occurs during the hottest time of the day or the hottest times of the year.

This can lead to heat stress.

And as heat stress develops, the plant loses moisture. This is when the leaves start curling, in order to slow down the water loss.

 

How to Fix This

Luckily, it is easy to fix leaf curl in bird of paradise due to excess sunlight. Simply move the plant to another location.

Ideally, choose a spot that has medium to bright indirect light indoor.

If you keep the plant outdoors, keep it in partial shade.

Avoid full shade and avoid very low light because that will bring with it other problems. Lack of light will reduce the plant’s ability to produce energy through photosynthesis.

This will slow down all the processes including growth and leaf development.

So, avoid low light as much as possible.

 

Pests

Pests are another other thing that can cause bird of paradise leaves curling. Insects like spider mites, thrips, aphids and whiteflies will suck the juices of the plant out.

The problem is the sap that they feed on contains moisture and nutrients the leaves need.

This why you’ll see yellow patches develop. And over time, entire leaves turn yellow as well.

Loss of moisture and nutrients cause the leaves the curl inwards.

Both lack of moisture and nutrient deficiency on their own are capable of causing leaf curl in bird of paradise plant.

Together, they do more damage.

Additionally, if the bugs turn into a pest infestation, they end up robbing the plant of much more sap in a shorter period of time.

 

How to Fix This

Always check for bugs on plants. This includes the bird of paradise.

Many of the pests that will attack the plant are sap suckers. These including spider mites, aphids, thrips, scale and mealybugs.

And theses usually just start in small numbers.

But they grow very quickly because they have very short lifespans and lay many eggs as once. Additionally, the eggs only take a few days to hatch.

So, once you see any bugs, immediately treat it.

You can spray them off using water, use neem oil or insecticidal soap spray.

 

Overfertilization

The Bird of Paradise needs fertilizer to grow optimally.

Unfortunately, it is very easy to give the plant too much fertilizer. And this happens too often because many beginners think that more is better when it comes to fertilizer.

And to a degree it is.

But after that short-term benefit, you start seeing everything else collapse like a house of cards.

Why?

Too much fertilizer will make the plant grow. More nitrogen will boost foliage development. And the plant will get bigger at least in the very short term.

However, this will leave the roots behind in terms of growth rate.

So, you have a bigger plant with the small roots that it had before. This results in the root system’s not able to supply the new, bigger plant with enough moisture and nutrients as its size was left behind in the growth.

The result is leaf curling as the plant does not get enough water or nutrients.

Then, worse things begin to happen.

Excess plant food tends to leave lots of excess salts and minerals in the soil. Unfortunately, as these build up they become toxic eventually causing fertilizer burn which damages the roots.

When the roots get damaged, the plant is again unable to supply sufficient water and nutrients since fewer roots are functioning. The rest are only working partially or have died.

Again, the lack of water and nutrients cause bird of paradise leaves to  curl.

So, never overfeed the plant.

 

How to Fix This

The first thing to check is if in fact overfeeding is the cause of leaf curl.

If there are fertilizer crystals on the soil surface. Or you see a white crust forming on the soil. These are a sign the plant is getting too much fertilizer.

Curled leaves that are brown in color whose edges and tips seem like they’ve been burned is another side.

Leaf dropping is also another symptom of excess fertilizer.

If this is the case, you have two options.

The first is to stop feeding the plant. Then flush the soil with water.

To do so, run water from a hose on the soil and let it keep running. You can change the position every now and then.

Take 2-5 minutes to do this.

The running water will carry all the tiny debris and any chemicals includes salts and excess minerals out of the soil with it.

Then let the plant completely drain.

If you want to be more drastic, repot the plant to fresh, well-draining soil. Don’t feed it for a while first and let the plant recover.

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