The key to understanding why these plant leaves curl is to understand how they thrive in their natural habitat.
Prayer plant leaf curl is a biological response due to a lack of water. Prayer plants are tropical plants that thrive in environments of high moisture and humidity. Reducing leaf curl can be done by regular watering as well as maintaining the humidity around the plant through misting and siting the plant in a cool area.
Subtle variations in environmental conditions can cause the plants to react in a way such that they will survive the change they are subjected to.
In this article, we discover these changes and solutions to bringing the plant back to a healthy condition.
Why do Prayer Plant Leaves Curl?
The common name of Maranta leuconeura comes from its leaf movement that resembles praying hands.
It is a known trait of the plant which is why it is called the prayer plant. The curling in the leaves occurs along the edge which bends towards the inner main ridge that supports the leaf.
The noteworthy fact here is that these plants love to move and will do so in order to protect themselves whether it is to save moisture or fight against pests.
These are the different reasons that can trigger the curling effect:
1. Too Much Direct Light
Maranta leuconeura, in its native habitat, grows low to the ground under a canopy of tropical trees.
These plants have a lot of light saving qualities because of their natural habitat.
Normally these plants are short and are situated under the canopy of the forests or larger trees so whatever light they get, they tend to absorb its energy and convert it into sugars to feed from.
This is another reason why they have white or maroon bottoms so the light does not pass through the leaves and is fully trapped and stored for later use. In this way it maximizes the light that it actually gets.
When subjected to too much light the leaves will tend to curl or turn inwards to protect themselves and save moisture which can be easily lost to the atmosphere.
2. Not Enough Humidity
Humidity is the amount of water vapor in the air. If there is a lot of water vapor in the air, the humidity will be high. The higher the humidity, the wetter it feels outside.
These plants love a moist and humid environment because of the natural habitat that they are accustomed to which is more of a tropical nature.
They have a lot of water saving qualities and leaf curl is one action they often use to save that much needed water which can be easily lost to the surroundings on a dry day.
3. Temperature Extremes
In colder climates, as what we are exposed to such as winter, we all use heaters in regulating temperature inside our homes.
These heaters lower the humidity within our home tremendously when it doesn’t always play off too well for water loving plants.
As a result of the lack of moisture in the surrounding air the plants lose a great deal of water through the leaves.
A natural way of lessening the moisture loss is by curling the leaf so that a small surface area is exposed to the environment which results in less water loss.
Addtionally, direct sunlight also plays a similar role in increasing the water loss from the plant which triggers the leaf curl response.
4. Dry Soil from Poor Watering Habits
Prayer plants love moisture and high humidity which is one reason why their leaves are soft to the touch with a glossy hue.
Poor watering habits can lead to the potting soil drying out which starves the plant of water.
These plants usually require water every 3 to 4 days depending on the humidity and temperature of the environment around the plant.
A gentle alarm reminder can work well when it comes to remembering to water your houseplants, especially if you have a busy schedule.
A simple solution to this is to set a repeating alarm on your phone or on alexa which can go a long way in ensuring your plant gets the water that it needs.
See our article on how long should soil stay wet after watering.
I use this durable and very effective mister on my plants from time to time. You can find it by clicking here.
5. Poor Water Quality
Ions and minerals in the water which is fed to the plant can eventually build up within the soil over time.
As ions in the solid build, it also attaches itself on the roots of the plant as salts. An accumulation of solid material around the roots restricts the water absorption from the soil.
As a result, these ions can cause burns, turn brown and curl.
One water source that is known to add these is tap water which usually contains high amounts of salts, minerals and fluoride.
If this is the cause for your plant’s leaves curling, I have found that using distilled water does the trick in reviving them back to a healthy state.
6. Root Bound
Plants become root bound when they outgrow the container they are in. The plant’s root system becomes tangled and you can sometimes see roots coming out of soil.
The symptoms of a prayer plant being rootbound are frequent wilting, stunted growth, smaller new leaves and yellowing and curling of leaves.
This is because as the roots grow larger within the small pot, there would be a limited amount of moisture and nutrients to supply the needs of the plant.
7. Pest Problems
Pests can cause a great deal of problems to plants. The most common pests are scale, mealy bugs and root mealy bugs. Less common pests include spider mites and fungus gnats.
Mealybugs and scale both damage plants by sucking plant juices from the leaves resulting in plants that are weak with wrinkles and in some cases, curl and bend.
How to correct the problems of leaf curling
Proper Watering Habits
Prayer plants love humidity so misting every 2 – 3 days will go a long way.
Additionally you can water your prayer plant when the top 1 inch of the soil is dry. Water until liquid flows through the drainage hole at the bottom of the pot and discard any water that has accumulated in the saucer.
Another proven method of watering which helps provide the plant with the right amount of water without overeating is through the bottom watering method.
A simple bottom watering method:
- Place your plant on a flat open container for bottom watering
- Fill the container with 1 inch of water for the soil to absorb and become moist
- After 15 to 20 minutes remove the plant
- Test the soil by gently ticking your fingers into the soil to ensure it is moist.
- Place the plant on a sink or a dry place and allow the excess water to drain out
- Remove the excess water from the watering tray
See our detailed article on how to bottom water plants.
Placement in the correct amount of Light
These plants should be placed in an area of indirect light away from windows and doors.
The ideal lighting for prayer plants is medium to low light and this should be taken into consideration when finding a location for these plants.
These plants can survive well in low lit rooms as well as office spaces.
Rotating the plant
You may have noticed that as the day progresses, the leaves of the prayer plant move with the light source.
Sometimes the light source only comes from one continuous direction which can cause the plant to remain in one position.
Rotating the plant from time to time illuminates this issue by providing the plant with the same quantity of light from all directions. You can reference my detailed article on how to rotate houseplants.
You can promote growth by repotting in a larger container. Plants kept in tight, compact containers adapt by growing slower.
Repotting your plant into a large container will give them more room to grow. When given more room to grow, you can encourage the plants to grow larger more quickly.
Reducing Pest Attacks
Quarantine the infected plants by moving them away from other plants.
Use a sticky fly trap for fungus gnats and a gentle spray with alcohol or soap water can effectively get rid of mealybugs that are attacking your succulent.
Neem oil is also effective against all of these insects after a few treatments through foliar spraying.
Prayer plant leaf curl is a very alarming trait utilised to to ensure that the plant survives extremes in environmental conditions and even pest attacks.
Apart from pests and the plant becoming root bound, the lack of moisture is the major reason behind why prayer plant leaves curl.
By ensuring that the plant has adequate water and humidity you can eliminate the occurrence of leaf curl.
This can be done by scheduling regular watering as well as placing the plant in an area where the humidity is constant.