The Maranta leuconeura or ‘Prayer Plant’ wins you over with its intricate leaf patterns and colors, but once you get one home you come to realize that – like many tropical houseplants – these are divas when it comes to their care needs!
A common issue novices may notice after a time is that their leaves begin to curl.
Why are my prayer plant leaves curling? Prayer plants experience curling leaves when there is insufficient moisture and humidity in their environment. As they are native to the rainforest floors of South America, they also require filtered light, warm temperatures, and evenly moist soil to maintain firm, vigorous leaves.
Thankfully leaf curl in itself is a warning and not a sign of irreversible plant doom and there are many simple ways to alter your environment to suit their needs.
First, it helps to narrow down what could be causing the curling, so let’s dive into each of the common causes and the fix, plus a look at other issues that can affect the health of your prayer plant.
Reasons for Prayer Plant Leaves Curling
Outside of their native conditions, indoor prayer plants are exposed to many new variables which – left unmanaged – can cause the defensive leaf curling mechanism to kick in.
#1 Watering Issues
Without mimicking frequent tropical rainfall in your watering habits, the soil will eventually dry out causing the leaves to crisp and curl inwards to conserve moisture. By contrast, overwatering will drown the roots, resulting in wilted leaves.
Water every 3-4 days until water drains from the pot holes and allow the top 2 inches of soil to dry between watering. Use a moisture meter to keep track.
#2 Lighting Issues
Prayer plants receive filtered sunlight deep beneath the rainforest canopy so too much exposure to direct sunlight will soon scorch the leaves, turning them crisp at the tips and curling inwardly to prevent further water loss to the atmosphere.
Trim scorched tips and move the plant to an east, west, or north-facing window to avoid the harsh noon sun. Alternatively, move to a south-facing window with a sheer curtain in place.
#3 Humidity Issues
In dry environments prayer plants are starved of the water vapor levels normally found in their native Brazilian jungle, so they’ll save what little water they have by curling and eventually drooping their leaves under the strain.
Increase the relative humidity to 60% and above with a humidifier and mist the leaves lightly every few days.
#4 Temperature Issues
Prayer plants need controlled temperatures between 65-85°F to thrive, so if they are exposed to fluctuations due to nearby heat vents, radiators, or drafty windows, irregular humidity levels and moisture loss will trigger leaf curling.
Move the plant away from cold air/heat sources and increase humidity over winter – a bathroom placement is ideal during colder weather.
#5 Water Quality Issues
If the right watering schedule still sees the leaves curling, consider your water quality.
Chlorine and other contaminants in low-quality water can interfere with nutrient uptake and leave soluble salts in the leaf margins, which cause upward curling and brown tips.
Use a water filter system or leave room temp tap water in an open jar/container overnight to allow the chlorine to evaporate.
#6 Potting Issues
Improper potting will affect root health and therefore nutrient intake, which can lead to limp, curled leaves.
Pots that are too wide will hold in too much moisture while small pots can crowd the roots and starve them of moisture altogether.
Choose a shallow pot 1-2 inches wider than its nursery pot size. Ensure it has drainage holes and use well-draining potting soil too.
#7 Pest Issues
Scale insects (circular white or brown bugs) and mealybugs (resembling clusters of cotton wool) love to sap leaf juices.
You’ll know they’ve been if there’s a sticky white residue on the underside of wrinkled, bending leaves.
Spray affected leaves with neem oil insecticide. Deter future infestations with regular misting/wiping down the leaves with a damp cloth.
#8 Natural Movement
Prayer plants earned their nickname due to the natural closing of their leaves at night as the leaves resemble a pair of vertical hands in prayer.
This is due to a circadian rhythm known as ‘Nyctinasty’ that causes some plants to fold their leaves in response to darkness and open in light.
Other Common Leaf Issues in Prayer Plants
Besides curling, poor care habits can also lead to discoloration and signs of deformity in your prayer plant leaves caused by disease and environmental changes.
Otherwise healthy plants with yellow leaves at the base indicate natural energy redirection as it ages.
Higher or widespread yellowing, however, points to overwatering or a nutrient deficiency due to poor potting soil.
Remove yellow leaves with pruning shears, and allow the top 2 inches of soil to dry between watering. Add coarse sand or perlite to improve soil drainage.
This often indicates severe and persistent overwatering as leaves turn from yellow to brown due to underlying root rot.
Leaves that have browned at only the margins, meanwhile, can point to a lack of water.
Prune badly damaged leaves and feel the top few inches of soil between watering to ensure you aren’t keeping the soil too moist.
Brown Leaf Tips
Leaf tips that are dry and brown can signal low humidity levels or sun scorch from too many hours in direct light. This can also be due to a salt buildup in the soil as a result of using poor quality tap water.
Check whether A/C or heating units have interfered with humidity levels, move the plant to a shadier spot, and use filtered tap water.
Insufficient moisture in the air or due to underwatering normally causes a prayer plant leaves to droop and wilt – this happens because the plant cells lack the moisture content to keep them robust and upright.
Water the soil thoroughly until excess pours out the drainage holes and increase humidity levels with a humidifier or pebble saucer.
Yellow or rust-colored halo rings can appear on the leaves due to a fungal disease, while smaller and sporadic yellow or brown spots usually indicate pest damage where the tissue has been perforated.
Treat fungal spots with organic fungicide or use a foliar neem oil spray to treat and deter pest-inflicted spots.
Soft Leaves and Stems
Healthy leaves should feel firm and lie flat, but if they feel warped and squishy – accompanied by limp, squishy stems – this is usually a sign of overwatering and may even be a sign of root rot if they also appear brown.
Remove brown leaves to prevent pest attraction and reduce watering. Check the roots, and prune off any diseased (brown/mushy) sections before repotting in fresh soil.
Leaves will commonly turn pale and faded if the plant is exposed to too much direct sunlight, but color can also fade when the plant is suffering nutrient deficiencies from too little or too much watering.
Place a protective sheer curtain in sunny windowsills, or use a moisture meter to monitor for dry or soggy soil.
Growth can slow or stop completely when there is insufficient iron in the soil due to an overly high pH.
It can also occur when the roots have outgrown their current pot and become overcrowded, limiting the water and nutrients to the leaves.
Test the soil pH (5.5-6.0 is the ideal range) and lower it if needed by adding iron sulfate or peat moss. Repot to a larger container every 2 years.
What Does an Overwatered Prayer Plant Look Like?
Overwatered prayer plants will typically display yellow leaves and have an overall wilted, droopy appearance.
The stems will also appear floppy or leggy under the strain of heavier moisture content, and some leaf and stem sections may appear black.
How Long Do Prayer Plants Live?
Depending on the care conditions, prayer plants may live indefinitely or for a few months to a year.
In an environment that closely mimics the correct humidity, light levels, and water needs with adequate pest and disease management, these plants may live for decades.
To sum up, prayer plants curl their leaves for many reasons from a natural reaction to darkness to pest damage, but this reaction is commonly a survival instinct when their basic needs of water, humidity, and sunlight are unbalanced.
Growing your prayer plant in well-draining soil, dappled sunlight, and 60% plus humidity can help keep curling leaves at bay – and don’t forget the importance of a balanced watering routine to ensure the soil feels evenly moist, not parched or soggy!