6 Reasons Your Calathea Leaves Are Curling | How To Fix it

Leaf curl can be a common problem for Calathea houseplants, and whilst it can be a concerning prospect, it’s one that can usually be remedied quickly and easily provided you have a little know-how and a helping of plant TLC.

These beautiful houseplants are generally easy to care for, but even so, they do have preferences and foibles that their owners need to be aware of.

This guide will enable you to diagnose, treat and combat Calathea leaves curling if it’s become a problem for you.

Calathea Leaves are Curling

Why Are The Leaves Of My Calathea Curling?

Quite often the cause of Calathea leaf curl is related to the plant’s physiology with issues such as under or over-watering, extreme fluctuations in temperature and humidity, and over-fertilizing.

Calathea Leaves Are Curling

The most common reason for Calathea leaves curling is dehydration. In normal circumstances where the plant is sufficiently hydrated, water is absorbed from the roots of the plant up through the stems and eventually to the leaves.

This process of transpiration is crucial for plants in order to allow photosynthesis to take place in leaf cells. Think of it as a natural defense mechanism. Where there is a lack or shortage of water the leaves will curl inward to preserve any water and prevent it from evaporating via leaves.

That being said, dehydration is just one reason why your Calathea may have curling leaves so a little investigation may be required to pinpoint the exact reason.

Whilst this can bring its own challenges, more often than not, your treasured plant will show other symptoms that will enable you to diagnose the issue and then treat it accordingly. Here’s what you need to know.

Calathea Leaves Curling And Drooping

There are two primary reasons that are linked to Calathea leaves curling and drooping. These are lack of water and low humidity. Your plant could be suffering from either one or both of these issues so it’s worth investigating further to establish the true cause.

Calathea needs to be watered regularly and doesn’t like their soil to dry out completely. You can prevent this by checking the level of moisture in the soil every 3-4 days either by feeling 2 inches below the soil using your finger or by using a moisture meter to check if the soil is moist.

If dry soil is not the issue, then consider the level of humidity. Calathea is a tropical plant and in their natural environment are used to high levels of humidity ranging from 50% to 60% plus. And even more humid for more sensitive varieties.

Calathea Leaves Curling And Turning Yellow

If the leaves of your Calathea are turning yellow as well as curling, this can be a sign of over-fertilizing, which in turn can lead to dehydration.

Whilst Calathea does benefit from regular fertilizing, a build-up of fertilizer in the soil can increase levels of salt. This, in turn, draws moisture from the soil that would otherwise have been absorbed by your plant. The lack of water absorption will cause leaves to curl and turn yellow.

Calathea Leaves Curling And Turning Brown

Calathea is found growing under the tropical canopy of rainforests. This means they are used to plenty of bright, indirect sunlight as well as humid conditions. If you are exposing your Calathea to too much direct sunlight – perhaps on a southerly or westerly facing windowsill – and the leaf tips are turning brown, then your plant is likely sunburnt.

You should reposition it or at least use a screen between plant and window during the hottest and brightest part of the day.

Brown tips, however, when accompanied by a foul smell from the soil, can also be a sign of overwatering. An unpleasant smell is an indicator of root rot. This is where the roots become saturated by water either by overwatering or when the soil is soggy for prolonged periods of time.

If left untreated, this can eventually lead to dehydration. Soggy roots or damaged root tips will be prevented from absorbing either the water or nutrients needed to keep your plant healthy and functioning as it should.

Calathea Leaves Curling And Dry Or Crispy

Calathea leaves that are curling and also dry or crispy can indicate a plant that has been subjected to low humidity or underwatering.

Another reason for dry and crispy leaves that are turning yellow or brown at the tips could be a sign of a mineral or salt build-up that your plant is unable to tolerate.

If you typically water your Calathea with regular tap water then it’s worth switching to rainwater or even distilled or filtered instead.

Causes Of Calathea Leaves Curling And How To Fix It

Once you have considered all the symptoms and established the reason why the leaves of your Calathea are curling, you can then begin to fix it.

1. Overwater Or Underwatering

Getting the watering schedule for your Calathea just right is the difference between a happy and an unhealthy and rather sad-looking houseplant. Calathea like to be watered regularly and do not like their soil to be left to dry out.

However, they also cannot tolerate soggy roots so make sure the pot or container has plenty of drainage holes and the soil is well-draining.

How often should I water Calathea?

I never recommend implementing a rigid watering schedule when it comes to watering houseplants. This is because their watering needs vary dependant upon the seasons and in what region you live. Warmer temperatures and regions with high levels of humidity mean that your plant will require more frequent watering. Cooler climates and plants in dormancy need watering less frequently.

Use a moisture meter or press two fingers at least 2 inches into the soil. If the soil is moist 2 inches below the surface, then your plant needs watering. If the soil is already moist, hold off watering and check again in a few days.

If the soil is soggy and remains soggy when you check back then consider the potting medium you are using and also the size of the drainage holes in your pot or container.

Should I Bottom water Calathea?

I do recommend bottom watering for Calathea because that way the soil is only absorbing as much water as it can hold. On the flipside, watering from the top down allows excess water to run out and this also helps to flush out the minerals and salts that can be left in the soil after fertilizing or when watering with regular tap water. Top watering helps to prevent over-fertilizing and root burn.

If you do decide to water from the top down, you must ensure that the pot or container has sufficient drainage holes and also that the soil is well-draining. More on well-draining soil below.

How do you fix Overwatered Calathea?

An overwatered Calathea will need to be removed from its pot or container as soon as possible. I always recommend discarding the current soil and repotting with fresh, well-draining soil.

Also, consider the suitability of the current pot or container. If it is lacking in drainage holes, then replace it with a new one with more adequate drainage.

Before, repotting, take time to check over the roots of your Calathea. Carefully brush away as much soil as you can so that you can thoroughly inspect the soil and texture of the roots, especially at the tips.

Any roots that are brown or black and soft or mushy will need to be carefully removed. Use sterile cutting tools to snip away all traces of diseased roots and make sure you re-sanitize the blades of your cutting tools after each cut to minimize the spread of infection.

2. Too Much Direct Sunlight

The best place for a Calathea is in a bright room but away from direct sunlight. Too much direct sunlight will scorch the beautiful leaves of your plant and will cause them to brown at the tips, fade or become crispy to the touch.

An east-facing windowsill is an option because your plant will benefit from a good deal of morning sun but avoid the intense heat later in the day. South facing will provide too much direct sunlight as will westerly facing windows. If you don’t have the luxury of choosing an alternative position for your Calathea and too much sun is a concern, then you could always place a screen or sheer fabric between window and plant.

3. Low Humidity

Calathea needs a reasonable amount of humidity considering their tropical, rainforest origins. If your region can’t provide sufficient humidity then there are various options to increase levels in your home.

Check out The Best Plant Humidifiers and How To Use Them.

The most expensive option is to invest in a humidifier. This will not only benefit your tropical plants but will also provide benefit to you too.

Alternatively, group humidity-loving plants together as this will help to increase humidity levels. You can also place pebbles and water in a tray that sits directly under the pot or container of your plant. The pebbles will help to raise the pot slightly which prevents your plant from being submerged in the water. The natural evaporation of the water will ensure the air beneath your plant remains humid.

Do Calathea Like To Be Misted?

Calathea certainly doesn’t object to being misted, however, there is a right and a wrong way to mist your plants, and getting this right will help prevent leaves from becoming saturated.

Always mist from the bottom of the plant in an upwards direction. Never mist directly onto the top surface of the leaves or on new leaves that are yet to be unraveled.

My preference is to increase humidity over misting. This is simply to avoid a potential excess level of water.

4. Over-Fertilizing

I mentioned earlier that Calathea does benefit from regular fertilizing however, it is important to note that too much fertilizer or over fertilizing can lead to a build-up of salts in soil which can lead to root burn and cause calathea leaves to curl.

In addition, an excess of salt can draw moisture from the soil which would otherwise have been absorbed by the plant. Where this continues for a prolonged period of time, your Calathea can become dehydrated.

To avoid over-fertilizing, consider using a liquid houseplant fertilizer as any excess will drain away and will also get washed away when you water your plant. Granules and powder are more difficult to wash away.

How Often To Fertilize Calathea

Use a liquid house plant fertilizer monthly from spring onwards and throughout the summer months. Calathea will not need to be fertilized during its period of dormancy during the winter.

5. Soil Conditions

An essential ingredient in ensuring your Calathea stays healthy is making sure it receives the right amount of moisture. Soil needs to remain moist but not soggy so a combination of either coco coir or peat, combined with orchid bark and perlite or grit is needed to allow excess water to drain and prevent the soil from retaining too much water.

If you prefer to buy pre-made soil rather than mixing your own then opt for a reputable brand. I’ve been using Espoma Organic African Violet Potting Mix. For a while now. It’s intended for African Violets, but it is equally suited to Calathea.

Espoma Organic African Violet Potting Mix

6. Curling Leaves After Re-Potting Calathea

Calathea houseplants need repotting relatively infrequently, which is a good thing as they are prone to becoming stressed by the whole process.

It is quite normal for leaves to curl soon after repotting and, amongst other symptoms, your plant may also look a little lackluster. In most cases, it just needs some time to adjust and will bounce back to normal within a few weeks.

To minimize the stress caused, it’s a good idea to repot your Calathea just as the growing season is underway. Any stress caused may inhibit growth slightly,  but it will have the best chance of recovery if it is an established growing phase.

How To Prune Calathea

When I’m pruning my Calathea Orbifolia I follow the damaged leaf to the base of the stem. I use a sharp and sterile knife or pruning scissors to cut as near to the base as possible. It’s really important to re-sanitize your cutting tools after each cut to minimize any potential spread of disease.

Removing Curling Leaves from Calathea

Chances are, your Calathea will be able to recover from leaves curling however, if they show other symptoms including yellow or brown, dry, and crispy leaves then it will be best to remove them. Doing so will not only make your plant look better, but will also allow it to focus its energy on growing new leaves rather than putting effort into trying to heal damaged and unfixable growth.

Final Thoughts On Calathea Curling Leaves

There are a whole host of reasons as to why your Calathea may be exhibiting curling leaves, from dehydration to overwatering, overfertilizing, poor soil conditions, and excessive sun exposure.

The key is to identify all of the symptoms in order to get to the root cause and be able to fix the problem.