One of the greatest perks of owning a Chinese evergreen is its low-maintenance profile. You get to enjoy the plant’s gorgeous, variegated foliage that adds a pop of life to your living space, while not having to give it too much time or attention. Its leaves come with unique patterns of green, gray, and cream that are attractive and relaxing to the eyes. No wonder this is one of the most popular indoor plants among growers!
If you are keeping a Chinese evergreen for the first time, you might be frustrated to see its leaves curling at some point. This is a common and almost inevitable problem among growers, because environmental conditions will vary and, in many cases, are not within our control. Additionally, if you do not follow the minimal care requirements to maintain your plant’s health, it will eventually deteriorate and die.
So, what makes the leaves curl on your Chinese evergreen, and what are the solutions? Hopefully this guide will give you some insights, so read on!
Chinese evergreen leaves curling – Causes and solutions
1. Underwatering or overwatering
Chinese evergreen leaves typically curl up when the plant is not receiving enough water, but too much water can have detrimental effects, too. The ideal is to keep the soil moist, but not too wet.
One common mistake among growers is to automatically give their plants more water as soon as they see the leaves yellowing and curling. This is a dangerous assumption – if you keep watering your Chinese evergreen without understanding the underlying issue, you may be bringing your plant closer to death, rather than saving it. As you might already know, standing water can kill a plant’s roots because it blocks them from absorbing oxygen. So, if you notice your plant developing curly, yellow or brown leaves, you might need to check its roots for rot before proceeding.
To prevent overwatering, wait for the topsoil to dry out completely before giving your plant a drink, and remember that less is more. That said, do not leave the soil too dry either, as this can also damage the roots and dehydrate your plant.
One simple tip to help you know when to water is to check the soil using the finger method. Insert your finger about an inch or two into the soil to feel whether it is dry or wet. Dry soil is your cue that your plant needs water. If the soil feels wet, avoid watering until it dries out a bit more. You can also use an XLUX Soil Moisture Meter to do the soil tests automatically for you.
Another tip to help prevent waterlogged soil and root rot is to use a pot with enough drainage holes. This will ensure that excess water does not pool at the base of your pot after you have watered your plant. You should also use a well-draining soil mix to prevent standing water so that the roots can breathe and function normally. Try mixing one part perlite with three parts Miracle Gro potting mix to give your plant a nice, airy soil mix.
2. Exposure to full sunlight
Keeping your Chinese evergreen away from direct sunlight might sound contradictory because sunlight is essential for photosynthesis. However, there are many houseplants which cannot tolerate direct ultraviolet rays and high temperatures. For these plants, heat is a contributing factor to leaf burn and curling.
For optimal growth, make sure that your plant receives only indirect or partial sunlight. You can achieve this by placing it near a north- or east-facing window. Alternatively, use window drapes or curtains to prevent your plant from exposure to direct sunlight.
Keep in mind that Chinese evergreens also do not like dim light. Although they will tolerate low light to a degree, you might not see their full growth potential if you keep them completely hidden from the sun for extended periods.
3. Low humidity
Humidity is defined as the amount of water vapor present in the air. Hence, the higher the humidity level, the more moisture is in the air. Chinese evergreens need about 60 to 70 percent humidity to thrive.
When the air becomes too dry, especially during the winter season, your plant will not be able to absorb moisture, and this results in dehydration and curling leaves. You might also notice the leaves starting to develop crispy edges and brown tips. Over long periods, low humidity levels can eventually kill your plant.
On the other hand, too much humidity might also not be good for your Chinese evergreen. When the humidity level is too high for long periods, the damp environment will attract mold and fungus, causing a new set of issues. The plant’s soil will also stay wet for longer periods after watering, resulting in the same problems as caused by overwatering.
Knowing all this, you need to maintain the correct balance for your Chinese evergreen to grow happily – the relative humidity around your plant should be neither too high nor too low, in order to maintain its vigor.
A lot of growers suggest misting the plant’s leaves or placing its pot on a pebble tray filled with water. Both of these approaches can temporarily increase the moisture content in the air. However, they will not help you determine how humid the environment is and the changes needed to keep your plants comfortable. This is where hygrometers and humidifiers become very useful.
Hygrometers help you determine the percentage of humidity in the air. Humidifiers, on the other hand, will help you set and maintain the desired humidity level in your growing space. Having these two devices together will help achieve the ideal growing conditions for your Chinese evergreen plants.
4. Nutrient problems
Chinese evergreens flourish in their natural habitat without fertilizer. However, growing these plants indoors will not provide them with all their essential nutrients, so if you want your plant to reach its full potential, you will probably need to fertilize it for that extra boost. Some of the required macronutrients are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. If your Chinese evergreen lacks any of these, it will eventually develop yellow and curled-up leaves.
On the flip side, giving your plant too much fertilizer can have ill effects, too. Chinese evergreens are slow feeders, so in most cases you do not need to give them very much fertilizer, especially during their dormant season. Otherwise, the excess fertilizer will cause a salt accumulation around the roots which can harm your plant in several ways. Some of these include:
- Burned, dried, or curled up leaves
- Stunted growth
- Increased vulnerability to pests and diseases
- Sudden collapse or demise of plants
If you suspect overfertilization, the best way to save your Chinese evergreen is to repot it in fresh, new soil. Do not forget to inspect the roots before transplanting it – remove mushy or damaged roots using sterilized pruning shears or scissors. This will prevent any fungal infection from spreading to the healthy roots.
5. Acclimatization to a new environment
It is normal to see curling leaves on your Chinese evergreen if you have only recently brought it home from a plant shop. The growing conditions in the store and in your home will be different, so you need to give your new plant some time to acclimatize to its new environment. With proper care, you should see your plant’s leaves return to normal in a short time.
6. Pests and diseases
Curling leaves might be a sign of pest infestation or disease, especially if your plant displays other symptoms like wilting, brown or yellow spots on the leaves, spots that grow larger and form irregular shapes, the presence of fuzzy, white substances on the upper sides of the leaves, deformed leaves, the presence of black sooty substances on the leaves, or drooping foliage. Of course, the symptoms can be extensive and might vary depending on the type of disease or pest and the severity of the damage.
Some diseases and pests common in Chinese evergreens are:
- anthracnose or Myrothecium leaf spot
- fungus gnats
- bacterial leaf spot
- mildew and root rot
- aphids, mealybugs, spider mites, and whiteflies
- scale insects
The good news is that most of these diseases and pests can be treated easily with the right approaches and favorable growing conditions. This might include the use of sticky traps, horticultural oil, insecticidal soap, neem oil, pyrethrin products, or fungicides like Bonide Copper Fungicide.
7. Unfiltered water
Plant owners usually use tap water for their plants because it is the easiest and cheapest source of water. However, convenient and cheap water sources do come at a price. The truth is, tap water can harm most houseplants because of its mineral contents that are known to be toxic to plants. These includes chlorine, fluoride, copper, and many others. Too many chemical substances can damage the plant’s root system and disrupt the absorption of water and nutrients.
If you have been watering your plant straight from the tap consistently, you may notice its leaves starting to curl, developing water stains, and wilting.
Although filtered water is the best way to go, you can still use tap water for your Chinese evergreen, as long as you follow some precautions.
First, you can collect the tap water in a bucket and let it sit for at least 24 hours before using it on your plants. Do not cover the bucket, to allow the mineral minerals to dissipate naturally.
Another quick method is to use activated carbon filters to remove any impurities from the water. These will absorb most of the chlorine from the water, making it a safe drink for your Chinese evergreen.
Lastly, you can collect rainwater for your plants. When it rains, just grab your buckets and collect as much water as you can; then store it for future use.
8. Old leaves
Like most other plants, Chinese evergreen leaves grow old and will curl and fall off over time. If you notice only the bottom leaves curling, this is likely due to aging and nothing to worry about. Plants naturally cut the supply of nutrients and water to their older leaves so that they can prioritize younger leaves.
You can simply cut off the old, curled leaves to keep your Chinese evergreen looking attractive.
If the leaves on your Chinese evergreen start curling, it usually indicates a problem. The most common cause is inappropriate watering, but it might also be due to other factors like sunburn, low humidity, overfertilization, pests, diseases, or environmental stress.
Curling leaves are unsightly and can be frustrating if you do not understand the specific cause. Hopefully, through this guide, you can troubleshoot what is wrong with your plant and address the issues appropriately.
Image: istockphoto.com / Francisco Herrera