Pileas are a genus of over 600 tropical plants native to most parts of the world except Australia and New Zealand. The genus includes trailing varieties as well as those that grow upright and into more of a bush.
These plants are typically very easy to grow and care for, which is why they are often given as starter plants to those who are just beginning their plant collections. They are low-maintenance, require minimal attention, and can be grown both indoors and outdoors.
Depending on the variety, a pilea can have moss-like foliage, heart-shaped leaves, or even leaves shaped like swords. No matter the shape of the leaves, they are all susceptible to one of the most common problems encountered by pilea owners, which is the curling of the leaves.
Curling pilea leaves are the result of one or more environmental factors that are causing plant stress. The most common causes are too much water and poor drainage, not enough water, excessive light and heat, low light, low humidity, and crowded roots.
In this article, we will discuss each of these causes and what you can do to resolve them.
So, if you are currently experiencing this problem, keep reading to learn how to fix it.
Why are the leaves on my pilea curling?
Too much water and poor drainage
Changes in the water content of your plant’s leaves can cause a significant alteration in their shape. If you overwater your plant, the leaves will absorb more water than is necessary, resulting in the distortion of their normal flat shape and leaving them curled instead.
If you suspect that overwatering is the cause of your pilea’s curling leaves, look for other signs of overwatering, such as yellowing leaves, water pooling in the drip tray, or root rot.
Using a pot that is too large for the plant, or a pot with few or no drainage holes, also predisposes it to overwater. Other factors include planting in poorly-draining soil and growing your plant in cool, dimly-lit conditions which reduce the evaporation rate of moisture from the soil.
If your plant is overwatered, reduce the amount of water it receives, and always allow the top two inches of soil to dry out before watering it again.
Prolonged overwatering can lead to root rot, a condition that is extremely difficult to remedy. If you suspect that your plant may have root rot, you will need to unpot it and inspect the roots. If there are any that have turned brown or black, they are rotten and will have to be removed using sterile pruning shears.
After removing the rotten roots, repot the plant in fresh potting mix and make sure not to overwater it again to avoid the same problem going forward.
When it comes to soil drainage, you can easily increase it by mixing in a small amount of perlite; this will make it easier for water to flow through and out of the drainage holes in your pot, and will make your plant much happier. Adding a few small stones or pebbles to the bottom of the pot is another simple step that will ensure the drainage holes are never obstructed by soil or other loose debris.
In addition, we recommend using terracotta pots rather than plastic ones. Plastic is a non-porous material and thus prevents any moisture from escaping through the walls of the pot.
Not enough water
Underwatering is another problem that can cause your pilea’s leaves to curl and become distorted. When there is a lack of water, the leaves will curl in order to reduce their surface area, thus reducing water loss through transpiration.
Although we have mentioned that you should allow the top two inches of soil to dry out before watering your plant, you should also not let the soil dry out completely, otherwise, the plant will begin to wilt. Check on the plant every few days and water it when it is thirsty, rather than on a regular schedule.
It is also possible that inconsistent watering may contribute to leaf curling; this is more likely to result in a combination of upward- and downward-curling leaves. Water scarcity followed by an abundance causes the leaves to attempt to conserve water, only to absorb more water than necessary almost simultaneously. Repeated cycles of this can result in the leaves becoming noticeably deformed.
It has also been observed that pilea leaves can sometimes split if the plant is not watered consistently. As the leaf transitions from being curled upwards and dehydrated to being filled with water, its edges are subjected to significant strain and may even break off completely. Naturally, this will affect the plant’s aesthetic.
Excessive light and heat
Additionally, your pilea’s leaves may be curling as a result of receiving a little too much light or getting too hot. The ideal location is inside a bright room, possibly near an east-facing window if available.
To ensure that the air in the room is properly circulated, open the windows on a regular basis. This reduces the likelihood of hotspots developing around the plant. The ideal temperature range for a pilea is between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, so maintaining a consistent temperature should not be too difficult. You can always purchase a digital thermometer or a light meter to check the temperature and light levels for added peace of mind.
Low light conditions
One of the most common causes of outward leaf curl, also known as doming, is a lack of light. For the leaf to form this dome shape, the outer edges curl back as the center pushes forward. This is so that as much surface area as possible is exposed to the available light, in order to maximize photosynthesis potential.
If a pilea is kept in low light for an extended period of time, the leaves will develop significant outward curling. They will flatten out again over several weeks once the plant has been moved to a spot where it can get plenty of bright, indirect light.
It is important to note, however, that while your pilea likes a bright location, it should be kept away from direct sunlight, which can cause the leaves to scorch. Also remember that light levels fluctuate according to the season and weather outside, so you may need to move your plant several times throughout the year.
If you live in a place where natural sunlight is scarce for certain months of the year, you may need to invest in a grow light to support the plant’s requirements.
It is worth experimenting with increasing the humidity a little bit in your home if your air is typically dry. It is possible that this is causing the curling of your pilea’s leaves.
When it comes to raising the humidity, there are a few really simple techniques you can use, such as spraying the leaves with a mist bottle every few days or placing the plant on a tray filled with water and some pebbles. You can also keep the plant in a room with high humidity, such as the kitchen or the bathroom. If you have other plants that like humidity, try grouping your pilea with them so that they can all create a microclimate around each other.
Probably the most straightforward method of increasing humidity is to purchase a humidifier. This is an inexpensive device that will automatically regulate the humidity around your plants.
If you are concerned about keeping track of the room’s humidity, you can also invest in a humidity monitor.
Finally, make sure to keep your pilea as far away from air conditioning units as possible, as these produce extremely dry air that can dry them out.
You should check your pilea for root crowding from time to time because it has the potential to cause a variety of problems. To check this, allow the soil to dry out for a couple of days after watering the plant, and then gently lift it out of its pot. If all you can see are roots, then overcrowding is likely the cause of your plant’s curling leaves. Pick up an appropriately sized pot and some more nutritious soil and gently comb through the roots with a chopstick to separate them a little before repotting your plant with a little more room to grow.
If you discover, having unpotted the plant, that some of the roots have turned brown and soft, you may be dealing with the much more serious problem of root rot, which can be fatal. If this is the case, remove all of the infected roots before repotting the plant and, if you have caught the rot in time, it should return to health.
Pilea plant care
The majority of pilea species prefer bright, indirect light. Avoid exposing them to direct summer sunlight, as this can cause the leaves to burn. A bright windowsill is an ideal location for indoor plants. Try to rotate the pot at least once a week; it might grow lopsided otherwise, as the shaded side of the plant stretches toward the sun. Pileas can withstand a degree of low light conditions, but their foliage will turn a darker green and become leggy as a result.
If you live in a place where natural sunlight is scarce at certain times of the year, you might need to get a grow light to support your plant’s light requirements.
Pilea plants prefer a well-draining potting mix that is moderately rich in nutrients. Soggy soil can cause root rot, which can ultimately kill a plant. An African violet-specific potting mix, such as one made of peat moss with added leaf mold and perlite, is ideal.
Make sure that the pot you are using has drainage holes at the bottom to allow any excess water to flow out, rather than staying inside the pot. This will significantly decrease the chances of overwatering and root rot.
Pileas require a moderate to high amount of water. When the top two inches of soil begin to dry out, water the plant immediately. If you notice the leaves drooping, this is an indication that the plant is thirsty.
Remember that, in hot weather, you will most likely have to water your plant more frequently. Be sure to adjust your watering habits to changes in the weather, season and climate.
Temperature and humidity requirements
Generally speaking, pileas prefer temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and frost can be fatal to them. Temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit are ideal for those kept indoors. Place your plant away from any vents that may blow extremely cold or hot air, as this can be damaging.
Pileas thrive in environments with moderate to high humidity and can be grown in terrariums.
As we mentioned above, mist the leaves every once in a while, place the plant in a humid part of the house, use a water pebble tray, group it with other humidity-loving plants, or buy a humidifier to automatically regulate the humidity around your plant.
When pileas are grown outdoors in their natural growing environment, it is rarely necessary to fertilize them. For those growing in containers, use a liquid houseplant fertilizer at half strength, once in the spring and once in the summer, depending on the climate.
Do not fertilize the plant in the winter when it is not actively growing; this can lead to an accumulation of unused minerals in the soil which causes soil toxicity and root burn.
If you think you may have overfertilized your plant, flush out the excess minerals by pouring water into the soil and letting it flow through, repeating the process several times.
Pileas are a genus of houseplants that are popular starter plants for novice gardeners because they are so easy to grow and care for.
These plants are native to all regions of the world except for Australia and New Zealand, and can be bushy or trailing, depending on the species. They grow well as both indoor or outdoor plants.
One of the most common problems encountered by pilea owners is curling leaves. This is a sign that an environmental factor is causing the plant stress, and you will need to determine the cause of the problem in order to resolve it as soon as possible.
The most common causes of curling pilea leaves are too much water and poor drainage, not enough water, excessive light and heat, low light, low humidity, and crowded roots.
Image: istockphoto.com / patnowa