Nothing spoils the dramatic sprawl of a Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia nicolai) like a sad, curled leaf. When something odd shows up with this otherwise reliable plant it’s often hard to work out what’s going on.
Bird of paradise leaves curling is primarily caused by inadequate watering, low humidity, sudden temperature changes, or high soil pH levels. To correct curled leaves, water your Bird of paradise when the top 1-2 inches of soil are dry and maintain 50-60% air humidity. Additionally, protect the plant from cold drafts and maintain a nutrient-rich soil pH of 6.5-7.5.
Your Bird of Paradise’s leaves generally curls in a way that provides clues to the cause. Learn the clues, and you’ll have the keys to a cure. Let’s take a look at what that means for your plant.
Types of Leaves Curling
Bird Of Paradise Curling Inward
The most common way a leaf will curl is lengthways. Dramatic indeed, but easily fixed as this is a sign of under-watering.
Bird Of Paradise Leaves Curling Outward
A leaf curling outwards, almost inside out, is a sign of a plant suffering from the cold. It may also be a problem with poor soil fertility or pest infestation.
Bird Of Paradise Leaves Curling and Turning Yellow
A leaf that is yellowing unevenly and curling in from its tip is most likely suffering from nutrient deficiencies or disease. It may also be over-watered, afflicted with rotting roots.
Bird Of Paradise Leaves Curling and Browning
Brown curled leaves are very thirsty leaves indeed! It’s likely you’ve forgotten to water for an extended period or left your poor plant in the sun too long. Perhaps both!
Causes of Bird of Paradise Leaves Curling
|Why is Bird of paradise leaves curling?||Symptoms||How to fix it|
|Underwatering||Leaves curl and may get dry at the edges as a result of underwatering.||Soak the whole container or water enough to wet the soil completely. Normally, If the top 1-2 inches of soil is dry, it’s time to water it.|
|Overwatering and Root Rot||Leaves become limp and eventually curl||Immediately repot the plant after trimming off the infected roots.|
|Water Quality||Salt crystals forming on the soil surface||Scrape the salt crystals from the topsoil, use distilled or filtered water,|
|Poor Soil Quality||No new growth or stunted growth and curled leaves.||Add a slow-release fertilizer. When repotting consider adding organic materials like compost|
|Overfeeding||Curled and brown leaves that seem “burned” at the edges or tips||Scape the top 1-2 inches of soil and rinse the potting mix with clean water to remove excess fertilizer.|
|Temperature Stress||Heat-stressed leaves will curl to protect themselves from sunburn and to conserve water.||Keep it away from cold draft and direct sunlight exposure.|
|Too Much Sun Exposure||leaves become dehydrated and curl. Brown spots due to sunburn.||Move your Bird away from sunbeams to an area with abundant indirect light.|
|Lack of Light||Leaves eventually curl and become pale.||Consider moving the plant where it gets enough indirect light. Artificial light can also do the trick.|
|Diseases||Brown spots on leaves, yellowing, curling, and drooping.||Trim away sick leaves and dispose of them in your household garbage. In severe cases, use a fungicide.|
|Insect Infestation||Spots on leaves and insect presence.||For light infestation, wiping leaves with rubbing alcohol or handpicking is enough.|
|Low Humidity||Leaves curl and may get dry at the edges as a result of low humidity.||Get a humidifier or pebble tray to create an artificial tropical environment around the plant.|
|Stress from Repotting||Until they have settled, the roots will perform poorly and your plant may wilt and curl its leaves.||Re-pot in the early spring. Partially dormant plants suffer less shock.|
Your tropical Bird of Paradise prefers moist, but not soggy, soil. Your plant requires water to carry out its biological functions, and much of it is lost through transpiration in broad-leafed species.
Water also provides structure. Properly hydrated cells are rigid and stiff, holding the long broad leaves of your Bird proudly erect. Once they begin to empty, they will lose that strength and show curling symptoms.
This is an easy problem to diagnose and solve. First, test the soil. Put a finger deep into the medium. If it is dry and loose, your poor Bird of Paradise is thirsty and needs to be watered.
Your best bet is to water from below. This technique delivers water straight to your plants’ roots. Ironically, dry soil holds water poorly, so pouring a jug in the top will simply result in the lot flowing right back out.
To water from below:
- Place your pot in a tray or basin at least half as tall as your pot.
- Fill the basin halfway up the side of your pot.
- The level of the water will start to drop as it percolates into the potting medium. Top up the basin as the water level falls.
- Once the level stabilizes, let your pot rest in the basin for around half an hour or so.
- Remove your plant. Allow excess water to drain for half an hour before returning it to its place.
Once re-hydrated, let your plant use that water before adding any more. Water only when the top inch of their soil dries out.
During the warmer days of summer, this is generally once a week, but in cooler parts of the year, it could drop to as little as once a month. It’s a good idea to check manually first.
Many busy gardeners sometimes put a weekly reminder to check their plants in their phone calendars.
I personally enjoy spending one special morning a week with my plants, checking their soil, and admiring their natural beauty. Perhaps you too will benefit from time set aside for this work.
Over-Watering And Root Rot
Over-watering often looks the same as under-watering and for a good reason. Too much water can kill roots, giving your plant the same inability to access water as if it were not in the soil at all.
It also leaves you open to root rot, a condition where fungal infections destroy damp roots altogether.
Check your Bird of Paradise’s roots. Clear the soil at the base of your Bird of Paradise until you can see the uppermost roots.
If they’re a crisp white, with no blemishes or softness, you can recover your over-watered plant by simply allowing it to dry out entirely before you water again.
But if you see softness, black or red staining of the roots, or even a foul, eggy smell, it’s time to take drastic action. You need to re-pot.
To re-pot a Bird with root rot:
- Use a good, well-draining medium. A three-part mix of rich potting soil, perlite, and an organic additive like peat moss or coir are ideal.
- Remove as much of the old soil as possible and dispose of it.
- Inspect your roots thoroughly. Any damaged roots or those that are black, soft, or smelly must be carefully cut away with sharp scissors or shears.
It may take a few days for your Bird of Paradise to bounce back. Don’t be tempted to water heavily in an effort to assist. One good soak after the re-potting will be enough.
If over-watering is a consistent problem it may be wise to invest in a self-watering pot to do the work for you.
It may also be useful to consider a leave-in water meter. It will help you determine if your plant needs a drink.
Poor Water Quality
Most city tap water is terrible for potted plants. Tap water is usually “hard”, full of naturally occurring mineral salts. It’s also treated, chock full of chlorine and other by-products of sanitation.
Over time, these chemicals build up in the soil to dangerous levels. Look for salt crystals forming on the surface of your potting medium. Small white flakes that feel gritty when crushed are mineral salts.
First, let’s get rid of the salt in your Bird of Paradise’s pot.
- Scrape the salt crystals from the surface of your potting medium and dispose of them.
- Using a running water source, flush your pot with water until it flows freely from the drainage holes.
- Allow the water to flow for a few minutes, then sit your plant in a tray or saucer.
- Allow the pot to remain waterlogged for a minute or two. This allows any salts in the soil to dissolve.
- Remove the tray and repeat step two. This will flush any remaining salts.
- Allow your Bird to drain for half an hour. It can also be prudent to wrap the drainage area of your pot tightly with an old towel. This will draw the dregs from the soil through the holes, taking any lingering salts with it.
The best water for plants is rainwater. It’s free and easy to collect – simply place a container outside next time it rains.
Decant it into old bottles or jars and store it in a dark spot for future use. If you cannot collect or store rainwater, distilled or filtered is also safe.
Poor Soil Quality
The beautiful, dramatic leaves of the Bird of Paradise are costly to grow. As a result, your Bird is a heavy feeder, requiring regular fertilization to grow and maintain its glorious leaves.
Without it, new growth will be overall more fragile, and prone to curling. Bird of Paradise plants also prefers their soils to be mildly acidic, with lots of organic material that drains well.
If your potting medium is not readily draining or contains too little organic material, your plant will suffer.
To ensure strong leaves, give your Bird of Paradise a dose of balanced liquid fertilizer every two weeks during the warmer parts of the year.
A slow-release granule fertilizer sprinkled over the top is not a bad idea either, as it will release a little nutrition with every watering. When re-potting, take the great opportunity to get lots of organic material into the mix, too.
Peat moss and coir break down into a rich selection of minerals that support your Bird of Paradise’s extravagant growth.
Of course, you can have too much of a good thing, and fertilizer is no different. Too much fertilizer, especially if it has been poorly diluted, is hazardous to your plants.
An overabundance of nitrogen can burn delicate roots, and too much nutrition will feed fungi that cause disease.
Signs of over-fertilization include:
- Visible fertilizer crystals on the surface of the potting medium.
- Curled and brown leaves that seem “burned” at the edges or tips.
- Leaf shedding.
First, remove any visible fertilizer and flush your pot the same way as to treat hard water damage, mentioned above. This will remove the excess fertilizer.
Only fertilize your Bird of Paradise during the warm months of the year. It does not grow at all during winter, and any fertilizer in the soil will simply stay there until it starts doing damage.
Bird of Paradise plants are tropical, and they thrive in warm conditions. Ideally, your Bird should be kept at around 75°F (24°C) or higher, though they will tolerate down to around 68°F (20°C).
A specimen that is too cold will respond by curling its leaves to protect them from damage. Its growth will also slow to nothing, as it conserves its energy.
Conversely, a heat-stressed plant curls its leaves to protect them from sunburn and to conserve water. For indoor plants consider the temperature of the pot.
A dark pot in direct sunlight becomes ferociously hot even if the room around it is mild. The roots overheat, and the plant will sicken. Any sudden change from one temperature extreme to another will also stress your plant.
If you do not give your Bird of Paradise enough time to acclimate, it will be harmed by temperatures well within the plant’s natural range.
The key to a thriving Bird of Paradise is consistency. Make sure your plant is in a warm spot, and that it remains warm.
Do not place your Bird of Paradise near air-conditioning vents or drafts, and avoid placing them too close to heaters or other sources of irregular heat.
For heat-stressed plants, consider a thicker-walled ceramic or concrete pot, in a lighter color.
This will prevent roots from overheating. Make sure it is away from direct sunlight and has enough moisture to re-hydrate itself.
Too Much Direct Sunlight
Your Bird of Paradise loves light. They are ideal for areas of your home that are too bright for other indoor plants.
But even a light-loving Bird is damaged by too much time in direct sunlight. They become heat-stressed and dehydrated.
Take a good look at your Bird’s location and ensure it is not receiving more light than it can handle.
Be aware that no matter what the aspect of your windows, the position of the light will change with the seasons, and a safe winter location may be too sunny come the spring. Move your Bird away from sunbeams to an area with abundant indirect light.
Lack of Light
Your Bird of Paradise is not a plant suited to partial or complete shade. They are a full light plant and even enjoy a little full sun from time to time.
This glamorous tropical does not enjoy being relegated to the shadows – it needs the spotlight!
If your Bird has been languishing in a shadowing corner of your home, gradually move it to a brighter spot.
Take your time, as it can become stressed if moved from darkness to sunlight too quickly. Place your Bird in a slightly brighter spot every other day until it is somewhere appropriate.
Avoid the direct sun until it is completely acclimatized, and even then limit exposure as it can dehydrate an indoor Bird of Paradise.
Bird of Paradise plants are disease resistant and don’t often suffer from infections. But if you’ve tackled the solutions above and your leaves are still curling, your plant may be sick.
Take a good look at those curling leaves. Leaf blight will cause brown spots, especially white or red. Leaves that are usually pale may be suffering from bacterial wilt.
- Always quarantine a sick plant.
- Trim away sick leaves and dispose of them in your household garbage. Do not compost sick leaves.
- For serious infections, consider applying a commercial fungicide. While not all disease is caused by the fungus, those that do not often leave the plant weakened and at risk of secondary infection.
Insects pests are a common problem for the indoor gardener. As Bird of Paradise is more pest-resistant than most, they too can feel the bite of these tiny vandals.
Spider mites, thrips, aphids, and mealybugs love to suck the sap from your Bird, causing the leaves to wilt.
To remove pests from your Bird of Paradise:
- Quarantine your plant. Pests spread.
- Blast them from the leaves! I personally find it quite satisfying to rinse the little criminals right off the leaves under the shower or with a garden hose. For mild infestations, this may well get the job done.
- Insects can also be wiped from your plant with a cotton tip soaked in alcohol.
- Trim away any dead or dying leaves. Take a good look at the older leaves at the base of your Bird. These will often be heavily damaged and in need of trimming.
- For larger infestations, apply an insecticide. A dilute solution of neem oil is ideal. As eggs take up to a week to hatch, re-apply every 5-7 days for one month to ensure complete eradication.
Your Bird of Paradise does best in warm, humid conditions. It’s tough to mimic those conditions indoors, and without care, it will harm your plant. Low humidity caused by aggressive air conditioning or central heating will dehydrate your poor Bird, causing its leaves to curl.
To prevent further curl, raise the humidity around your Bird of Paradise. To do this:
- Mist your plant once or twice a week. Be careful not to leave its leaves dripping wet, as this can cause fungal infections.
- Build your Bird of Paradise a pebble tray. Fill a drip tray with large, flat pebbles. Add water to slightly below the top of the stones, then rest your pot in the tray. This will allow the water to evaporate slowly, providing consistent humidity.
- Cluster your tropical plants together. All plants release water through transpiration. When you arrange your plants in groups they create their own little tropical micro-climate.
- Consider using a humidifier near your plant. Some can be quite attractive in their own right, and they do not need to be large to provide enough humidity for a group of plants.
Stress from Re-Potting
The re-potting process is hard on your Bird of Paradise. Even the gentlest hands shock the roots, and it takes time for them to recover.
Until they have settled, the roots will perform poorly and your Bird may well wilt and curl its leaves.
- Re-potting shock is temporary. It should bounce back in a few days and uncurl its leaves.
- Because they grow so tightly in the wild, your Bird prefers to be slightly root-bound. Once every two years is about right.
- Re-pot in the early spring. Partially dormant plants suffer less shock.
How to Prevent Bird of Paradise Leaves Curling
Once you have the basics, you will find your Bird of Paradise plant is actually pretty easy to care for. Those curling leaves are simply a request for help in the only language your plant has. If you listen well, you’ll spot it early and it won’t take much to fix.
Keep your Bird of Paradise well-watered and well-fed, and placed in a nice bright warm spot. Avoid over-watering, and watch out for pests.
With a little care, you will soon find your curly leafed darling springing back to its former glory, rewarding your diligence with dramatic dark leaves and nary a folding leaf to be seen.