11 Causes of Fittonia Leaves Curling (And How to Fix Them)


Indoor potted Fittonia Leaves Curling symptoms

People love Fittonia because of its interesting and decorative foliage covered with vein-like structures.

As a tropical kind of plant from the acanthus family, Fittonia can be demanding in growing terms.

If some factors for proper development aren’t good, your plant can suffer from leaf curling problems. 

Inconsistent watering is one of the most common reasons for Fittonia leaves curling. Pests, temperature stress, and low humidity can also cause the issue. If those things are not the causes of the twisting of the leaves, you should check the root system of fittonia.

Keep reading you’ll learn how to treat Fittonia properly and how to solve the curling problem.

Causes of Fittonia Leaves Curling

Underwatering

Fittonia naturally lives in the moist forests where rainfalls are common, so you shouldn’t be forgetful when it comes to watering.

If the soil is dry, Fittonia roots are unable to provide a sufficient amount of water to the upper parts of the plant. 

Plants have a physiological mechanism called ‘turgor pressure’ which gives firmness and stability to the plant. It is defined as the force in the cell which pushes the cell membrane against the cell wall. 

Lack of water leads to turgor pressure lowering and, consequently, leaves wilting and curling down.

How to Fix

You mustn’t allow the soil surface to become visibly dry and crunchy. You can check the soil moisture by poking half of your index finger in the soil. If you feel dryness at this depth, it’s time for watering. 

Prune the yellow leaves to prevent the plant from wasting resources on damaged tissue. Make sure your plant isn’t exposed to direct sun rays.

Overfeeding Fittonia with Fertilizer

In addition to the positive aspects related to plant nutrition, fertilizers also have their disadvantages which are caused by over-fertilizing.

Adding too much fertilizer causes an accumulation of salts in the soil, as well as excess nitrogen. 

High salt concentrations decrease the water uptake, which leads to leaf dehydration and consequently, leaves curling. 

Root cells are under plasmolysis when the environment is very salty because salt particles tend to absorb the water.

This makes the water unavailable to the root and also, upper parts of the plant. (Source: University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources)

You have curled leaves as a result, besides with yellowing of the leaves and maybe shriveling the entire plant.

How to Fix? 

If the plant isn’t too affected, you can flush the excess salts away. For this purpose is best to use distilled water because it doesn’t contain any compound or impurity. 

Leach the soil in the container. The soil shouldn’t become soggy. To avoid this, establish a good drainage system.

The pot must have holes in the bottom to make sure water can drain. 

You should replace chemical fertilizer usage with organic compost. When you peel a potato or break the eggs, don’t throw the peel away.

You can use those to make highly nutritious food for your Fittonia and bypass soil salinization at the same time.

If you are trying to save very damaged Fittonia, you should transplant it in the new, fresh soil.

Lack of Nutrition

In some cases, a nutrition deficiency may be the cause of your Fittonia foliage curling.

Several minerals, such as iron, sulfur, potassium, magnesium, manganese, etc. are necessary normal growth and development of the plant. 

Lack of those can impair the vital metabolic processes in the plant, leading to yellowing and curling of leaf edges.

The soil may deplete after prolonged use by the plant. Also, the pH out of optimal range can make the normally present nutrients in the soil unavailable to the root, and consequently, to the entire plant. 

Too acidic an environment leads to free nutrients and builds complex compounds that the plant doesn’t normally absorb. (Source: The University of Arizona)

In the other words, nutrients are “trapped” in the soil. As the leaves don’t receive them, chlorosis occurs also curling down the leaves.

How to Fix?

Depleted soil

You should enrich the potting soil with an appropriate fertilizer or even better, homemade compost or vermicompost.

Impaired soil pH

Use the water rich in bicarbonates and calcium for a while. You can buy this kind of water in many grocery stores.

It will help neutralize the acidic environment and the decomposition of complex compounds.

Avoid humus usage for a while, because humic acids will make the problem worse.

Temperature Stress

Fittonia can’t bear the cold. In the winter months, temperatures often go below 10ºC (50ºC) which is harmful to this plant, which is naturally accustomed to tropical temperatures. 

Chilly temperatures make the water in leaf cells more viscous. Also, the cell membrane permeability is impaired.

Protein synthesis is inhibited at chilly temperatures. These conditions lead to leaf tissue damage which is manifested in crusty and curled foliage of the Fittonia.

How to Fix?

Increase room temperature where you keep Fittonia. The optimal temperature for the Fittonia growth is about 20ºC (70ºF).

Don’t water it with too cold water. It reduces microbiological activity in the soil.

Also, the plant absorption of the nutrients from the soil is heavy. Prune the dead stems and leaves and smooth the leaf edges with a knife. 

Root Rot from Overwatering 

Large amounts of water can be more damaging to the Fittonia than underwatering.

Soaked soil stiffens the root, creating anoxic conditions. This environment is suitable for the development of fungus which decomposes the root tissue.

The result of the above is the rotten root which is recognizable by the foul odor and moldy and blackened appearance. Fittonia leaves are shrunken, beginning to curl down.

How to Fix?

Remove the entire plant from the pot and wash the root under a gentle stream of water.

Cut the rotten pieces off and wrap the plant in a newspaper. Throw away the infected potting soil and clean the pot with detergent to disinfect it.

After a few days, repot in the fresh and nutrient rich potting mix. You can add liquid fertilizer to support the recovery process.

If the whole root is rotten, cut the healthy part of the plant with a stem and put it in the water.

Wait for it to produce adventive roots and then, transplant it in the potting mix.

Water Quality

Tap water in households can contain impurities and undesirable mineral deposits for the Fittonia, such as complex salts. Chlorides, fluorides, and also limescale.

Dissolved salts in the water change the chemical environment in the soil. Ions from the salt build-up displace the essential nutrients which lead to a lack of these substances in the leaves. Also, salts “steal” the water from the root by absorbing it.

How to Fix?

Purify the tap water by filtration before using it to water your Fittonia. 

Coat an ordinary funnel with filter paper and put the funnel above the watering can.

Pour the tap water lightly and wait for the water to drain. Throw the precipitate away. You can buy a commercial water filter for this purpose.

You can also collect the rainwater and use it for watering.

Too Much or Too Little Light Exposure

Proper light conditions are very important for Fittonia growth. Direct sunlight can cause sunburns on the foliage.

Also, too much light disturbs the photosynthesis process by impairing the photosynthesis electron chain.

Speaking of low light conditions, small amounts of light also disturbs photosynthesis.

A photochemical phase of this process can’t happen without a sufficient amount of light to induce the reactions.

Fittonia leaves begin to lose their bright green color and the edges become crusty and curled up.

How to Fix?

Fittonia likes bright, indirect sunlight. If you want to keep Fittonia on a windowpane, put the curtain which will prevent the influence of direct sunlight.

To increase the light amount, you can use the LED bulb because it’s safe for the plant since it doesn’t produce heat.

Insect Infestation

Like most plants, Fittonia can be visited by uninvited guests, such as mealybugs, mites, aphids, caterpillars, etc. They nibble and suck on the leaves, causing damages.

These injuries are like the open door for infective microorganisms and pathogens which attack the inside of the leaf tissue.

After some time, the leaves begin to curl up and down, and the edges become yellow and crusty.

How to Fix?

You can try to shower Fittonia to reduce the number of pests. This can reduce the problem to a good extent, but when a plant is overwhelmed with bugs then you must use a pesticide according to the pest species. 

To avoid the phytotoxic effect of the pesticides, make a solution of water and adequate pesticide in a 1:1 ratio. Pour the solution into a spray bottle and mist the areas covered with pests. When you apply a pesticide to the soil, make sure the drainage system is well.

Low Humidity

Fittonia loves to bathe in the humid air given the fact that the rainforest is its natural habitat. Dry air leads to an increase in the transpiration rate and consequently, the drying of leaves. 

Primarily, the leaves are curled down, and the entire plant has a droopy appearance. Then the whole leaf surface is wilted.

How to Fix?

Don’t keep the Fittonia near air conditioners and heat generators. Any object that somehow simulates windy conditions can lower the air humidity. Mist the leaves occasionally.

You can put a pebble tray near the plant to increase the humidity, or you can use a humidifier. Put the Fittonia in the bathroom or dry your laundry in the room where you keep this plant.

Soil type

When you choose the potting soil for the Fittonia growing you have to do it carefully. Compact types of soil like clay tend to retain water.

The drainage of these soil types is poor and if you pick them you will probably have problems like overwatering and root rot.

Improper choice of the potting soil leads to an anoxic root environment, bad aeration of the tissues, etc.

All this is manifested in the form of leaf damages mentioned as curling the leaves and even rotting of the same.

How to Fix?

Before planting, you should choose an airy and loose potting soil. Loam, silt, and fertile soil are good choices. 

If you already have this problem, you can add vermiculite or peat into the soil to avoid repotting. Prune the damaged leaves.

Pot size

This aspect may not seem important, but you should pay attention to it. Fittonia is quite a small kind of plant so large containers can cause problems with overwatering. The consequences of too much water in the soil are well known to you. 

That doesn’t mean you should grow your Fittonia in a small and tiny pot because this can lead to root-bound and lack of space for the root elongation. Also, a small pot won’t hold enough water for the plant.

Overwatering (which comes from growing Fittonia in a large pot), underwatering (comes from growing Fittonia in a small pot) and stunted root lead to the problem with foliage curling and losing the shiny, green color.

How to Fix?

You should transplant the Fittonia every 2 or 3 years in a slightly larger container.

If the container is too large, you should water the plant with small amounts of water to avoid overwatering.

On the contrary, a small pot should be replaced with a larger one, so you need to repot your Fittonia.

Final Words

To summarize the story, there are a few things you need to pay attention to when growing Fittonia.

Try to mimic the rainforest conditions as much as you can. Be careful with the following things mostly:

  • Consistent watering. This aspect is important for all plant species. The frequency and amount of water are the keys. Water your Fittonia as soon as you notice the soil becomes dry.
  • Indirect sunlight is most desirable. Fittonia lives in the gentle shade of a tall tree in the rainforests. This means Fittonia isn’t naturally exposed to the direct sun rays, but it certainly doesn’t survive in the dark. Enable bright indirect sunlight conditions.
  • Favorable chemical environmental conditions. Fittonia wouldn’t enjoy the salty or acidic soil. Fertilize moderately. Use pure water, without tough compounds that disturb the pH balance.

Arifur Rahman

I'm the owner of gardenforindoor.com. After completing my bachelor of science in agriculture, I'm serving as a civil service officer at the Department of Agricultural Extension, Bangladesh. I started Garden For Indoor to make your indoor gardening journey easy and enjoyable.

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