You got a peperomia plant because everyone told you how easy they are to grow. They don’t need much light, they don’t need frequent watering, and they don’t need constant pampering to make it to the next day (I’m looking at you, orchids).
But then you noticed that there’s something wrong with the leaves. They’re curling. Peperomia leaves aren’t supposed to curl, right?
Before you curse the day you ever thought that you could actually take care of a houseplant, take a deep breath. Your peperomia is not on its deathbed. These hardy little plants can bounce right back once you properly identify the problem.
The most common reason for peperomia leaves curling is underwatering. Lack of enough moisture will cause the leaves to curl inward as it can not continue the physiological functions properly. Besides temperature stress, low humidity, overwatering, or insect infestation can cause this problem.
Causes of Peperomia Leaves Curling
Leaves curling are a classic sign of underwatering. When they don’t have enough water, peperomia (and most other plants too) pull water out of their leaves into their stem to keep living, thus why the leaves curl.
To see if this is your problem:
Check the soil. Stick your finger into the top inch of soil to see if it feels wet. If it feels dry, gently pry the plant from the pot to see if the bottom is bone-dry and crumbling.
Feel the leaves. Do they feel really thin, like there’s nothing inside of them?
Remember when was the last time you watered it. Has it been more than a week? Or have you forgotten the last time you did? (No judgment. I also sometimes forget to water until my plants have drooped.)
If you said yes to one or all of these, then congrats, your problem is underwatering! And that’s a problem that’s easy to solve.
But I Water My Peperomia Every Week!
That might not be enough water for the conditions your peperomia faces. You may need to water with larger amounts of water or more frequently, especially when it’s really hot since peperomia need more water to handle higher temperatures.
How to Fix Underwatering
So what do you do now that you’ve identified that your peperomia is underwatered? Should you water it every day until it perks up?
If you try that, you might end up in the opposite territory of overwatering and that’s a lot harder to solve.
The biggest problem with dry soil is that it’s such a pain to get thoroughly moist again. The dry soil contracts away from the edge of the pot, so if you just pour water in, the dry topsoil will float and the water will run down the side of the pot and out the drainage hole.
Instead, we’ll take advantage of soil’s capillary action. Capillary action is what happens when you release a water droplet on a paper towel. At first, the spot is soaking wet. Then the water spreads, dampening the paper towel around it until it’s evenly moist. Soil works the same way.
Here are a few simple steps to get your peperomia feeling its best again:
- Mist the top layer of soil until it’s damp. (I find this helps water soak in rather than run off.)
- Add a ½ cup of water and allow it to drain.
- Repeat step 2 until water drains out the bottom AND you can insert a wood chopstick, knife or rod into the soil and it comes up damp all the way through.
How to Prevent Underwatering
So how often should you water? Peperomia do like to dry out in between watering.
Set reminders to check and water your plant. You can do this by scheduling a reminder in your online calendar to pop-up twice-a-week, or you can download an app like Planta and Gardenia that will help you keep track of when to water, fertilise and other plant care tasks.
Stick your index finger up to your knuckle into the soil. If the soil feels damp, wait a few days. If it’s dry, then water.
Water until some drains out the bottom of the pot. This is the best way to figure out if you’ve given your plant enough water (unless your soil is really dry, in which you should follow the steps above). If the soil is moist enough, the excess will run off, leaving your plant perfectly watered.
Water more frequently when it’s hot, and less frequently in the winter. As I mentioned above, plants need more water when it’s hot in your house because they use that extra water to cool themselves off through transpiration. In the winter, it’s generally cooler in your house and there’s less daylight, so your plants stop growing and stop needing as much water. This is why it’s best to set reminders but also to check how dry the soil is first.
Increase the humidity. If your house is really dry, your peperomia will need more water. Peperomia plants love humidity (although you can also overdo this). A lot of people say that misting your plant or using a water tray will add humidity, but science shows that the effect only lasts moments. The best solution is to use an actual humidifier.
But I Keep My Peperomia Well-Watered—What Else Could It Be?
If you already do the above, then it could be other environmental factors, all of which are easily fixed.
Your House Is Too Dry/Too Hot
Peperomia love humidity, and if your house is too dry, then they’ll curl their leaves. Low humidity is a huge problem in the winter, where your furnace will further sap moisture out of already dry, cold air.
A lot of people recommend misting or adding a water tray beneath your pot to raise the humidity, but the best solution is a humidifier.
Your Light Is Too Bright/Too Dark Where the Peperomia Is
Peperomia plants come from the tropical rainforest where they’d only get indirect light. So if you placed your peperomia on a sunny windowsill, they’ll curl their leaves to protect themselves. The best place is in a non-south facing window or out of direct light.
But that doesn’t mean you should stick your peperomia into the nearest dark corner. Peperomia do need low to bright indirect light (sunlight doesn’t directly touch the leaves). If you really like your peperomia in that corner, you can supplement with a full-spectrum grow light.
Your Water Has Quality Issues
This depends on where you live, as water treatment varies. High levels of chlorine can be an issue. This type of chemical build-up within the soil will inhibit the root system to absorb nutrients and water.
And eventually peperomia leaves will show curling symptoms. But if all else fails, try using filtered or bottled water on your peperomia and see if it perks back up.
Root Rot from Overwatering
Overwatering can also cause the curling of peperomia leaves. Overwatering or stagnant water creates favorable environments for fungal growth. The system will eventually get root rot disease.
This fungal disease will make the root mushy brown and soft. You will get a foul smell coming out of the soil. The disease can severely damage the root system and disrupt normal functionality.
The damaged root system can not intake the necessary moisture and nutrients from the soil.
So, it cannot supply enough moisture or nutrients for the leaves to thrive. For this reason, you may see your peperomia leaves curling. Read my article on saving overwatered peperomia.
How to Save Peperomia from Root Rot
If you can identify the disease in time. Besides other symptoms, curling leaves is a common symptom of this disease. You may take necessary actions to save your peperomia.
- Move the plant pot to a well ventilated and sunny place.
- Take out the whole plant from the potting soil.
- Wash away the soil from the root system.
- Cut off the damaged brown and mushy parts of the root using disinfected scissors
- Treat the roots with charcoal to disinfect and let the root dry completely.
- Repot your peperomia in a new pot using fresh soil mix.
- Make sure the pot has functioning water drainage capacity.
You May Also Enjoy: Brown Spots on Peperomia (Causes and How to Fix It)
But What If My Peperomia Leaves Are Also Falling Off?
This, my friend, is the opposite problem. You’ve overwatered your peperomia. Peperomia are semi-succulent, meaning they like their soil to dry out a bit before they’re watered again. When a peperomia is overwatered, their roots become damaged and their leaves will curl and start to drop off.
The New Leaves Curl Downwards And Have Serrated Edges
Then your peperomia probably has mites, either broad, hemp russet, or cyclamen. (If you find tiny webs, then they’re spider mites.)
These mites are utterly undetectable before they cause visible damage, so don’t beat yourself up. The important thing is that once you know what you’re dealing with, you act immediately.
You can fight them by ordering predatory mites or applying diluted neem oil. Both solutions are non-toxic and organic.
What About These Light/Dark Rings?
If your peperomia leaves have:
- light or dark rings,
- distorted or curled leaves, and
- stunted growth,
Then I’m sorry, there’s nothing you can do. Your plant has Peperomia Leaf Curl Virus. It’s best to discard the plant and pot, grieve for a day, then start again with a new peperomia.