Does your prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura) appear to curl up at night only to look “normal” again the next morning? You’re not imagining things.
Nighttime leaf curling is a natural part of the prayer plant’s biology. It’s easily the most interesting thing about this houseplant (though it can throw new growers for a loop). However, that doesn’t mean all leaf curling is normal.
In this article, I’ll cover common reasons why your prayer plant leaves are curling and which steps you should take to return your houseplants to optimal health.
Why Are My Prayer Plant Leaves Curling?
You can learn a lot by observing a plant’s leaves. Foliage is much more responsive to the environment than most other plant parts and is usually the first to show visible signs of stress or disease.
Curling is just one change you might notice in your prayer plant’s leaves. This is possibly a symptom of improper watering, nutritional deficiencies, chemical buildup in the soil, or a poor growing environment.
1. Leaves Curling And Turning Brown
In my experience, prayer plant leaves that curl and turn brown indicate a problem like excess sun exposure, cold damage, or fertilizer burn. You may or may not see the leaves turn yellow first.
Prayer plants thrive under indirect light. Too much bright sun exposure can discolor or scorch the leaves.
Cool temperatures can also trigger visible damage, including brown and curled foliage. This typically happens when prayer plants are kept in an unheated room in the winter or placed near a cold draft from a window or AC unit.
Damage from excess sun or cold temperatures can be exacerbated if the air around your prayer plant is also very dry.
If your prayer plant is located somewhere with indirect light and a temperature that stays between 60 and 80°F, then I’m willing to bet chemical buildup is the cause. Overfertilization can contribute to chemical salts in the soil. However, unfiltered tap water can also take a toll on a prayer plant’s health.
2. Leaves Curling And Turning Yellow
It’s very common for prayer plant leaves to curl while simultaneously turning yellow. This may be a sign that the plant is receiving the wrong amount of water, lacks a vital nutrient, or is experiencing general stress.
I think it’s worth pointing out that not all yellow leaves are created equal. Sometimes, plant foliage turns completely yellow. However, you might also notice that the yellowing occurs only on the margins (edges) of each leaf or between the leaf veins.
You should also take note of which leaves are most affected. For example, some nutritional deficiencies affect the oldest leaves first or vice-versa. These patterns are valuable clues that can narrow down what’s ailing your prayer plant.
3. Leaves Curling And Drooping
Most of the diagnoses covered here focus on prayer plant leaves that curl up or in on themselves. If your prayer plant leaves are noticeably drooping as well, moisture is almost certainly the problem.
The tricky part of diagnosing watering issues is that over- and underwatering produce very similar symptoms. Rather than rely on the appearance of your prayer plant’s foliage, I recommend checking the moisture level of the soil and re-evaluating your normal watering schedule.
4. Prayer Plant Leaves Curling At Night
Again, prayer plant leaves that curl only at night is nothing to worry about. This behavior is actually what earned Maranta leuconeura its common name since the folded leaves resemble praying hands.
Prayer plants curl up in response to a lack of light. This phenomenon is called nyctinasty and is seen in a variety of plant species.
While this trait is quite famous — many collectors want a prayer plant because of this exact characteristic — it could be confusing if you picked up one of these plants just for its interesting foliage. It’s important to be able to differentiate between this nightly curling versus unusual changes to your prayer plant’s foliage.
5. Leaves Curling After Propagation
Curling leaves following propagation can happen for a number of reasons. Anything that can cause a mature prayer plant’s leaves to curl can also affect a cutting — i.e., too much or too little moisture, cold temperatures, excess sun exposure, etc.
Keep in mind that prayer plant cuttings are less able to recover from damage than mature plants. It’s a good idea to take several cuttings at once in case some fail.
6. Leaves Curling After Re-Potting
Prayer plant leaves may curl up after re-potting if the roots were exposed to the air for too long. This indicates that the roots dried out during the transplanting process.
I recommend preparing your plant’s new pot before removing it from the old container. If you need to leave your prayer plant unpotted for a short time, wrapping the roots in a damp paper towel will limit moisture loss.
Preventing Prayer Plant Leaves From Curling
I always say that figuring out why a plant is suffering is only part of the solution. In order for your prayer plant to make a full recovery, you must take steps to improve its health as quickly as possible.
Here’s how to meet your prayer plant’s needs and reverse (or prevent) curling leaves:
Overwater Or Underwatering
Watering a prayer plant is a delicate balance. It’s very easy to provide either too much or too little moisture when caring for this particular houseplant.
As long as you’re not forgetting to water your prayer plant for weeks at a time, most moisture problems can be solved with a little troubleshooting:
- Double-check that your prayer plant’s container has adequate drainage holes and that they are not blocked by compacted soil or debris.
- Ensure that the soil drains well but does not dry out immediately. I recommend incorporating some organic material into the soil around your prayer plant in the latter case.
- Do not leave your prayer plant’s container sitting in a saucer of standing water.
- Allow the top inch or so of soil to dry out between waterings.
For the best results, I also recommend soaking the soil around your prayer plant completely with each watering. This is better for the plant than adding only a bit of water at a time.
How often should I water Prayer Plant?
I recommend watering according to the soil’s moisture level rather than after a certain amount of time has passed. Depending on the size of your prayer plant’s container, you should water whenever the top 1 to 1 ½ inches of soil are dry.
Prayer plants are not very drought-tolerant. It’s best to check the container daily (or as close as possible) to prevent the soil from drying out too much between waterings.
Too Much Direct Sunlight
Prayer plants thrive with around 6 hours of indirect light each day. Significantly more or less light will affect overall health and foliage quality.
Avoid placing your prayer plant near an extremely sunny, south-facing window. Instead, choose an east-, west-, or even north-facing window. A brightly lit window covered by sheer blinds also works well.
A prayer plant that receives too little sunlight may not fully open during the day. If your prayer plant appears folded at all times, try increasing its daily light exposure. I recommend a grow lamp for this purpose.
In my personal experience, the air must be extremely dry to cause any visible damage on its own. However, even slightly low humidity can leave your prayer plant more susceptible to other environmental stressors.
Prayer plants are tropical specimens that prefer conditions between 50 and 60% humidity. According to NC State University, you may be able to achieve these levels using a household humidifier or pebble tray.
If you’re still struggling to meet your prayer plant’s moisture needs, consider placing it in a tabletop greenhouse. It’s much easier to control the humidity within a small structure such as this than in an entire living space.
Keep in mind that the air tends to be significantly drier in the wintertime — supplementary moisture may not be necessary year-round.
Prayer plants respond well to fertilizer but can be easily overwhelmed if you apply too much at once. I recommend using a liquid tropical houseplant formula diluted to half of its normal strength.
Overfertilization can happen immediately after feeding or build up over time. Sticking to an appropriate watering routine that includes flushing the soil is the best way to prevent nutrient-salt buildup in the soil.
How Often To Fertilize A Prayer Plant
Most houseplant fertilizers can be applied to prayer plants every 2 weeks during the growing season. I suggest feeding no more than once per month during the wintertime when growth slows.
Prayer plants aren’t super picky about soil composition. Nearly any all-purpose potting mix will suffice as long as the material drains well. You should also ensure that your prayer plant’s container has several large drainage holes in the bottom.
Fresh potting soil is unlikely to cause problems. The same can’t be said for soil that has been lived in for a while. Prayer plants are quite sensitive to chemicals that can accumulate in the soil from fertilizer or unfiltered tap water.
Distilled water is ideal for prayer plants. Alternatively, you can allow tap water to sit out for at least 24 hours — allowing many of the chemicals inside to evaporate — before adding it to the pot.
I recommend flushing your prayer plant’s soil on a regular basis to remove built-up salts and chemicals. My preferred method is to place houseplants in a large sink or tub before watering. You can then water each container until water flows freely from the bottom. Leave the container in the sink or tub to finish draining before returning your prayer plant to its normal location.
How And When To Prune A Prayer Plant
Pruning is an effective way to manage the overall size and shape of your prayer plant. It’s also the safest way to remove diseased or damaged foliage.
Spring or early summer is the best time to perform routine pruning because your prayer plant still has the entire growing season ahead of it. Curling or seriously discolored leaves can be removed at any time.
When pruning your prayer plant, make cuts just above the nearest healthy node. Nodes are the slightly engorged sections of the stem where new growth emerges.
Always use a set of clean, sharp shears to prune your houseplants. I recommend sanitizing the blades between plants to prevent the accidental spread of disease.
Removing Curling Leaves from A Prayer Plant
Remove severely curled or otherwise damaged leaves throughout the year to improve your prayer plant’s appearance and conserve valuable resources.
Prune away the most damaged foliage first. Be careful not to remove too much healthy leaf tissue as your prayer plant will need this for recovery.
Verdict: Why Prayer Plant Leaves Are Curling
It’s possible that your prayer plant’s curling leaves are simply its natural response to darkness in action. If you suspect something else is going on, however, it’s better to start looking for potential solutions than to let its health continue to decline.
With proper diagnosis, most cases of curled leaves can be treated at home. My hope is that the information above will help you narrow down the cause of your prayer plant’s damaged foliage and take the steps necessary to treat it and prevent similar issues in the future.
Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.