Why Are My Fittonia Leaves Curling?

Whether you have a Fittonia albivenis, Fittonia gigantea, or one of the Fittonia cultivars, there is no denying that Fittonias (fit-TOH-neeuh) are some of the most attractive houseplants in the Acanthaceae family.

Fittonia plants hail from Peru and outlying areas and get their nickname of “nerve plant” due to the wonderfully pronounced veins, which may be pink, red, white, or yellow in color.

Fittonia leaves curlingPin

This tropical plant is relatively easy to care for, there are times when something goes wrong, and your nerve plant seems to lose its nerve a bit.

One of the most common of these problems is leaf curl, which is not fatal but could be a sign of something more serious going on.

Why Is My Fittonia Leaves Curling?

Curling leaves are the result of two different categories of problems: 

  • Care issues
  • Infestations/infections

The following common causes and solutions cover both of these categories in detail and usually involve straightforward fixes.

Humidity

Plants are far more complex than we humans like to give them credit for.

A prime example of this is that we rarely talk about (or may not even have heard of) transpiration.

Transpiration is a natural plant function in which the plant sweats to raise the local humidity.

This is why grouping plants results in better humidity conditions.

But there’s another vital aspect to transpiration, and this is that plants devote between 97% – 99.5% percent of the water they consume to this process.

Nerve plants prefer a higher humid environment, so when they’re not getting sufficient moisture in the air, they will work harder to transpire, often leading to dehydration and leaf curl.

Thankfully, this problem is easy to remedy, and these solutions work with any humidity-loving plant.

Four quick fixes are:

  • Add a pebble tray under your plant.
  • Group your nerve plant with others to take advantage of transpiration.
  • Move the plant to your kitchen or bathroom (if the latter has a sunny window), as these rooms are naturally more humid.
  • Use a humidifier.

Improper Watering

Poor watering habits can lead to a wide range of problems, including leaf curl.

Overwatering may cause root rot, which will make itself apparent early on with discolored, wilting leaves.

Underwatering or dry soil will also cause the leaves to dry out and curl, often becoming brittle in the process.

In both cases, the soil moisture is incorrect and the leaves will curl downwards and may show other symptoms as the problem gets worse.

There is also a third problem, which is poisoning from using tap water.

While this won’t happen in the first couple of waterings, tap water contains mineral salts and harsh chemicals that can build up and poison your plant over time.

Chemicals such as chlorine and fluoride can prevent your plant from absorbing vital nutrients and result in chemical burns.

Proper watering techniques will solve all three of these issues.

Start by only using room temperature distilled water or natural rainwater.

If you have to resort to tap water, allow it to sit out for 12 to 24 hours so the chlorine (and most of the fluoride) will evaporate out, then run it through a filter.

Poke your finger into the soil and only water when the soil’s dry 2” inches down.

Finally, pour the water in slowly and evenly until it begins to seep from the bottom.

Known as the soak-and-dry method, the process:

  • Prevents you from adding too much water at once
  • Allows the soil to distribute its water supply, so there are no “puddle spots” below the surface
  • Helps flush out salts and other wastes

Please note that in the case of overwatering, your roots may have contracted root rot.

If you suspect this is the case, perform an emergency transplant to a new container with fresh soil and carefully prune away any diseased roots before inserting the plant.

Infection/Infestation

Sometimes plants will contract a fungal or microbial infection, which may result in leaf curl.

These infections may be independent of or a result of an infestation.

Piercing insects such as aphids, mealybugs, or spider mites drain the sap from your plants, and their frass (known as honeydew) can attract sooty mold and other infections.

Examine your plant’s leaves regularly for signs of discoloration or unusual specks that may be bugs (usually hanging out on the underside).

When you spot an infestation, go over the plant with a neem foliar spray.

The spray may kill some forms of fungi, but you might need to use a fungicide or wipe the leaves down with rubbing alcohol in some cases.

Another option is a neem soil soak.

This takes longer to show an effect, but it can wipe out even heavy infestations, plus it helps boost the plant’s natural immunity to many microbial and fungal infections.

It’s usually a good idea to give even healthy plants a dose every 2 to 3 weeks, as this is a systemic remedy that can protect the plant for up to 22 days in one dosage without side effects.

Light and Temperature

Photosynthesis is inefficient, and too much light can cause a plant to starve just as much as too little light.

Direct sunlight will also scorch the leaves, which are adapted for life on the forest floor.

Likewise, temperatures below 50° degrees Fahrenheit can cause serious damage to the leaves,

In both cases, you might notice the leaves curling and starting to discolor.

Thankfully, this is a very simple fix, as you can move the plant to a sunny spot near a window, giving it bright, indirect light (or morning/evening exposure with midday shade) and protecting it from drafts.

Malnutrition

Your plant should be in a pot slightly bigger than the root ball and getting a repotting every 2 years or so with fresh soil.

This can help prevent the soil from losing all of its nutrients, which is one common cause of malnutrition in Fittonias.

However, there’s also the opposite side of the spectrum, which is overfeeding.

Too much fertilizer will lead to a buildup in mineral salts, which lock away vital nutrients and prevent the plant from getting enough water.

In both cases, the plant will act as though it’s not getting sufficient nutrients, and the leaves will begin to curl.

If you regularly repot, try flushing the soil using the soak-and-dry method and cut back how much fertilizer you use until you reach a good balance for the individual plant’s needs.

You may also want to check the fertilizer to ensure your plant’s getting essential trace nutrients such as iron, magnesium, and manganese.

Final Note: Fittonia Aftercare

All of these methods may be easy to fix, but you will want to follow up all of these methods with a bit of pruning.

Eliminate any yellow or wilted leaves so that the plant can focus its resources on healthy growth.

In the event an entire stem has damaged foliage, it’s okay to prune further back, as nerve plants develop new growth only at the stem tips, so it will come back fuller and healthier as long as some part of the plant still has a few leaves for photosynthesis.

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