Dracaenas come in a range of sizes and shapes and are easy to grow. This makes them an excellent houseplant for anyone who wants a statement plant that doesn’t need much maintenance. But while they are very forgiving, Dracaenas sometimes do develop problems that show up in their foliage. If your Dracaena leaves have started curling, there are a few potential causes to investigate.
The most common reason Dracaena leaves curl is either an issue with watering (too much or too little), unsuitable temperatures, or too much sun. Chemicals in tap water or fertilizer can also cause curling leaves. Since several problems could cause curling leaves, check for other symptoms to help determine which one(s) are relevant to your situation.
In general, Dracaena species like bright, indirect light, typical indoor temperatures, and not too much moisture. In the section below, I will explain some of the common reasons for curled Dracaena leaves and what to do about each one, but first, it is essential to know what a healthy Dracaena leaf looks like.
What Should Dracaena Leaves Look Like?
Before diagnosing a problem with your Dracaena’s leaves, double-check that there is actually something wrong with the plant. Several varieties of Dracaena have naturally wavy leaves that are usually flat across the middle of each leaf and have wavy edges. To determine whether there is something wrong with your Dracaena, start by searching online to see photos of the particular variety you own.
Dracaena leaves are generally long, flat, and pointy, and can have striped or speckled patterns depending on the variety. A healthy leaf should feel firm and slightly waxy. Curling, soft or discolored leaves indicate a problem that should be addressed right away to prevent further damage to the plant.
Be sure to evaluate the overall health of the plant, not just the leaves. Does it have any other symptoms? Has anything changed recently? Gathering all the clues will help you better diagnose what is happening with your Dracaena.
5 Reasons Dracaena Leaves Curl and How to Fix Them
Reason 1: Overwatering
Too much water is a common reason that Dracaena leaves curl. Dracaenas prefer drier soil, and the potting mix should be allowed to dry out before you water again. If overwatering is the issue, you will probably see yellowing and wilted leaves. The plant may feel limp to the touch.
To determine if overwatering is your issue, check the soil. Poke your finger down into the soil and check to see if the soil is moist. If the top inch or two are dry, overwatering isn’t likely the issue. But if the soil is very damp and you haven’t just watered it, you’ve most likely overwatered your plant.
Depending on how severe the issue is, there are two methods to help a Dracaena recover from overwatering. If the plant shows some minor symptoms, like drooping and slightly curling leaves, it should be fine to just wait and let it dry out thoroughly before watering again. As long as you don’t make it a habit, a Dracaena can recover from one heavy-handed watering.
On the other hand, if you find that there are brown or black stems and leaves or roots that are dark-colored, slimy, or soggy, that is a sign of a more serious issue. Root rot occurs when the roots cannot dry out enough, and fungus or bacteria attacks the root system. As the name implies, the roots start to rot away, and the plant will eventually die.
To try to salvage a Dracaena with root rot, remove it from the waterlogged soil as soon as you notice the issue. Remove as much of the old potting mix from the root system as you can, being careful not to damage any healthy roots.
For any unhealthy roots, prune them back, sterilizing your shears after each cut to avoid spreading the infection to healthy portions of the plant; only firm, light-colored roots should remain. Then repot the plant in new potting mix and a sterilized pot and monitor the moisture levels carefully.
Reason 2: Underwatering
Too little water can also cause Dracaena leaves to curl. In this case, you are likely to see brown, crispy edges in addition to curling. Dracaenas can take some dry periods, but they can’t be ignored for long periods. If you forget to water this plant, it will begin to show signs within a few weeks.
Once you notice that your Dracaena has curled leaves or otherwise looks unhealthy, check for overly dry potting soil right away. If this is the issue, the solution is easy: provide it with a thorough soaking. Just be sure you don’t overcorrect and give the plant too much water. You should provide enough water that it runs out of the drainage holes, but don’t let the plant sit in water.
Leaves that were curling and dried out should straighten out once the Dracaena is thoroughly hydrated, but any parts of the leaf that got brown and crispy will not go back to their original color. You can prune off these leaves if their appearance bothers you.
Reason 3: Fertilizer Burn or Tap Water
If the very tips of your Dracaena’s leaves are brown and crispy, this is most likely what is called leaf tip burn. It is caused by chemicals, especially if they are sodium-based, that the plant tries to expel through its leaves.
Chemicals can come from your water source or from chemical fertilizers. Tap water contains chemicals that make it safe for humans to consume but aren’t ideal for plants. If possible, it is preferable to use rainwater, distilled, or filtered water.
Too much fertilizer can dehydrate your plants by drying out their tissues, which causes the leaf to curl in on itself. It is always better to use a light touch when it comes to fertilizing, especially with Dracaenas. Use balanced fertilizer diluted to ¼ the recommended strength.
Reason 4: Too Much Sun
Dracaenas are from tropical locations with a lot of sunlight, but they generally grow in the shade of taller trees. They can tolerate direct sun, especially the dark green varieties, but only by being slowly acclimated to it. If you move your Dracaena to a windowsill or outside in direct sunlight, it can quickly get too much sun, heat, or both. This kind of change needs to happen slowly, so the plant has time to adjust.
Sunburned Dracaena leaves may be curly and have brown or pale spots where the sun’s rays hit most directly. They might also have a crinkled, wilted appearance. If you see these changes in your plant after moving it to a different location or when the seasons change, it could be a sign that you need to find a shadier spot.
You can remove sunburned leaves, and it is recommended to do so if more than 50% of the leaf is damaged. Dracaenas can tolerate pruning well, so don’t worry about cutting off imperfect leaves. It will generate new leaves to replace the ones you remove.
Reason 5: Too Cold or Too Hot
Because they are native to tropical regions, most Dracaena species can only tolerate temperatures between 75 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Luckily, this makes them well-suited to the temperature conditions in most homes; however, they can suffer if they are next to a drafty window or a radiator.
If you think that temperature may be an issue, check your Dracaena’s surroundings. A thermometer can help you track varying temperatures throughout the day – it might change more than you think! Try moving your Dracaena to a climate-controlled room in a location out of direct sunlight and avoid subjecting it to sudden temperature changes.
It can be discouraging to find curling leaves on a low-maintenance house plant like a Dracaena, but don’t be too hard on yourself if this happens to yours. Every home has different conditions, and sometimes it takes some experimentation to find the right location and care to keep your plants happy.
Curling is almost always the result of a water problem, so check the soil before making any other changes to your routine. If water isn’t your issue, look for factors that would put stress on your Dracaena and try to remedy those.
Luckily, curling leaves are usually an early indicator of a problem and are fully reversible once that problem is corrected. So be sure to pay attention to your Dracaena’s appearance, so that you can catch curling leaves and any other issues right away.