Why does my Elephant Ear Plant have curling leaves?

Last Updated: October 27, 2022

These incredible houseplants are somewhat low maintenance if in the exact right environment that never changes. However, that’s not super realistic as it’s normal for environmental factors to fluctuate throughout the year. This can result in your Elephant Ear Plant starting to curl its leaves as a result of something being off. This is often one of the earlier signs of trouble so hopefully, if there are no other signs of unhappiness, you should have caught the problem fairly early.

In this article, we will go through each of the main causes of curling leaves on an Elephant Ear Plant as well as going through how to treat the issue and prevent it from cropping up again. The best thing to do to find the right diagnosis is to go through the list below and eliminate the causes one by one until you find which best fits your plant.

Overwatering is a common cause of curling leaves

Whilst overwatering can have some severe effects on Elephant Ear Plants if not caught for a while, curling leaves are often an early warning sign that the roots are starting to suffer in waterlogged soil. 

Although they don’t like to have super dry soil for really long periods of time, they hate soggy soil even more! 

It’s crucial that you diagnose the issue of overwatering early as it is a very fast-progressing problem. To confirm that is what is causing the curling leaves on your Elephant Ear Plant, you need to check the soil moisture.

Carefully unpot your plant and check for rot and waterlogged soil. If the roots have started to rot they will be mushy and dark in colour. If you find that your plant’s roots have begun to rot, then remove them from the root system using clean and sharp scissors. Never tear the roots off as this risks damaging a healthy part of the root system.

Remove any waterlogged soil to get your plant back on the road to recovery. Some plant parents choose to just wait until the soil dries out but this only risks more damage to an already distressed plant. 

Now you’ve done what you can to solve the issue in the short term, it’s important to prevent the issue from happening again. This is why you need to adjust how you are watering your Elephant Ear Plant. You also want to make sure you cut back watering over winter.

Underwatering can also cause curling leaves

On the other end of the soil moisture spectrum, too little water can also cause your Elephant Ear Plant’s leaves to start curling. This isn’t as fast developing compared to overwatering but over time can cause some serious issues beyond curling leaves. So it’s really important to solve this one before it causes irreversible damage. 

If you find that your Elephant Ear Plant’s soil is bone dry and the roots have started to crisp up, then underwatering is probably what is causing the curling leaves. You may also spot dry brown leaf tips or edges if the problem has gone on for a while. 

To fix the issue, soak your Elephant Ear Plant for about 15 to 20 minutes so that the plant can take in as much water as it wants without the risk of waterlogged soil. Then let it drip dry before returning it to its pot. If you have a really large plant that you can’t carry so well then we recommend slowly watering your plant a little once a day to soak the potting mix.

Low humidity levels can also be to blame

Elephant Ear Plants like humid environments as they are native to tropical environments. This means they can really struggle in homes with dry air. 

The reason that your plant will curl its leaves as a result of low humidity is that curling the leaves is a mechanism plants use to retain as much water as possible.

The best way to confirm that dry air is causing the curling leaves is by using a humidity monitor. Often you can get a combination humidity and temperature monitor which is a great investment for all of your plants. 

To treat the issue, there are many ways you can very easily and cheaply increase the humidity.  Start by misting your Elephant Ear Plant every few days with a spray bottle. You might also want to use a pebble tray for a nice boost to the humidity or shower your plant for a short-term lift. 

If you want an even easier solution to humidity issues, consider investing in a humidifier. These affordable little devices make it super easy to keep a more consistent increased humidity level.

Curling leaves can indicate temperature issues

Elephant Ear Plant plants like to grow in temperatures that mimic their native environment which means they love warmth and struggle when exposed to cold temperatures. They can also start to struggle in unusual hotspots so you’ll need to watch for fluctuations on both extremes. 

The best temperature for your Elephant Ear Plant plant is between 60-85°F (16-29°C). Using a digital thermometer can help keep track of any large fluctuations that might be causing the curling leaves.

When it comes to finding the right spot for your plant, you need to watch out for things that can cause these extremes. For example, heating vents, radiators, air conditioning units and cookers. If your Elephant Ear Plant is exposed to extremely hot or cold air it can shock your plant and damage the leaves.

The best way to diagnose the issue and find the best spot for your Elephant Ear Plant is to use a digital thermometer.

Pests can also cause your Elephant Ear Plant to start curling

Whilst pests are a rarer issue compared to the factors listed above, they can be a very worrying problem so it’s important you rule them out straight away. Even if you think you’ve figured out what’s causing the curling leaves, we still recommend you inspect your plants for pests just to be sure as catching the issue early is crucial here. 

The first thing to do is inspect your Elephant Ear Plant fully by looking at the undersides of the leaves, the stems and also in the potting mix. You want to look out for any of the following signs that pests have made your plant their home: holes in the leaves, brown or yellow spots, white webbing, white powder and of course visible pests on the plant or in the potting mix.

We recommend giving your infected plants a shower. Luckily as Elephant Ear Plants have more sturdy leaves and stems compared to a lot of other houseplant types, you can get away with having the water pressure a little higher than other plants. Then you need to use neem oil and an insecticide to fight the issue.

Watch out for overfertilization

Elephant Ear Plants aren’t heavy feeders and only need fertilizer about once a month during the growth season. Having said that, you can totally get away with not feeding your plant at all and you’ll still see plenty of new growth if the environment and the rest of the care routine is right. 

Although it can cause a wide range of symptoms, one of the consequences of too much fertiliser is curling leaves. This is because the residual nutrient salts can toxify the soil and damage the roots. This can result in Elephant Ear Plant leaves curling and turning yellow or brown as the roots become unable to deliver what the plant needs.

Remove any fertiliser spikes or replace the soil if you are using pellets or water-soluble fertiliser and hold off feeding for at least a year to let your Elephant Ear Plant recover.

Those are the most common factors that can cause an Elephant Ear Plant to develop curling leaves. As soon as you spot the issue, try to diagnose it and make changes as soon as possible. Catching and treating the issue early will make reviving your plant so much easier and quicker. 

Check out our Elephant Ear Plant care guide for more information on how to keep your plant thriving.

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