So you want to know why do orchid leaves curl?
It is a good question to ask as it can actually reveal a lot about the health of your plant.
And if you know the answer it can help you rectify potential issues before they become too significant.
I’ve suffered from the curling of leaves on my orchids and it can be one of a number of things that cause it.
So let’s get down to business and deal with the question.
Why Do Orchid Leaves Curl?
The majority of times when an orchid’s leaves curl it is to do with water or light issues. Either it isn’t getting enough or it is getting too much. Also orchids thrive in humid conditions and if your orchid isn’t in a humid enough environment that can also cause its leaves to curl, as can the presence of sap-sucking bugs.
Reason #1: Your Orchid Might Not Be Getting Enough Water
Certain types of orchids are very thirsty, oncidiums being a prime example. They need much more frequent watering than a phalaenopsis.
If your orchid is under-watered, then the pressure in the leaves will decrease and they will being to appear limp and weak.
Then when it is watered the water will expand the cells in the leaf very quickly, causing it to change shape and curl.
If you think your orchid may not be getting enough water, simply put your fingers into the potting media to check the moisture levels.
If it is dry then it needs water.
Another way of confirming if your orchid needs more water is to examine its roots.
Healthy roots are white to green in color. If its roots are brittle and shriveled and brown or black in color then it is definitely underwatered.
Dissolving one tablespoon of Epsom salts in a gallon of water and soaking your orchid’s roots in it for up to three hours can help rehydrate it.
Otherwise, ensure your orchid has a regular watering schedule and that the potting medium never dries out completely.
Reason #2: Your Orchid Might Be Getting Too Much Water
Now without wanting to complicate things, having just talked about underwatering, it is possible your orchid could be getting too much water.
In fact, there is more chance the leaves of your orchid are curling due to overwatering rather than underwatering.
Orchids are definitely much at home in drier soil than constantly soggy soil.
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How do you tell if your orchid is overwatered? First of all, take a look at its roots. If they appear very mushy and stringy then it is likely being overwatered.
Also overwatering can lead to algae growth on the top layer of soil, which can damage the stem and roots of the orchid.
There are two ways to deal with this.
Firstly, don’t water for at least a week and if algae is growing on the soil remove the top layer of soil and replace it with fresh moss.
If you see no improvement then prune off any dead and decaying roots and repot it in new soil.
The worst thing you can do is water your orchid more. This will compound the problem and encourage root and stem rot.
Reason #3: Your Orchid Might Not Be Getting Enough Light
Light levels work in unison with water.
We discussed above how if an orchid isn’t getting enough moisture the pressure in the leaves decreases and it can’t push water into the leaf structure.
In the same way, if it has enough water but isn’t getting sufficient light then it will also not be able to move the water into its leaf structure.
The end result is the same, leaves will start twisting and curling to find the light.
Simply try moving your orchid to an area where it will receive more indirect sunlight and note if it makes a difference.
Reason #4: Your Orchid Might Be Straining For Light
Like most household plants, orchids will always grow towards the brightest light source.
They orientate themselves to take full advantage of that light source.
If you are someone who rotates their orchid after watering, stop! Always keep it facing in the same direction.
By turning the pot the leaves will try and align themselves with the sunlight. So a leaf that was facing the sun but is now facing the opposite way will try and rectify your actions and use its energy by twisting and curling itself back to the sun.
Ideally, you want your plant to have a balanced light coming from all directions.
Practically this isn’t always possible, so you could set up artificial lighting for your orchid.
But otherwise, when you water your orchid leave it exactly as it is, don’t rotate the pot at all.
Reason #5: Your Orchid Could Be Bugged
Orchids are delicate plants and are vulnerable to pests.
Particularly bugs such as mealybugs, aphids and scales disrupt the nutrient supply to leaves by sucking the sap from them.
This damages the cell structure and will dehydrate the leaves, and one way this is displayed is by the edges of the leaf curling upwards.
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This twisting usually only occurs where insects have damaged the cells in the leaf.
As the first course of action quickly isolate the orchid from any other plants and hand remove any visible bugs.
You can then spray neem oil, or a mix of soap and water onto the leaves to remove the pests. Spray every two to three days over the course of a week or ten days.
This will remove the pests and also any eggs or larvae they may have laid.
Reason #6: Your Orchid Could Be Suffering From Fusarium Wilt
I know Fusarium Wilt sounds a bit like a 70s prog-rock band, but it is actually a fungal infection that can be very damaging to your orchid.
Fusarium Wilt effectively chokes the vascular system of your orchid, by blocking its flow of moisture.
Fusarium Wilt starts in the roots and travels upward through the plant. The plant will struggle to absorb water and the leaves will become thinner, start yellowing and turn inwards.
If you believe your orchid is suffering from Fusarium Wilt, then you need to act fast and move your orchid away from any other plants.
Cut away any infected parts using a sterilized blade, and sterilize it after each cut to prevent healthy parts of your orchid from becoming infected.
Place these infected parts in a bag you can seal and dispose of safely. Also, remove any small weeds around the plant too.
If the infection has spread widely throw away the infected rhizome (the underground stem) and plant the orchid in a new potting mixture.
It is worth remembering the Fusarium Wilt is, more often than not, passed on to orchids through infected pruning tools.
Sterilizing your pruning shears before use can massively reduce the chances of this damaging infection occurring.
Reason #7: There Might Not Be Enough Humidity For Your Orchid
Orchids love humid conditions.
Ideally, a 50 percent to 70 percent humidity level is needed for proper growth. Although this does vary from species to species.
If the humidity levels are too low, your orchid will become dehydrated and this presents itself in the curling of its leaves.
To combat this you can set up a humidifier near your orchid, or create a humidity tray.
Creating high levels of humidity and also placing a fan nearby at low speed should perk your orchid back up.
Reason #8: Your Orchid Might Be Too Hot
There is a difference between humidity and heat.
If your orchid is in direct heat (80 °F or above), for a prolonged period of time it could lose water to the surrounding environment.
This will be shown by its leaves wrinkling and possibly curling, as it tries to compensate for the water it loses.
Check your orchid is not in direct heat for too long during the day.
Reason #9: It Could Be To Do With the Soil
Leaves wrinkling and curling at the edges could hint at a problem in the soil.
This is especially true if the plant looks otherwise healthy.
Check the potting medium to see if it is breaking down, if it isn’t you might need to repot your orchid.
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Also, make sure your orchid isn’t unstable in its potting medium.
If the soil doesn’t provide stability, the orchid will try and find it itself.
One way it might do this is by curling its leaves in an attempt to stop it from wobbling.
Reason #10: Your Orchid Might Be Suffering From Transplant Shock
Repotting an orchid temporarily places a lot of stress on the plant as it adapts to its new environment.
This might manifest itself in the curling of its leaves.
Often this is an instinctive reaction to the upheaval it has suffered.
If you have recently repotted your orchid and notice its leaves curling just keep a closer eye on the plant.
They should return to normal when it adapts to its new home.
Reason #11: It Could Be Genetic
Quite simply, some species of orchids are more prone to leaves curling than others.
This is particularly true of cattleya and oncidiums.
It can still be exacerbated by any of the issues outlined in this article, but if the orchid otherwise appears completely healthy and happy it is most probably genetically inherent in the plant.
As you can see there are quite a few reasons why the leaves on your orchid could be curling.
A lot of them center around water, light levels and general growing conditions.
Even better a lot of them are fairly straightforward to fix. The only real problem is the dreaded Fusarium Wilt.
If your orchid’s leaves are curling, what is more important is how they feel.
If they feel firm and plasticky then the chances are everything is generally ok. If they feel leathery and flexible then deeper issues may be at play.
Either way, hopefully you have enough information to diagnose any issues and correct them.