The Nerve plant ((Fittonia spp.) is a firm favorite for indoor growers. It’s lovingly nicknamed the nerve and mosaic plant because of its distinct white or reddish-pink-colored veins spanning the entire leaf.
As tropical houseplants, they sure make terrific focal points. Being the center of attention, when something strikes the nerve of a fittonia, owners are quick to notice but aren’t always aware of the subtle story plants try to tell us.
What Causes Leaves to Curl on Nerve Plants?
Leaves curling on nerve plants are a sign of a watering problem, nutrient deficiency, insufficient lighting, or an early sign of plant bugs feeding on the underside of leaves. Being tropical, fittonia plants need high humidity and are best left to wilt slightly before watering. Soil and fertilizer problems can also lead to leaf curl on nerve plants.
Low Humidity is the Main Cause of Leaves Curling on Nerve Plants
Being tropical, fittonia plants love humid climates. Indoors, that isn’t easy, even if you have other plants from the same family (Acanthaceae).
Nerve plants do best with a relative humidity of 55%; however, if you rely on misting and pebble trays beneath a potted fittonia, expect it to require more frequent misting.
Leaves curling on nerve plants happen naturally when the humidity levels drop. They bounce back quickly with misting.
Fertilizing Imbalances Can Stress Nerve Plants
Since leaf curl is a sign of a stressed plant, consider what you last fed it.
Fittonia plants do good with regularly feeding water-soluble fertilizer on the low end of the nutrient spectrum, around a 5-5-5 NPK.
An issue with fertilizers is that the plant only consumes what it needs. When there’s too much of any trace mineral, it will accumulate in the soil.
An accumulation of salt from fertilizers can stop the plant from feeding as usual, causing the leaves to curl as a symptom of stress.
Flushing the soil can help aerate the roots, which, in turn, helps to keep the plant nourished.
Check for yellowing, too, because if the edges are curling and it’s yellowing slightly, that’s a symptom of insufficient nutrients.
The Potting Mix and Pot Size Can Cause Nutrient Deficiencies
On tropical plant species, you’re more likely to experience root problems when the soil lacks drainage.
Waterlogging of potting mixes is common with nerve plants. When you see the leaves curling or drooping, it feels like the right thing to do is water them, but what they crave is misting instead.
The result is more water in the soil. When that becomes too heavy, oxygenation decreases, roots suffocate, rot, and the leaves curl, wilt, then wither away and die.
The potting mix for fittonia needs to be fast-draining. The pot size can’t be too big because bigger pots mean more soil, leading to more water than the plant needs.
Roots sitting in moist soil will lead to root rot. Leaves curling indicates more water evaporates through the leaves than the plants can drink.
Dry air is the usual suspect for curling leaves, but the symptoms can be similar if there’s a hydration problem.
Check your soil isn’t holding too much water, and if it is, try repotting in a smaller container.
Fittonia plants don’t need oversized containers. They only grow to 4” to 8” with up to an 18” spread of trailing foliage if you don’t pinch it back.
Curling Leaves on a Nerve Plant Can Tell You a Lot about Lighting
Nerve plants hate direct sunlight. South-facing windows will cause the leaves to curl and the tips to brown if the sunlight isn’t filtered.
Leaves on nerve plants tend to curl and look scorched when exposed to direct sunlight.
Leaves curling around the edges and tips and feel crisp when you touch them can indicate the plant isn’t getting enough light.
East and west-facing windows offer decent indirect light for fittonia plants.
They do like bright indirect light, but they also need a little shade too.
Consider if the lighting your plant is getting has some shade before you move it to another area with better lighting. It may just need a break from sunlight.
Bugs May Ruin Your Efforts
Like all houseplants, especially the juicy ones like the nerve plant, pests are attracted to them. In most cases, the damage is visible before the insect population is big enough to notice.
Most insects prone to causing leaf curl and discoloration of fittonia plants are aphids, mites, and mealybugs. Each of them tries to hide on the underside of the leaves.
Whenever you see your fittonia behaving oddly, it’s always a good idea to check the underside of leaves to see if they are being eaten. The more insects feed, the more malnourished your plant will look.
Most houseplant pests are easy to get rid of, either by picking off the ones you can or by hosing the leaves to eliminate pests, larvae, and eggs.
A spray of neem oil is helpful too.
Nerve plants are not toxic to pets. They are also not poisonous to humans.
Fittonia Leaf Curl FAQs
Will moving my nerve plant to the kitchen or bathroom raise humidity enough?
Bathrooms and kitchens have the most humidity in homes, making them ideal for tropical plants. However, fittonia plants need consistency. Consistent heat, consistently high humidity, and consistent air circulation. If the area you have your plant located isn’t suitable, try to find somewhere that can give it a consistent growing climate. Grouping tropical plants with high transpiration rates close together can work if you’re careful not to overcrowd them.
How Can Humidity be Increased for Hanging Baskets with Fittonia?
Once Fittonia has matured, the spreading foliage is terrific for hanging baskets. Getting that spread though, is difficult because humidity trays are out of the question for hanging baskets. Humidifiers can help address the low humidity issue. However, the simplest solution to hanging baskets would be to group similar trailing plants together. The heartleaf philodendron, parlor palm, English ivy, and ferns are each trailing varieties that can tolerate lower humidity. Group them to take advantage of the collective transpiration, and they can help prevent leaves from curling on nerve plants.
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Daniel has been a plant enthusiast for over 20 years. He owns hundreds of houseplants and prepares for the chili growing seasons yearly with great anticipation. His favorite plants are plant species in the Araceae family, such as Monstera, Philodendron, and Anthurium. He also loves gardening and is growing hot peppers, tomatoes, and many more vegetables.