After noticing the roots of your philodendron have overfilled the pot, you have decided to repot it. You have done everything right and by every rule in the book, but despite your best efforts, the leaves have started curling overnight, leaving you with the question: Why is this happening?
The leaves of your philodendron are curling after repotting because of transplant shock. Transplant shock is the term used to refer to multiple stressors caused by repotting a plan, such as a change in environment, a reduction in size, and physical damage inflicted while transplanting.
In the rest of this article, I’ll explain the symptoms of transplant shock in detail, describe how to help your philodendron when it happens, and show you how to prevent it the next time you venture into repotting. Please read on if you seek a solution to all your repotting problems!
Transplant shock is also the main culprit behind your philodendron leaves curling up. Transplant shock happens when your philodendron suffers a multitude of stressors as a consequence of repotting.
This condition isn’t rare and is known to occur when bringing the plant home from the nursery or moving it to another location in your house. The reasons may vary from improper planting, accidentally causing the plant any physical damage, to a simple environmental change.
All of this can cause the root system to be unable to supply the plant with enough water because the stress makes it incapable of adjusting appropriately, resulting in stunted growth, withering, and making the philodendron susceptible to many diseases.
The primary reason leaves curl in indoor plants is the poor water availability, whether from root damage or not being watered enough.
When the leaves dry out, your philodendron creates a microclimate around its leaves, i.e., around the stomata, by twisting the leaves along the middle and inwards. This movement manages its opening and closing.
When necessary, the plant opens them to promote absorption and flow of water, but when there is nothing to absorb, it can close the stomata, thus retaining moisture and curling the leaf.
Other symptoms to look out for in your philodendron include:
- Leaf scorch or leaf burn. This condition is browning and drying of leaf tips and edges. It can also cause the veins in the flesh of the leaf to turn yellow or darken.
- Leaves wilting or drooping: When your philodendron leaves start to wilt and droop, although you are careful of your watering habits (especially noticeable in recent transplants), this is a sure sign of a transplant shock.
- Leaves Dying: A surefire way to find out if your philodendron is suffering from transplant shock is if it has leaves that fall off from the slightest touch. This fragility shows the plant is dying, and you must act now.
Sometimes, you can’t avoid transplant shock even with the utmost care. To a beginner gardener unfamiliar with it, transplant shock can bring you almost as much stress as it does to your philodendron.
If it happens, don’t panic, there are always ways to assist your plant baby in recovering from it. Here are some ways to help:
Although you might think that your philodendron needs a lot of water to recover from the transplant shock, you should take care. Although this seems counterintuitive, remember that it doesn’t do well in a wet environment.
Water it when needed rather than in regular intervals, and do so sparingly, directly above the roots.
The pot you transplant a philodendron to should have appropriately sized holes to allow excess water to pass through, and it would also be good to line the bottom with stones that will enable water to pass through more easily.
Pruning will make the root system’s job a bit easier. Since it carries the weight of recovery, pruning allows the plant to recover much more effortlessly if it has fewer leaves to feed.
Feel free to cut the long roots and prune the oldest stems by cutting in the place the stem meets the body of the plant. You can also prune the discolored leaves just above the node because once they start changing color, there is no turning back.
However, don’t remove more than 75% of the growth.
Your philodendron needs time to adjust to its new environment and establish a new and effective root system. Adding fertilizers and other substances to the soil may harm your plant more than it helps.
When you fertilize your transplanted philodendron, the added nutrients will cause your plant to start new leaf growth. This new growth can take energy away from the plant establishing new root growth and causing your plant even further stress.
Many fertilizers have high nitrogen concentrations, which may burn your plant’s sensitive roots and even kill your philodendron. Instead, hold off fertilization and soil additions until your plant has established a solid and effective root system.
Recovery is a long and slow process. It can take up to two or three weeks, and with older or very stressed plants, up to two months. However long it takes, be tenacious, don’t give up, and trust that you are doing everything possible for your philodendron.
Philodendrons need to be transplanted every two years or at least when the roots start to emerge from the ground. The best time to do this is late spring or early summer.
You can remove the soil from the roots during transplanting and prune old and unnecessary roots. You should repot the plant in a larger container in loose soil with flowing drainage and firmly press the soil down. Water the philodendron after one to two days, and don’t add fertilizer for the first two weeks.
Here are ten tips to help you to avoid transplant shock:
- Avoid leaving the roots exposed for too long during the move, as this may cause them to dry out. Keeping the root system moist while handling it will help the plant re-establish itself faster in its new home.
- If the roots are soft, squishy, or damaged, remove them immediately because root rot makes your philodendron susceptible to bacteria and fungi. When removing the roots, ensure not to remove more than one-third of the root system.
- Use slightly acidic (pH 6 to 6.5) nutrient-rich soil high in organic matter. If you decide to add peat, use it in small amounts because it can easily become too compact and water-repellent, thus creating drainage problems.
- Repot the philodendron in a pot of appropriate size. Repotting in a pot that is too large will lead to too much soil for too little plant material. This placement can cause the soil to stay moist for a long time leading to roots not getting any air and rot developing.
- Use water-retaining materials for your pots. Plastic isn’t as pretty as terracotta, but it will keep the foliage watered better, especially if you keep it outside as you can in California or Florida, where philodendrons thrive all year round.
- Don’t plant the philodendron too low in the pot. Fill the pot with soil up to an inch (2.5 cm) from the top.
- Avoid repotting during the summer or, if there is no other way, try to do it on a colder, cloudy day or in the early morning when the temperatures are lower. Also, don’t report during the plant’s dormant period because it’s when no significant growth occurs. When you plant your philodendron at the wrong time, it makes the necessary growth of new roots and leaves a struggle for your plant.
- Position the philodendron in the same place it was before or in the same lighting and temperature conditions it had before repotting. Small changes such as repositioning can cause it to experience transplant shock, so try not to change the surroundings too much. Make sure it is in bright, indirect sunlight.
- Don’t forget that the philodendron is mildly toxic to humans. Use gloves while repotting, and avoid getting the sap in your eyes or grazes on your skin.
- If you plan to repot your philodendron outdoors, check if you live in the USDA plant hardiness zone 9 to 12, such as Florida and Southern California. Otherwise, keep it indoors as a house plant because it is a tropical plant that can’t survive temperatures lower than 55°F (13°C).
Transplant shock can happen to anyone, even the most experienced among us. Watching your beautifully vivid green leaves curl and die is horrible, but helping your philodendron survive will bring you the much-needed experience to prevent it from happening next time.
Even if the worst happens and your plant doesn’t survive, don’t let it stop you from trying again with a new exotic philodendron. Follow the steps described in the text, and don’t forget that prevention is better than resuscitation.
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Hi! I’m Sophia, and I love plants – especially an expert in growing house plants. I stay in Chicago, United States of America, and through my blog and social media platforms, provide tips and tricks on how to grow healthy, vibrant plants indoors. Check out more here.