Polka Dot Plant Leaves Curling (Causes & How to treat them)

Out of all the ornamental plants, the polka dot plant is highly valued for the visual appeal of its speckled pinkish-red leaves. Many plant owners face the problem of curling leaves, which affects their aesthetics and is potentially fatal.

Polka dot plant leaves curling usually indicates that the plant isn’t getting enough water and/or nutrients. Several underlying causes include over and under watering, environment, disease, or infestation. Curling leaves might indicate that your plant may die if ignored.

Keep reading if you want to keep your polka dot plant healthy and avoid curling leaves. I’ll explore the various causes of curling leaves and offer a few tips on fixing the problem.

Leading Causes of Dehydration in Polka Dot Plants

Caring for a polka dot plant is not overly complex. However, curling leaves is a common problem many people face with this freckled ornamental plant. The most likely cause of curling polka dot plant leaves is dehydration, which can result from both over and underwatering.

Closely monitoring soil moisture levels is an excellent place to start. You can get a moisture meter online and periodically measure your soil for optimum conditions. That is a small instrument that can accurately estimate your soil’s moisture after you poke the device into your soil.

If you do not want a moisture meter, stick your finger in the soil. It should be damp and never wet. If the first half an inch (12.7 mm) is dry, it’s time to water your polka dot plant.


As you’d expect, if you neglect to provide enough water to your polka dot plant, its leaves will begin wilting and curling up. The situation is easily remedied by adding a little water to its soil. A good rule of thumb is to keep the soil damp.

This problem is widespread if you keep your plant indoors because the humidity levels can be low, especially with central heat or air conditioning. This is also the case if you keep the plant outdoors in dry weather. So if you’re in Nevada, consider placing your polka dot plants inside during the summers.

In extreme cases of underwatering, the plant shrivels up and dies. However, as long as there are a few green leaves and an intact root system, the plant is salvageable. It might be difficult to bring back a dried-up polka dot plant, so be patient.


It sounds contradictory, but too much water in the soil can cause your plants to get dehydrated. Two main ways overwatering can cause curling in polka dot plant leaves are:

  • Dehydration due to root rot
  • Malnutrition due to drowning

Overwatering can lead to root rot, a fungal disease in the roots. You can quickly identify it by pulling out the plant and examining the root system. The roots would smell rotten, or they would be black and mushy.

Since the roots are responsible for sucking up water and nutrients from the soil, the plant can’t get enough water when its roots are rotting.

Additionally, overwatering your plants causes the cells to burst due to increased water pressures. The resulting brown lesions or spots on your houseplant leaves are a typical sign of overwatering in addition to the curled leaves.

Another reason that overwatering might lead to curling is that the roots would be suffocating. The excess water makes it difficult for roots to absorb nutrients from the soil, leading to malnutrition.

Environmental Causes of Polka Dot Leaves Curling

Even when provided the right amount of water, polka dot plant leaves can begin curling due to the surrounding environment. Whether it’s from the type of water and sunlight the plant is getting or humidity levels in the air, environmental factors can cause polka dot plant leaves to curl.

Direct Sunlight

Most people who keep polka dot plants will quickly notice that keeping them in direct sunlight will cause the colorful spots on the leaves to fade. Additionally, direct sunlight can contribute to the leaves shriveling up.

Direct sunlight causes accelerated dehydration and can burn the fragile variegated leaves. Some plants can protect themselves from sun damage to some degree, but Hypoestes plants aren’t particularly adept at this mechanism. Keep your polka dot plants away from direct sunlight at all times.

Low Humidity

The original polka dot plant is native to Madagascar, where the weather is very humid, like Florida. The plant didn’t evolve to handle arid environments. Naturally, keeping your polka dot plant outdoors in a low-humidity climate will quickly dehydrate it. In turn, the leaves begin to curl up.

If you’re keeping the plant indoors, it still might suffer from low humidity. Regardless of the cause of low humidity, misting the leaves of your polka dot plant should help. Use a clean spray bottle and fresh water every day to avoid further issues.

Poor Water Source

Speaking of clean water, plants are sometimes sensitive to the type of water you use when watering them. The water may contain too many minerals, preventing the roots from absorbing them quickly. Thus, the dry leaves begin curling, and the plant looks lifeless.

Your water might also be too hard, which will eventually change the composition of the soil the plant is growing in. Hard water contains high levels of minerals called limescale when leftover.

While these minerals are good for your plant, too much will make the roots stop attracting water. Use filtered water to water your plants if you think you have a hard water problem.

Inadequate Sunlight

Even though too much direct sunlight can burn your polka dot plants, they still need the sun to thrive. Without sunlight, the photosynthetic process halts, and plants are unable to make enough energy to grow. Eventually, plants left in low-light environments for too long will begin to wilt and die. There just isn’t enough energy to keep the leaves looking lively.

Make sure your polka dot plant’s leaves get plenty of bright indirect light from the sun. It may not be difficult getting enough sunlight in Arizona. But if you are somewhere like Connecticut, where it’s always cloudy, take note of how much sun your plant is getting.

Other Diseases and Reasons for Polka Dot Leaves Curling

Sometimes, polka dot plant leaves curling is a symptom of disease or infestation. In other cases, it’s a natural part of the plant’s life cycle. As long as you give the plant optimal amounts of water and sunlight, it shouldn’t have curling leaves. If that isn’t the case, you might need to look for other causes.


Especially when kept outdoors, plants are susceptible to infestation from various insects. The polka dot plant will show curling leaves as an early sign of insect infestation, particularly from greenflies. These tiny pests are a common problem for indoor and outdoor gardens.

Pests drain your plant’s energy stores by drinking up its nectar. This leads to malnutrition—whereby your plant is not getting enough of the nutrients and energy it needs to grow healthy foliage. Malnutrition usually presents with curling or wilted leaves in plants, so be sure to spray your garden or use some form of organic pesticide. A widespread gardening trick is to spray your polka dot plant with soapy water.

Ensure that you are only using a weak soap and water solution, and consider adding a garlic clove to the solution because garlic is a great natural pesticide. You may also keep a clove of garlic in the soil surrounding your polka dot plant.

Fungal Infections

Another common problem that plant owners face with their polka dot plant is the risk of fungal infections. Plants that are infected will start looking lifeless and have curling leaves. If the disease is not widespread, a fungicide should handle the problem.

Remember that fungal infections are contagious, so one plant can pass it to others. Ensure that you dispose of any infected parts of the plant and keep them away from healthy plants. It’s also possible for one plant variety to pass on a fungal infection to another variety.

Repotting or Flowering

Last but not least, sometimes curling leaves on a polka dot plant are a natural occurrence. Usually, when it is the flowering season for polka dot plants, their leaves start to wilt. The same happens when the plants are moved or repotted, as it takes time for the plants to get acclimated.

After repotting your polka dot plant, allow it a few days for the root system to adjust to the new soil. It’s okay if the leaves are wilting for a couple of days, but you should look for other causes.

Final Thoughts

Keeping the variegated leaves of your polka dot plant healthy requires balancing its needs for sunlight and water and controlling pests while keeping infections at bay. Curling polka dot plant leaves are not uncommon, but there is usually a simple solution to regain their health.

So long as you provide your polka dot plant with bright indirect sunlight and water it regularly, you shouldn’t expect any curling in its leaves.

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