The most common reasons for dying prayer plants are due to underwatering, low humidity, or temperatures lower than 60°F. Prayer plants are tropical plants that prefer warm temperatures and humid air. If the temperature is too cold the leaves turn yellow and die back. Too much dry air causes the leaves to wilt and turn brown.
Here is a summary of different reasons and causes of why a prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura) can die back:
|Symptoms of a Dying Prayer Plant:||Reasons for a Dying Prayer Plant:|
|Prayer plant leaves turning yellow and drooping:||Overwatering and poor drainage. Watering with tap water (fluoride and chlorine), too much sunlight, temperatures cooler than 60°F (15°C).|
|Prayer plant leaves turning brown and curling:||Underwatering (prayer plants require consistently moist soil in Spring and Summer) low humidity, temperature colder than 60°F (15°C).|
|Prayer plant leaf tips turning brown:||Brown tips indicate the humidity is slightly too low or because of ‘hard’ tap water.|
|Plant stems turning leggy and drooping:||Not enough light. Prayer plants need bright, indirect light to avoid turning leggy.|
|Prayer plant not praying:||Prayer plants need a contrast in light and temperature between day and night to trigger the nyctinastic movements.|
Keep reading to learn why your prayer plant is dying and how to implement the solutions to revive it…
Prayer Plant Leaves Turning Yellow
- Symptoms. Yellowing leaves with a wilted appearance and leggy stems.
- Causes. Overwatering, slow draining soils, poor drainage, or possibly too much sun. Hard tap water, low nutrients, and temperatures cooler than 60°F (15°C) are also thought to be contributing causes.
Whilst prayer plants are tropical and native to Brazil to relatively high rainfall habitats with high humidity, they typically grow in well-draining soil and therefore a susceptible to turning yellow due to root rot, if the plant is watered too often or the soil does not drain efficiently.
Prayer plants grow in aerated porous soil with oxygen around the roots. If the potting soil is consistently damp, then the water excludes oxygen from the soil which prevents root respiration.
If the prayer plant’s roots cannot respire then they begin to rot which causes the leaves to wilt and turn yellow with a dying appearance.
This is most often a problem in Winter/Fall or early Spring when the soil should be allowed to dry slightly between bouts of watering. Damp soil (causing yellowing leaves) is far easier for the prayer plant to tolerate in late Spring and Summer during active growth as its demand for moisture is much higher.
In Winter prayer plants enter a state of dormancy in response to cooler temperatures and fewer hours of daylight and therefore require much less water. If the soil is consistently moist in Winter the leaves often turn yellow as the roots cannot tolerate the damp soil.
However, it should be noted that overwatering isn’t the only common cause of prayer plant leaves turning yellow. Prayer plants are very sensitive to ‘hard’ tap water with lots of minerals and chemicals (such as chlorine and fluoride).
I have personally observed my prayer plant’s leaves beginning to yellow when I was watering with tap water and an improvement in the plant’s condition when I switched to rainwater I collected from the garden.
Prayer plants also grow under the shade of a tree canopy and are shelter from direct sunlight. If your prayer plant is on a window sill, it is likely the leaves either fade in color or bleach to a yellow color with a wilted appearance.
Prayer plants are tropical plants that prefer temperatures of at least 65°F and often show signs of stress at temperatures lower than 60°F (15°C).
How to Revive a Prayer Plant with Yellow Leaves
- Reduce the frequency of your watering of the prayer plant in the Winter, so that you wait until the top inch feels dry before watering again. Water so that the soil is consistently moist (but not saturated or boggy) in Summer but allow the soil to dry somewhat in Winter when the prayer plant is not in active growth. Watering in this way allows the roots to respire so that can uptake water and nutrients properly to prevent the leaves from turning yellow.
- Make sure that you empty saucers, trays, and decorative outer pots, underneath the prayer plant’s pot regularly to avoid excess water pooling around the base of the pot. If there is water in a saucer at the base of the pot then the potting soil cannot drain properly which promotes the conditions for root rot and yellow leaves.
- Only water prayer plants with rainwater, or bottled water to prevent further yellowing of the leaves. The tap water in your area may be too hard for the prayer plant to tolerate so use rain water to help alleviate the stress that caused the leaves to turn yellow.
- Locate your prayer plant in bright, indirect light rather than harsh direct light. Bright indirect light mimics the light conditions of the prayer plant’s native environment and should help to improve the dramatic coloration of the leaves.
- Keep prayer plants in a room of at least 65°F with an optimal temperature range of 70°F to 80°F (21°C to 27°C). Prayer plants are very sensitive to the cold so make sure the leaves are not in contact with the cold glass of a window if it is on a window sill and locate it in a warmer room.
- Use a general all-purpose fertilizer in the Spring and Summer to prevent the leaves from fading and turning yellow. It is possible that the prayer plant’s roots could have exhausted the potting soil of available nutrients. Using a fertilizer at half strength (the roots can be sensitive to, too much fertilizer so always dilute it to half strength) provides the prayer plant with the nutrients it needs to keep the leaves in good condition and to prevent them from turning yellow or brown.
Once you have recreated some of the conditions of the prayer plant’s native environment with the optimal amount of light, watering, and drainage conditions the plant can start to recover.
If the plant does recover you can repot the prayer plant in the following Spring (Prayer plants are more resilient to the stress of repotting in Spring) and add some horticultural grit, or perlite to the potting mixture (approximately 75% potting soil and 25% grit by volume) which can improve drainage to mitigate the risk of yellowing leaves due to rot rot from overwatering.
However, if the prayer plant has been in boggy soil for too long, the roots are likely to rot at which point it is very difficult to revive the plant.
Should I cut a Yellow Prayer Plant Leaf Off?
Use a sharp pair of pruners to cut off any yellow leaves on your prayer plant. Once the leaf has turned yellow it does not turn green again and it does not photosynthesize, so it does not contribute any energy to the plant.
Trimming back yellowing, dying leaves can alleviate the stress on the prayer plant and stimulate new growth.
Prayer Plant Leaves Turning Brown and Curling
- Symptoms. Leaves turn brown and curl inwards with a dried-out appearance.
- Causes. Low humidity, and soil drying out between watering. Cold Temperatures.
Prayer plants are native to humid tropical jungles in the Americas and prefer a high level of humidity when cultivated as houseplants.
The air indoors is often too dry for a prayer plant to tolerate. Dry air saps moisture from the leaves at a fast rate that the roots cannot uptake enough water to replace the lost moisture and the low humidity causes the leaves to curl and turn brown.
Specifically, the reason why the leaves curl up is to reduce their surface area and therefore reduce water loss from the leaves as a survival strategy.
It is also important that the potting soil does not dry out completely between bouts of watering.
Prayer plants prefer the potting soil to be consistently moist yet with good drainage which is achieved through a good watering schedule, in combination with soil that retains moisture but has a porous structure that allows excess water to drain away.
If the soil dries out the leaves quickly turn brown and curl up due to drought stress.
Another problem can be that if the soil dries out (due to underwatering or high temperatures because of indoor heating) the potting soil can bake hard and become hydrophobic, which means it repels water off the surface of the soil and down the side of the pot without reaching the roots.
Therefore you may be watering your prayer plant with a consistent schedule but if the water does not infiltrate and absorb into the soil properly the prayer plant’s leaves can still turn brown and curl up due to drought stress.
If just the tips of your prayer plant leaves are turning brown, this usually indicates the humidity is slightly too low or the water has too high levels of chlorine and fluoride for the sensitive prayer plant to tolerate.
Whilst drought stress is the most common reason for brown, curling leaves the prayer plant can also droop and turn brown with a dying appearance due to cold temperatures. Prayer plants are particularly sensitive to cold stress due to their warm tropical jungle origins and do not tolerate temperatures below 60°F (15°C).
How to Revive Dying Prayer Plants with Brown, Curling Leaves
- Increase the humidity by misting the leaves or using a humidifier. Misting the leaves counteracts the dry air indoors helps to recreate the humid conditions of the prayer plant’s natural habitat and reduces the rate of water loss from the leaves. Mist the leaves in the morning every day whilst the prayer plant’s leaves are curling. Special plant humidifiers can be a great option if you live in an arid climate.
- Submerge the root ball in a basin of lukewarm water for 10 minutes so that the soil can properly rehydrate. This allows the soil to properly absorb water so that the potting soil is evenly moist and the roots can uptake the moisture they require to alleviate the drought stress. If you just water the soil then the water is likely to just trickle off the surface and the plant dies back due to drought. Once the soil has had the opportunity to properly re-hydrate then the structure of the soil improves and water should infiltrate properly to reach the prayer plant’s root system.
- Always water prayer-plants with a generous soak. It is important to water thoroughly, so that excess water trickles from the base of the pot, to ensure that the potting soil is evenly moist. A good way to check this is to pick the pot up to feel the weight before watering and then to feel the weight after watering as it should be much heavier if the soil has properly absorbed the water.
- Locate the prayer plant on the other side of the room from any direct sources of indoor heat. Heat from radiators can dry out the potting soil and sap moisture from the leaves too quickly.
- Try to maintain a temperature of between 70°F to 80°F (21°C to 27°C) (with 10°F cooler at night) to prevent dying brown leaves. Temperature stress is not usually the primary cause of brown, curling leaves, but it can be a contributing factor.
If the prayer plant’s leaves turn completely brown they do not turn green again so cut them back to the base with a sharp pair of pruners. The individual brown leaf has died and cannot photosynthesize and therefore cannot contribute any energy to the prayer plant.
Essentially the key to reviving a prayer plant with brown, curling leaves is to replicate the conditions of its natural habitat with regular misting of the leaves to increase the humidity and to keep the potting soil consistently moist during the growing seasons (Spring and Summer).
If your prayer plant’s soil repels water regularly then it is a good idea to add some horticultural grit to the potting mix (around 25%) to increase the porosity of the soil. This should help water infiltrate more easily even if the potting soil has dried out.
Prayer Plant Turning Leggy
If the prayer plant has leggy stems then this is most likely due to a lack of light. Prayer plants need bright indirect light to grow to their best.
If the prayer plant is in too much shade then the leaf stems grow longer and leggy in search of more light. If the plant is in a shaded room then the leaves do not have enough energy to support the plant and the stems weaken causing them to droop.
However, if the prayer plant is in direct sunlight on a window sill then the leaves are likely to bleach yellow or just fade in color (depending on the intensity of the sunlight).
The key is to find a bright room (South facing) but out of any harsh direct sunlight.
This should provide the prayer plant with the energy it needs to display its leaves and prevent the plant from being leggy.
If the prayer plant has been in dark shade for too long then it may not recover from its leggy appearance. You can however attempt to propagate the prayer plant and grow a healthy plant. Watch this helpful YouTube video below for how to propagate prayer plants:
Prayer Plant not Praying
Prayer plants have nyctinastic movements which means they close up into a ‘praying position’ at night with the leaves drawn in. Prayer plants only pray at night and only pray in response to a diurnal change in light and temperature.
The reason for a prayer plant not praying is usually because it does not experience the diurnal change (day to night) in temperature and light, with a decrease in both.
To make your prayer plant ‘pray’ it is important to recreate these changes in temperature and light.
In the prayer plant’s natural habitat the night temperature decreases by around 10°F so try to replicate this indoors. This can be difficult if you use indoor heating at night as this can increase the temperature in the evening which is the contrast of the temperature change in their native environment.
Also, the use of artificial lights at night can interfere with the nyctinastic movements (praying) of the prayer plant because of the contrary lighting conditions.
To entice your prayer plant to draw up its leaves and ‘pray’ each night, locate it in a cooler room that does not typically have lights or lamps illuminating it every night.
The optimal temperature range for prayer plants in the daytime is 70°F to 80°F (21°C to 27°C) and 10°F degrees cooler at night, so try to mimic this day-to-night temperature swing indoors so that the prayer plant can pick up on its environmental cues that it is the night and time to draw in its leaves and pray.
Why do Prayer Plants ‘Pray’?
What is interesting about the nyctinastic movements is that there is no scientific consensus for why the leaves move or ‘pray’ at night.
However, the most prevalent theories are that the prayer plant draws its leaves in to decrease the risk of being eaten by herbivores or (as Charles Darwin theorized) the leaves are drawn in for insulation as a way to mitigate the risk of damage from cold temperatures at night.
- Usually, the reason for a dying prayer plant is because of underwatering and low humidity. Prayer plants are native to humid tropical climates with high rainfall. If the soil dries out between bouts of watering or the air is too dry indoors then the leaves turn brown, curl up, and die back.
- Prayer plants turn yellow due to overwatering and slow-draining soils. Prayer plants need good drainage and do not tolerate boggy soil. If the soil is consistently saturated then this promotes the conditions for root rot which causes the prayer plant’s leaves to turn yellow with a drooping appearance.
- Prayer plants turn leggy and droop if they do not have enough light. Prayer plants need bright indirect light. If they are in too much shade the plant does not have enough energy to support the foliage, causing the stems to elongate and weaken with a leggy appearance.
- The reason for prayer plants not praying is that they require a contrast in light and temperature from day to night to stimulate the leaves to draw into the ‘praying’ position. Replicate the prayer plant’s natural conditions by decreasing the temperature by 10°F at night and locating the prayer plant in a darker room at night.