Why Is My Pilea Drooping?
If you’ve ever despaired over drooping Pilea leaves (over here we call that “dramatic plant syndrome”), we’re here to tell you that you’re not alone. On the surface, drooping leaves are a tricky problem because they can be caused by different opposing factors: too little water or too much water; too little light or too much light.
Just to put your mind at ease, this is rarely a big problem. And even if it does feel like one, it's most likely temporary and easy to fix. This is because Pileas are very resilient plants as long as their root system is healthy.
Here are the most common causes of drooping Pilea leaves and our recommended quick fixes. We’ve also added an extra tip for each cause so you can delve deeper into the art (and science) of keeping your plants healthy and happy.
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1. Not enough water
This is the most common cause of droopy leaves. When Pilea plants are left to dry out too long between watering sessions, the roots don't have access to enough water to redirect to the leaves. The petiole (the thin structure that connects the base of the leaf with the stem) is losing moisture and sagging, which lowers the entire leaf. If left unwatered long term, this may cause some damage to the plant. And by long term, we mean long enough for the plant to lose leaves rapidly. However, if you correct this water deficiency in a timely manner there is no harm done.
If you observe closely, you may notice that thirsty leaves look and feel quite different from regular leaves. When the plant is freshly watered, the leaves feel rigid and smooth. On the other hand, you will notice that droopy leaves feel soft and sometimes a bit wrinkled. This is a good sign that you need to water your plants.
Check the soil and see if it looks too dry or crumbly. Plunge your finger or a stick about 1-2 inches into the soil (depending on how deep your pot is). If it feels dry to the touch, or if the stick comes out dry (without any soil sticking to it), then it’s definitely time to water your Pilea.
Another good indication that the soil is too dry is if it comes away from the sides of the pot. In this case, you should give it a good soak. And the reason why the plant prefers this method instead of a low quantity of water is because a soak helps the soil absorb moisture evenly. It also helps the roots grow stronger deeper into the pot. Just watering your plant at a surface level will cause its roots to be shallow and thin.
The good news is that this will probably fix the drooping of your Pilea leaves. Just give it a day and observe any changes that may happen.
Other things to investigate
Is your soil properly aerated? This matters because if the soil is too compacted, the roots of the plant won't be able to take up water, no matter how much you offer it. We wrote an entire post about how to properly aerate your plant’s roots. But the gist of it is this: poke the soil with a chopstick or a popsicle stick and gently loosen it with back and forth motions.
If you live in a very hot and dry climate, where temperatures consistently go above 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees celsius), take this into consideration when you work out your watering schedule. Naturally, the hotter it gets, the quicker your plant will dry out due to the process of transpiration.
2. Too much water
Okay, this may seem weird. It's quite easy to understand why underwatering may lead to droopy leaves in a Pilea plant. But how can the same issue be caused by overwatering?
True, it's the same symptom. But the plant process that leads to it is slightly different. In the long run, overwatering your plant leads to root rot. When the roots can't keep up with taking in the water, they start rotting and are no longer able to take in oxygen and nutrients from the soil. This means that they're no longer healthy enough to take up water to the rest of the plant. Since the plant is deprived of water and nutrients, it tries to protect itself by drooping and then shedding its leaves, starting with the bottom ones.
First of all, stop overwatering your plant and let it dry out. If your overwatering habit hasn't been going on for too long, this step will probably fix it.
However, if your plant has been subjected to a regimen of too much water for too long, then there might be long long-term damage. The only way to know is to remove the plant from the soil and thoroughly inspect the root structure. Healthy roots look light-colored and hardy. They are sturdy enough to keep the soil in the shape of the pot even when you lift the root structure from the pot itself. If your Pilea’s roots are brown, slimy, and squishy, then your plant might be suffering from root rot. Have a look at our guide on how to deal with Pilea root rot.
Other things to investigate
While you're at it, you should check that your planter pot has enough drainage holes. Do not, under any circumstances, no matter how cute it may look, plant your Pilea in a pot with no drainage holes.
Another thing to pay attention to is correctly matching the size of your plant with the size of the pot. You may be tempted to repot a small plant into a large container, thinking that it may grow into it. This is not a good idea because the extra soil that the plant doesn't really need will hold extra moisture, and it will take a longer time for the soil to dry. When you repot a Pilea, only go up one container-size.
3. Not enough light
This is the second most common cause of droopy Pilea leaves. And it especially affects plants that are placed on a higher shelf or somewhere above the source of light.
Like any living organism, Pilea plants try to make the most of their environment and adapt accordingly. If your Pilea is placed in a location that doesn't get enough bright indirect light, it will reorient its leaves to get as much light as possible from the location that it's in. This often means that the plant has to lower its leaves in order to maximize the surface area that absorbs light. So if your plant is somewhere higher relative to a source of light or if it's too far away from the window, it will drop its leaves to compensate for this.
Move your plant to a spot with better lighting conditions, and observe how it behaves. Preferably, if you want the plant to keep upright, it should be looking slightly up at the sky. Plants are like people in this way - think about how unhappy you’d get if you weren’t able to see the sky very often.
Other things to investigate
Since we're talking about light, you should be aware that Pilea doesn't like bright direct light or direct sunshine. But this is more likely to cause the leaves to burn or get brown than to get droopy.
4. Not yet acclimated to its environment
If you've just bought your Pilea plant, and you’re noticing droopy leaves, this is normal. The plant itself has been through a lot of changes in a short period of time and, just like people, plants need a bit more time to adapt to a new environment.
So if your plant was exposed to a variation in temperature, being shipped in a dark box, or being stored in a dark warehouse for a few days, this was a traumatic experience that it needs to recover from.
We know that plant parents may get impatient (we're guilty of this ourselves), and we know everyone wants their plant to look perfect from day one. But houseplants need one to two months to adapt to a new environment.
Really sorry, there isn't one. The wisest thing you could do at this point is to be patient and observe what your plant likes and dislikes.
If it's too much information to remember, you could even try keeping a plant diary. You can write down when you water your plant, new growth, leaf shedding, and daily or weekly variations in light, temperature and humidity. Hint: you might even want to get a humidity/light sensor. Fair warning, you might fall in love with this device!
Our Last Advice
These are the most common reasons why your plant leaves get droopy. As you can see there are plenty of causes, but our main piece of advice is this: start by making small adjustments, observe how your plant reacts, and take it from there. There's no need to let plant anxiety take over. Growing plants is a process of trial and error, and as long as you are doing your best, that's all a plant can ask for!