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Seedling Leaves Pointing Up – What It Means & How To Fix It

Starting any plant from seed can be an anxiety-inducing experience, primarily due to excitement and because nobody likes to invest time into something just for it to not work. Seedling emergence is a happy moment, showing progression in your plant’s growth stages. However, when you are on high alert, any strange-looking growth or behavior like your seedling’s leaves pointing up towards the sky can be alarming. Why are my seedling leaves pointing up?

Seedlings’ leaves can point upwards when they are stressed for more water or light, but it can also be a phase for your seedling that will pass once it grows larger and is more established. Most commonly, plants in the nightshade family, like peppers and tomatoes, will experience seedling leaves pointing upwards.

This is normal, but if it doesn’t pass as the plant matures, some conditions might need to be altered to meet your plant’s needs more effectively.

Continue reading to learn why this occurs, what it means, and what to do if your plant is experiencing this phenomenon. 

What causes leaves to point up?

The first few leaves on a seedling will point towards the sky to get the maximum amount of sunlight for growth. Generally, this is nothing to be concerned about and is normal behavior for emerging seedlings. After your plant has established more and has grown true leaves, this should subside, and your plant should have a more regular growth habit. 

If this doesn’t subside after your plant has matured, leaves pointing upwards can be a way of telling you it needs something: water and light are usually the main two factors where something is amiss. These are key in producing energy for your plant to function, so addressing these issues promptly is crucial. 

Water stress will cause leaves to point upwards to conserve the water already in the plant; this minimizes your plant’s leaves from getting sunlight, during which water is split to get converted to usable energy. If your plants are drying out and getting full sun, adjust watering to be more frequent, and you should see your leaves settle down within a day or so. 

A lack of light can also cause your plant to reach and point towards the light source, known as etiolation. This can be corrected by introducing a more substantial light source or relocating your plant to an area with more hours of bright light. Alternatively, too much light can cause leaf curl, and you will also have to relocate your plant or otherwise adjust the light it receives. 

Some plants, like calatheas, will point their leaves upward and fold in at night as a response to the light cycles during the day. This is how they get their name of “prayer plants.” Not all plants have this sort of movement, though it does indicate a healthy and properly functioning calathea. 

Why are my plant’s leaves curling? 

Curling leaves are indicators of too much sunlight and/or not enough water. This is your plant’s response to minimize the amount of water lost through transpiration while also adjusting how much light it receives. 

Constant and repeated exposure to too much light can cause more damage to the plant than just curling leaves. This can burn out the plant’s photosystems, mainly used in photosynthesis. This is a common issue when using grow lights that are not set on timers.

Damage to these photosystems can cause a lack of energy production, leading to slow or no growth and potentially plant death. Side effects also include crisping and drying the leaves because they are evaporating more water than they are taking in due to the heat and exposure to light.

Leaves with this kind of damage are no longer capable of photosynthesis and should be removed from the plant once the initial problem has been addressed. 

To avoid damage to your leaves, adjust the amount and intensity of light your plant receives upon first signs of leaf curl. Heat can also cause the same reaction, and if you have outdoor plants reacting by curling their leaves, you will likely have better luck relocating them. If you are using grow light for plants grown inside, position the lights slightly farther away from your plant’s leaves until they no longer are curling. 

Curling leaves can also respond to underwatering or a lack of humidity, especially in tropical plants. Leaves that have curled but have not yet gotten dehydrated can come back upon watering. Adjust watering frequency to prevent this from happening again; repeated stress due to the same issue can eventually cause damage to your plant that cannot be repaired. 

How can I prevent leaves from pointing upwards?

Preventing your plant’s leaves from pointing upwards can range from simply monitoring young seedlings’ growth to ensuring all parameters to grow your plant are met. This can take some trial and error if you are new to caring for plants, though it will quickly become a valuable skill when tending to your garden. 

Sufficient water and light are essential to keep plant leaves functional. Stressed plants are more likely to be susceptible to pests and disease, so any abnormal plant growth or behavior should be investigated and treated as soon as possible. 

Keeping your plants well-watered, especially in hotter weather, is a top priority in ensuring your plant can withstand the day’s sun. Watering early in the day is the best time for your outdoor full-sun plants, so they are hydrated for the hottest parts of the afternoon. 

Know the amount of light each of your plants needs to be arranged in your garden accordingly. It is best to know this before planting or putting your potted plants outside, so they don’t have to deal with any potential stress of being in the wrong location, then being moved again. 

Knowing the direction of light your garden gets is valuable information when planning a garden. Heat-stressed plants or plants exposed to too much sun will turn up their leaves to conserve water, so if you notice this behavior, it is best to relocate your plant to a shadier, cooler area outside or find a place indoors if it is not a heat-tolerant. 

Final Thoughts

Leaves pointing up can be simply because a seedling is emerging from the ground or can be indicative of environmental stress. This is normal behavior for some plants, though it doesn’t mean you should turn a blind eye to this display if it is out of the ordinary. 

If it persists past the seedling phase, you may have to look deeper into the care you are providing: are your plants in an excellent area to receive the amount of light they need? Are you watering enough for the type of plant you have and for the conditions it is in? These questions can lead to the answer to why your plant’s leaves are pointing upwards.

Regardless of the cause, fixing the issue is easy once you can determine the cause. Staying in tune with your plants’ needs makes for a better, more intuitive gardener, making growing and caring for plants more enriching. 

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