Pistils Rx: 5 Reasons your Houseplant’s Leaves are Turning Brown

Posted on Mar 22, 2016 in Pistils Rx | 47 Comments

When we launched Pistils Rx a few weeks back, we got an outpouring of emails and comments from our readers asking plant questions. Thank you all for your photos and for describing your issues in such detail! Of the questions we received, no issue popped up quite as frequently as houseplant leaves turning brown.

There are a multitude of reasons why your houseplants leaves might be turning brown, and just as many ways that browning can present (entire leaves, leaf tips, leaf sides, inside the leaves, lower leaves, upper leaves…). And yes, you guessed it – each of these symptoms can have a myriad of causes, depending on the plant species and how it’s been cared for.

That said, there are a few good rules of thumb to help you diagnose the cause of houseplant leaves turning brown. We’ll use the photos you sent to us and show you what to look for when diagnosing why your indoor plant’s leaves are turning brown.

Houseplant Leaves Turning Brown - Pistils Rx

5 Reasons for Houseplants Leaves Turning Brown

  1. Not enough water (or too much!)

    Check out the dry stems and brown lower leaves on the tradescantia ‘wandering jew’ in the photo, above. Dry, brown, crispy, and browning starts at the lower leaves. If this looks familiar, you may well be under-watering your plant. Alternately, over-watering can sometimes present in the same way. This is because overwatering damages roots, inhibiting their ability to take in water and causing symptoms of thirst

    Solution: Trim off brown leaves; they’re not coming back. If entire stems have dried, prune them off and try propagating the ends of pruned stems with stem tip cuttings. Water regularly, and thoroughly, taking care not to over-water.

  2. Normal aging or Humidity is too low

    Some plants drop lower leaves as the plant matures. This is especially true on ferns (like this asplenium) and some philodendron species. Just prune the old leaves away, and you should be good to go!

    Houseplant Leaves Turning Brown - Pistils Rx

    Remember; your tropical plants are, in fact, native to the tropics. The tropics are wet and the air is humid! Some houseplant leaves turn brown and crispy when the air in our homes is too dry. This is especially true if your plant is getting a lot of direct sun, or during the winter when heaters are running and drying out the air.

    Solution: Move plants away from heaters. Try setting them on a dish full of pebbles, and putting a layer of water in the pebbles. This helps create ambient humidity. Trim off any dried out leaves.

  3. Browning leaf tips

    Houseplant Leaves Turning Brown - Pistils Rx

    Browning leaf tip tips are as common as they are challenging to diagnose. This physiological condition can be caused by tainted water, erratic watering (too much, too little, or a combination of both), overfeeding, or a combination of all of these. Plants with long, strappy leaves, like dracena, spider plants and calathea (see photo) are often affected, because water has to make the long trip to keep the cells at the leaf tips well hydrated.

    Solution: Evaluate your plant care regimen and see which of the above factors is the most likely culprit; adjust as necessary. If the brown tips are causing you grief, trim them back with a pair of clean scissors. Take care to cut just outside the line where the green turns brown; otherwise, you can cause a new brown line to form.

  4. Too much fertilizer

    Browning around the sides and tips of leaves is often caused by too much fertilizer. Your plant might also show symptoms of thirst. This is because over-fertilizing damages roots, which in turn affects their ability to take in water, making them act thirsty. Most plants don’t need much (or any) fertilizer over the winter months, and this is when it tends to accumulate and cause leaves to turn brown (like on this natal mahogany, which was fertilized every other week). You might also notice a crusty layer of fertilizer build-up on the surface of the soil.

    Houseplant Leaves Turning Brown - Pistils Rx

    Solution: Leech the pot of accumulated salts by watering thoroughly, allowing water to drain out of the drainage hole, and repeating several times. Cut back fertilizing until spring, and prune any leaves that are too brown.
  5. Pests and disease

    This is a tough one, and will be getting its own Pistils Rx post in the future. There are many pests that can infest your houseplants, with scale, mealybugs, spidermites and aphids being some of the most common. Fungus can also attack the roots of your plants, making it show the signs of over-watering (leaf browning and yellowing!). Most pests can be seen with the naked eye, but keep an eye out for brown bumps, white fuzz and webbing on and under your plant leaves. Brown spots in the leaf centers are often caused by pests or diseases.

    Solution: As challenging as it may be, consider disposing of truly infested plants in order to save the rest of your indoor garden. They spread quickly! That said, we use insecticidal soap and neem oil to treat minor pest and fungal problems. Prune back any infested branches of your plant and clip off unsightly brown leaves. Allow the plant to rest and recover and continue to check on the pest issue regularly.

Are your plant leaves turning brown, but it doesn’t sound like any of the above? Write to us in the comments, and we’d be happy to try and help diagnose your plant problem!

We have lots more in store for Pistils Rx, and we want to hear from you and see your photos! Submit them to us by sending an email, with photos, to shop@pistilsnursery.com.

47 Comments

  1. Katy
    May 31, 2016

    I have a question on this very topic! I haven’t had many issues with leaves browning in the past, but every tip on my calathea is brown now!! (The tips aren’t shriveled like in your photo above.) Otherwise it seems happy.

    I realize low humidity is the most likely culprit, but is there anything ELSE that would cause this in calathea? This plant lived in this location for over a year before the leaf tips started to brown. It has now been there for about 2.5 years.

    [Plant is in indirect light – in a corner with windows on either side – and on a pebble tray to increase humidity. I water thoroughly when the soil top is dry (I have a gazillion plants and *seem* to have good instincts about watering…), and apply very dilute fertilizer ~every other watering ~late March-September. I plan to change the pebble tray to a wider container for more evaporation.]

    Reply
    • Jesse
      June 3, 2016

      Hey Katy, Thanks for reaching out! Hmm… Brown leaf tips, especially on plants with long leaves like calathea, definitely make me suspect a watering issue. Is there any chance that it didn’t get sufficient water, even conce? Or perhaps it got a bit too much fertilizer recently? My only other thought is that some plants, like spiderplants, are sensitive to water quality and can get brown tips if they don’t like the water. Has your water quality changed at all? Try letting tap water sit out for 24 hours before watering to allow the yucky stuff to evaporate out.

      Best of luck,
      Jesse

      Reply
  2. katy
    June 8, 2016

    Thanks Jesse!

    It might have gotten too dry once. (Do you think that would continue to affect new growth as well? Because literally every leaf has a little brown on its tip, even leaves that have emerged since the trend began.) I assume too much watering might cause this as well…

    I’ll try to let the water sit out first, or use distilled.

    Reply
  3. Michael Barnes
    August 9, 2016

    I have a small houseplant that has a few leaves that are brown one looks like it’s being eaten. I buried my hamster in it. Does she count as fertilizer? It may sound a bit odd. But the plant is my link to her and I want to look after it.

    Reply
    • Jesse
      August 10, 2016

      Hey Michael,

      Sorry to hear about your hamster. I’m not exactly sure what would happen to an animal once buried in an planter. I assume that it would break down and could be a source of nutrients for the plant, but it might take quite a while for this to happen. That said, I’m not really sure if the hamster could be affecting your plant. Generally, browning leaves are a symptom of a watering issue – usually under-watering. You could try clipping off the brown, increasing your watering, and seeing what happens.

      Best of luck,
      Jesse

      Reply
    • patriel
      January 17, 2017

      Michael. The hamster should be put in a compost pile to break down. I’ve had outdoor gardens for years and know that burying garbage etc. draws nitrogen away from the healthy plants so I do the burying -composting in before planting season. Maybe your plant is telling to you something through it’s folage.

      Reply
    • Henry Chinaski
      January 17, 2017

      Michael, you sick puppy, burying your hamster in your houseplant.

      Reply
      • Curtis
        February 16, 2017

        Henry, are you joking? You must be. Add some haha’s & LOLs next time. There’s no way Michael is sick for honoring his lost pet and having it live on through a plant.

        Reply
  4. Joan
    August 11, 2016

    My problem is with my bird nest Kokedama. Some leaves have yellow only in the middle of the fronds. Just in the centers.

    Reply
    • Jesse
      August 15, 2016

      Hey Joan,

      Sounds like a watering issue to me. How frequently do you water your kokedama? Try increasing slightly, as they dry out much faster during summer.

      Best,
      Jesse

      Reply
  5. Hector
    September 19, 2016

    I have a question.what does it mean when a leaf of a pinto bean plant is Brown and is thin?thank you for your article.it helped me

    Reply
  6. Julie
    October 22, 2016

    I have 29 different houseplant Begonia’s. All look very healthy but maybe 4 or 5, which have crispy brown leaf edges. I use pebble trays with water under each one for humidity. I have quit fertilizing now but did every week through the summer. I am going to try and re-root in larger pots. I water all of them the same way. Filtered water too. Any thoughts on why a few are getting crispy brown leaf edges?

    Reply
  7. G!Smiles
    December 22, 2016

    I honestly don’t know the name of my plant but it has large wavy yellow leaves with green edges. It recently started getting brown spots in the centre of its leaves and I’m unsure of what’s wrong with it. Suggestions?

    Reply
    • Jesse
      January 4, 2017

      Hey there! It’s probably a watering issue (either too much or too little), but unfortunately without knowing more about the type of plant, I can’t provide more specific advice.

      My apologies and best of luck!
      Jesse

      Reply
  8. G!Smiles
    December 22, 2016

    I honestly don’t know the name of my plant but it has large wavy yellow leaves with green edges. It recently started getting brown spots in the centre of its leaves and I’m unsure of what’s wrong with it. Suggestions? Thanks.

    Reply
  9. London
    December 25, 2016

    I just recently bought a potted plant that appears to be a vine of some sort. The end of one of the “arms” is a brown color, but the rest of the plant looks a healthy green. It is definitely not dead, just brown and at the base of the plant there is one leaf that is also brown. This confuses me because these are two completely parts of the plant…… What is the problem and solution?

    Reply
    • Jesse
      January 4, 2017

      Hey London,

      Unfortunately without knowing what type of plant you have, I’m unable to provide more specific advice. Browning is often a watering issue (too much or too little), but this will manifest differently with different plant species.

      Best,
      Jesse

      Reply
  10. Anna
    January 6, 2017

    I propagate pineapple sage recently and planted them in potting soil. They eventually started turning brown on the edges of the leaves. They are indoors. I grew them in water first and had beautiful roots. Then accumulated them into soil with a plastic bag to create humidity. All was fine until recently. They started to turn brown when I started to water them. I wait until they dry out and then water them. One plant turned completely brown and is dying. I want to stop this trend. I spray them everyday with tepid water to create humidity.

    Should I kept the plastic bag around them?

    Reply
  11. Marty
    January 7, 2017

    I have a fish tail plant. The edges are brown following with a little yellow. I water it every week with about 3 cups worth. It is getting new growth looks good otherwise. I can’t get water meter in the soil because it is so dense. So I can,t tell if to much water or not enough. Any solutions? Thank you

    Reply
    • Jesse
      April 24, 2017

      Apologies for the delayed response. How are things going? Some plants are very susceptible to under watering and quickly brown around the leaf edges. I’d increase your watering slightly, but overall it sounds like a happy plant!

      Best,
      Jesse

      Reply
  12. sara
    January 9, 2017

    hi! some of the leaves are turning entirely brown (they were only 2 at the begining, but then it kinda spread), but they’re not crispy or dry (so the plant isn’t missing water). they’re the same normal texture, it’s just that the color changed. is it because i give it too much water?

    Reply
  13. Keri
    January 25, 2017

    Hi i was looking for some possible help with my plant.. I dont know the name of it i forgot. It was given to me as a gift. However i noticed all the leaves on it were dryin up and dying so i had to obviously take off the dead leaves leaving only a few and all new shoots. Well as the new leaves r coming in the tips on them are turning brown just like the older leaves that survived. I always check to see if it needs watered by checking the soil for dryness just at top. I dont know whats goin on. I didnt add no fertilizers or anything its just starting to go down hill.it was a very healthy plant and now its notblooking good please help.

    Reply
  14. Belinda
    January 26, 2017

    I have a large Philodendron Selloum all the leaves are turning brown, why? Help please.

    Reply
  15. Armando
    January 31, 2017

    Hello, here is my Yucca tree. It normally sits about 4 feet away from an east facing window in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We haven’t had much sunlight lately. I have a watering globe in it, usually it empties once or twice every week.

    The tips of the leaves are browning, just the extreme tips. The plant is potted in miracle gro mousture control potting. Are these extreme tips browning a thing to worry about? My guess would be not enough water – as this potting mix really does seem to absorb and hold some water. I have also noticed the lower branches seem to be drooping slightly.

    Reply
  16. Sherrill
    March 8, 2017

    I have an angel plant been doing fine , now that it has grown a lot it’s leafs in the middle are turning brown and drying up, . Is it not enough water .?

    Reply
    • Jesse
      April 24, 2017

      Apologies for the delayed response. How are things going? Yes, sounds like it’s thirsty. Try increasing the water!

      Hope this helps!
      Jesse

      Reply
  17. Sherrill
    March 8, 2017

    I have an angel plant been doing fine , now that it has grown a lot it’s leafs in the middle are turning brown and drying up, . Is it not enough water .?

    Reply
  18. Shari Alexander
    March 9, 2017

    This plant has been turning brown on the ends and I notice several leaves drying out.It is by a floor board heater wall.Am trying to save this plant it belonged to my dad who has since past away his place was nice in bright.My place is kind of dim.What advice could you share to better tge situation.

    Reply
    • Jesse
      April 24, 2017

      Apologies for the delayed response. How are things going? Looks to me like your plant is thirsty, and those leaves definitely are not enjoying the heater. I’d move it to a different spot, and increase your watering.

      Best of luck!
      Jesse

      Reply
  19. Melissa
    March 28, 2017

    MY plant is turning brown every other leave.. I recently change pots put him in a bigger pot I thought it would make it better , but since its been looks to me dying… I dnt know what to do.. HELP

    Reply
  20. Rebecca
    April 7, 2017

    Hello plant lovers!

    Pleas help! My babies of 4 years are dying and I don’t know why.

    I recently replanted large house plants with high quality soil. I also increased the size of the pots, as the plants are getting bigger. There is a white fungus appearing in the soil. The soil looks moist, although I’ve only been watering x2 a week. I’m mostly concerned about the dying leaves, which are unlike the pictures, as almost the entire leaf is turn brown, not only the end. After I added new soil and larger pots, when I noticed they started to die, I moved the plants closer to the large sliding door for sunlight. However, this has not made any difference. Any advice would be well appreciated. I’m very attached to these babies, as I’ve had them over 4 years! Can anyone tell what type of plants they are? I cannot remember!

    Lastly, FYI I do not drain the pots. I can. However this hasn’t been an issue in the past so I’m unsure why it would be one now.

    Thanks!
    Rebecca

    Reply
  21. Rebecca
    April 7, 2017

    Picture 2

    Reply
  22. Rebecca
    April 7, 2017

    Picture 3

    Reply
  23. Sunita
    April 11, 2017

    Help ! my Allium plant leave tips are turning brown.
    – I have replanted and checked the roots, they were fine.
    – watering quantity is controlled hopefully quality is good as not other plant is having this problem.
    – I use slow release fertiliser
    – I had trimmed the brown tips
    But the problem persists. The plant looks healthy. Photo attached.
    Plant lovers please help.
    Thanks,
    Sunita

    Reply
  24. Vanessa
    April 28, 2017

    I got my photos plant from Home Depot notice it needed to be change in a bigger pot. Well I potted my plant and notice there’s wasn’t enough holes in the pot to drain well . So I reppoted it again because I fix the drainage situation. After that the tips from the leafs started to go brown . All of them and the plant looks thirsty but I water it a week ago

    Reply
    • Vanessa
      April 28, 2017

      Here’s another pic to see if someone could help me

      Reply
  25. Diana L.
    May 12, 2017

    Hi, yes, my small mahogany fern has no mahogany on it now. Edges and tips, curling and browning on new and old fronds. Have not yet started fertilizing, however did repot with some new soil. It is producing new fronds though some are too brown. It is in a bathroom with close window on North side. Thank you!

    Reply
  26. Abhilasha Singh
    June 6, 2017

    I have a small Ixora (pink flowers) growing in a pot. It grew well a couple of years but now since last winter the leaves have all turned light (pale) green, they are browning starting from the tips and then the entire leaf and also it has stopped producing flowers. Is it time to let it go? It still gives out new leaves but they are all very light and translucent instead of the dark colour they originally had.

    Reply
  27. Melissa
    June 16, 2017

    Help
    My Philodendron just started dyeing.
    I have had it for several years and it’s always been healthy and happy.
    The entire leaf is turning brown and falling off! All of them! About 95 percent of the plants leaves are turning brown.
    Really sad, no idea why. I plan on checking the roots tomorrow, and I don’t see any signs of bugs. Any help would be appreciated.
    Thanks Melissa

    Reply
    • Jesse
      July 7, 2017

      Hey there! Is it possible your plant took a lot of sun at some point? The way that the browning is occurring actually looks like sunburn to me. Otherwise, was it over or under watered at some point recently? I’d recommend taking cuttings of the healthy portion of the plant and starting them as new plants!

      Best of luck,
      Jesse

      Reply
  28. Lee smith
    July 29, 2017

    I have same problem with my money tree! They are turning brown and falling off the tree. I put a fertilizer 2 days ago I don’t see any changes. I’m worried that it will continue this and die.

    Reply
  29. Lee smith
    July 29, 2017

    This is how it look like today.

    Reply
  30. Jacque (jackie) Caron
    August 8, 2017

    Hello! I just read about your business plus the comments from others. It was very informational and helpful. I will most deffinately be asking questions and sending you pictures. I love my plants they bring me joy and are theraputic.
    Thank you…Jacque

    Reply
  31. Lynne
    August 9, 2017

    Help! I have a very healthy pothos that I purchased and placed outside early this summer. As the pothos has grown, I cut off long pieces of it and placed them in a vase (some in a carafe; some in a jar) indoors. For all of the pieces, still healthy looking, as the new shoots are developing, they turn brown and die before ever fully developing leaves and opening. I have never had this issue and I’ve been growing plants for 45 years! All I can figure is it’s a water or air problem, and if that’s the case, I need to quit breathing and drinking water. haha

    Reply
  32. Annonymous
    August 22, 2017

    My plants in my office are constantly turning yellow, almost all tip of the leaf. I assumed it was because of overwatering so I stopped watering for a week, but still no changes. Does it takes a time or there is a different measure to treat yellow tip in plant leaves?

    Reply
  33. Alex
    September 2, 2017

    Hi 🙂 i have a happy plant that is not so happy 🙁 i dont know what to do to save it. Its an indoor plant and i was told to give it fertiliser every week but its nit helping it. I water it once a week with sea sole and its not happy. I put it out in the sun every weekend on the pergola. Can someone help me?

    Reply
  34. Thomas Jackson
    September 15, 2017

    I purchased a beautiful calathea (peacock) on Aug 30th and noticed some brown spotting on a few leaves. Since that time I’ve noticed more brown spots and plan to change the soil in the am . . can you give me any tips to deter or fix my problem ?

    Reply

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