Why Leaves Turn Brown on Houseplants

By Ken Lain, the mountain gardener

You bought a gorgeous houseplant and gently placed it next to a bright window, and within a week, leaves are turning brown even falling off. What went wrong?

Imagine buying a dog without knowing it needs dog food, plenty of water, exercise, and affection to thrive. With the best intentions, you might neglect one or more of its needs, and you’d see your puppy grow thin, despondent, or sick. Like animals, plants are living beings with specific needs.

But just as puppies are different from kittens, so are cactus different from ficus trees or spider plants. To provide the optimum conditions for your plants, you’ll need to know what it needs to thrive.

What to Ask

When you buy a new houseplant, find out:

  • What kind of soil does it like?
  • How much light and shade does it need?
  • How much water is enough, and how much is too much?
  • Does this plant need extra plant food, and what kind?
  • How do I keep my plant safe from pests or parasites?
  • Does this plant need extra humidity or moisture?

Causes of Brown Leaves

Even with the best care, brown leaves are common on many houseplants. It’s often natural for lower leaves on a plant to show pale, then brown leaves and promptly drop off. This happens in many kinds of tropical plants as they grow. Over time, many houseplants form at bare stem or trunk.

Brown leaves can also be a sign of cultural problems. If your plant has many leaves falling off, or leaves turning brown all at once, or the upper leaves start showing browning, look for the following symptoms.

More Light Please – if lower leaves start turning brown or yellow, the plant may not have enough light. If the discoloration is isolated to the side of the plant away from your light source, it’s probably too little light.

Too Much Heat – often occurs in conjunction with too little water, but too much heat will cause leaves to curl, become crinkly, and fall off. If the plant is wilting, try increasing water. If the rest of the leaves are healthy, introduce some airflow to cool the plant off.

I Need Water – under watered plants first wilt, followed by leaves browning and drop off. This most often happens from the bottom up but can also start on outer leaves on more bushy plants.

More humidity needed – if the browning is confined to leaf tips and the leaf margins are healthy, your plant needs increased humidity. If it’s a tropical plant with a high humidity requirement, try misting. Too little humidity may also cause black spots to form on leaves.

Root and Grow Bottles

Root & Grow Houseplant Food is a Safe, Natural Compost Tea.

The juices from this organic tea reduce transplant shot while encouraging plants to root deeper with rich green foliage. Houseplants & Cactus love the silky smooth flavor for healthy, vibrant plants inside and out.

Until next week, I’ll be helping local gardeners with houseplants here at Watters Garden Center.