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Why is My Houseplant Turning Brown?

Houseplant leaves may turn brown for a variety of reasons. This most often occurs when a houseplant does not have the requisite water and nutrients to support its current foliage, and the leaves start to die back. Often, there’s nothing that can be done to save the withered growth, and it should be pruned from the plant to make room for new growth. By understanding the cause of the browning leaves, you can hopefully ensure the plant can support and maintain green, healthy growth in the future. Much of the time, you can accurately diagnose why your houseplant leaves are turning brown by looking at the timing and circumstances of the discoloration.

Most Common Reasons Houseplants Turn Brown

Too Much Sunlight: Direct solar rays can burn many types of houseplants. Dried leaves naturally turn brown. If your houseplant is turning brown in the summer and especially if it’s a houseplant in a south- or west-facing window, then it’s likely sun damage. This type of browning almost always starts with the tips of leaves or other parts of the plant that are closest to the window. As a remedy, prune back the damaged part of the plant. Next, consider moving the plant to an east- or north-facing window, or moving it further back from the window if possible. You should also closely monitor the soil moisture level to make sure this isn’t contributing to the sun damage.

Underwatering: Plants that don’t receive enough will also dry out and turn brown. Underwatering is often connected with summer and sunlight, especially if you first started caring for the plant in colder weather. Most houseplants need more water in summer as evaporation increases. At the same time, browning plant leaves will occur due to underwatering regardless of the season. The winter season brings dry air for houseplants, especially in homes with forced air heating. Along with holiday travel, it’s easy to forget your houseplant watering. The solution here is to increase the amount of water you give the houseplant—albeit gradually. First, you need to be sure the problem is underwatering, but you also don’t want to overcorrect. Too much water can lead to root rot.

Pests: Yellow is a more common discoloration with houseplant pests which tend to steal nutrients from the plant. Once the pest damage hits a critical point, leaves may begin to die back and it’s more common for them to turn brown. Any unusual discoloration—but especially yellow, brown, white and black—may be a symptom of a pest infestation. The initial discoloration may be spotted and/or clustered based on where the insects are attacking the plant. If you see bugs on your plant or other signs of houseplant pests, then you should begin insecticide treatment as soon as possible.

Root Rot: Here, too, houseplants that turn yellow are more common with root rot—at least with the leaves. Root rot occurs when the soil is oversaturated and the roots become waterlogged. The leaves are more likely to turn yellow, but the roots will turn brown. If you expose a portion of the roots and they look brown and feel soft to the touch, then there’s a good chance that the discoloration you’re seeing is root rot. The solution here is to remove the affected roots, and the discolored leaves, and repot the healthy portion of the plant. Closely monitor the watering schedule going forward.

Water and Soil Quality: If leaves continue to turn brown, but don’t seem to be seriously harming the plant, it could have something to do with the water quality. If our tap water has high levels of fluoride or hard alkaline minerals, it can affect the soil quality and health of the roots. Adding a water softener is NOT the solution. These salts will interfere with houseplant roots even more. Another common reason for houseplants turning brown is adding too much fertilizer which will also disrupt the roots ability to deliver water and nutrients to the plant.

Houseplant Turning Brown: Why It’s Important to Know the Type

A lot of times, you can tell from the situation why a houseplant is turning brown. Other times, it’s not as obvious. Knowing the type of houseplant can help you diagnose the discoloration. For example, a drought-resistant plant that loves sunlight is less likely to be seriously harmed by the summer sun. However, in late summer and fall, houseplant pests are also more likely to find their way inside your home and may be the hidden cause of houseplants turning brown. Finally, there may be multiple, contributing causes. The summer sun may start to burn houseplants, or maybe you overcompensate and overwater a plant slightly. This weakens the plant just enough for a common houseplant pest to get a foothold.

Once you recognize why a houseplant is turning brown, you’ll know how to treat and care for the houseplant to help it recover. Sometimes, a houseplant simply can’t be saved—or else the best chance to save the plant is to isolate the healthiest growth and put this part of the plant in a new pot.  

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