Whether your philodendron’s sprouted leaves of yellow, or your prayer plant’s developed a case of brown tips, leaf discolouration is often one of the first signs that something is not quite right. In other words, if your plant’s leaves are yellowing or browning, it may be its way of saying, “Hey! I’m stressed”.
Leaves turn colour for various reasons.
Yellowing leaves is known as chlorosis, meaning the plant is developing too little chlorophyll. It’s chlorophyll that gives the plant its green colour. So, too little and the plant starts to pale.
On the other hand, brown tips or brown along the edges, which is another common complaint, can often indicate an issue with water.
I’ve experienced both yellow and brown leaves, and I would hazard a guess so has every other plant enthusiast. So, if you’ve suddenly noticed your leaves changing colour take heart because you’re not alone.
In this post, we’ll delve into the main reasons leaves turn yellow or brown and solutions for fixing the problem.
Why Leaves Turn Yellow or Brown and What to Do about It
Finding and resolving the reason for yellowing leaves or browning tips may take a bit of sleuthing and time, but with a little effort, you should be able to get your plant back to its healthy green.
Once you’ve donned your detective hat, here are a few things to take note of.
- Have you recently changed your plant’s environment? For example, just brought the plant home or moved it to a different location?
- Where is the leaf discolouration? Top leaves, bottom leaves?
- Are the yellowing or browning leaves only on one side of the plant, or on all sides?
- Are there spots of discolouration, or has the whole leaf turned colour?
- Lastly, is the leaf or plant showing any other symptoms, such as droopiness, stunted growth or wrinkled leaves?
Now that you’ve given your plant a bit of an exam, let’s take a look at some of the reasons why and solutions for yellowing leaves and browning tips.
Sometimes, yellowing leaves are simply a result of your plant adjusting to a new environment. When you bring a plant home, it now has to acclimate itself to a number of new conditions, such as temperature, lighting, and humidity. This can be stressful for your plant.
Solution: If you’re noticing yellowing leaves and have recently brought the plant home or moved its location within your home, give your plant a week or two to adjust to its new setting.
Hopefully, once it acclimates, you’ll begin noticing a return to its healthy green. But don’t be alarmed if those discoloured leaves fall off. That’s just the plant shedding the damaged leaf.
However, if the plant continues to have yellowing leaves or develops browning tips, you’ll need to explore other causes.
Moisture stress is probably the most common cause of a plant’s leaves turning colour.
And it’s understandable.
It takes a little time to get to know your plant and its watering needs. This is especially true if this is a new variety of plant for you, or if you’re just starting out with plants.
Keeping houseplants happy is a learning process.
Brown tips and edges can be an indication the plant is not getting enough water. There could be several reasons for this.
- If the plant is under-watered, then the roots can’t absorb enough water to nourish the whole leaf. This results in the tips and edges suffering. Solution: Increase your watering.
- Brown tips can result from a lack of humidity. This is especially true for tropical plants. Solution: Create a more humid environment. You can do this by placing a pebble tray under your plant or using a cold mist humidifier near your plant.
- Your roots can’t absorb water because they are too compacted in their container. Solution: Remove the plant from its current pot, loosen up the soil and repot into a larger container.
Want to know a little more about the right pot for your plant, then take a look at my post on the subject. It has some helpful information.
Unfortunately, yellowing leaves are not always clear-cut and can be indicative of both under-watering and over-watering. Here are a few things to keep an eye out for.
- Yellowing leaves that are curling inwards, and are dry or brittle, might indicate your plant is not getting enough water. Solution: Feel the soil or use a moisture tester to get a sense of its dryness. Increase the amount of water if dry.
- Bright yellow leaves couple with wet soil can indicate the plant is getting too much water. Solution: Reduce the amount of water.
- Yellowing leaves that are limp and droopy, or a sudden problem with fungus gnats, can be signs the soil is too wet and has been for too long. Solution: At a minimum, do not water your plant. Let it dry out. Depending on how poorly the plant is faring, or how great a gnat problem you have, you may need to repot your plant into drier soil.
Light & Temperature
Both light and temperature can affect your plant’s growth and the colour of its leaves.
If there is too little sun, a plant can’t photosynthesize. In this case, leaves may start to yellow from a lack of food.
On the other hand, too much sun can result in sun-scald. Here, you might see yellow lesions on the leaves.
Solution: Examine your plant to see which leaves are yellowing.
If the leaves are yellowing on the side away from the light, your plant might not be getting enough light. In this case, move your plant to a brighter spot, or place it under a grow light. You can also try rotating your plant on a regular basis so that all sides are exposed to the greatest amount of light.
If you’re noticing spots of discolouration where the sun streams in from the window, your plant may be getting too much direct light. Try moving your plant further back from the window, or to an area where it has more bright, indirect light.
Exposure to drafts or extreme heat or cold can also affect your plant’s leaves. I know, because I recently experienced this.
My lucky bamboo suddenly started developing yellowing leaves and tips. I didn’t know why until one day I saw the leaves moving for no reason. Unbeknownst to me, my window was not properly closed and a cold wintry draft had been blowing directly on my poor plant. Needless to say, the window is now completely closed and he is again nice and warm.
Exposure to drafts can turn your leaves yellow. Whereas extreme cold, even for a short period of time, can turn your leaves brown.
Solution: Keep your plants in an area with an even, moderate temperature. If, like me, you notice they’re in a drafty spot, move them elsewhere.
If it is winter, and you’re transporting your plant to another location, place the plant in a bag or some other type of wrapping to protect it while outside. And keep any exposure to the cold to a minimum.
Plants need nutrients to survive, but sometimes they don’t receive the right nutrients in the right amounts.
A nitrogen deficiency, for example, may have the lower leaves initially looking yellow, becoming soft and curling inwards before turning brown and crispy and falling off completely.
On the other hand, a potassium deficiency may have the edges and tips browning and curling, appearing as if scorched, or you may have yellow leaves, while the veins remain green.
Solution: If you suspect a nutritional deficiency, determine the deficiency (DIY soil testing kits are available at gardening centers), then fertilize with a mixture that will bring your soil back into balance.
Brown leaves and tips can be the result of too much chemical exposure, such as salt or fluoride, and this can happen in several ways.
- Overfertilization can have your plants looking scorched, even though the soil is still wet.
- Your soil may have too high a salt content, or your plants might be experiencing excessive salt exposure. Houses with water softening systems can be especially prone to this.
- Some plants are simply more sensitive to the chemicals in tap water, like fluoride.
Solution: If your plant is looking poorly, you may first want to flush the soil to reduce any buildup. Distilled or filtered water can be used instead of or in combination with tap water if you’re concerned your tap water may be heavy in minerals or chemicals.
PESTS & DISEASE
Lastly, pests or diseases are another two reasons for yellowing or browning leaves.
With a pest problem, leaf discolouration will often show up in an asymmetrical pattern. Bugs like to suck the chlorophyll out of a leaf. So, you may notice tiny yellow or white spots, or even coloured streaks.
Solution: With pests, you’ll want to treat them right away. First, give your plant a good inspection and bath to try and remove any pests manually. Then, head to your local garden center. Here, you should find a number of options including insecticidal soaps, insecticides, and even beneficial bugs. If you can, bring in a sample of a leaf that’s discoloured.
Yellowing or yellow spots, brown spots, and rusting, are potential signs your plant is suffering from some type of disease, such as a fungus or root rot. You may also notice growth slowing or becoming stunted, or the stems becoming soft or mushy.
Solution: Again, head to your local garden center to look for fungicide treatment. And, as with pests, try to bring in a sample of a damaged leaf. If the plant is showing more signs of distress than just yellowing or browning leaves, then you may want to remove the plant from its pot and inspect the roots to see their condition.
As you can see, there are various reasons for yellow or brown leaves. If you’re a new plant parent, it can leave you scratching your head. But, don’t become discouraged.
It takes time to learn the right balance of water and light and nutrients. If you’re noticing leaf discolouration and can’t determine the cause, bring a sample of the leaf to your local garden center. Oftentimes, they’ll have someone there who can help you identify the problem.
And keep in mind, if there are no other causes, the yellowing or browning leaves might simply be a sign of age. As the old leaves mature, they die off to make way for the new.
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