Why Do Indoor Plant Leaves Turn Brown? (And How to Fix Them)

Indoor plants are much easier to care for than outdoor plants because you can control the environment. However, there may come a time when your indoor plant leaves turn brown.

When this happens, it means something is happening. And you need to pay attention and identify what’s causing it.

While you should not panic, don’t get complacent either.

Why do indoor plant leaves turn brown? The most common reason is due to watering issues. But there are many other possible reasons why indoor plant leaves turn brown. These include improper lighting humidity issues, fertilizer and nutrient problems.

Different Ways Your Indoor Plant Leaves Turn Brown

Before you start treating the brown leaves on your plant, understanding what’s happening and identifying the issue is needed.

That’s because there are many types of brown leaf symptoms. And they’re not all alike.

In fact, different patterns of browning will give you a clue as to what may be causing the problem. Also, which part of the leaves turn brown makes a difference.

In some cases, only the tips or edges turn brown. Other times, it is spots in certain areas. Yet at times, the entire leaf turns brown.

So, what do they all mean?

I’ll break it down below in this simple summary.

 

Brown Leaf Tips

Brown leaf tips primarily happens at the tip of the leaf. In some cases, it will be accompanies by brown edges or margins as well.

When this this happens, you’ll see the leaf tips turn brown or become dark.

They will feel dry and brittle as well. And if you try to touch them, they can easily crumble.

Why do brown leaf tips happen?

The most common reasons for brown leaf tips are watering issues, lack of humidity and fertilizer problems.

This occurs because the leaf tips and edges are the farther points from the roots. In a way, they are the plant’s extremities much like your fingers and toes are for people.

This is why when your blood flow isn’t great, you’ll feel tingling if your fingers and feet first. It can also happen when you’ve got your hands or feet raised up above your heart for quite a while.

The same is true for plants.

The roots take in water from the soil. This water then works its way up to the stems to supply the leaves and the plant’s extremities with moisture.

But if something happens or the water is not sufficient, moisture does not reach the tips and edges. After a while, they become dry and become brown in color.

As such, when the plant is not getting enough humidity or water, brown edges and tips are signs that will warn you about this problem

 

Brown Spots, Patterns or Patches on Leaves

Brown spots, patches or even patterns can likewise form on the leaves.

These are more random in that they can appear anywhere in the leaves. Also, the size of the patches, spots or patterns can vary. And the amount is never the same as well.

The problem here is that if you let the problem be and not solve it, the brown spots, patches or patterns will eventually spread and cover the entire leaf.

Why do brown spots, patches and patterns on leaves happen?

The most common reason for brown spots, patches or patterns on leaves are pests (insects) or fungal infections.

Houseplant pests feed on the plant’s leaves. In the process, the penetrate the leaf tissue and damage the leaves. When the tissues on the leaves die, they turn brown.

Fungal disease work in a similar manner eating away at the leaves.

If untreated, the brown spots, patterns and patches will get bigger over time.

 

Leaves Turn Completely Brown

Sometimes the entire leaf will turn brown. Usually, when this happens, the leaves turn yellow initially, then transition into a brown color. After a while, they drop and fall off.

This usually happens with the bottom leaves which are not only bigger but also older. However, it can likewise happen to the middle or top leaves as well.

Why do leaves turn completely brown?

Aging and the natural life cycle of leaves is what causes them to turn brown entirely. This happens as the leaves get older.

In this case, it is the plant’s hormones that cause the changes as time passes. As such, this is one instance where improper care is not the reason for brown leaves.

 

Why Do Indoor Plant Leaves Turn Brown (And Their Solutions)

Now that you know the different symptoms of brown leaves, how they appear, where they happen and what they mean, it is time to take a detailed look at the causes for brown leaves in plants.

Note that there are quite a few reasons why indoor plant leaves turn brown.

As such, it is important to narrow down the root cause instead of just picking one possible reason before you apply a solution.

From experience, spending extra time to properly identify and diagnose the issue is well worth it since the solution is usually straightforward once you know what the cause is.

 

Acclimation to New Environments

Acclimation refers to the plant moving to a new environment.

Brown leaves due to acclimation usually happens when you bring home a new plant from the nursery or garden center.

That’s because the conditions in the store are different from that in your home.

Additionally, because that’s the store’s business, they optimized the environment there to make it ideal for growing plants.

In contrast, your home is more optimized to make people feel comfortable.

As such, the changes in the amount of light, temperature, humidity and other surrounding factors can cause browning of the leaves.

The other common cause of acclimation issues is repotting or transplanting.

Here, the plant has been living in the same pot for at least a year or longer. And by moving it, you may disrupt its “comfort zone”.

Similarly, if you move the plant to a different location, it will need some time to adjust to its new surroundings.

This is when leaves can turn brown. At times, you may even see leaves fall off.

The good news is brown leaves due to acclimation issues is usually temporary.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to fix it. But you also don’t need to do anything special to treat the plant. As long as you take care of it properly, it will usually recover in a few weeks.

Although, sometimes, this can take a few months especially if something in the new environment does not fit the plant’s preference.

 

Related

 

Aging

Aging is another normal part of the plant’s life cycle. And leaves can turn brown because of it.

In this case, the brown leaves can happen for several reasons.

One is the plant is growing and getting bigger. When this happens, the stems grow longer and the bottom leaves will turn brown and drop off.

Another is old age. Leaves initially emerge then unfurl. Over time them will get bigger and turn darker in color as they reach the color of the other leaves.

But in time leaves get old. From their lovely green color, these will turn brown and then fall off.

Finally, some plants will focus their resources on pushing out younger leaves.

When this happens, the older leaves turn brown and later drop off to give way for new, young leaves to emerge and develop.

 

Watering

Watering is usually the most common problem for houseplants. And when it comes to leaf discoloration, this is usually what to you want to check for first.

With watering, there are two cases you need to consider.

One is underwatering. The other is overwatering the plant. Both can cause brown leaves. However, one is more likely that the other.

 

Underwatering

The most common reason for brown leaves is underwatering.

Here, you’re either not watering the plant enough, allowing the soil to completely dry out (sometimes for long periods of time) or watering incorrectly.

The most common cause of underwatering is just forgetting or getting too busy with life.

In most cases, indoor plants don’t like going completely dry.

Some plants are more drought tolerant. As such, they can tolerant some periods of dryness. But if you don’t water them for 3-4 weeks after the soil has completely dries out, they will start turning brown as well.

Thus, avoid letting the soil go completely bone dry.

Another common cause of an underwatered plant has to do with how you water.

A plant’s roots absorbs water from the soil. And the water in the soil has to be enough to so it can reach the leaves, its tips and edges.

If there isn’t enough water, the plant will still turn brown despite you regularly watering the soil.

How does this happen?

Usually, it occurs when you only wet the soil on the surface. This is called shallow watering.

As such, while the roots get some moisture, there isn’t enough water to supply the leaves and the parts that are farthest from the roots.

So, unless you do shallow watering on a very regular basis, there’s a chance that brown tips may still occur.

This is why the best way to water the plant is to water it thoroughly.

This means soaking the root ball then allowing the excess liquid to drain after. This way, there’s enough water in the saturated soil to keep the entire plant hydrated.

 

Overwatering

Overwatering is likewise another problem.

And while it is a less common cause of brown leaves than underwatering, it is more dangerous.

The reason is that overwatering usually causes leaves to turn yellow first.

The problem here is that excess water or keeping the soil very wet will leave the roots drowning in liquid. When this happens, the water fills all the tiny air pockets preventing oxygen from reaching the roots.

Without oxygen, the roots will suffocate.

Also, the leaves will start turning brown before they fall off.

Therefore, by the time you see brown leaves due to overwatering, there’s a good chance that the roots have sustained at least some damage.

So, the best way to prevent brown leaves due to overwatering is to always check the soil before adding more water.

Some plants like more water while others need to dry out between waterings.

This means it is important to understand each individual plant.

From there, feel the soil to know when to water it.

 

Light

Brown leaves on indoor plants can also happen when they’re not getting enough light.

Again, different plants have different lighting needs.

So, you need to check what each specific plant’s light preferences are. A good way to do this is to always ask the nursery or where you bought the plant what kind of light that particular plant requires.

Then give it to the plant.

If it does not get sufficient light, its leaves will eventually turn brown.

This usually begins with the side that’s facing away from the light source. As such, it is always a good idea to rotate your plants 90 degrees every few weeks to even out light exposure.

On the other hand, too much light can also cause brown leaves.

But in this case, the browning can vary. In extreme cases, brown marks or burn marks will occur. This is due to scorching as a result from excessive exposure to strong or intense light.

In both cases, the best way to fix brown leaves from lighting problems is to:

  • Know what kind of lighting needs each plant needs.
  • Move it to a less bright location if it is getting too much direct sunlight
  • If it is in a dim or dark location, move it to a brighter location

 

Temperature Issues

 

 

Humidity Problems

Humidity is another cause of brown leaves in plants. This is especially true for tropical plants because they’re used to moderate to high humidity.

To explain, different parts of the world have varying levels of humidity.

Most houseplants are tropical plants. Majority of the others are usually cacti and succulents.

The reason is that our homes’ temperature is well-suited for these plants. As such, we’ve grown to prefer them since it is easier for them to survive and thrive in home environments.

Because tropical plants come from the regions near the equator, they are used to warm, humid climates. This is how the weather is in those parts of the world.

However, depending on where you live, humidity in your locale may or may not be the same.

If you have four seasons in your area, dry summers and winters are also known for causing the air to get dry, thus bringing down humidity.

When humidity gets too low, your plant’s leaves will turb brown.

 

How to Fix Humidity Problems Causing Brown leaves

The simplest way is to increase humidity around your plants.

Misting is the most common solution. Although, it needs to be repeated a few times a week because its effects are only temporary.

Alternatively, you can get a humidifier as well.

And if you prefer something free, you can make your own pebble tray or humidity tray at home.

 

Nutrient Issues

All plants need nutrients. In fact, they need both major and minor nutrients to stay healthy. But each of these plant’s nutrient needs can vary.

The most effective way to deliver these nutrients is through the soil.

And in most cases, the potted plants you get have soil that has some kind of nutrients in them. Garden soil naturally has nutrients especially if your yard has good quality soil that comes with it.

But as plants grow, they will absorb these nutrients.

As such, the nutrients in the soil will get depleted over time.

This is why fertilizer, whether synthetic or organic, is needed.

But because how much fertilizer is added depends on the gardener, there’s always a chance that there’s too much or too little nutrients added to the soil.

Unfortunately, both can cause problems.

 

Lack of Fertilizer

insufficient fertilizer means not enough nutrients.

This can happen if you don’t give the plant fertilizer or give it too little. It can also occur if the product you use does not contain all the nutrients the plant needs.

When this happens, the leaves will turn brown and fall off as the plant will redirect its limited resources to the younger parts. It does this for self-preservation.

 

Too Much Fertilizer

Excess fertilizer can happen for several reasons as well.

Often, it is just the gardener being too generous. At times, it is the hope that giving the plant more food will make it grow faster or get bigger.

However, feeding the plant when it is not actively growing can also cause brown leaves due to excess fertilizer.

And overfertilizing can likewise occur if you apply too frequently.

In all of these cases, the leaves will turn brown due to fertilizer burn. Too much fertilizer will cause an excess of salts that build up in the soil.

Salt not only draws a lot of the water that’s supposed to be for the roots, it can also damage the roots.

 

How to Fix Fertilizer and Nutrient Problems

The best way to do this is to follow the manufacturer’s application instructions in the product. There’s no need to give the plant more than it requires since it becomes more harmful.

Also, remember that plant growth happens most during the warm months.

The growth also significantly slows down during the colder months.

As such, there’s no need to feed the plant in fall and winter in most cases. Instead, focus on fertilizing during spring and summer.

To avoid salt buildup due to fertilizer which can lead to brown leaves, flush the soil using water once every 2 months or so.

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