Why do houseplants’ leaves turn brown? A practical guide

I thoroughly enjoy adding houseplants to my home. They effortlessly enhance the ambiance of any room while improving air quality. However, it’s quite disheartening when these green companions begin to show brown spots. Despite the careful attention and care I provide, the issue persists. Various factors have proven to be responsible for the browning of the leaves, prompting me to investigate further. Although initially unanticipated, this turned out to be beneficial in the long run as it gave me a greater understanding of my plants’ needs and how to better meet them.

The primary reason why houseplants’ leaves turn brown is that they’re kept in an unnatural environment. Plants depend on you for light, water, heat, and humidity. If any of these environmental factors are not ideal, it can lead to the leaves turning brown.

The good news is that you don’t have to settle for houseplants that aren’t healthy or don’t look good in your home. While not every plant will thrive indoors, I turned some plants around by identifying what was causing the problem and then addressing it. You can also use these tips if you have issues with your houseplant leaves browning.

Browning leaves due to too much or too little water

This was my first thought when I noticed brown leaves and stems on my plants. After all, most plants will dry up when they don’t have adequate water. It is a good idea to assess your plants and see if they have dry stems and brown leaves. One of my plants had large leaves and started browning from the lower leaves.

If this looks familiar on your plants, you may be under-watering it. Unfortunately, the same symptoms can occur when you over-water your plant. This is because over-watering will damage the roots, which does not allow them to take in enough water and ultimately leads them to under-watering.

If you’re unsure whether you’re over or under-watering, looking at your soil may be a good idea. I could feel my soil beds and noticed they were dry and appeared to haven’t been watered in days.

When the soil beds were too damp, it was easier to understand that I had been over-watering. The soil in the plants is a good indicator of high or low moisture levels, so take a look here first.

The good news is that it’s pretty easy to solve this problem. I started by trimming off the brown leaves. After all, they wouldn’t grow back and made my plants look bad. If the entire stem dried, I pruned it off and then tried to propagate the pruned stems with stem tip cuttings.

Then, I thoroughly water my plant but avoid over-watering it. It was helpful for me to make a watering schedule to prevent this problem in the future.

Normal Aging and Low Humidity

I also learned that plants often drop their lower leaves as they mature. This is especially true for plants such as ferns and philodendrons. This doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with the plant. In this scenario, the best thing to do is prune the old leaves away.

However, when it comes to tropical plants are accustomed to a damp climate. This means the air is humid, and some plants don’t tolerate dry weather. For example, if you live in a humid area, you might be OK with your houseplants.

If you live in a dry area or like to use a dehumidifier, you will probably run into a few problems along the way. Some houseplant leaves will turn brown when the air is too dry. This is especially true when your tropical plant gets a lot of direct suns or during the colder months when the heat runs and dries out of the air.

The best solution to this problem was to move my plants away from heaters and direct sunlight as much as possible. They often did better when I put the plants on a dish full of pebbles and put a layer of water in the petals. While this step didn’t make my home more humid, it created humidity around the plant. Finally, I trimmed off dried leaves to keep my plant looking nice.

Browning Leaf Tips

I’ve also noticed that some plants develop brown leaf tips, which don’t spread to the rest of the leaf. Researching the subject was frustrating as it can be challenging to diagnose. Some more common culprits included polluted water, erratic watering, overfeeding, or a combination of these factors.

Plants that have long, strappy leaves, like spider plants, seemed to have this problem more often. This appears to be because the water has to travel farther to keep the cells at the tip of the leaves well-hydrated.

The salt build-up is another cause that can be a problem, depending on your water supply. If you live in an area with softened water, you may be surprised that the salts can build up in your plants, causing the tips of the leaves to brown.

The best solution to this problem seems to be looking closely at how you care for your plants. I had to evaluate whether I wasn’t watering my plants appropriately, if my water was clean, and other factors regarding planting care.

Since I found the brown tips undesirable in their general appearance, I trimmed the edges of the leaves off when they turned brown—cutting right outside the area where the green turned to primarily brown fixed the problem. When new leaves emerged, I was able to enjoy the whole, fresh green leaves.

Excess Fertilizer

Like any other living thing, plants need a steady food source for healthy plants. I use fertilizer but didn’t realize that too much could cause brown leaves. Browning around the sides and the tips of the leaves are often caused by too much fertilizer.

This is because over-fertilizing a plant will lead to root damage. This then affected their ability to take in water, making them appear like I was under-watering the plant.

The good news is that most plants don’t need much or even any fertilizer during the winter months. This is when I found that fertilizing my plants led to them developing brown plants. I also noticed that fertilizer would build upon the soil surface.

The solution to this problem was pretty simple, thankfully. Instead of fertilizing every week, I tried to avoid fertilizing when it was colder outside and spacing out when I fertilized the plants. This solved my problem.

Pests and Diseases

This was also a rugged solution. After all, several pests can infest houseplants. Some of the more common culprits included spider mites and aphids. The fungus has attacked the roots of my plants, making it seem like it was being overwatered.

The naked eye could see most of the pests that attacked my plants, but some were hard to detect. A thorough inspection of the plant leaves was an excellent way to determine if this was the problem. Brown bumps, white fuzz, and webbing around and on the plant leaves were usually a sign of pests. Similarly, brown spots that appeared in the center of my leaves were typically caused by diseases.

The bad news about this problem was that the solution wasn’t always straightforward. Although this was challenging, one of the best things I did was dispose of infested plants to save the rest of my indoor garden.

After all, pests spread quickly and can damage the rest of your plants. Another solution for minor problems was an insecticidal soap and neem oil. These were great when trying to eradicate little pests or fungal issues.

When treating my plants, I also prune back any infested areas of the plants and brown leaves. I then allowed the plant some time to rest and continued monitoring them for other signs of pest infestations. I made a video on dealing with pests such as aphids, whiteflies, and mealybugs, all known for causing these symptoms in plants; you can view that below. If you ever struggle with pests, it is a must-watch.

Keeping the Problem At Bay

So, what do you do when you find the leaves on your houseplants turning brown? The answer is pretty simple. It’s best to find the source of the cause and remedy that particular issue. In the meantime, ensure you cut away any brown leaves and eliminate them. Once you find and fix the root cause, then you’ll see healthier foliage taking its place.


Once I learned the causes of brown leaves, I found that most plants flourished without these or other related problems. You can also use these tips to learn more about what causes the issues and how to handle your house plants best.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post about leaves turning brown. I trust it answers your question fully. If this interests you, why not consider checking out some of my other blog posts and subscribing so you don’t miss future content?

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And remember, folks, You Reap What You Sow!

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