Why Do Plant Leaves Have Brown Tips? [10 Causes and 7 Fixes]

Everyone has had at least one plant with those bad-looking brown ending tips. You are not alone, this is indeed one of the most common problems in gardening. We find it unsightly, but on top of that, it makes us worry about what causes brown tips and how we might fix them.

Plants develop brown leaf tips due to 1) underwatering, 2) overwatering, 3) imbalanced nutrients, 4) over-draining soil, 5) compact soil, 6) too little or too much light, 7) overcrowded roots, 8) temperature and humidity, 9) pests and diseases, and 10) aging.

10 Factors causes brown tips on plant leaves
Plant Leaves Brown Tips – Infographic

Our instinct is to snip away the damaged foliage to make our plant look better, but this isn’t always the wisest course of action. It is best to figure out what’s causing the brown tips in the first place, then take steps to solve the issue. Let’s look into what brown plant tips are.

What Are Brown Tips On Plant Leaves?

The brown leaf tips are dead plant cells, and most often, it indicates that the plant is under stress conditions. Those dead plant cells will not revert once they become brown, but immediate action can help bring the rest of the plant back to life.

Browning on the leaves may develop in different patterns and that will help gardeners determine the probable cause of plant distress. These are the patterns of how plants get brown leaves and what they signify.

  • Wrinkled brown tips and margins– watering or feeding issues
  • Random brown patches, crispy and thin– too much sun, high temperature
  • Yellow to mushy brown spots – too much water
  • Curling edges, soft brown circles– pests and diseases
  • Browning of the entire leaf– aging process

10 Reasons Why Your Plants Develop Brown Leaves

Plants may develop brown leaves for various reasons, and they are usually associated with poor plant care, harsh environmental conditions, pest, and illness. Brown leaves also appear naturally as the plant matures, and this is not a reason for concern.

1- Underwatering

Underwatering causes the cells near the edge and margin of the leaf to become dehydrated and turn brown. Water travels from the roots to the stem and up to the leaf tips. Since water is inadequate, other plant parts get hydrated first before moisture makes it to the leaves.

When your plants are constantly deprived of water, you will soon notice brown edges on their leaves, particularly during a warm climate. Watch out for droopy puckered leaves that begin to brown from the tips as they can indicate a lack of water.

Dehydrated brown tips of spider plant leaves

2- Overwatering

Overwatering is another cause of brown tips in plants. This is because excess water will fill up the airspaces in the soil, depriving the roots of oxygen. Without oxygen, the roots will die and adversely affect the plant’s ability to take up water.

The first sign of overwatering is the yellowing of leaves, and as it continues, it may show signs of brown and sloppy leaves. According to Utah State University, overwatering may be just as stressful as drought to plants.

Too much water damages the roots first, making them rot until fungus and bacteria invade underneath. Without vigorous roots to absorb water, plant leaves will wither and turn brown from water shortage.

This is how an overwatered leaf may look like

3- Imbalanced Nutrients

The nutrient imbalance has an effect on plant leaves and the development of brown tips. Too little food triggers old leaves to turn brown and die, so young plant parts can get the limited nutrients. In contrast, overfeeding will lead to salt build-up in the soil and can result in leaf burn and browning.

Overfertilization can cause more injuries to plants than under fertilization. Excess fertilizer increases salt concentration that can destroy beneficial microorganisms, causing leaves to wilt, turn brown, and defoliate. Overall, it causes stress and weakens the plant.

4- Over-draining Soil

Potting soil with excessive drainage will dry out faster and not leave much time for the plant to absorb water. The roots will not be able to suck up sufficient water that the plant needs. Therefore, the plant will suffer from thirst, and leaves will dry up and turn brown.

Although it is recommended for plants to have well-draining soil, it is vital to note that it should also retain an appropriate amount of moisture for the roots to absorb further. Plants growing on an over-draining potting medium will require regular watering, or they’ll end up dehydrated.

5- Compact Soil

Compact soil can lead to brown tips on plant leaves by compressing the roots and so, limiting their growth and penetration into the soil. When water and nutrient uptake is affected, the plant may experience drought, resulting in the appearance of brown leaves.

Aside from impeding root development, compact soil has the potential to cause waterlogging and increase the possibility of root rot. As we all know, damaged roots will not effectively take up water and nutrients, so your plant will likely wither and get brown tips.

6- Too Little or Too Much Light

When plants can’t get the proper amount of light required by their system, they become floppy, and leaves will turn from pale yellow to brown and fall out. With insufficient light, the plants cannot produce adequate food, and thus become weak.

While too little light will make plant leaves wilt, too much light can stress them. Exposing your plants to intense direct sunlight can burn and scorch their foliage. Signs of overexposure to light will show up as burns patches, brown tips, or crispy edges, with yellow discoloration.

This is how improper light exposure results in brown leaf tips

7- Overcrowded Roots

Plants with crowded roots will struggle from drought stress. While the roots invade the pots, the soil will be pushed out and thus become less to retain as much water. Unfortunately, this insufficient water intake will cause plant leaves to dry out and get brown easily.

When you see roots popping out from the pot drainage hole, it means that the plants are becoming rootbound. They are at risk of getting dehydrated and being stunted.

8- Temperature and Humidity

Brown tips on leaves can be triggered by too high temperature and low humidity. Plant leaves will tend to wilt and dry out readily. Temperature fluctuations and dry air will also cause plant stress, resulting in brown leaf tips and margins.

Like too much light, temperature and humidity stress can also make plant leaves thin, crispy, and brittle. Too hot climate coupled with dry air causes transpiration and evaporation rate to spike up and trigger the appearance of brown leaves on plants.

9- Pests and Diseases

Sap-sucking pests such as mealybugs, spider mites, aphids, and scales are common culprits that make plant leaves turn brown. These insects feed on the plant juice, poking through the foliage and leaving them dry, shriveled, and brown.

In addition, bacterial and fungal diseases will cause plant leaves to develop mushy brown circles as cells start to die. These illnesses are common when plants are overwatered or when humidity is too high with poor air circulation.

10- Aging

As the plant approaches maturity, it is normal for old leaves to become totally brown and fall away. When a plant grows and develops a tall stem, old leaves on the bottom will begin wilting and dropping.

Foliage will turn brown and break off to conserve energy and allow the plant to focus its limited resources on forming new leaves. There is nothing you can do about this situation, and this is not a cause of concern as it is a natural process and part of plant growth.

When the entire leaf turns brown, it can be due to the aging of the plant

7 Ways to Fix Brown Leaves Like a Pro

When the cause of brown leaf tips is already figured out, it’s time to give the plant the best solution to avoid getting unsightly leaves.

1- Check Soil Moisture

If improper watering is the cause of brown tips, begin the remedy by checking the moisture in the potting medium. Dip your finger in to the first two inches below the topsoil and feel the dryness. If it is entirely dry, then the plant lacks water.

Start by giving your plant a good drench such that the water comes out of the drainage hole. In this way, the roots will have enough water to absorb and transport throughout the plant. Always check the soil for available moisture and water deeply when it is completely dry.

However, if your plant is sitting on damp soil, cut back from watering until the moisture has completely evaporated. To avoid overwatering, always use pots with adequate drainage holes and always check the soil for moistness before watering.

2- Change The Potting Medium

Ideally, a suitable potting medium for most plants has the following characteristics: well-draining, retaining just the proper moisture and does not compact. This kind of soil promotes vigorous roots as well. If any of these is compromised, change the soil of the plant.

If your plant uses compact soil such as clay, uproot the plant and get rid of the clay soil off the roots under running water. Repot the plant in a larger container with the appropriate, well-draining potting soil. Incorporating sand in your dense potting soil will improve drainage.

But if the potting medium drains quickly, you may amend the soil with organic substances like compost, garden soil, and coco peat. These materials are excellent in retaining moisture for a while. Preferably, the good ratio will be 2 parts potting medium on 1 part organic compound.

3- Adjust The Light Exposure

Move away sun-scorched plants from direct sunlight towards an area with indirect but bright light. This will prevent further burning of the plants while providing optimum sunlight.

On the other hand, if your plant develops brown tips due to lack of light, gradually introduce the plant to indirect light. Do not expose it right away to direct sunlight as it can be at risk of scorching.

The difference between lack of water and sunburn on leaves from my aloe vera

4- Flush Out Salt Build-Up

If the suspected cause of brown tips is excessive salt build-up, solve this problem by flushing out the traces of salt and other excess minerals off the soil. To do this, place the potted plant under running water for a few minutes and allow the water to drain out the bottom hole.

Leave the potted plant and drip the excess water. By doing this, you are eliminating the extra nutrients from the potting soil. However, under extreme salt accumulation, you may repot your plant to a fresh new potting medium.

To avoid salt building up in the soil, water your plants deeply until they begin to come out from the bottom. This method flushes the salt and excess fertilizers. Also, avoid unnecessary feeding to prevent unwanted fertilizer burn.

5- Repot Rootbound Plants

Although some plants are not bothered by their overcrowded roots, it is best if they are replanted to a larger pot to accommodate their vigorous roots and keep their foliage healthy.

When repotting rootbound plants, you might need to trim off dead roots to encourage new healthy growth. Avoid using an extra-large container, or you’ll end up overwatering your plant. A container that is bigger by an inch or two than the previous pot is better.

6- Treat Pests and Diseases

Check the undersides and folds of the leaves for possible infestation. In case of pests attack, treat them with an organic insecticide such as neem oil and insecticidal soap. But make sure to test the plant for phytotoxicity before applying treatment to prevent foliage burn.

Remove severely infected leaves and wrap them with plastic before discarding to prevent spread among other plants. However, in the case of fungal infection, a systemic fungicide will be helpful enough to prevent the spread of disease.

7- Increase Humidity

When plants tend to develop brown leaves due to dry air, increase air moisture by assembling the plants close to each other. Plants produce their own microclimate as they transpire.

Another method is to position plants above a basin with pebbles and a little water. As the water evaporates, it adds humidity to the surrounding. Or you can get a humidifier to elevate the moisture in the air and moisten the foliages.

Can I Cut The Brown Tips Off The Plant?

Snipping off the unpleasing brown tips will give the plant a fresh and healthy look. Furthermore, cutting off the leaf infected by pests and diseases is wise to limit their spread to other nearby plants.

If you don’t like your plants having dry brown tips, you may opt to remove or trim them. It is also recommended to prune if more than half of the leaf area is brown. Removing the entire leaf will be beneficial for the plant to redirect energy towards the healthier parts and promote new growth.

But if the brown tips are just small parts, I would prefer just to leave them, as they can help produce extra food for the plant. Remember to use a sterile cutting tool to avoid leaf infection. When trimming the tip of the leaf, replicate its shape so it will look the same as other healthy leaves.

Should I cut the brown leaves off monstera?

You may cut the brown leaves off a monstera just near its base to allow new leaf growth. Furthermore, monstera is sensitive to pests and pathogens that may breed on the brown leaves.

What do brown tips on a peace lily mean?

The most frequent cause of brown tips on peace lily leaves is either too little or too much water. According to most experts, peace lily would prefer deep but infrequent drenching. They are also sensitive to too much light and require indirect bright light to keep their leaves from wilting.

What do brown tips on a spider plant mean?

Browning tips on spider plants are usually due to lack or excess water. Spider plants have thin roots that dry out with little water and rot easily with excess moisture. To maintain healthy spider plant leaves, do not allow their soil to dry fully and don’t let the plant sit in wet soil.

What do brown tips on succulents mean?

Sunburn is the common reason why succulents develop brown tips on their leaves. Your succulent plants may experience climate shock if you move them immediately to a much brighter area. Although most succulents are native to arid climates, they can still get scorched if exposed to prolonged sunlight.

What do brown tips on a palm tree mean?

When a palm tree gets too much sunlight but is deprived of water, it will start to develop brown tips. Likewise, if their soil gets oversaturated with too much water, leaves will become yellow and turn brown over time. Palm trees prefer moist soil that is not soggy.

What do brown tips on a majesty palm mean?

Dry air is the initial cause of brown tips on your majesty palm. Majesty palms flourish in humid regions since they are tropical plants. However, when you grow them indoors, where the air is really dry, the palm tips can become brown. Use a humidifier to provide moist air inside your home.

What do brown tips on a fern mean?

When the delicate leaves of a fern develop brown tips, the main culprits are low humidity and too little water. Ferns like their soil to be moist but not wet. Moreover, their leaves will go crispy when the air is too dry.

Fern leaf tips turn brown due to dry air and little moisture

Should I cut brown tips off the dracaena?

Trim only brown tips or damaged parts off dracaena leaves to make them look fresh. However, if the entire leaf has turned brown, remove the whole leaf from the base.

Should I cut brown tips off the snake plant?

If the snake plant has minimal damage, just snip off the damaged part if they look unsightly. However, if it is just tiny brown tips, you can leave them as it is.

Should I cut the brown tips of the areca palm?

Any sort of palms frond should only be cut off when it is totally brown and dead. Fronds of any shade of green continue to provide nutrients to the entire plant. Areca palms are often self-cleaning, and dead fronds fall off the tree without needing to be pruned.

Should I cut brown tips off the prayer plant?

Prune the leaves that are severely curled and crisp, but leave those that are slightly scorched. It will keep the plant’s aesthetic look and encourage new leaves to unfurl. Prayer plants are sensitive to too much light and may turn brown and brittle margins easily.

What causes brown tips on orchid leaves?

Orchid leaf tips become brown and dry out as a result of dehydration. Resolve dehydration by increasing watering to two or three times per week. In some cases, however, browning of tips can also indicate that the roots are damaged and have stopped working or absorbing water.

What causes brown tips on hydrangea leaves?

One common reason why hydrangea leaves have brown tips is the lack of adequate moisture. Actively growing hydrangea requires a steady supply of water to supplement its growth rate. However, if the leaf tips appear to be burnt, too much fertilizer and scorching weather are the probable causes.

What causes brown tips on mango tree leaves?

High soil salinity is the usual cause why the edges of the mango leaves turn brown. Mango trees are sensitive to excess sodium and magnesium.

What causes brown tips on money plant leaves?

Brown, unhealthy tips on money plant’s leaves indicate that the plant has not received adequate moisture. Sun damage is also likely if the plant is located in an area that gets intense light.

Summary on Brown Tips on Plants

  • Ten reasons why plant leaves turn brown include underwatering, overwatering, imbalanced nutrients, over-draining soil, compact soil, too little or too much light, overcrowded roots, temperature and humidity, pests and diseases, and aging.
  • The seven ways to fix brown leaf tips include soil moisture check, changing potting medium, adjusting light exposure, flushing out salt build-up, repotting a rootbound plant, treating pests and diseases, and increasing the humidity.
  • Pruning brown tips improves the aesthetic appearance of the plant. Leaves infected with pests and diseases should be cut off to inhibit potential spread to other healthy plants.

Sources

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