How To Save Houseplants Turning Brown? Full Guide

Posted by Olivra Homedecor on

How to save houseplants from turning brown full guide

Image by KSRE Photo

Recently, I noticed that the two plants I have in my living room window have brown leaves. I water them twice weekly, and they are getting enough sun through the window. I don’t understand what I’m doing wrong. What would make my well cared for houseplants start to turn brown?

I've had this problem several times myself. It seemed like I was doing everything that the care tags called for, and they were definitely getting adequate sun. I was discouraged and almost gave up on keeping houseplants because it seemed like I just couldn’t get their care right. I did some research, and I discovered that my plant wasn’t getting enough water, and I had only been watering it when I watered the other plants in my house, which simply wasn’t adequate for that tropical plant. While I was researching my answer, I came up with quite a good bit of information on the possible reasons for the leaves to lose their green, or to turn brown and dry. Here is a recap of the information that I uncovered.


How often is that particular houseplant supposed to be watered?

Not every houseplant needs the same amount of water. Care tags should come with every houseplant that you purchase, but in the case that it doesn’t, you can look them up online. The care tag will tell you how often and how much your plant should be watered. The care tag should be adhered to as closely as possible. It is going to give you the best idea of how to keep that particular plant healthy.

Most often, a lack of water is going to make the leaves of your plants start to turn brown, usually around the outermost edges and leaf tips. The reason for this is because your houseplant is a living, breathing thing.

When it isn’t getting enough water, it tries to send the water, its food, to the most critical parts of itself, the roots and stems. Therefore, the lack of nutrients will first show in the parts of the plant that are the furthest from the roots and stems, usually the tips of the leaves.

Double-check your care tag and make sure you are watering that particular type of houseplant as frequently as the tag calls for. Sometimes, it’s easy to put all of our plants on one watering schedule, and that can be detrimental to our plants that require more watering, such as tropical houseplants.

Your houseplants root system

Root damage and root distress can cause your houseplants to turn brown because the roots aren’t able to process enough water to fully feed your plant. The only way to check out your plants' roots is to get right down to the root of the matter. If you have a plant that is a little tough to work out of its’ pot, that’s ok.

Landscapers and nurseries pot and repot plants repeatedly, so don’t worry if you have to do a little work to coax the plant from its’ pot. As long as you’re careful and gentle, your plant is going to be fine.

Examine the soil that your plant has been living in. If the soil falls apart or if it holds its’ shape in a hard, dry clump, that is soil that is way too dry for a plant to live and thrive in.

Your soil should never retain its shape after it is removed from the pot because good soil for plant growth is moist and able to move around with your fingertips. If it breaks apart from itself, instead of crumbling, it is too dry. Most of the time, when a plant is suffering from lack of moisture, you will first see the evidence in brown tips on the plants' leaves.

Once you have the plant out of the pot, do a visual root inspection. Healthy root systems have white, firm roots. They are easy to determine that the roots are mostly free from tangle and root lock. Unhealthy or dying roots will be grey or brown, and they will smell like rotting plant growth.

Your healthy roots won’t have an odor, and likely you’ll just be smelling fresh soil. If you smell dying roots, you are most likely looking at the reason your houseplant is turning brown.

Remove dead roots

If you can see dead roots, you need to get rid of them. Dead or dying roots will not regenerate themselves. They need to be pruned from the plant and disposed of so that the nutrients from the water can go to the healthy, living roots and the remainder of the plant. Simply cut the dead or dying roots from the plant.

The healthy, living roots will begin to properly feed the plant, and the problem should be remedied.

Check for root lock also known as root bound

If the roots are a tangled, snarled mess, your plant has root lock. Root lock will completely kill your houseplant if it is not taken care of. Gently untangle your plants root system. Although it will seem as though this might hurt your plant, it will hurt your plant much more if you do not remedy the issue. Work your fingers through the roots until the majority of them are free-hanging and untangled.

Once you repair the root issues, plant your houseplant in some fresh soil, so your plant is absorbing new and fresh vitamins and nutrients, and you should see your plant start to turn the corner in its’ health. 

When you repot a plant, be aware that your houseplant can go into shock for up to three weeks, so don’t be surprised if it doesn’t spring back to its’ lively looking self right away. Give your houseplant time to get acquainted with its’ fresh new living situation before you make any hasty plans to dispose of your plant.

Look For Signs Of Salt, Pet Urine, Or Unabsorbed Fertilizer

Salt, pet urine, and unabsorbed fertilizer can cause “fertilizer burn” to your plants. If you look around your plants' soil and surroundings and can see a build-up of salt or fertilizer, this is probably the culprit. If you know that your pets are making a habit of using your plant as a potty, that is probably your culprit.

In these circumstances, you need to “flush” your plant. You can do this by taking your plant, if it is in a draining pot leave it in the pot, to your kitchen sink. Start running a nice, mild stream of tepid water through your plant, all the way through and allow it to freely drain from the pots drainage holes.

If it isn’t in a pot with drain holes, take the plant, with its root-soil clumps, and place it into the sink. Use the same flushing procedure as you do with the potted plant.

You’re flushing away all of the toxins and salt that is sucking all of the moisture away from your plants' root system. When you thoroughly flush your plant, repot it in fresh, new soil. If it is thoroughly cleansed, you may want to check the last time you fertilized your plant since it is starting “fresh” after it's cleansing.

Be sure if you are fertilizing to notate the date to prevent overfertilizing in the future. Also, use a non-burning fertilizer, such as kelp food fertilizer to ensure your plants' leaves are not getting burned.

Also, trim away the brown from your plant. If it is already dry and brown, that growth isn’t going to regenerate. Simply trim it off of your plant with sharp scissors, and dispose of it.

If your plant is dropping leaves from the center, instead of the perimeter, it more than likely isn’t getting enough light. Move your plant to a sunny window or buy a plant light to shine on it. If the leaves are paling from green to yellow, the culprit is probably overwatering.

Look at your pot drainage and be sure it is free-flowing with no obstructions. Remove the yellow growth, and adjust your watering schedule to ensure it is specifically for this houseplant.

Check your houseplants for pest infestation

Also, check for signs of a pest infestation. Even indoor plants can become infested with mealybugs, spider mites, scale insects and aphids. If you see your leaves turning colors, with webbing or bumps, you more than likely have a pest wreaking havoc on your plants home.

You can check any pests that you find on the internet to identify which exact type that they are. You will want to treat with the appropriate pesticide because not every pesticide will kill every pest.

Again, check for resources on the internet or ask a garden center associate at your local home and garden store so that you use the correct pesticide to get rid of the problem.

Repotting your houseplant in a new home

If your plant still looks lackluster and it won’t grow, double-check your fertilizer dates. It may be time to feed your houseplant some plant food to kick start its’ new growth. Also, consider a larger home for your plant.

When you can see your plants roots through any part of the pot, or if they are starting to come up out of the soil, you definitely need to put it in a larger plant. If you think it’s just looking a little large in its’ current home, it probably needs to be repotted in a larger pot.

Be sure to select a pot with good drainage. It should be anywhere from ten to twenty percent larger than its’ current pot. Use fresh soil, but take the root clumps of soil with your plant. Just shake the excess away, and pot it inside its’ new soil, and allow it to have its’ adjustment period, as it may go into shock.

Don’t be afraid to prune your houseplant. Old, dry, brown growth on your plant isn’t good for your plant to hang onto.

When your houseplant is properly pruned, you are ensuring that the valuable nutrients are going to fresh, healthy growth and feeding it as it should be. Not only does pruning your plant encourage its’ growth, but it also doesn’t give pesky pests a place to cocoon and hide on your houseplant.

If you have discovered that your houseplant pot isn’t draining up to par, you can drill drainage holes into your pot, just be sure to remove your plant first.

Use a drill bit that isn’t large enough that your soil is going to wash out when you water your plant or use gravel or peat moss in the bottom of your pot where you drill the drain holes to prevent your soil from washing away.

Prevent your houseplants from going into shock

Now that you have taken care of any of the issues that may be causing your plant to brown and dry, you want to be sure to take care of your houseplant in a way that doesn’t further its’ shock.

When you disturb your plant, it needs special, careful care in order to keep it from dying when it is in shock. Just provide the exact care on the care tag, ensuring that the sun and light that are called for are exactly met and that any plant food is thoroughly dissolved before putting it into your plants' soil.

You should see substantial new growth and coloring to your plant within the next thirty days. Sometimes, it can be any one of these reasons that make your plant turn brown and wilt, or sometimes it can be all of these reasons combined.

The important thing to remember is that unless the roots are dead, you can usually bring your plant back to life by following the instructions in this care guide.

It isn’t very often that a plants roots are alive that the plant cannot be rehabilitated back to healthy and green.

Just be sure to treat it like a plantling after you change its’ pot or soil, and to keep track of your watering and fertilizing schedule, and your plant should come back healthy and strong.

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