Philodendron Leaves Turning Brown – Beginners Troubleshooting Guide
We are all too familiar with the sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realize that your beautiful philodendron leaves are turning brown. So many questions begin to race through your mind…
Is there a water problem?
Are there pests or diseases?
Where did you go wrong?!?!
Fortunately, we have a process that we like to follow to hone in on the specific issue causing your philodendron leaves to turn brown.
So if you’re ready to get to the bottom of your brown philodendron leaves, roll up your sleeves, grab your magnifying glass, and let’s get our hands dirty!
What Type of Brown Leaves Do You Have? (And What Caused It?)
Did you know a brown leaf is not just a brown leaf?
Believe it or not, there are different types of brown philodendron leaves, and distinguishing the difference is the first step in identifying the source of your philodendron troubles.
It is also why we have structured this guide to help you cut down the amount of time and energy you invest into finding the problem.
Our recommended Garden Bench Top approach is to:
- identify the type of brown leaf your philodendron has developed,
- read through the potential causes and choose the most likely cause, and
- implement the suggested solutions (detailed below each reason).
Note: You may see the exact cause listed times under different types of brown leaves. This is normal since you may find varying types of brown leaves developing on a weakened philodendron.
1. Philodendron Leaves Completely Brown
It would be tough to misdiagnose a philodendron with completely brown leaves. The brown leaves are very obvious and (to be honest) stand out like a sore thumb.
The entire philodendron leaf will be discolored and can vary in shades of brown.
A sick leaf will also develop a different texture when compared with other healthy leaves.
The texture is an important element in helping us narrow down the potential causes of the brown leaves. For example, brown leaves can become soft and floppy. Or, at the other extreme, they can develop into dry and crispy leaves.
It is also common for completely brown leaves to fall off. Sometimes, this is the first instance we notice our philodendron is in trouble.
Root Rot Caused by Overwatering
A common cause for completely brown leaves on a philodendron is the development of a disease in the main root system called root rot.
Root rot is a complex disease that can happen to any indoor plant enthusiast – no matter their experience.
It requires immediate treatment because the longer it is left to grow and exist on your philodendron, the more your plant will be lost to this debilitating disease.
One of the biggest causes of root rot is a plant parent that is showering their philodendron with too much love in the form of water. That is a nice way of saying you are overwatering your plant!
The following symptoms can also identify root rot:
- your philodendron has brown and mushy stems close to the surface of the soil
- the rotting smell emanating from the soil
- brown leaves are soft and floppy
- your philodendron’s soil is soggy and water-logged
- smelly, brown mushy roots in the main root ball
How to Treat Root Rot in a Philodendron
The good news is there is a solution for root rot.
The bad news is it requires some manual work involving repotting your philodendron.
First, you must exchange the diseased, soggy soil with fresh dry soil or potting mix.
Next is cutting away any rotted parts of the plant and treating your plant with a fungicide to ensure you completely eradicate the disease.
We’ve got a complete step-by-step guide for treating root rot in philodendrons, which you can find HERE.
2. Philodendron Leaves have Brown Leaf Tips
A philodendron leaf with brown tips is not as urgent as one completely brown.
However, we do not recommend ignoring it.
Brown tips are your philodendron’s way of saying an underlying issue needs your attention.
The extent of the brown tips may be as minor as the tips on our Heartleaf Philodendron Plant (Philodendron Hederaceum) in the below image.
Or the damage may be more extensive, with the brown tips progressing further into the body of the leaf.
There are many causes of brown tips in philodendron leaves. However, there is likely an issue with the soil, such as overwatering, underwatering, or even excess fertilization issues.
Humidity Problems (Low Humidity)
As tropical plants, philodendrons are used to living in humid and warm ambient conditions.
The humidity helps to regulate the philodendron’s transpiration process (evaporation of water from the cells in the leaf).
However, when humidity falls below optimal levels, the transpiration process accelerates. This causes the philodendron’s leaves to lose too much water, dehydrating the leaves and developing brown tips.
Low humidity is common during the year’s cooler months, like Autumn and Winter.
How to Fix Low Humidity Problems
The good news is fixing humidity problems is easier than a disease.
We can influence the ambient air’s humidity levels with a few indoor plant tricks of the trade.
Here are our favorite ways of increasing humidity around our philodendrons:
- group plants together to increase the moisture content of the ambient air,
- place your philodendron on a pebble tray or humidity tray,
- use a humidifier around your plants,
- mist your plants, or
- install a self-watering moss pole to provide an additional water source.
Overexposed to Sunlight
Philodendrons do not tolerate direct sunlight.
We know this seems at odds with the nature of a tropical plant. However, if you bear with us, you’ll soon understand why.
Philodendrons grow in low-lying areas in tropical forests. They tend to be either ground-dwelling plants or epiphytic plants that grow on the trunks of tall trees.
In both scenarios, the philodendrons are covered by the forest canopy, which only allows filtered sunlight to reach the forest floor.
When philodendrons are exposed to too much direct sunlight, their leaves overheat and dehydrate quickly, causing their tips to brown.
If not removed from the bright light, the leaves eventually become dehydrated, burnt, and completely brown. You will be able to recognize a sunburnt leaf because it will develop a crispy texture and fall off the plant.
How to Fix Overexposure to Sunlight
There is a simple fix for a philodendron suffering from overexposure to the sun. Move it!
Sounds simple, right?
Sometimes it isn’t as moving your plant to a location with indirect light.
The move needs to occur gradually and strategically. Otherwise, you risk placing your already weakened philodendron into plant shock (it’s real!)
To avoid shock, move your philodendron to a position with indirect sunlight over a few weeks. Only move your plant every other day to allow it to become accustomed to the new light gradually.
3. Philodendron Leaves with Brown Spots
Brown spots can also develop on your philodendron’s leaves, which, if untreated, can manifest into a more significant problem.
Like the brown tips, if brown spots have developed on multiple leaves, they can point towards a more significant problem, such as overwatering and root rot.
If, however, the brown spot is an isolated occurrence on a single leaf, you may be in luck, and your problem may result from physical trauma to your plant.
In any case, we recommend investigating the issue to determine the root cause (pun intended 😜).
Leaf Spot Disease
Leaf spot disease can occur on your philodendron leaves, causing brown spots throughout the main body of the leaf, as well as brown patches along the edges of the leaves.
Brown spots and patches caused by this disease are easy to identify because a light-colored ring around the infected area accompanies them. Usually, it is a yellow or tan color, resembling a halo. However, believe us when we say nothing is saint-like about these spots.
The ideal conditions for leaf spot disease are moist (high humidity or too much water) and stagnant air. The lack of evaporation means moisture sits on the philodendron’s leaves, allowing bacteria to form and infect the plant.
How to Treat Leaf Spot Disease on a Philodendron
First, you should quarantine your philodendron from other plants within your collection. This disease can quickly spread, causing more headaches than you bargained for.
We recommend removing the infected leaves with a sterilized pair of gardening scissors to treat leaf spot disease.
DO NOT compost the diseased leaves. Instead, dispose of them in a sealed plastic bag in the rubbish.
The next step is implementing preventative measures to ensure your philodendron is not re-infected. Here is a list of actions to undertake:
- keep in a well-ventilated area
- use a bottom-watering technique to prevent over watering
- avoid getting the leaves wet (watering from the bottom will help to prevent this from happening)
- if you see a reoccurrence of leaf spot disease, consider applying a philodendron-friendly fungicide.
Root Rot Infection
Yes, we know we said root rot causes completely brown leaves (above). However, a philodendron infected with root rot may also initially develop leaves with dark brown spots before the leaves turn completely brown.
So, if you see dark spots on your philodendron leaves, but it doesn’t look like the leaf spot fungal disease described above, we recommend scrolling up and reading through the Root Rot section to see if any root rot symptoms are present.
How to Treat Root Rot Disease on a Philodendron
In the Completely Brown Leaves’ section, we have already provided a detailed solution for treating root rot above.
You can also access our step-by-step process for treating root rot in philodendrons HERE.
Brown spots on philodendron leaves can also result from a fertilizer imbalance in the soil.
Over-fertilization is easy to overlook because it is not regularly checked. However, over time, it is common for synthetic liquid fertilizer chemicals to build up in your philodendron’s soil. Particularly the excess minerals that are not absorbed by the philodendron.
As the chemicals build up, they can become toxic and eventually cause stress to your philodendron, causing fertilizer burn, which shows up as yellow leaves or brown spots on the leaves.
How to Fix Fertilizer Burn in a Philodendron
The best and quickest way to correct an imbalance in fertilizer in your philodendron is to flush it.
No, this doesn’t mean flushing it down the porcelain express. Instead, place the pot under a running cold water tap to flush all the excess chemicals out of the soil.
It is essential to allow excess water to drain from the drainage holes after the flush to avoid any bacterial diseases in the root system.
Infested with Pests
Another potential cause of brown spots developing on your plant is pest infestation.
Like other indoor plants, philodendrons can fall victim to sap-sucking pests like spider mites, aphids, and mealybugs.
If your plant is healthy and full of delicious sap, you can bet any of the abovementioned pests will happily set up camp in your beautiful oasis.
The problem is they are tiny and often remain unseen until too late.
The sap-loving pests will hide on the leaf’s undersides and crevices along the stem lines.
They penetrate the protective skin of the philodendron with specialized tools and feast on the sap. These feeding areas often begin to rot, later developing into brown spots on the plant.
How to Treat an Infested Philodendron
Here is a step-by-step guide on effective treatments to eradicate pests from your philodendron:
- Quarantine Your Plant– First and foremost, quarantine your philodendron away from other houseplants. Pests can spread to other nearby indoor plants. So, limiting their options is priority number one.
- Manual Removal – Try removing as many insects as possible with a sharp instrument or a hard-bristled toothbrush. Alternatively, you can take your philodendron outside and spray it with water on medium pressure.
- Apply Pesticide – Once you have removed as many pests as possible, apply a pesticide or insecticidal soap to your philodendron. Don’t forget to apply to the underside of leaves and crevices where the branches meet the main stem.
- Damage Control – A few days after the pesticide treatment, examine your plant for damaged areas. We recommend removing any weak or injured parts of the plant. This will help your philodendron focus its energy on recovery.
By now, you should have identified the cause of your philodendron leaves turning brown.
It’s now time to take action!
Apply the suggested solution for the most likely cause of brown leaves.
Wait to see positive responses from your philodendron.
A positive response could be as small as the leaves perking up and not looking droopy. Or your philodendron may look more vibrant and healthier.
If you do not see any positive response, move on to the next most likely cause, and repeat the process.
We know this seems like a long and tedious process. But it is a necessary one.
By persisting with this Garden Bench Top approach, you will become a more mindful plant parent with a thriving indoor plant collection.
Happy gardening, and get your hands dirty!
- Root rot. (2023, April 13). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Root_rot
- Transpiration. (2022, December 15). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transpiration