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Faced with plant leaves turning brown, many of us conclude that our once flourishing specimen is on its last legs. Fear not though, brown patches on plants are rarely a sign that anything serious is happening and can usually be treated or prevented without too much effort.
Fully brown leaves on plants are usually dead and should be removed from a plant as they’re beyond saving. Plus, removing any brown leaves will make your plant look instantly nicer. When leaves start to brown on your plant, there’s the likelihood that something untoward is going on, so you’ll need to take action to prevent your lovely living greenery from becoming a completely brown disaster.
How to treat brown spots on leaves is usually quite straightforward. Take a closer look at your plant to diagnose the problem and then take the steps outlined to remedy it.
Brown edges on plant leaves
A bit like our fingers and toes in the cold, the extremities of plant leaves are often the first area to exhibit that something is up. When plants become dehydrated, they lose something called turgor pressure. This keeps the plant’s cells nicely stiff and rigid and able to stand up for themselves - literally.
When a plant is not able to take in enough water, the turgor pressure drops causing its cells to collapse. The parts of the plant that are furthest from the roots suffer first, hence the brown and crispy borders. It usually means you’re underwatering so give your plant a good top-up - though not too much - and empty the drip tray soon after so it isn’t sitting in waterlogged soil for too long. The plant should perk up nicely in a few hours.
Brown, crispy symptoms can also be caused by low humidity levels. Certain types of houseplants are particularly prone to this, particularly in our centrally heated or air-conditioned homes. Regular misting will help here. If you have several houseplants displaying the same problem, then you can splash out on a digital hygrometer to measure humidity levels and make them feel right at home. Basic hygrometers are relatively inexpensive and have other uses to monitor humidity in homes such as issues with mould and allergies.
Frazzled tips and burn-like brown edges and spots on plant leaves
Lots of popular houseplants originated in tropical regions where they happily evolved to grow in shady conditions beneath dense forest canopies. As well as being able to thrive in our warm homes, such plants are also well suited to relatively low indoor light levels. This also means that if they are subject to too much light, then such houseplants can burn or scorch.
Much like human skin, plant leaves can be exposed to too much direct sunlight which results in burnt-looking brown spots on leaves and brown tips on plants. Try moving the plant a little further away from the window so that it is only getting indirect light.
Plants might also start to grumble when the seasons change and a specimen that was happy during winter and spring might start to show its displeasure through brown burn-like scorch patches during the summer. You might want to consider a different position entirely for the sunny months than the darker ones. Scorch damage can’t be undone so your plant will benefit from a little pruning to allow for fresh, healthy growth.
Moist brown spots on plant leaves
Entering the realm of houseplant nasties and bacterial leaf spot is a common problem that often spells the end of what was once a healthy, thriving exhibit. Characterised by wet-looking, sunken small brown or grey-brown spots, bacterial leaf spot is most commonly caused by overwatering or excessively humid and poorly ventilated environments.
Prevention is the key for bacterial leaf spot, as it’s usually tricky to eliminate once a plant has developed it. You can remove affected leaves and stems if it’s a mild infection, so act quickly at the first signs. Let the soil dry out somewhat and only water sparingly when the upper 5 cm or so feels dry. Isolate your plant patient from others, as bacterial leaf spot can easily spread. More widespread disease in the plant means you’ll likely have to dispose of it and choose a new, healthy houseplant.
Brown or yellow spots on leaves that are growing
If you’ve begun to notice irregular brown, yellow or yellow-brown spots on a plant that are enlarging over time, then it could be a case of anthracnose. This is a group of fungal diseases that cause discoloured, darkening, sunken lesions on leaves.
Anthracnose is not usually fatal for plants but can completely ruin their appearance. As well as yellow, tan, and brown spots on leaves and stems, you might also notice that leaves are curling or ‘cupping’. Plant leaves turning yellow with brown spots in the midst is also a sign of fungal infection. If this is the case, isolate your plant from others, strip the affected areas and treat with a copper-based fungicide. Healthy regrowth should emerge, and you may need to reapply the fungicide every couple of weeks.
Teeny tiny brown spots on plants
Very small brown speckles that spread all over a plant are often a sign of a pest problem. Most often this is caused by spider mites. These pesky pests usually move from the base of the plant upwards, so you’ll notice the spread over time. Eventually, the entire plant can become infested and collapse. Once they’ve had their fill on one plant, spider mites will move onto a fresh victim.
You can wash spider mites off a plant quite effectively. Use room temperature water and rub plants down once a week. Spider mites create webbing too - usually on the underside of leaves - so be sure to wipe these down as well. If this isn’t working, try rubbing alcohol or a specialist spray containing Botanical Pyrethrin which is an all-natural, organic product.
Brown is bad, green is good
Aside from certain specific plants that are supposed to look that way, brown stems, brown leaves and brown spots on plants are rarely a good sign. If you’ve already castigated yourself for having killed off several houseplants, you may have already decided that you don’t have ‘green fingers’ after all and never will.
However, almost all of the problems relating to brown patches on plants can be prevented or eliminated. As well as enjoying the greenery and the outdoors-in vibe of houseplants, take a quick look at your prized specimens from time to time to spot problems early and adopt the simple steps above, to return your bloom to full health.
But, if you have already established that a plant is past the point of saving, don’t be disheartened - your next foray will be more successful having learnt a few things. And remember, the <a href=”https://www.rhs.org.uk/prevention-protection/leaf-damage-on-houseplants”>Royal Horticultural Society</a> offers reassurance to disheartened growers by saying “many house plants are short-lived by nature indoors”, so it probably wasn’t your fault at all.
Take a look at our healthy, hardy houseplants - guaranteed to be brown spot free - for your next lovely, lush and leafy statement pie