Browning Leaves

Why are my houseplant’s leaves turning brown?

This is a common question particularly in regard to house plants. There can be many reasons.

brown tipsThe first thing to consider is watering practices. Incorrect watering is the most common reason plants have issues. How often? Well it depends on weather, the warmth of the house, the amount and intensity of light, the quantity and quality of the water, the size and type of the plant and more. Watering is really a matter of knowing your plant and comes with experience. But it is worth knowing that more plants die of over-watering than any other mistreatment. So if you’re not sure, let it go a little longer.

The most efficient way to water a plant is to submerge the entire pot in a bath or bucket of water and leave it there until the bubbles have ceased to rise from the soil surface, an indication that all the air spaces in the soil have been filled with water. If that isn’t possible, then water it well, then water it again slowly, enough for water to drain into its saucer. Use your finger and dig down a little in the soil to be sure that the soil actually got thoroughly wetIMG_1894. Then it is imperative that you either raise the pot up with blocks so that the pot doesn’t sit in the drained water, or that you empty the saucer. Why? Because when a pot sits in water for too long, the soil stays too wet and water continually fills the small air pockets that the roots need to stay healthy.

If you watered and notice that when you scratch the soil surface that it is still dry, it means that the soil is not absorbing the water. In this case, you actually do need to soak the plant as above, for about 20 minutes, then let it drain and make sure it no longer sits in water.

Then you must wait to water your plant again until it needs it. For most houseplants, that means when the soil surface is dry. Some plants, like succulents, ponytail palms, and dracaenas like to dry out more between watering than others.  Spathiphyllum (Closet plants), pothos ivy and ferns like to dry out a little less than most. But with the exception of water plants like horsetail, no house plants like to stay constantly wet.

If you are watering your plants as detailed above and you are still getting brown tips or edges on your leaves, the most likely cause is the water you are using. Here’s the deal.IMG_1896

Austin tap water is notoriously really bad for most house plants. It contains fluoride, chlorine, chloramines, and high levels of salts like calcium carbonate, all of which cause leaf tip and edge browning.

Can you treat it? Filters like Brita won’t do anything for most of these chemicals. Here’s some things you can try if all you have is tap water.

  1. Fill your water pitcher(s) with water and let them stand overnight. This will help the chlorine to evaporate. But it does nothing for the other chemicals. But it’s an easy first step.
  2. Add a small amount of Vitamin C to your water, this will help to neutralize the chloramines, but does nothing to remove the other chemicals. You can also find hose-end filters to remove chloramines. We have to use these for our own plants here at the nursery.
  3. Invest in a rain collection system to collect rainfall from your roof, a table-top water distillation system or in a R.O (reverse osmosis) under sink water filtration system. Water from all three of these is free of all the chemicals that are so damaging to your plants. Distillation uses a lot of electricity and is time consuming, so I prefer rain water or R.O. water. There are “Bone Char Filtration Systems” available online, but they only remove the fluoride, chlorine, pesticides and metals, but a R.O. system is about the same price and it IMG_1899removes so much more so I recommend that you go with the R.O. instead.
  4. If you are using well water, then you don’t have the fluoride, chlorine and chloramines, but probably have an even higher amount of dissolved solids and salts. Once again, you may have to invest in either R.O. or rain water collection to really have good luck with your houseplants. But the advantages to both your own bodies health and the health of your plants makes it a worthwhile investment.

©The Great Outdoors