Why Do Ends of Plant Leaves Turn Brown?

Please tell my why the tips of the leaves on my houseplants keep turning brown. Thank you.

Hi Geegi,

I probably get asked this question more than any other plant question except for “can you identify my mystery plant so I can stop killing it.” Many people think the tips of plant leaves turn brown because of too much or too little water. Over or under watering may play a small part but is probably not one of the main reasons. Here’s what I think:

1. Too Much fertilizer: Too much fertilizer is worse than too little. Plants should only be fed when they are actively growing and producing new leaves, which is usually in the spring and summer for most indoor plants. If the plant doesn’t need the food, the salts in the fertilizer collect in the soil burning the roots and causing unsightly brown or black tips on the leaves. Always dilute your plant food to ½ the recommended strength.

2. Never Use Water That has Passed Through a Water Softener: This is a salt issue again. Water that comes out of a softener has a lot of salt in it which causes leaf tip burn.

3. Household Water Has too Many Chemicals: Although it’s good for us, if your household water has  a lot of chlorine or sodium fluoride in it, many plants don’t like it, especially dracaenas and palms. Using water full of chemicals is often the cause of  brown tips. The least expensive way to handle the problem is to let the water stand out over night before using it. That gives the chemicals a chance to dissipate and  no longer be in the water. You can also spend the money and buy distilled water.

4. Low Humidity: Many houseplants originate in the humid jungles of Asia and South America. They are accustomed to and require much higher humidity than we have in our homes and offices. Here are a few easy ways to increase the humidity around your plants:

  1.  Place a small room humidifier near your plants.
  2. Group plants together and create a mini greenhouse effect
  3. Place plants on a wet pebble tray. Be sure the water stays below the bottom of the pots and the plant sits on pebbles and not directly in the water. The pebbles should be pea size and the tray should be at least as wide as the plant. As the water evaporates, the humidity in the air increases.