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5 Surprising Causes of Brown Leaves on Plants

Get to the root of why your plant leaves are browning and restore their health.

Have you ever wondered, “Why are my plant leaves turning brown?” 

You’re not alone. 

Brown leaves on plants are a common issue that can leave even the most experienced gardeners scratching their heads. In my own gardening journey, I’ve faced this challenge and discovered some surprising causes behind it. 

If you’re dealing with brown leaf and wondering how to fix them, this guide is for you. 

Let’s dive into the five unexpected reasons your plant leaves might be turning brown and explore practical tips to revive your green friends.

Table of Contents

Myth: Chlorine in Water

One of the most persistent myths about brown leaves on plants is that they are caused by chlorine in tap water. Many people believe that letting water sit out overnight to allow the chlorine to evaporate will prevent their plants from developing brown tips. 

However, this simply isn’t true.

The reality is that the chlorine levels in municipal water are too low to cause harm to your plants. Municipal water is treated with minimal amounts of chlorine or chloramine, which are unlikely to affect the health of your plants. So, if you’ve been wondering, “Why do plant leaves turn brown?” it’s time to look beyond chlorine.

That said, municipal water can contain other elements that might lead to brown leaf tips. 

Salts and minerals in the water can build up in the soil over time, creating an environment where your plants struggle to thrive. These buildups can cause the tips of the leaves to turn brown as the plant becomes unable to process the excess minerals. This is particularly common in areas with hard water.

To mitigate this issue, consider using water that is low in these salts and minerals. Reverse osmosis water, distilled water, or rainwater are excellent alternatives. More about this in the next section.

In summary, while chlorine in tap water is often blamed for brown leaves, it’s actually the salts and minerals in the water that are more likely to be the culprits. By understanding this and making a simple change to the type of water you use, you can keep your plants looking their best.

Did You Know?

Some plants, like ferns and calatheas, thrive in high humidity and can even benefit from being placed in a bathroom where the air is naturally more humid.

#1 Causes of Brown Leaves • Salt and Mineral Buildup

If you’re seeing the tips of your plant leaves turning brown, one of the primary culprits could be salt and mineral buildup in the soil. This is a common issue, especially in areas with hard water, where the water contains high levels of dissolved minerals.

When you water your plants with municipal tap water, these salts and minerals can accumulate in the soil over time. Plants can only absorb a certain amount of these minerals, and the excess can start to interfere with their ability to take up water and nutrients effectively. This leads to the tips of the leaves turning brown, a condition often mistaken for other problems like overwatering or underwatering.

The buildup of salts and minerals creates an environment where the plant roots struggle to function properly. The roots might even become damaged, reducing their ability to transport water and nutrients to the rest of the plant. This results in brown, crispy leaf that can make your plants look unhealthy and stressed.

To prevent this, it’s crucial to use water that is low in salts and minerals. Here are some tips on how to do this:

  • Reverse Osmosis Water: This type of water has been filtered to remove most of the dissolved salts and minerals, making it an excellent choice for watering your plants.
  • Distilled Water: Distilled water is another great option, as it has had all its impurities removed through the distillation process.
  • Rainwater: If you have access to it, rainwater is naturally soft and free from the salts and minerals found in tap water. Collecting rainwater can be an eco-friendly and plant-friendly solution.


By switching to these types of water, you can help your plants stay healthy and free from the brown tips caused by salt and mineral buildup. Regularly flushing the soil with these water types can also help to remove any accumulated salts, providing a healthier environment for your plant roots.

Understanding the role of salt and mineral buildup in causing brown leaves is key to keeping your plants vibrant and thriving. With the right watering practices, you can easily mitigate this issue and ensure your plants look their best.

Quick Tip:

To help reduce the risk of salt buildup, try using a self-watering pot. These pots allow the plant to absorb only the water it needs, reducing the chance of overwatering and salt accumulation.

#2 Cause of Brown Leaves • Dry Air

Another common cause of brown leaves on your plants is dry air

This issue is especially prevalent during the winter months when indoor heating systems are running constantly. These systems blow warm air, which significantly reduces the humidity levels in your home.

Plants thrive in environments with adequate humidity. When the air is too dry, it can cause the edges of the leaves to turn brown and become crispy. This happens because the plant loses moisture faster than it can be absorbed by the roots, leading to dehydration of the leaf tips.

To combat this, consider increasing the humidity around your plants

Here are some effective ways to do this:

  • Use a Humidifier: Placing a humidifier near your plants is one of the most effective ways to maintain proper humidity levels. This device will add moisture to the air, creating a more favorable environment for your plants.
  • Group Plants Together: Grouping plants together can create a microenvironment with higher humidity as the plants release moisture through transpiration.
  • Water Trays: Place a tray filled with water near your plants. As the water evaporates, it will increase the humidity around the plants.
  • Mist the Leaves: Regularly misting the leaves of your plants can help increase the humidity, although it’s important to ensure that the leaves have time to dry to prevent mold growth.


By taking these steps, you can help mitigate the effects of dry air and keep your plants healthy and vibrant. Proper humidity levels are crucial for plant health, and addressing this issue can prevent the unsightly brown tips from forming on your plant leaves.

Plant Care Insight:

Placing a tray of water and pebbles under your plant can increase humidity. As the water evaporates, it creates a humid microenvironment around your plant without making the soil too wet.

#3 Cause of Brown Leaves • Underwatering

Another significant cause of brown leaves on plants is underwatering

When plants do not receive enough water, they cannot maintain their normal physiological processes, leading to various health issues.

The effects of underwatering on plant health are noticeable and detrimental. When a plant is deprived of adequate water, it cannot transport essential nutrients from the soil to its leaves. This results in nutrient deficiencies, causing the leaves to turn brown and crispy at the tips. The overall plant may appear wilted, and growth can be stunted.

There are several signs that your plant is suffering from underwatering

The most common indication is crispy leaf tips. As the plant tries to conserve water, it sacrifices the outermost parts of its leaves, leading to browning and drying out at the edges. Other signs include wilting, yellowing leaves, and soil that feels dry to the touch even below the surface.

To prevent underwatering, ensure you water your plants regularly and thoroughly. Here are some tips:

  • Check the Soil Moisture: Regularly check the moisture level of the soil by sticking your finger about an inch into the soil. If it feels dry, it’s time to water.
  • Water Deeply: When you water, make sure to do it thoroughly so that the water reaches the deeper roots. Shallow watering can lead to shallow root systems that are more prone to drying out.
  • Consistent Schedule: Try to water your plants on a consistent schedule, adjusting as necessary for changes in weather and indoor conditions.

By paying attention to the signs of underwatering and adjusting your watering habits accordingly, you can keep your plants healthy and free from the brown, crispy leaf tips that indicate they are not getting enough water.

Have You Heard?

Some houseplants are sensitive to fluoride, which can cause brown tips on leaves. If your tap water is fluoridated, consider using distilled or rainwater for watering these sensitive plants.

#4 Cause of Brown Leaves • Overwatering

While underwatering is a common issue, overwatering can be just as detrimental to your plants, if not more so. Providing too much water can lead to severe consequences, including root damage and other health problems.

When plants are overwatered, the soil remains constantly wet, creating an environment where roots cannot get the oxygen they need. This lack of oxygen leads to root rot, a condition where the roots become mushy, discolored, and start to decay. Root rot significantly impairs the plant’s ability to take up water and nutrients, causing the leaves to turn brown and wilt.

Signs of overwatering include:

  • Root Rot: Check for roots that are brown or black, soft, and mushy. Healthy roots should be white and firm.
  • Yellowing Leaves: Overwatered plants often show yellowing leaves, which can then turn brown as the condition worsens.
  • Wilting Despite Wet Soil: If your plant is wilting but the soil is still wet, it is likely suffering from overwatering.


To prevent overwatering, it’s essential to water your plants properly. Here are some tips:

  • Allow Soil to Dry: Let the top inch of soil dry out before watering again. This helps ensure that the roots have access to oxygen and prevents waterlogged conditions.
  • Proper Drainage: Ensure your pots have drainage holes to allow excess water to escape. Using well-draining soil can also help prevent water from sitting around the roots.
  • Adjust Watering Frequency: Water less frequently, especially during cooler months when plants require less water.


By avoiding overwatering and being mindful of your plant’s water needs, you can prevent root rot and keep your plants healthy and thriving

Proper watering techniques are crucial to avoiding the brown, wilted leaves that signal your plant is getting too much water.

Gardening Hack:

Rotating your plants regularly can ensure even exposure to light, preventing uneven growth and stress that can lead to brown leaves.

#5 Cause of Brown Leaves • Over-Fertilization

While fertilizing is essential for plant growth, over-fertilization can lead to significant problems, including the dreaded brown leaf tips. Plants need nutrients to thrive, but too much of a good thing can be harmful.

When you apply fertilizer in excess, especially during the winter months when plants are less active, the salts and minerals from the fertilizer can build up in the soil. This accumulation can lead to nutrient imbalances and create a toxic environment for your plant’s roots. The roots struggle to take up water and essential nutrients, leading to the tips of the leaves turning brown.

Signs of over-fertilization include:

  • Brown Leaf Tips: The most noticeable sign is the browning of leaf tips and edges, indicating a buildup of salts.
  • White Crust on Soil: A visible white crust on the surface of the soil is a clear indication of excess fertilizer salts.
  • Stunted Growth: Plants may stop growing or exhibit slowed growth despite appearing otherwise healthy.

To prevent over-fertilization, follow these tips:

  • Follow Instructions: Always adhere to the recommended dosage and frequency on the fertilizer package. More is not better.
  • Flush the Soil: Periodically flush the soil with plenty of water to wash away excess salts. This practice is particularly important if you suspect over-fertilization.
  • Adjust Fertilization Schedule: Reduce or eliminate fertilization during the winter months when plant growth naturally slows down.

By managing your fertilization practices carefully, you can avoid the negative effects of over-fertilization and keep your plants healthy. Proper nutrient management is key to preventing the brown leaf tips that signal your plants are receiving too much fertilizer.

Did You Know?

Using a fan in the room can improve air circulation around your plants, reducing the risk of fungal infections and promoting healthier growth.

Keeping Your Plants Healthy and Happy

Understanding the causes of brown leaves on your plants is the first step to keeping them healthy and vibrant. 

By addressing issues such as salt and mineral buildup, dry air, underwatering, overwatering, and over-fertilization, you can ensure your plants thrive.

Every plant and environment is unique, so it might take some experimentation to find the perfect balance for your green friends. But don’t be discouraged by a few brown tips—it’s all part of the learning process. 

For more detailed plant health tips, check out our comprehensive guides on plant health, watering practices, and planting soil secrets.

If you have any questions or additional tips, feel free to share them in the comments below. 

Engaging with fellow plant enthusiasts is a great way to learn and grow together. 

Happy planting!

Embrace the spirit of horticulture and spread the seeds of wisdom

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