Whether you’re a bonafide plant lady or a known succulent killer, you know that caring for your plant babies is not an easy feat. You can do all the right things—feed them water, put them near a window, incorporate them into your self-care routine, give them names and tell them how beautiful they are every morning (just me?)—and yet, sometimes your plant’s leaves start turning yellow.
To help solve our plant conundrum, we turned to a couple of green-thumbed pros to find out why (dear God, why?) those plant leaves are turning yellow (there are seven common reasons) and what you can do to keep your potted pals looking lush and oh so green.
Here are 7 reasons that could explain why your plant leaves are turning yellow
1. The plant needs more water
One of the things that can cause plant leaves to turn yellow is that the plant’s roots aren’t getting enough water. This can happen if you’re just watering the top of the soil. To fix this, Joyce Mast, Bloomscape’s “plant mom,” recommends soaking the bottom of the plant by filling up your sink with 2-4 inches of water and setting the plant in there for 30 minutes. This will allow it to soak up the water from the bottom. Next, drain the sink and let the plant rest there for a bit to let excess water trickle down. Repeat every four weeks.
2. The plant is overwatered
The color and tone of the yellow can also give you some clues as to what your plant needs. If the yellow leaves look dull and lifeless, Luz LeStrange, plant consultant at The Well, says that could mean your plant is getting too much water. Roots need air just like we do, Mast adds. And when we get a little water happy, the plant’s roots might not get enough air and start to drown and rot.
To remedy this, cut back on the H20 you feed your plant baby. LeStrange also suggests taking a sharp object (scissors, chopsticks, etc.) and probing the soil to let air in and let it breathe.
3. The plant is still getting acclimated
If you’ve ever moved houses, you know that it can often take a while for you to get all settled in and for the new place to finally feel like home. Plants are the same way. “If you have just purchased the plant, you may see a plethora of yellow on the leaves because it is still acclimating to its environment,” LeStrange says. “In this case, first ensure the plant has adequate light. Also, try spraying the plant with a mister and use a weak solution of micronutrient to help revive and relieve stress to the plant.”
4. The plant is sensitive to the water
Your tap water can also be to blame for the withering leaves. “Indoor foliage plants can have a sensitivity to the chemicals and minerals such as fluoride, salts, and chlorine often found in water from your faucet,” Mast says. “A simple remedy is to fill a pitcher or jug with water and let it sit uncovered overnight, allowing the minerals to evaporate. Another solution is to use distilled water or rainwater.”
5. The plant is getting too much light
While some greenery thrives when it's in direct sunlight all day every day, plants that prefer low to medium light can get scorched when they get too much light. A quick Google search can help you learn what type of lighting works best for your particular plant. Otherwise, Mast suggests just moving the plant to different areas of your home where it’ll get medium to bright indirect light and see where it thrives best.
6. The plant is nutrient deficient
Just like us humans might need to pop a supplemental vitamin in order to get the nutrients we need, plants also need some extra nourishing sometimes that goes beyond light and water. “Most plants will benefit from fertilizing a couple of times a year in the spring and summer months,” Mast says. She recommends looking for a plant food with iron. “It is also a good idea to supplement with Epsom salts to provide adequate magnesium. A lack of magnesium often causes yellowing. When using fertilizers of any sort, always make sure the soil is damp before applying to the soil.”
7. The plant might have leaf spot disease
If your plant’s leaves have small brown spots trimmed in yellow, this could be a sign that it has leaf spot disease, which is a fungus or bacteria that feeds on the leaves. If this is the case, don’t start planning a plant funeral just yet. The problem is treatable. Mast’s advice is to immediately remove the affected leaves and isolate the plant from your other greenery for a bit.
“To treat leaf spot disease, put a tablespoon or two of baking soda and a teaspoon or two of mineral oil in a spray bottle of water,” Mast says. “Shake the solution well and then spray all areas of the plant that are infected with brown spots. It may take a couple of applications before the bacteria is totally gone.”
What to do to the yellow leaves
Now that you have a general idea of what might be causing your beloved fauna’s golden leaves, it’s important that you take care of the yellow leaves before you start to implement the new care tactics.
And by take care, we mean get rid of them. Their chances of turning green again are pretty much zero. “Remove the damaged area of a leaf or the complete leaf if it is entirely brown,” Mast says. “This allows the plant to direct its energy to new healthy growth.”
So reach for the pair of sharp scissors or pruning shears in your plant lady toolkit and get to cutting. Make sure to wipe the blades with rubbing alcohol between each snip. “For brown or yellow tips, remove just the brown or yellow part,” Mast says. “For fully brown leaves, cut near the base. You may need to do this in stages because you never want to remove more than 30 percent of the affected leaves at one time.”
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