Have you ever heard the saying: sometimes bad things happen to good people? Well, we could paraphrase that in our community by sometimes brown leaves happen to good plant parents. If you’ve ever felt exasperated because your Pilea plant keeps getting brown leaves, this post is for you.
Why do Pilea leaves get brown tips? Or more like brown rims, since Pilea leaves are round, not pointy. Here's a brief explanation of how this happens: Plants cycle water through their entire organism every second of every day. They use and lose water through their tissues. When the water loss through transpiration can't be replaced, the tissue starts drying out and dying. This process starts at the tip of the leaf because that’s the last place the water reaches so, naturally, the first to be deprived of it.
Anything that inhibits roots from absorbing enough water and anything that accelerates or interferes with the transpiration process can cause brown leaves in a Pilea plant.
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Let's look at the most common factors that may lead to brown leaves.
1. A stressful (for the plant) watering schedule
We don’t want to drown you in too much watering advice. Bad puns aside, we really mean it. If your plant is getting brown tips, this is often an indication that you need to rethink your watering schedule or watering methods.
But if your first impulse is to just water more, hold your horses! (Or your watering can!) Water may be the last thing your plant needs. In fact, you may be doing more harm than good if you overwater. Remember that we mentioned the watering schedule and methods, not quantity. Your watering schedule needs to be consistent and adapted to the individual needs of each plant. If you subject your plant to overwatering followed by under watering, that puts too much stress on it. This is a surefire way to get brown leaves. To get out of the feast and famine cycle, do your best to stick to a consistent watering method.
Don't water automatically. Instead, test the soil by sticking your finger or a stick about one inch deep into the pot. Only water your plants if the soil feels dry to the touch. But don't let your plants stay dry for too long. And have a look at our in-depth watering guide for more best-practice methods.
Other things to investigate
When you water, are you letting your Pilea stand in a pool of water? That’s not a good idea. The best watering method is to soak the entire pot through to saturate it, then let the excess water drain out. Make sure you also empty the catchment saucer. It's best not to use a drip water method. If you're only watering bit by bit every couple of days, then you're only moistening the top of the soil. Their roots won't even stand a chance at getting some of that water.
2. Too much fertilizer
Yes, you can have too much of a good thing. If you are in the habit of fertilizing your plant too often, this will lead to a buildup in the soil. This buildup of salts and other minerals causes a condition called fertilizer burn.
Pilea, like most potted plants, only needs to be fertilized about once a month, but only in its growing season. During the cold and dark months (early spring, fall, winter), the plant goes into a rest period. This means that it doesn’t need extra nutrients since it doesn't consume as much as when it's actively growing and putting out pups.
The best way to deal with the effects of over-fertilizing is to flush out the plant pot.
Here's what this means. Put the pot in the sink and turn on the water on high. Place the pot under the water stream and saturate the soil until water starts coming out of the drainage holes. As it comes out at high speed, the water will pull with it the salts that have accumulated in the soil. You can repeat this process several times to flush the soil thoroughly.
Other things to investigate
When was the last time you repotted this plant? It's a good idea to repot your Pilea plant at least every year. But remember that fresh potting mix is amended with nutrients, so you shouldn't fertilize if you have repotted recently. Most potting soil bags will have information about how long the nutrients in the soil are good for. Most potting soil mixes guarantee a nutrient release for about three months.
3. Too much sun
Pop quiz time! Do you remember the mechanism that causes brown leaves that we mentioned at the beginning of this article? Basically, it’s all about the leaf losing water faster than the root can get water to it.
So think of yourself on a hot dry day. If you spend too much time in the sun, you will sweat a lot and this will lead to dehydration. Your plant goes through the same process. That's why your Pilea won’t like being left in direct sun: too much sunlight exposure will lead to leaf burn. And it all starts at the tip, where the water doesn’t reach as easily.
Make sure your plant is getting bright but indirect light. Check out our guide about the best light for your Pilea.
Other things to investigate
Are your plant leaves touching a window? That's a big no-no, no matter what plants we are talking about. Windows generally experience a lot of temperature fluctuation. Regular windows can get hot during warm days and get very cold at night. If your plant's leaves are touching the window, they are exposed to the same variation, which will inevitably lead to leaf damage.
4. Not enough moisture
Okay so you passed the test from the previous point, and you already know that leaves need just the right amount of moisture. If the humidity in your house is very low, your plant may develop brown tips. This is true not just of Pilea plants, but of most houseplants (with the exception of waxy plants such as succulents and cacti, and plants with a bulbous reservoir, such as ZZ plants). This is because what we call today houseplants usually started as tropical plants in areas with high humidity.
The cheapest way to solve this problem is by grouping plants together. Another trick is to place a source of humidity (such as a ceramic dish or a wet towel) close to your radiators. (Never do this close to an open flame or open heat coils!)
If you're feeling particularly frugal, you can even start air drying your laundry in the house during the dry months.
For a more long-term solution, you can invest in a humidifier.
Ok, now that you know the causes, here is the million-dollar question: can brown leaves on plants heal?
Sorry, that ship has sailed. The bad news is that once a leaf goes brown, it won’t turn green again. Most likely, the entire leaf will turn brown, shrivel, and fall off. That’s ok though. Because here is the good news As long as you’ve been working on fixing the causes, this shouldn’t cause long-term damage.
Should I cut off brown leaves?
You can, but you don't have to. It's purely a cosmetic choice. Snipping off the brown crispy tips won't hurt the plant, as long as you're gentle with it. For the best results, use scissors or kitchen shears that are sharp and clean.
However, cutting the entire leaf just because you want to get rid of some brown tips may do more harm than good. When a leaf starts dying, the mother plant conserves energy by pulling away all the energy from the dying part. That's why it's best if you let the dead leaves come off by themselves.
If there's one takeaway we'd like you to remember is that brown tips on a Pilea plant are not the end of the world. It is a fixable problem and a normal part of plant parenthood!