My Pilea Has Sunburn Spots. What Should I Do?
So you’ve noticed that your Pilea has sunburn spots. Naughty, naughty! And we don’t mean your plant. We’re talking about you, dear plant parent!
How did your Pilea end up with sunburn? Most likely, it was placed near a source of direct sunlight for too long. Classic rookie mistake, but it’s understandable. Whether it’s because we’re too busy with the nitty-gritty of daily life to notice that the light patterns have changed in late spring in our home, or we’ve just moved to a new place and have no idea where the sun is the strongest in the home, or simply there’s no other place to place a houseplant, sunburnt plants happen to good people.
Leaf scorch or leaf sunburn happens when the plant’s roots are not able to deliver enough water to keep the plant cool. Plant leaves are covered in a waxy layer called cuticle whose role is to keep the moisture in the pests out. Plants that are grown indoors usually have thinner cuticles, so if the plant is moved into bright sun without a period of acclimation (hardening off), the leaves don’t have enough protection. So its extremities start turning brown and crispy due to loss of moisture.
Leaf scorch can’t be reversed - you can’t un-brown a leaf. But it can be prevented and it can be mitigated.
Here’s what you should know about preventing sunburn in Pilea.
1. Learn to spot other signs of too much sunlight.
Usually, a plant will give you some warning signs that it’s getting too much sun before reaching the point of scorched leaves. If you notice changes on the surface of your Pilea’s leaves - bleached leaves, bleached spots on leaves, curling leaves - that means your plant is getting too much light.
The edges of the leaves turning red is another tell-tale sign that your plant is getting too much sun. This happens not because of too much light per se, but because of too much heat energy that comes with the light.
If you do a thorough bi-weekly inspection of your houseplants, you’ll likely notice these problems with enough time to remediate the situation.
2. Move your Pilea away from direct sunlight.
As we’ve already mentioned, there’s no cure to reverse existing sunburn damage. Once a leaf turns brown, there’s no way to turn it green again. But you must absolutely take steps to stop the damage to other leaves.
As soon as you notice sunburn, move your Pilea away from the source of direct sunlight.
3. Don’t relocate your Pilea outdoors.
One of the most common issues that happens when the weather gets warm is the urge to take our plants outdoors to soak up some sun. Since the plant hasn’t been properly acclimated to the change in light and temperature, it tends to go into shock and burn up.
Don’t move your Pilea outdoors in the summer, unless you’re sure it can be in a sheltered place all day long. Yes, we often assume that our plants are just as happy as we are to soak in the sun after a long cold season. That may be true of some houseplants, such as cacti and succulents, but it’s not the case for Pilea.
Think about it this way, if you were to sit in the same spot and get a sunburn, so would your plant.
We covered more about other factors to keep in mind if you want to move your Pilea outdoors in this post.
4. Check that you’re watering enough.
Periods of intense sun coincide with periods of heat, so make sure your Pilea is getting the proper amount of water. Transpiration (water movement through a plant and evaporation on the surface of the leaf) has the role of helping keep the plants cool. So when the plant suffers from too little water, this also contributes to more rapid sunburn.
To test if your plant needs watering, check the soil a few inches below the surface using your finger or a stick. If that soil is dry then your Pilea needs a good drink. If it is just the surface soil that is dry, wait another day or two before you water it. Always use room-temperature water for your plants. Anything that is too hot or too cold will shock them.
And while we’re at it, we just want to make sure that you’re only watering the soil in the pot, and not the leaves of the plant. The correct way to water a Pilea plant is by placing it under a jet of water and letting the soil become saturated until water comes out of the drainage holes. You can return your Pilea to its usual spot when water has stopped coming out of the drainage holes.
5. You can remove the affected leaves, but you don’t have to.
If the sight of scorched leaves is too painful a reminder that you need to up your plant game, you can gently pinch off the leaf to redirect the plant’s energy back to new growth. Alternatively, you can just let it be, and if the damage is too much, the plant will eventually shed the sick leaf. But before it does, it will take back some of the energy from the dying leaf.
We hope that clarifies why Pilea plants may get sunburn. One thing to keep in mind is that, while you can’t treat a sunburned leaf back to health, the sooner you remedy the causes, the faster your plant will bounce back to health.