The Q&A Archives: Brown Tips On Houseplants

Question: Many of my houseplants have brown tips on the end of their leaves (except for my ficus tree). This has always been a common problem for me. I don't believe that I am overwatering? Could it be underwatering, too much sunlight or not fertilizing enough? Help ... my ivy's dying.

Answer: There are several possible reasons for this. One is that the air is too dry and the plants suffer that low humidity. Grouping the plants together and using a humidifier or a pebble tray with water in it to raise the immediate area humidity level can help. Both winter heating and summer air conditioning limit humidity; drafts of any kind are also bad.

Another common cause is build up of salts in the potting soil. To counter this, make sure you are not overfertilizing and periodically, leach the soil. This means watering the plant until water pours out the bottom holes, allow it to drain for a bit and then repeating. This flushes out any build up in the soil.

If your plants have been in the same pots for several years they may need repotting with fresh soil. The old soil could be very compacted and this can cause foliage problems.

Plants in pots that are too small may wilt often and eventually show some foliage damage as a result. If your plants have grown a lot they may need repotting into larger pots.

Under watering can also cause tip burn; most plants like an evenly moist soil but not a sopping wet one. Plants that are large in relation to their pot will need more water than newly potted plants. Do not allow water to accumulate in the saucers so the roots are sitting in very wet soil.

Overfertilizing can cause problems as well. Make sure you are not exceeding the label rates and decrease fertilizing in winter when their growth naturally slows due to reduced light levels.

Excess sun could cause some foliar problems, but in my experience it would be beyond just the tips. An ivy for instance can adapt to full sun if it is kept well watered.

Finally, insect pests can also cause browning. Inspect both the growing tips and the undersides of the leaves and the stems for signs of activity.

I hope this helps you trouble shoot.

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