Brown Leaf Tips on Houseplants

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Posted by @LarryR on
Want to get rid of brown leaf tips on your houseplants? Simply cut off the brown tips. I don’t mean to be flippant here, but you can do this so that nobody will even notice that you’ve clipped the tip.

Brown tip on variegated corn plant, Dracaena fragrans

You’ll need a good, sturdy kitchen shears with holes in the handles for your fingers, just like an ordinary scissors.  (A regular scissors works too, in most cases.  I find that the sturdier kitchen shears offers a bit more control and cutting power.)

Can you tell where I clipped the tip?

Study the shape of a non-damaged leaf and the way it ends in a tip.  Fashion a new tip by starting in the middle of the leaf just below the brown area.  Cut downward in the direction of the plant stem on each side of the leaf, mimicking the leaf’s natural shape.  You should not have to cut very far into the leaf to create a new tip.  Challenge yourself and your sculpting abilities by making the tip look as close to Mother Nature’s as possible.

It is important to avoid removing the whole leaf if just the tip or a small margin on the side is brown.  Leaving as much green leaf tissue as possible allows the leaf to continue photosynthesizing, which helps the plant to grow and stay healthy.

So far, though, we’ve just put a band aid on the plant’s appearance.  We need to determine why the leaf tips are turning brown.  Here are the three most common causes of brown leaf tips:

Salt. This is perhaps the most common cause.  The soil in pots becomes salty over time from using water with a high mineral content or from over-fertilizing.  The accumulating salt is taken up by the plant and stored in the tips of the leaves, burning the tips, which will eventually turn brown.  To prevent this, flush the soil with distilled water.  When flushing, make sure that water is flowing freely out of the hole(s) in the bottom of the pot.  Flush for several minutes, keeping the pot filled to the brim with water.  Alternatively, you may take the plant out of its pot, discard the soil, and rinse the roots with distilled water.  Then repot the plant in a clean pot and add fresh potting soil.

Dryness. Be sure you know the requirements of the potted plant(s) you are growing.  The plant may not be getting enough water. There may also not be enough water in the air.  Plants that require humidity higher than that found in the average home will develop burned tips if the humidity is too low.  You can raise the humidity by setting pots in a tray filled with water and small gravel or rocks.  Humidity can also be raised slightly by grouping a number of pots together in one spot.  If you have forced air heat, do not locate plants where air from the furnace can blow on them.

Other chemicals. Chemicals other than salts can also accumulate in leaf tips.  If your tap water contains chloride or borate (or perhaps both), plants will eventually develop brown leaf tips.  The remedy is the same as for salt above.

If you’ve tried any or all of the suggested remedies above, and you still need help determining which of the three causes relates to your plant, contact your local extension agent.  Each U.S. state has an extension office at its land-grant university along with a network of local or regional offices.  There you can find experts who should be able to assist you further or provide you with a contact who can.  Click here for a locator map on which to locate your local extension office.

Comments and Discussion
Thread Title Last Reply Replies
Untitled by ibertrand636 Jul 12, 2017 11:26 PM 0
Brown leaf tips on house plants by speediebean Jan 12, 2013 10:57 AM 1
Cuticle scissors by KyWoods Jan 11, 2013 12:27 AM 1

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