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Brown and Crunchy Leaf Tips & Other Signs of Overwatering

I have more than eight years of hands-on experience in the horticultural maintenance industry and shares many tricks of the trade.

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Why Are Those Leaf Tips Turning Brown?

If your houseplant has been getting brown at the very tips or edges of the leaves, there are a few things that may be happening.

The simplest explanation is that you have been overwatering your plant. This is how it works; the roots wick up the water to the plant body. The plant cells fill up, one by one, and attempt to pass the liquid on to the next cell by osmosis. This system works wonderfully until the moisture reaches the cells located at the end of the line. These cells have no place to pass excessive moisture on to, so they continue to fill until they burst, creating crusty brown tips on the edges of the leaves.

Another symptom of overwatering, one that is commonly confused with under-watering, is the appearance of yellow leaves.

  • Yellow leaves caused by overwatering will look like a mosaic of both yellow and green. The leaves will still be firmly attached to the plant.
  • Yellow leaves caused by under-watering will look solid yellow and will fall off or detach with little to no effort. To learn more, read Why Are My Plant's Leaves Turning Yellow and Falling Off?
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Other Things That Trigger a Plant's Leaves to Turn Brown

If overwatering has not satisfactorily explained your problem, then there may be another cause. Many circumstances in a plant's environment can lead to browning leaves. Choosing the proper environment for the plant and adjusting its watering to fit that environment are things that can make or break a green thumb.

  • Lack of light: If the plant has less light than it requires to thrive, it will slow down all of its functions. Simply put, it will not use water as fast as it would if it were in the proper light conditions, and this will lead to an excess of moisture.
  • Inconsistency: If you have a tendency to neglect your plant to the point of wilting and then overcorrect by giving it a huge drink, a plant will typically force too much water through its cells, creating a similar overabundance in moisture.
  • Moving: If a plant has recently been moved from one spot to another, the different elements of the new environment may cause and overabundance of moisture.
  • Temperature: Most commonly, cold is a factor in creating a moisture-rich environment for a plant, but hot humid settings can be equally damaging.

Overwatering & Fungus Gnats

Fungus gnats are a houseplant pest that may indicate overwatering.

Chronic overwatering causes root rot and fungal issues that are perfect for supporting a healthy colony of obnoxious fungus gnats. Their appearance can be an indication that you may be overdoing the water. There are some other ways to contract gnats, but overwatering is a very common cause.

Preventing Brown Leaf Tips

Since we know that the brown tips are caused essentially by too much water, the best preventative measure is to properly water your plant. All plants are not created equal; they all have different needs and requirements, and you must be familiar with your subject in order to be a good caretaker. To be able to do that, you must know...

  • What kind of plant you have.
  • How much light it requires.
  • What kind of light it receives (at different times of the day and year).
  • How much water it likes (is it a heavy or light drinker?).

Most plants want a brief drying-out period in between waterings, since they need to get oxygen to their roots as well as water.

There are tools such as moisture probes and meters available to help you, and these can be helpful, especially for inexperienced gardeners.

Remember, just because watering makes you feel good doesn't mean it is good for your plant.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: The leaves of my indoor fig tree are turning brown, wrinkling and falling off. What does this mean?

Answer: Brown wrinkly leaves most often indicate too little water at some point. If your tree has been prolific prior to this problem, and has a good solid root structure, it will probably regenerate foliage over time once it is consistently receiving enough water.

Do you love your plants just a little too much?

thoughthole (author) from Utah on December 17, 2017:

Peter J, I am unfortunately not familiar with Pepper trees, so for best advice I would recommend speaking with someone at a local nursery that carries Pepper Trees. A general answer to your overwatering query, most plants will recover from a bout of overwatering, so long as all other environmental conditions (light, airflow, temperature) are optimum, and standing water has been removed to avoid or at least minimize root damage.

Peter J on December 17, 2017:

i over watered Pepper Trees that are approx 2 years old and a lot of the leafs turned brown .....will they recover and how should a treat them during the recovery ?

thoughthole (author) from Utah on May 09, 2012:

Thank you Kaili. I have one litte tidbit on Cyclamen. Cyclamen like cold water,they are much like spring bulbs (tulips, daffodill & such). Try watering your cyclamen by simply leaving about 3 ice cubes on the soil (assuming its in a 4" pot you may need a couple more if 6"), see what happens. It should cut down on the rotting stems, and yellowing leaves. Moderate diffused light is ideal, high light works with increased attention, no low light. I have heard a lot about Cyclamen Mites but have not experienced them much here in Utah interiors, they may be more problematic in other areas though, that may be something worth looking into if your having troubles. Rinsing your Cyclamen foliage with cool water and moderating the light exposure should help with Mites if they are an issue.

Kaili Bisson from Canada on May 09, 2012:

Hi there...great hubs. Any tips on the dreaded cyclamen?

thoughthole (author) from Utah on September 08, 2011:

Thank you for the feedback, I'll keep em coming.

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on September 08, 2011:

Very useful information and I have bookmarked your hub for future use. Thanks and Welcome to HubPages.