How to Deal With Brown Calathea Leaves at Home
Members of the Calathea genus are commonly grown as houseplants. While they’re generally easy enough to care for, they tend to show displeasure with the current conditions by browning at the tips. Reverse this browning process by determining the cause and adjusting the care until the Calathea plant is happy again.
- Calathea Leaves Turning Brown – The Essentials
- Common Reasons Your Calathea Plant’s Leaves Are Turning Brown
- Is Some Browning of the Leaves Natural?
- Can Brown Leaves Turn Green Again?
- Should I Remove Brown Leaves?
- Prevention & Care
- Wrapping Up
Calathea Leaves Turning Brown – The Essentials
Calathea leaves usually go brown because of issues with low humidity or a lack of water. Too much light can also quickly turn leaves brown, along with diseases and pest infestations. Check the soil for signs of overwatering or under watering first.
Common Reasons Your Calathea Plant’s Leaves Are Turning Brown
Don’t panic if you see a brown leaf tip or two on this plant. Calathea plants are sensitive and tend to start browning as a sign of one of many different problems.
1) Water Quality
One of the most common reasons for leaf browning in Calathea is the use of water high in dissolved minerals, chlorine, or fluoride. It’s all too easy to overlook this problem while adjusting watering amounts or humidity levels.
Calathea plants are susceptible to dissolved minerals and chemicals commonly added to drinking water. Using rainwater or distilled bottled water is the best option and will quickly stop the browning if that’s the cause.
2) Low Humidity
Following issues with minerals or chemicals in the water, Calathea plants are most sensitive to humidity levels. Inadequate humidity causes the tips of the leaves to brown, and then the damage spreads up the leaf until it’s entirely dried up and brown.
While you can’t reverse existing damage from dry air, you can ensure no other leaves turn brown by increasing humidity around the plant. A small humidifier works best, especially if your home only has an average humidity level of around 40% to 50%. Calathea plants prefer humidity levels around 70% to 80% instead.
3) Lack of Water / Moisture
As a jungle plant native to humid environments, Calathea plants need regular watering, so their roots don’t dry out too much. They can appear to be well-watered and not show signs like drooping or wilting while still developing issues with brown tips to their leaves. It only takes a little unevenness to the water you provide the plant for browning to occur. Try watering more often while ensuring the plant drains well afterward.
4) Wrong Light Conditions
Calathea plants can’t handle direct light or a lot of it, even when it’s kept indirect. Low to medium light levels are best for this plant that grows in the shade of large jungle trees. Direct light, in particular, tends to make leaves rapidly lose color, dry up, and eventually turn brown and drop off. Complete leaf browning rather than just tip discoloration is likely due to an excess of light rather than water or humidity issues.
5) Overfertilizing / Overfeeding
This houseplant, like many others, needs relatively little fertilization when grown indoors. It mostly gets everything it needs from the potting mix.
Using fertilizer on a Calathea plant may lead to brown leaf tips due to “burning” from the excess of minerals and nutrients in the soil. It’s the same problem as using water that has a lot of chlorine or dissolved minerals. Avoid fertilizing and change out the potting soil if you’re already given the plant a heavy dose.
6) Poor Drainage
Poor drainage tends to cause yellowing leaves and soft, darkened stems that go limp. However, dead leaves killed by root rot or over-watering will eventually turn brown as they dry up.
Using a good drainage soil mix is essential for Calathea plants, as is choosing a container that won’t hold water in the bottom. If you still find your Calathea browning and losing leaves, you may need to change your watering habits and increase humidity, so the soil doesn’t dry out so quickly.
7) Root Bound
Once a Calathea plant grows to the limits of its container, it’s considered root-bound and you will need to consider repotting. You’ll first notice that it wilts easily but recovers with watering. This is because the bound roots are exposed to the air and aren’t kept moist by the soil anymore.
Aside from seeing roots poking out of the pot’s drainage holes, you may also find the tips of the leaves browning from uneven watering. Pot up by ½ inch in size all the way around the root ball to stop the browning.
8) Inappropriate Temperatures and Humidity
Air that is too hot and dry is just as likely as cold air to cause brown tips on a Calathea. However, low humidity is far more likely to be the culprit than temperature with these plants. Freshly propagated calathea plants can be particularly susceptible.
9) Age of the Plant
Some amount of browning as a leaf gets old and loses its vigor is entirely inevitable. Every leaf on a Calathea plant will eventually get old and die, so it needs to grow new fresh foliage regularly to refresh itself.
Don’t be afraid to see a few older leaves go yellow and then brown at a time since that’s part of the natural growth process for this plant. It’s isolated tip browning on newer growth that is more of an indicator of cultivation issues.
10) Pests and Diseases
Many pests and diseases that threaten the health of Calathea plants also cause browning. The effect can be partial or cause the loss of an entire leaf. This browning won’t appear on the leaf tip, but rather as brown spots isolated within the leaf itself. With extensive damage, the whole leaf may turn brown and drop off.
Aphids, mealybugs, thrips, and even caterpillars can all cause this kind of damage. Check for insects on the undersides of leaves and apply horticultural soap as a solution.
Is Some Browning of the Leaves Natural?
As these plants age, most Calathea plants slowly lose the oldest leaves on the plant. They’ll lose color, then turn yellow, and finally go brown as they dry up. These leaves should be pruned or trimmed off and discarded without concern. Damage and browning on younger and newer leaves are of greater concern.
Can Brown Leaves Turn Green Again?
Once the tip of a leaf or an inner part has turned brown and dry, it will not turn green again. However, you can trim the damaged area off, and the rest of the leaf should remain green if you correct the original cause.
Should I Remove Brown Leaves?
Feel free to remove brown and dried leaves as they appear since they can’t recover. This frees up space for new leaves to spread out without overcrowding. You can also trim off brown tips or cut part of a leaf off after it develops a brown spot.
Prevention & Care
Taking proper care of the Calathea plant is best to prevent browning and leaf loss. Maintain humidity in particular, preferably with a humidifier rather than an evaporation tray. Make sure to get the light levels just right as well and stick to distilled water.
Calathea plants are sensitive plants and tend to respond to issues with their care by going brown at the tips of the leaves. Pests cause browning further along in the leaf, while root rot can lead to dead stems. Make sure to watch out for temperature variations as well.
Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.