Dracaena Leaves Are Brown – What Causes Brown Leaves On Dracaena Plants
Dracaena is a very common and easy to grow houseplant. In some regions, you can even add it to your outdoor landscape. While few problems plague this popular plant, brown leaves on Dracaena are fairly common. The reasons for a Dracaena with brown leaves range from cultural to situational and into pest or disease issues. Continue reading for a diagnosis on why your Dracaena’s leaves are turning brown.
Why are My Dracaena’s Leaves Turning Brown?
Foliar changes on houseplants occur occasionally. In the case of browning Dracaena leaves, the cause could stem from many things. These tropical plants thrive in temperatures of 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (21 to 26 C.) and can experience leaf browning in cooler temperatures. The most common cause when Dracaena leaves are brown arises from the type of water you use.
Dracaena’s are extremely sensitive to excess fluoride. In certain municipalities, fluoride
is added to drinking water and can make levels too high for Dracaena. This will accumulate in soil from irrigation water and can cause yellowing of leaf tips and margins which progresses to brown as the toxicity builds up.
Fluoride toxicity can also come from potting soils with perlite or from using a fertilizer with superphosphate. Avoid potting soils with those little white pellets (perlite) and use a balanced liquid fertilizer and non-fluoridated water. Flushing the soil to remove excess fertilizer salts will also help prevent leaf damage.
Other Reasons for Browning Dracaena Leaves
If your water isn’t fluoridated and you have a medium free of perlite, perhaps the cause of a Dracaena with brown leaves is low humidity. As a tropical plant, Dracaena needs ambient moisture and warm temperatures. If humidity is low, brown tips form on the plant.
One easy way to add ambient moisture in the home interior is by lining a saucer with pebbles and water and placing the plant on it. The water evaporates and enhances ambient moisture without drowning the roots. Other options are a humidifier or misting the leaves daily.
Fusarium leaf spot affects many types of plants including food crops, ornamentals and even bulbs. It is a fungal disease that thrives in moist, warm temperatures and survives in soil for many seasons. Young Dracaena leaves are brown to reddish brown with yellow halos. As the disease progresses, the older leaves will develop lesions. Most of the discoloration is at the base of leaves.
Prevent the disease by using a fungicide and avoid overhead watering when leaves are not able to dry out quickly.
Q. I have a plant labeled as “mass cane.” I’ve noticed recently that most of the leaves are starting to turn yellow at the tips and eventually the yellow turns brown. I have not watered the plant for 2-3 weeks now for fear that it has been over watered. I’ve checked the soil and it seems as if at least the top half of the soil depth is mostly dry. I bought distilled water for the plant because I’ve read that fluoride can cause yellowing in the leaves. So the last time I watered it I used the distilled water but that didn’t seem to help. The plant is in a bed room that has a window (mostly covered by a curtain to block direct sunlight) facing the south so the plant usually receives a decent amount of filtered light. Also about a week ago the plant fell but landed upright; there was no damage to the plant but the canes probably moved around a little in the soil. What needs to be done to keep this plant healthy? Matthew Broten – Champlin, Minnesota
A. You mass cane is a common name for Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’ also called a Corn plant because of the shape of its leaves. The variegated (with the light yellow/green stripe in the center) seem to need more light, perhaps because there is less chlorophyll on each leaf. When I was working in indoor landscaping it seemed that I would need to trim the necrotic tips off of the plants that received the least amount of light. Although they are tolerant of low light levels I always found that they did best with some direct light for part of the day. Of course the more light they receive the more water they require making it less likely that they will be overwatered. Overwatering (as I suspect you know from your question) will suffocate the roots and kill them. The symptoms are the same as underwatering because the plant itself is not receiving water. If the leaf tip symptoms showed up only after the plant fell it is possible that there was some root damage and this is causing the lack of water. It is good that you are using non fluoridated/chlorinated water since this means we can eliminate this as a potential cause of the problem. I would trim the tips and continue to only water the plants when you feel the soil has become moderately dry.
The Dracaena marginata is a species from a large plant genus (Dracaena) that has many variations in leaf sizes, leaf colors and different trunk types. The marginata is one of the most popular seen indoors that grows into an attractive plant and becomes a great focal point of a room, once it has matured enough.
How it looks and grows: The leaves are quite slim compared to other Dracaena’s with arching leaves. There are three types, one has a dark red outer edge leaves with a green center, another is green in the center with red and yellowish stripes and the other the colorama has thick red edges. The leaves are produced when the trunk grows stems (cane) from the side that often needs to be trained (keeps them growing upwards). These stems have a grayish brown bark (the trunk) that can also produce smaller ones, so the Dragon tree really needs to be pruned to avoid the plant from growing in all directions.
These are slow grower’s that can take about 10 years to reach over 5ft tall but look lush once they reach about a foot high. They have a very similar look like palm tree plants.
Level of care: The Madagascar dragon tree is one of the easiest house plants to grow and takes neglect on the chin – then recovers quickly once the correct conditions and care is provided. The one I gave to my sister (about 5ft in height) over 10 years ago was neglected more than cared for and is now looking great.
Leaves falling: If leaves start dying and coming away at the bottom of the plant – do not worry. This is natural and similar to how a yucca tree sheds its bottom leaves for new growth. You can remove them once you see them deteriorating in appearance.
Poisonous: This plant is toxic to both cats and dogs. The problem with cats is they love chewing the leaves, as I found out with my parents cats. My parents cats were fine, although they only nibbled a small amount. Because the leaves are very slim I’m sure they think it’s a type of grass. See more about pets and the effect toxins have here at the ASPCA.
Improving air quality: The Dracaena marginata is one of the plants on NASA’s air filtering plants list (part of the NASA clean air study) that reduces benzene, formaldehyde, xylene and toluene, within the air.
Leaf tips and edges of dracaenas turn brown, or get “leaf tip burn” as this condition is sometimes called, because of too much chlorine, fluoride, or salt in the water; or because you are over fertilizing the plant. Never use water that has passed through a softener for your houseplants, it has much too much salt in it. Dracaenas are very sensitive to chlorine and especially fluorine. If your household water contains a great deal of chemicals, allow it sit out over night before using it. You can also use rain water or distilled water. Feed a dracaena monthly in the spring and summer, and always dilute your plant food to 1/2 the recommended strength. Dracaenas are low lightWhen you select “Low Light” a list of the most adaptive plants in our database appears. These plants can live in lighting conditions too low to support any other plants in our database, but will grow faster in medium and high light. Variegation (color) in the leaves is often lost in low light. A plant in low light needs less water and fertilizer than the same plant in better light. Place a low-light plant within 2-3 ft. of a window with a northern exposure, 3-5 ft. of a window with an eastern exposure, 4-10 ft. of a window with a western exposure, and 10-18ft. of a window with a southern exposure. A low light area has between 50-150 ft. candles of light. The best low light house plants are: Chinese Evergreen, Dracaena Janet Craig, Peace Lily, Heart leaf Philodendron. plants that get bleached and damaged if any direct sun hits the leaves. If it were my plant, I’d move it further from the window perhaps into a corner protected from the sun. You can read all my care tips on how to grow a dracaena in the Popular Houseplant section of the website.
Why Do Leaf Tips Turn Brown?
Brown leaf time on a dracaena.
One of the problems often encountered with houseplants is that the tip of the leaf turns brown, dries out and dies. This problem mainly occurs on plants with narrow pointed leaves, like dracaenas (Dracaena spp.), cordylines (Cordyline spp.) and spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum), but also on certain plants with broader leaves, such as the prayer plants (Maranta spp.) and calatheas (Calathea spp.). Carnivorous plants too are prone to leaf tip necrosis.
Usually when a leaf tip turns brown, it’s because it didn’t receive its share of moisture while the rest of the leaf did… or excess salts have migrated to the leaf. But why? There are several causes.
The 6 Most Common Causes of Brown Leaf Tips
- Dry Air
This is a recurring problem during the winter months. If the air is dry, it’s because we heat our homes and heating reduces the air’s relative humidity. In an effort to compensate, the leaf loses massive amounts of water to transpiration, but as a result the plant’s sap doesn’t make as far as tip of the leaf simply because it is the part farthest from the cells that carry out the job of transporting sap. Since the tip is not receiving enough moisture, it tends to die.
Solution: Increase the humidity by whatever means you choose. Here are some suggestions.
If you apply insufficient water to a plant when you water or if you don’t water often enough, the leaves will be stressed by a lack of water. And again, the leaf tip, being furthest from sap transport vessels, suffers the most, leading to tip dieback.
Plants grown in hanging baskets are more prone to damage than other plants, not only because their foliage is more exposed to drying air (see point 1), but also baskets are typically equipped with only a very small saucer that overflows readily. Therefore the caretaker (you) tends to water more cautiously, thus less abundantly, to prevent spillage, leading to a plant that is constantly suffering from water stress. And again, this kind of stress shows most obviously as damage to the tip of the leaves.
Solution: Water deeply enough to moisten the entire root ball, and repeat when the soil is dry to the touch. If the soil dries out again only 4 or 5 days after watering, it would be wise to repot in a larger pot. As for hanging baskets, instead of watering them sparingly, take the basket down and literally soak it in water so that the soil can truly absorb the amount of water it needs.
As bizarre as it may seem, too much water can just as easily cause brown leaf tips as too little. That’s because, if the soil in the pot is constantly wet, the roots begin to die back.* And if the roots die, less water will make it as far as the foliage… and once again, it’s the leaf tip that suffers most, causing die-back.
*There are few houseplants that are semi-aquatic: they prefer that their roots constantly soak in water, including umbrella palm (Cyperus alternifolius). For these exceptions to the rule, overwatering simply isn’t possible and so won’t cause leaf tips to die.
Solution: For any houseplant that is isn’t semi-aquatic, apply the Golden Rule of Watering: wait until the soil is dry before watering again. To see if watering is necessary, sink a finger into the growing mix up to the second joint. If it feels moist, don’t water. Wait until it does feel dry, then water abundantly, soaking the entire root ball. If the soil mix regularly goes from moist to just slightly dry, you’ll never overwater.
If you fear that your overwatering has gone too far and that the excess moisture has killed the roots of your plant (you’ll probably notice a smell of rot if you sniff the soil), things are more serious. Depot the plant, cut off any rotting roots, repot in fresh soil… and cross your fingers. When the root system of a plant has started to rot, it’s not always possible to save it.
- Contaminated Soil
Over time, mineral salts from hard water and fertilizer accumulate in the soil of houseplants and gradually poison it, causing the roots to die back. If the roots die back, so will the leaves, because they won’t be receiving their full share of water. Again, the leaf tip takes the brunt of the damage. Furthermore, harmful salts tend to accumulate in the leaf tips, worsening the problem.
Solution: Leach the soil of your houseplants at least 2 or 3 times a year or put them outside for the summer so the rain can leach them. And repot regularly, changing the soil when you do so.
If you tend to fertilize too much, you create a situation similar to a soil contaminated with mineral salts: excess minerals tend to concentrate in the leaf tips and cause them to die.
Solution: Learn to fertilize your plants with great care and never to excess. The usual rule for houseplants is to apply fertilizer at a quarter of the indicated rate and even then, only during the growing season.
- Chlorine Damage
Some plants, especially dracaenas, cordylines, spider plants, and carnivorous plants, are very susceptible the accumulation of chlorine in the soil. If your water comes from any kind of municipal system, it probably contains chlorine.
Solution: When caring for plants that are sensitive to chlorine, the best thing to do is to avoid watering with water that contains chlorine. Instead, use rainwater, distilled water, or chlorine-free spring water (you’ll have to read the label on bottled water: some brands contain chlorine, others don’t). Note that leaving the water in an open container for 24 hours before using it to allow chlorine to evaporate is a myth. The type of chlorine commonly used to treat water simply doesn’t evaporate. Here is an explanation.
When the Damage is Done
Once the tip of a leaf is dead (brown), nothing will bring it back to life, regardless of treatment you give to the plant. If its presence bothers you, you simply cut off the dead tip with pruning shears or scissors. But I have an even more laidback solution. I suggest to apply the famous “Laidback Gardener’s 15 pace rule”: step back 15 paces and you won’t see that the leaf tips are brown. Problem Solved!
If you’ve been searching for a low maintenance, traditional plant that will brighten any room, look no further than the Dracaena Warneckii Lemon Lime. Referred to by many names, I like to call it Dracaena Lemon Lime. While there are many members of the Dracaena family, the Lemon Lime is one of the most colorful and low maintenance. It’s an easy-to-grow plant with sturdy, striped leaves. And, even better, they are one of the plants used in the NASA Clean Air Study, so it’s not only going to provide aesthetic benefits, but it’s also good for your home or business. Keep reading to learn more about one of my favorites!
Botanical Name: Dracaena deremensis ‘warneckei lemon lime”
Common Name: Dracaena Lemon Lime, Lemon Lime, and Lemon Lime Warneckii
Characteristics: Bright green variegated leaves with distinctive white stripes running lengthwise in the leaf’s center. When young, they are small and bushy. Older dracaenas develop woody stems and become almost tree like. They can be a great backdrop beyond showy plants.
Size: Medium sized.
Environmental Needs: Comfortable at 75 degrees.
Light Needs: Tolerates low light but can thrive in medium and bright spots.
Watering Needs: Water requirements are low to medium depending on the amount of sun it receives, size of the plant, and the size of the container it’s in. You might be overwatering if you see yellow or brown leaf tips that appear wet, or maybe even root or stem rot. However, underwatering brings wavy leaves and possibly banana-yellow older growth and crispy brown tips and foliage.
Maintenance Tips: Because of the wide nature of the leaf, they can accumulate dust, so wipe both sides of the leaves regularly with a damp cloth to remove dust. In order for your Dracaena Lemon Lime to thrive, it needs to be in a pot that allows for proper root growth, so keep that in mind as the plant gets larger.
Did you know you can propagate a Dracaena with little to no effort? Read more in this article where a fellow plant enthusiast accidentally propagated her Dracaena – proof that it might be easy for even the blackest of thumbs!
Have questions? Drop me an email – I’m happy to help!
Warneckii Lemon Lime
The Warneckii Lemon Lime does well in moderate light, but will thrive in high light and it’s pretty forgiving for a forgetful plant owner. Here are some tips to keep it growing:
Like its relatives, it prefers its root zone on the dry side; so make sure the soil dries out between waterings. See our watering guide for more information.
Although it’s been billed as a low-light plant in the past, the Lemon Lime needs moderate light, and bright light if you want to maintain its crisp lime-green, white, and gray leaf variegation. So, place your Lemon Lime next to an east, west, or south window, or give it a nice spot on a bright porch, and it’ll be happy. Like other plants grown for indoors, do not expose this plant to direct sunlight or it will burn the leaves very quickly.
The Lemon Lime will not need to be fed during the first 6 months after it has shipped. During this time, it will use the residual nutrients from nursery production. After 6 months, it can be fed quarterly with a complete fertilizer formulated for interior plants. Please refer to our nutrient guide for details.
This plant, with its numerous trunks and wide leaves, does attract dust, but it’s pretty easy to clean. We recommend a cleaning regimen with water and a light soap solution – just use a rag dipped in the solution and stroke the leaves from the stem to the apex. Depending on your environment, this is a once-per-quarter recommendation.
Most of the pruning on the Lemon Lime will be the simple removal of its older leaves that may become spotted, yellow, and/or brown. They can be easily tugged off from the stem, or by making a cut in the apex of the leaf and pulling the two sides of the leaf apart. For otherwise healthy looking leaves with some brown tips, use sharp scissors and trim off the brown leaf margin being careful to maintain the natural shape of the leaf.
The Warneckii Lemon Lime can attract mealybugs, and sometimes mites and scale – but this is rare. Mealybugs are the the main pest, so keep it clean. Look for the little white cottony mealybugs at the base of the leaves and on the stems; mites will hide on the bottom side of the leaves and produce webs. If you see either of these, simply wipe them off or break out the spray bottle with a light soap solution and spray them daily ’til they’re gone.
In good light, this plant will not give you any trouble – provided you water it occasionally.