I find aloe vera to be a delightful, forgiving plant. But it’s never a good sign when your plant’s leaves turn brown, soft, or limp. You’re probably wrecking your nerves – what is the culprit and how can I save my aloe vera?
Overwatering is the leading cause of aloe vera turning brown and soft. Other common causes include underwatering, nutrient deficiency, sun scorch, fungal diseases, and salt buildup due to overfertilization. Probing the real cause is often a matter of trial and error.
I am here to help you remove some guesswork. I’ll walk you through telling signs that a specific cause is responsible for your aloe vera turning soft and brown. Even better, I’ll show you how you can still save your precious plant.
Why Is My Aloe Vera Plant Turning Brown?
When you notice your aloe vera foliage is mushy and browning, take it as a warning sign that something is off with your care routine. Keep reading as I flesh out the most common causes.
Aside from troubleshooting the underlying problem, I’ll present key steps you ought to take to nurse your ailing aloe vera back to health.
1- Overwatering Can Turn Aloe Vera Brown
Aloe vera hates excessive moisture. After all, aloe is native to arid/semi-arid regions of Africa, so it prefers drier conditions. In fact, overwatering is almost always the culprit if your aloe vera turns brown and soft.
When you give your aloe too much water, the leaves develop water-soaked spots. They usually feel soft, mushy, and soggy. You can also recognize overwatering from the droopy, brown leaves, and waterlogged soil.
How to Fix
If waterlogging is left unchecked, the leaves will wilt, fall off, and your whole aloe plant will eventually die.
- Dig it up without delay
- Gently get rid of mushy, rotten, or dead roots and leaves
- You should let your aloe vera dry out for one or two days
- Dust the root ball with rooting powder once it has nearly dried out
- Replant your aloe in a well-drained potting mix.
- Park the pot in a bright yet sheltered area
- From here, water your aloe sparingly (preferably after every 20 or so days) and ensure it’s on the dry side
Your aloe vera will take a couple of weeks to return to its healthy status.
2- Underwatering Can Turn Aloe Vera Brown
Quite frankly, you’d want to expose your aloe vera to less moisture than too much of it. However, if you see brown leaf tips, your aloe may not be getting enough water.
The leaves will harden and become thick if the dry spell continues. Worse still, the brown spots will soon travel from the tips and run down the entire length. Other signs of underwatering include leaf shrinking, wrinkling, and shriveling.
How to Fix
- Water your aloe immediately until it drains out of the bottom. This should be enough moisture to keep your aloe happy and healthy for around 20 days.
- Dump out any excess run-offs to avoid wetness on the bottom of the pot.
- Check the soil after every 15-20 days, sooner during warmer months. Water thoroughly when the soil has mostly dried out.
3- Chemical Deposits Can Turn Aloe Vera Brown
As a golden rule, you shouldn’t use tap water on potted plants. And aloe vera is no exception.
Chemical toxicity from fluorides, chlorine, and poor-quality city water will turn aloe leaf tips brown.
How to Fix
- Stop using softened or tap water immediately. Instead, use filtered or distilled water to nourish your plant.
- If the toxicity is mild, you should flash out chemical deposits using fresh, filtered water
- Otherwise, repot your aloe with fresh potting mix
4- Diseases Deposits Can Turn Aloe Vera Brown
You’d be forgiven for thinking your aloe vera is immune to diseases. But you’d be wrong. Your aloe vera may turn brown because of a variety of fungal and bacterial diseases.
- Leaf Spot: Most leaf spots on aloe vera are fungal, caused by Nigrospora oryzae. They often start small as dark green, circular lesions which turn brown or black over time.
- Anthracnose: Colletotrichum gloeosporioides is responsible for this fungal disease. The leaves develop sunken wet lesions that dry out and turn brown.
- Sooty Mold: If you find this soot-like fungal infection, it’s a surefire sign that pests have damaged your aloe. Most commonly you’ll find whiteflies, scales, or aphids around.
How to Fix
- The solution will depend on the type of disease. Generally, you can use an antifungal.
- For sooty mold, make sure you get rid of the critters first using a good pesticide. I prefer neem oil and horticultural oil because they’re less toxic.
- Ensure to remove heavy-diseased roots, leaves, and other parts
- You can also consider organic methods like baking soda and tea tree oil.
5- Rust Spots on Aloe Leaves
A fungal infection, rust spots infest aloe vera leaves when it’s warm and moist. Low light could also be responsible.
These small red or brown rust-like spots usually appear on the underside of the leaves. They can coalesce and form larger, scruffy pustules.
How to Fix
For the most part, rust spots are not dangerous. But they can be unsightly.
- Soak the leaves using a dishwasher spray then hose it down to wash off the rust spots.
- Ensure your aloe is as dry as possible. So, use drip irrigation or a self-watering pot instead of overhead watering.
- Use baking soda, neem oil, or copper-based fungicide to kill off the infestation
6- Oedema Can Turn Aloe Vera Brown
Edema is a secondary cause after overwatering or excess humidity. When an aloe plant absorbs too much water, the leaves develop water-soaked blotches that appear mushy and soft. You can think of your aloe as being fully engorged with water.
Water-saturated aloe leaves turn into some sort of mush or soggy mess. If not controlled, edema will cause your aloe to die.
How to Fix
- Edema damage is typically irreversible. Check for blistered material and remove them to avoid infection.
- If overwatering is the issue, you must follow the steps discussed above.
- Aeration is crucial. Distance your houseplants to lower humidity around your aloe
- Relocate your aloe to a bright yet protected spot to accelerate transpiration
7- Sunburn Can Turn Aloe Vera Brown
Your aloe vera is built to thrive in bright, indirect light. If you expose it to excess direct sunlight, rays will scald its succulent leaves. The tips will start turning red or brown first.
When it’s hot & sunny out, you must transition slowly outside for summer. A sudden move to sunny outdoors will cause the leaves to wilt, turn brown, and get mushy.
How to Fix
- Remove your aloe immediately from direct sunlight. You can take it back inside or move it to a shaded area then transition gradually.
- Check the soil if it has dried out. If so, water thoroughly to replenish lost moisture.
- Any heavily sunburned parts should be trimmed off to avoid infestation.
8- Low Light Can Turn Aloe Vera Brown
Yes, both too much and low light will harm your aloe. It’s happiest in a bright, sunny spot that doesn’t receive too much direct sunlight. Without enough light, your aloe can’t make enough food via photosynthesis, so the leaves turn brown or faded.
Low light leads to stunted growth as well, which is a perfect recipe for edema, overwatering, waterlogging, nutrient deficiency, and even worse, root rot. All of these issues cause aloe vera to turn brown and soft.
How to Fix
- You must find a good spot where your aloe can get plenty of bright, indirect sunlight. From my experience, west-facing and south-facing windows are ideal.
- For best results, you can use a well-calibrated light meter. Set your eyes for an area with 8000 foot-candles (FC) light meter reading.
- Treat any cases of overwatering, root rot, nutrient deficiency, or edema accordingly
9- Temperature Stress Can Turn Aloe Vera Brown
As a drought-resistant plant, aloe vera can tolerate fairly high temperatures. However, it does particularly well in temperatures between 55 °F (12 °C) and 75 °F (23 °C).
Your aloe vera foliage will likely fade or turn brown in cooler temperatures. This happens if the temperatures suddenly dip below 50 °F (10 °C).
Similarly, if your aloe is exposed to sudden high temperatures above 80 °F (27 °C). Heat burn will cause tissue damage and lead to leaf browning and softening. Other signs of high temp stress include extra dry potting soil, wilting or drooping foliage, and pale/tan/yellow leaves.
How to Fix
- During colder weather, ensure temp doesn’t dip below 50 °F (10 °C). Move to a warmer spot, ideally between 55 °F (12 °C) and 75 °F (23 °C).
- Avoid sources of heat & cold drafts, such as direct sunlight, window seals, etc.
10- Pest Infestation Can Turn Aloe Vera Brown
You probably think your aloe is a hardy plant. While that is partly true, it can be vulnerable to a variety of insects and pests. They often drill holes into the thick, succulent foliage and leave unsightly brown spots.
- Mealybugs: Some pests like mealy bugs churn out honeydew, a sticky substance that welcomes fungal diseases which may also turn your aloe brown. Stakeout for the following pests:
- Aphids: These tiny-bodied insects often hide under the leaves. They drill holes and drink sap from aloe’s bountiful leaves. Sticky underside and brown spots are often a sign of aphid infestation.
- Spider Mites: Aloe vera plants are sometimes attacked by spider mites. While rare, they eat away the succulent section, leaving incisions and brown spots.
- Snout Beetles: Both adults and eggs of snout beetles are bad news for your aloe. They deposit eggs on the leaf base. The larvae burrow into the stem, causing the aloe to turn brown, wilt, and fall over.
- Scales: Scale infestation is generally mild. I know scales are around when I see small bumps on my aloe stems and leaves. They suck sap and damage succulent tissue, causing stippling, fading, and browning.
- Gall Mites: Also a rare pest, gall mites are hard to identify because they’re microscopic. You’ll only know when small, lumpy growths called galls occur on the aloe leaves.
- Fungus Gnats: These gnats lay eggs in the soil. An infestation will cause adverse effects on practically every part of your aloe, from the roots to the stem and foliage.
How to Fix
- You may need a magnifying glass because some pests are too tiny
- Take your plant to the shower a blast it with water to wash off bugs
- Scrape off some of the bugs and dab with an alcohol-soaked cotton ball
- Use insecticidal soap, neem oil, or horticultural oils
- For a biological solution, use ladybugs, lace bugs, or praying mantis
11- Over Fertilizing Can Turn Aloe Vera Brown
If your aloe has turned brown, salt buildup due to overfertilization may be the culprit. You may spot salt crust on the soil. These salts will burn the roots and cause aloe to brown.
Other signs of overfertilization include:
- Leaf tips may turn brown
- Stunted growth and leaf dieback
- Droopy, shriveled, or wilting foliage
How to Fix
- Leach the potting mix: set the pot in the sink or tub and flush plenty of water down through the draining holes
- Repot: if the salt buildup is severe, you should repot with a fresh potting mix
12- Nutrient Deficiency Can Turn Aloe Vera Brown
As far as nutrition goes, aloe vera is a reasonably tolerant plant. It can even thrive in nutrient-poor soil. But severe nutrient deficiency can turn it brown.
The most commonly deficient nutrients are iron and nitrogen. Aloe occasionally lacks enough zinc, potassium, and magnesium. Aloe leaves become brown or yellow when confronted by these nutrient deficiencies.
How to Fix
- Correct the underlying problem. Nutrient deficiency can result from waterlogging, overwatering, underwatering, wrong pH, sunburns, or low light.
- Apply necessary food plant or soluble fertilizer according to manufacturer’s instructions
13- Humidity Can Turn Aloe Vera Brown
Too low humidity can speed up the negative effects of underwatering, sunburns, chemical toxicity, and even overfertilization. That’s not to say aloe loves humidity. In fact, too much humidity can do more harm than good.
Warm, humid conditions make your aloe susceptible to diseases, root rot, and edema. It makes the impact of overwatering, low light, or waterlogging.
How to Fix
- Set your houseplants apart to prevent humidity buildup
- If too low humidity is the issue, mist around your aloe a little
- Improve air circulation
14- Frost Damage Can Turn Aloe Vera Brown
Aloe vera won’t tolerate any frost. When exposed to cold drafts and any temp below 50 °F (10 °C), the leaves will turn yellow and droopy from the cold shock. Eventually, the brown will travel down the leaf to the base of the plant.
How to Fix
- Move your aloe immediately to a frost-free spot. For instance, you can relocate it indoors during winter and colder weather.
- Keep your indoor aloe away from leaky windows, fans, ACs, or other sources of cold drafts
- In growing zones, mulch your aloe straws and other insulation
15- Transplant Shock Can Turn Aloe Vera Brown
If your aloe is turning brown soon after transplanting, that’s indicative of transplant shock. The roots have not yet established enough to sustain growth. Leaf yellowing, wilting, and drooping may accompany the brown spots.
How to Fix
- Water your transplanted aloe at least once every week
- Park it in a semi-shaded spot
- That’s all. In a couple of days, your aloe will regain its lush green color.
Unfortunately, your aloe still is prone to other issues. Chlorosis, poor circulation, and other ills may also cause it to turn brown.
Why Are My Aloe Vera Leaves Getting Soft?
Your aloe leaves may become mushy, soft, and soggy because of an array of reasons. Fungal rot is often the main cause. However, overwatering, edema, sunburns, and chemical damage can turn aloe soft.
A- Aloe Vera Soft Rot
Aloe vera soft rot is a bacterial infestation caused by Alternaria spp. The pests often target weak plants and cause water-soaked, brown spots. They usually feel soft and soggy.
As the rot travels across the foliage, the leaves will mushy and fall over. The brown spots usually expand and coalesce over time, forming larger blotches. You’ll notice some bulges on the leaves because of gas buildup inside.
If left untreated, the whole aloe plant will die, with younger leaves falling victim first. Eliminate any diseased plant material and use neem oil or baking soda to stop the spread.
B- Aloe Vera Root Rot
Root rot in aloe vera is a fungal disease. It invades aggressively when the soil is waterlogged. By killing roots, it affects the rest of the plant, which turns brown.
If you dig up your aloe, rotten roots will be black, mushy, and give off an unpleasant smell. If the lower leaves are mushy and dark, that’s a telltale sign of root rot.
Trim off diseased roots immediately and let the rest of the plant dry out before repotting in fresh soil. Apply some fungicides, neem oil, or deep the roots in potassium permanganate solution. You can also use baking soda or neem oil.
C- Basal Stem Rot
Basal stem rot is another fungal disease. It causes the base of your aloe to rot and turn reddish-brown to black.
Unfortunately, this is a fatal disease. Your best bet is to trim off affected plant materials. Ensure ample spacing between your houseplants to limit spread.
How to Prevent Browning of Aloe Vera Plant Leaves?
- Ensure good aeration: crowded plants in poorly-ventilated spaces will cause diseases and pests to spread faster. Create generous distance between them.
- Avoid overwatering: Wait until the soil has completely dried out to water thoroughly.
- Use well-drained pot: This will help the soil dry out in between waterings.
- Park your aloe in a spot that receives bright, indirect sunlight
- Make sure your aloe is comfortable: Mimic aloe’s natural environment by keeping temperatures between 55 °F (12 °C) and 75 °F (23 °C) and humidity leaves between 40% and 50%.
- Avoid overfertilization: Apply water-soluble 10-40-10 (NPK) fertilizer once every year in the spring should be enough.
- Never use tap or softened water: Instead, use filtered or distilled water
Your aloe vera may turn brown and soft because of overwatering and diseases like soft rot or root rot. Other causes include overfertilization, sunburn, temperature stress, nutrient deficiency, transplant shock, and so on. Maintain proper watering and care habits to prevent them.
(Sources: The University of Arizona)