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Should I Cut Dead Leaves off Plant?

In my long career of caring for plants, I’ve seen more than my fair share of dead leaves. Some wilted or dried out, while others were brown, diseased, and dying.

So I wasn’t sure whether or not removing them was a wise move.

Here is the most effective method I’ve found for getting rid of old leaves:

You must cut dead leaves off your plant, especially if they’re dried out, brown, or dying. But only if over half of an otherwise healthy leaf is affected. If an infectious disease is responsible, remove & discard the affected leaves ASAP, regardless of whether they’re dead or not.

Reasons for Plant’s Dead Leaves

When you discover dead leaves on your plant, there are two factors to consider to determine the source of the problem.

  1. Signs and symptoms displayed by your plant – Dead leaves and other signs can help you identify the culprit. Use this close inspection time to check your plant’s health and well-being. Look for leggy growth, strange odors, discoloration, spots, or bugs.
  2. Care conditions – Reviewing your plant’s growing conditions can help pinpoint the issue.

In most cases, figuring out what’s wrong with your plant is as simple as looking at its symptoms and how it’s being treated. Your findings will also help determine what needs to be done to fix things.

For example, you wouldn’t want to give more water to a plant whose leaves are wilting due to root rot or overwatering.

[1] Underwatering

If you let the soil get too dry, the leaves on your plant will start to die. Likewise, prolonged underwatering will force your plant to cut supply old or damaged leaves, causing them to die.

Many biological and physiological processes in your plant can’t happen without water. These processes include photosynthesis, transpiration, turgor pressure, and so on.

For example, if the leaves don’t get enough water from the soil, they will start to wilt, dry out, and fall off.

If left untreated, severe underwatering will result in widespread leaf shedding. Leaf yellowing, drooping, and crunchy leaf surfaces are early signs of underwatering.

Other obvious indicators include dry, lighter soil and the presence of dust on foliage.

Also, you may notice that the tips and edges of the leaves are turning brown. The adverse effects of underwatering are frequently exacerbated by excessive direct sunlight.

Unfortunately, underwatering is often accompanied by low humidity and pests that thrive in hot, dry places, like spider mites.

Prevention and Treatment

Keep an eye on your plant every few days to see how it’s doing. There are several ways to tell if your plant is thirsty: 

  • Use the finger test – To see if the soil is dry, dig your index finger into it. When the first few inches of soil feel dry, you should water your plant.
  • Use a moisture meter – To get the most accurate and reliable results, use a soil moisture meter. You can buy an all-in-one house plant meter. (Check the latest price on Amazon here).
  • Use a skewer or stick to check soil moisture – This works like the finger test.
  • Weigh the pot – An underwatered plant is lighter than usual.
  • Check the soil’s color – This should be a quick, preliminary test before a closer soil moisture assessment. Moist soil looks darker than dry medium.

There are several things you can do to prevent your plant from drowning:

  • Ensure that the temperatures are within the range of your plant.
  • Check to see if your plant is root-bound.
  • Take your plant out of direct sunlight (unless your plant needs it)
  • Make sure that the soil medium can hold enough water. Is it getting too crowded? If this is the case, you should repot your plant.

Allowing an underwatered plant to soak up enough moisture in a water sink is the best solution. Then, allow it to drain completely before replacing it.

[2] Overwatering

Overwatering and underwatering will cause your plant’s leaves to wilt, die, and possibly drop off. You may even notice that the symptoms of the two watering issues are strikingly similar.

Overwatering causes water to pool around the root system. The soil won’t be able to breathe because there is too much water, so the roots won’t be able to get the oxygen they need to live.

Soil that is too wet suffocates the roots. As a result, roots stop working properly and become susceptible to root rot.

Overwatering causes leaf edema and yellowing of the leaves. They indicate an abundance of moisture in the leaves.

Once the roots are damaged, your plant will show signs that it needs more water. These include browning at the tips of leaves, particularly young foliage.

Lower and older leaves will likely turn brown, dry out, and die before falling off.

If you overwater your plant too much, it will die no matter how much you try to water it.

Root rot will start to happen if the problem isn’t fixed. It causes roots to become soft, mushy, brown, or black.

How to Prevent and Fix Overwatering

If you think your plant is getting too much water, stop watering it. Instead, put it somewhere bright and let the soil dry out.

If root rot is present, you may need to prune the damaged roots and repot the plant.

The following tips have helped me avoid overwatering:

  • Wait to water plants until the top few inches of soil feel dry.
  • Give your plant a lot of light. If it doesn’t get enough light, it could get too much water.
  • Lift your plant to see how much it weighs before you water it. A plant with too much water will feel heavier, while a plant that needs water will feel lighter.
  • Don’t plant or pot your plants in too big or too small containers.
  • After watering the pot, let it drain for about ten minutes, and then empty the saucer. This will keep water from collecting at the bottom of the pot.

[3] Chlorine and Fluoride in City Water

Some city tap water may have chlorine, fluoride, and other harsh chemicals.

Unfortunately, the presence of these chemicals in the water can lead to poor water quality, which can be toxic and cause leaves to become damaged or die.

Plants more sensitive to the high levels of these chemicals and minerals are more likely to die. For example, Easter lily, spider plants, and palm plants are all known to be highly sensitive.

Though not immediately fatal, city/tap water can stress your plant, inhibit growth, and cause significant foliage dying.

Discolored leaves and brown leaf edges/tips are common symptoms. You may also notice flowering plants failing to bloom.

How to Prevent and Fix

For the most part, I advise avoiding city water. Your houseplants will thank you if you get them a sound water filtration system. Instead of tap water, you can use purified, distilled, rainwater, or bottled water.

You can let chlorine vaporize from tap water by leaving it in a bucket overnight.

If your city treats its water with chloramine, this may not work. Small amounts of de-chlorinator (Amazon Link) may also work.

Use clean water to flush the soil several times to eliminate chlorine, fluorides, and other minerals that may have built up.

[4] Too Much Sun Exposure

Sunburned Anthurium Leaf

Another major cause of the plant’s dead leaves is overexposure to direct sunlight.

Chinese evergreen, bromeliad, and dieffenbachia are examples of plants that do not do well in direct sunlight.

They’ll get sunburned and develop large brown patches on their foliage, or the entire leaf will turn brown.

Other symptoms of sun-scorched plants include:

  • Change of leaf color, usually paling, yellowing, or loss of variegation.
  • Leaves turn white, bleached, or whitewashed.
  • Defoliation.
  • Leaf wrinkling, crisping, or curling.
  • Blotchy burns on foliage.

The symptoms of too much direct sunlight can sometimes mimic those of underwatering, low humidity, fertilizer burn, and even overwatering.

How to Fix

  • Relocate your plant to a shadier spot if they’re outdoors.
  • Houseplants should be moved further away from south-facing and west-facing windows.
  • Place a curtain on the window to filter out direct sunlight.
  • A light meter can accurately tell you the best location for your plant.
  • Increase the watering frequency and irrigate during the coolest times of the day.

[5] Low Humidity Levels

Some plants, particularly tropical natives like begonia, require high humidity. If the leaves are kept in arid conditions, they will develop brown tips and margins.

These are usually the only symptoms of low humidity. A severe lack of humidity accelerates moisture loss.

Conditions such as underwatering and direct sunlight will get worse due to that. In response, the leaves will turn brown, dry out, and eventually, start to die.

How to Fix

Keep an eye on humidity levels in areas where your plants are. I prefer to use a digital hygrometer because it displays the current humidity level and the lowest and highest values it has ever recorded.

Low humidity could cause my plants to lose leaves, and the meter tells me this quickly.

To resolve the problem, increase the humidity around your plant. Here’s how it’s done:

  • Install a humidifier – Using a humidifier (Check the latest price on Amazon here) is the most humidity-boosting strategy. Ensure to top up your unit every 2-3 days.
  • Set a humidity tray below or beside your plant – You can use a shallow tray of water or wet pebbles
  • Group your plant to generate a more humid microclimate
  • Place your humidity-loving plants in a naturally humid room like the bathroom or kitchen.

[6] Fungal Diseases

Overwatered, weak, and stressed plants are more susceptible to fungus-caused diseases than healthy ones. If your plant’s leaves are dying, you should inspect them for fungal infections.

Some telltale signs of fungal infections include:

  • Brown or black spots on leaves
  • Leaf wilting
  • Leaf yellowing

These diseases will eventually take hold of your plant, causing it to droop and ultimately die.

Foliar anthracnose, pythium root rot, Septoria leaf spots, powdery mildew, and rust and blight are just a few of the more common fungal diseases to keep an eye out for.

Plants can become infected with fungal diseases due to various factors, including high humidity, poor air circulation, and overwatering.

Prevention and Treatment of Fungal Diseases

Isolating the sick plant is the first and most crucial step. This will help keep other plants from becoming infected.

Remove any dead or damaged leaves as soon as possible. By acting quickly, you may be able to prevent your plant from becoming severely infected.

Neem oil is an organic anti-fungal product that I recommend you use on your plant as a treatment.

You can also use commercial fungicides, which are not recommended. Spray your plant once a week until the disease is gone.

If you don’t catch the fungal disease in time, you may have to throw out the entire plant.

Sanitation and cultural practices can aid in the prevention of fungal infections:

  • Allow for adequate ventilation.
  • Do not overwater your plants.
  • Don’t splatter water on your plant’s leaves.
  • If possible, avoid using overhead irrigation.
  • Handle your plants with dry, clean hands.
  • Use only sterile cutting and gardening tools. After each use, a chlorine or alcohol solution can be used to disinfect them.

[7] Soil Toxicity from Excess Fertilizer, Chemical Buildup, etc.

It is straightforward to overfeed houseplants. However, excess fertilizer salts and residue will build up in the soil to toxic levels, causing root damage or impairment.

Other symptoms of fertilizer burn caused by soil toxicity, aside from dead leaves, include:

  • Yellowed, dying leaves
  • Stunted growth
  • Brown leaf tips and margins
  • Over decline in plant’s health

How to Fix

You must apply the proper type and fertilizer at the appropriate intervals. Fertilizer should be avoided during dormancy in most cases (aka winter season).

I recommend flushing the growing medium regularly to remove fertilizer salts.

Another good practice is to run extra irrigation water through the medium and let the excess liquid drain.

Why You Should Cut Off Dying Leaves

You should prune your plant’s dead or dying foliage for the following reasons:

– Redirect Resources to Healthy Parts of the Plant

Still, your plant needs to provide nutrients, water, and other resources to dying leaves. Your company could put these resources to better use elsewhere.

Removing the dead leaves can direct nutrients to the healthy stems, foliage, and flowers, where they will have the most significant impact.

When your plant is struggling, the last thing you want is its leaves to die and lose nutrients and other vital resources.

Additionally, removing old and dying foliage can help stimulate the growth of new vegetation and other plant parts. Why? Because it will allow more resources to be made available for development.

– Stop the Spread of Pests or Diseases

If pests or diseases have hurt the dying leaves, cutting them off quickly will help stop the problem from spreading to other parts of the plant.

Check out the dying leaves closely. Then, remove them and treat them as soon as possible if they show insect or disease infection.

– Enhance your Plant’s Aesthetics and Well-Being

Dying leaves are often spotted, browned, curled, wrinkled, discolored, or unappealing. They frequently appear unattractive and sickly.

Snipping them off will help improve your plant’s overall appearance and health.

If you leave the dying foliage on your plant, its health may suffer rapidly because it is still sucking energy and nutrients and spreading diseases.

When Should I Cut Dying Leaves Off My Plant?

You should cut off dying leaves when…

  • They’re brown and completely dead.
  • More than half of the leaf is damaged or has died.
  • Removing them will prevent the spread of disease or pests.

Sometimes you can prune back leaves that are partially dead or brown. That’s especially true if only leaf tips are affected.

How to Remove Dead Plant Leaves from Houseplants

You can easily remove dead leaves from your houseplant by pulling or tugging on them. A gentle tug should be sufficient to break them free from the plant.

To snip the dead leaves, use a sharp and sterile pair of scissors, pruners, or knives.

This is especially important if they don’t come off when you pull at them. Then, immediately bag or dispose of the removed foliage.

Do Dead Leaves Help Plants Grow?

Yes, removing dead leaves can aid in the growth of your plant. They will help move important things like nutrients, minerals, and so on to where they are needed for growth.

Dead leaves can be sterilized and used as mulch as well. They provide a home for beneficial microorganisms.

They also reduce soil temperature, increase humidity, and provide nutrients when broken down by microorganisms.

Can Brown Leaves Turn Green Again?

Brown leaves rarely revert to green. They could represent aging leaves that turn brown or yellow before dying and falling off.

They can also indicate a more severe disease, pests, nutrients, moisture, or light issue.

Should I Cut the Brown Tips Off My Plant?

Yes, you should trim your plant’s brown tips. They will never turn green again. Instead, remove the brown tips to encourage new growth.