You may be alarmed to notice that your philodendron is sickly and dying. But don’t worry – I’ll help you investigate and get to the bottom of the problem. You’ll also learn how to rescue your dying philodendron and nurse it back to robustness.
Your philodendron is most likely dying from root rot due to overwatering. Dig your plant up, trim away infected roots, and treat the rest using fungicides. However, if the situation is too severe, consider repotting with fresh soil or propagation. In addition, temperature stress, low humidity, pest infestation, and diseases can cause fatal problems. Correct measures are necessary to restore your philodendron.
Let’s get started with how to spot a dying philodendron.
How to Know If Your Philodendron Is Dying
Your philodendron has a better chance of recovering if you’re able to spot the signs of dying sooner rather than later. That said, here are some vital symptoms of decline that you may want to watch out for when inspecting your plant
Philodendrons are beloved for their vibrant, lush green foliage. That’s why you can easily tell if something is off when the leaves are unhealthy.
The discoloration of foliage is usually one of the earliest indications of a dying philodendron. If you spot paling, yellowed, or browned leaves, that should be a wake-up call. This may also come in the form of brown or black spots/batches on the edges, tips, or the entire leaves.
You might also see some leaves wilting, curling, turning crispy, drying, drooping, or falling off. This is especially noticeable on the older or lower foliage. Depending on the cause, the leaves can wilt and drop indiscriminately.
When you inspect the root system, you should see white and firm roots with an earthy whiff. Note that roots may take on a slightly yellow hue as they get older.
However, when your philodendron is dying, the chances are root rot has crept in. As such, you’ll find rusty brown or black roots. In addition, they’re often soft, mushy, and give off a rotting smell.
If this is the case, then the overwatering situation might be too dire, and you should embark on an immediate rescue mission.
Distorted growth, stunted growth, or otherwise, failure to thrive are all telltale signs of decline in philodendron. They might also be caused by various other stressors that may not push your plant to the level of dying, though.
No new growth, especially during warm weather, should definitely ring an alarm.
Disease or Pest Infestation
Unhealthy philodendrons are not strong enough to fight off pests and disease vectors. So, if you find spider mites, mealybugs, whiteflies, fungus gnus, or other bugs pestering your philodendron repeatedly, your plant is probably dying. The same is true of bacterial and fungal infections.
Soggy, Damp, or Moldy Potting Mix
If the soil is damp to soggy, that could be an indication of root rot or overwatering. These are the major culprits likely to kill your precious philodendron.
Your nose may also get a mild to strong boggy smell wafting from the potting mix. In addition, mildew, mold, and other fungal growths may appear on the soil’s surface because of wet conditions.
Causes of Your Philodendron Could Be Dying
Overwatering is hands down the most common problem that affects philodendrons. In fact, your philodendron is more likely to decline and die from too much water than too little of it.
These tropical plants love even soil moisture and don’t like sitting on “wet feet.” When the soil becomes too wet or soggy, the roots can’t breathe and literally suffocate. That’s when root rot sets in and devastates your plant.
This affects the uptake of nutrients and water, causing a wide range of symptoms.
- Leaves turn yellow and limp or droop
- Leaves develop brown spots with a yellow halo around them
- Leaves become soft, mushy, and then wilt
- Shedding of leaves, which can be old and new, green or yellow.
- Presence of soft, mushy, black, or rusty brown roots
- A distinct rotting odor emanating from the soil
- Moldy cover on the surface of potting mix
- Stop watering your philodendron immediately. Instead, dump out any excess water from the saucer to prevent more soaking and avoid worsening the situation.
- Trim away any diseased, dead, or heavily affected parts. Make sure to use sterilized cutting tools.
- Tip your plant out of the pot to check for root rot. If present, remove diseased roots, treat remaining ones, and repot with fresh soil.
- Let the soil dry out. You can take it to a bright spot but avoid direct sunlight. Reduce humidity and ensure aeration to facilitate moisture loss and recovery.
- Proper watering is important. Make sure the top two to three inches of the soil have dried out before watering again.
- How to water your philodendron? Avoid overhead irrigation and opt for early morning watering. For indoor plants, a self-watering pot or watering from below is preferred. Water your plant until liquid oozes out of the drain holes, then get rid of excess run-off water.
- How often you should water your philodendron will depend on several factors. These include seasonal changes, phases of growth, size of the pot, and so on.
|Factor||How Frequent to Water your Philodendron|
|After repotting||Avoiding watering for at least 1-week after repotting|
|Spring-Summer||When it’s warm or hot, water every 1-2 weeks or until the top 2-3” of soil feel dry|
|Winter||Reduce watering frequency significantly to after every two to three weeks. Let the soil dry out more between waterings|
|Recently transplanted||Water once weekly for around a month|
If you let the potting soil dry out completely, your philodendron will show signs of dying. Firstly, you’ll notice dry, crispy, and brown leaves, which may look sunburned.
Next, the leaves may droop, go limp, and potentially begin to curl before wilting and falling off. Shedding leaves are usually lower or older ones.
The best solution is to soak-water your plant.
- Remove the saucer and put your philodendron in a tub or sink. Fill it up with around three to four inches of room temperature water. Never hot water.
- Let your philodendron soak up water in the basin for 45+ minutes. Then, make sure the moisture has evenly saturated the top two to three inches of the soil.
- Once the potting mix is evenly moist, drain out the basin. Allow the soil to drain excess water thoroughly.
- Replace the saucer and move your plant back to its original spot. Only water again when the top 2-3 inches of soil are dry.
A weakened philodendron is more susceptible to an array of diseases. The most common ailment that can kill your philodendron in days is Erwinia blight. It usually attacks your plant below the soil or at the soil level. (Source: Pennsylvania State University)
- Yellowed and stunted new leaves.
- Water-soaked lesions on stalks and stems
- Older leaves will develop wet lesions, either tan or yellow.
- These lesions spread fast in warm, humid conditions in the temp range of 71-93°F (21-34°C). They expand and merge, engulfing affected leaves, stalks, and stems.
- In dry, cool conditions, the lesions tear and thin, which leaves them with holes.
- It’s best to isolate affected plants
- Refrain from overhead irrigation. Don’t splash leaves with water.
- Remove and destroy infected plant materials. Sterilize your cutting tools in alcohol solution between cuttings.
- Erwinia blight is hard to get rid of using compounds. However, you can use copper-based bactericides to reduce pathogen reproduction and spread.
Philodendron Root Rot
Your philodendron won’t respond well to sitting in wet or soggy soil. This will cause the roots to suffocate and rot, leading to the untimely death of your philodendron. You’ll witness almost similar symptoms of overwatering.
- Browning and yellow foliage are the earliest signs of root rot
- Leaves go limp, wilt, and drop
- Brown spots encircled in yellow halos
- Brown, mushy roots
- A disagreeable rotten odor from the soil
- Your first step is to remove your philodendron from the pot
- Trim away all affected roots, leaving only the healthy ones. These should be bouncy, firm, and white. Ensure to wipe the trimmer with alcohol after every cut.
- Treat healthy roots by dipping in a fungicide solution or hydrogen peroxide
- Ideally, you should repot in a new container and with fresh soil. However, if you’re reusing the pot, make sure to wash it thoroughly using a disinfectant.
- When repotting, mix in some hydrogen peroxide or activated charcoal/cinnamon powder
Philodendron Leaves Falling Off
Your philodendron may shed leaves for a number of reasons. First, old foliage often falls off naturally to make space for new growth.
More often than not, the cause of leaf dropping is more serious and unnatural. It could range from malnutrition and overwatering to underwatering and disease attacks.
Your best course of action to identify the cause of leaves falling off. This way, you can treat the problem. For instance, if root rot is the cause, you’ll have to follow the steps above.
Philodendron Leaves Drooping
When your philodendron leaves go limp and start drooping, that’s not a good sign. Instead, it could be an indication that the soil has dried out completely.
Low light, overwatering, root rot, and not enough humidity can be the culprits. Some leaves may turn yellow, brown, and then droop before falling off.
You must, of course, identify the true culprit before you can address the problem.
- For underwatering, soak-water your philodendron until the soil is evenly moist.
- For root rot, treat as explained above.
- For low humidity, increase relative humidity by daily misting or using a humidifier.
- Make sure your plant is set in a bright, indirect light
Poor drainage can be due to lack of drainage holes, poorly-draining potting mix, or too much organic matter in the soil. In either case, your philodendron will not appreciate standing on “wet feet” for long.
The most obvious sign is wet-looking or waterlogged soil. You’ll see excess water on the container or saucer. Of course, the soil feels soggy to the touch.
- Firstly, inspect your philodendron’s pot. It should match its size and have enough drainage holes. If it’s small, repot using a bigger container – there should be at least an inch of soil between your plant and the wall of the container.
- Dump out excess water from the saucer. Tilt the pot to drain it thoroughly.
- If necessary, drill more holes on the bottom of your pot
- Consider adding vermiculite, perlite, small stones, or gravel to improve soil drainage
Not Enough Sunlight
Philodendrons hate scorching direct sunlight. But that doesn’t mean it should be put in a low-light area. If you place it in a too dark room, you will see leaf yellowing, browning, and drooping.
The discoloration is a sign of loss of chlorophyll. If not treated, it’ll wilt and start dying.
- Simply move your philodendron to a spot that will receive plenty of bright, indirect, or filtered light. This can be a west-facing window.
- Make sure to check soil as low light reduces evaporation rate. This makes it easy for you to overwater your plant.
Pathogens can spread to your philodendron through watering, poor aeration, pests, or plant debris. It can be an old pot, so the soil is already infected by disease-causing pathogens. These can be fungi, bacteria, protozoa, algae, or viruses.
Most of these pathogens thrive in damp conditions, causing root and/or stem rot. The most common cause of root rot is Phytophthora. The roots will be soft, mushy, and brown.
Other signs include:
- Yellow leaves that wilt, droop, and fall off
- Brown spots with yellow halos on leaves
- Stunted or no new growth
- Inspect the roots for signs of pathogenic infections
- Trim away infected roots, prune some foliage, and treat healthy roots with appropriate compounds like fungicides, hydrogen peroxide, etc.
- Repot with a fresh mix of potting soil
Incorrect Soil pH
Wrong soil pH can affect the absorption of nutrients and minerals, causing your philodendron to droop and start dying. For instance, yellowing leaves are often an indication of poor absorption of iron due to incorrect pH.
Use a soil testing kit to check the soil pH. Use agricultural limestone or aluminum/sulfur sulfate to raise or lower the soil PH accordingly. You want to gun for the ideal range of 4.5-6.0.
Philodendrons thrive in ambient home temperatures. But can become stressed and start dying when exposed to cold drafts, frostbites, and other sources of cold injuries.
- Cold-injured leaves usually turn yellow, brown, or black
- Leaves dry and curl or get wrinkled in constant cold drafts
- Provide a conducive setting with ideal temperatures of between 65-75°F (18-24°C)
- Move your philodendron away from cold drafts, such as cooling vents, opened windows, or entryway doors.
A stressed, weakened or unhealthy philodendron is prone to pest infestations. Sap-sucking pests like thrips, mealybugs, scales, and spider mites will drain your philodendron of much-needed moisture, nutrients, [and life].
Your philodendron will begin to die when overwhelmed by the burden of hosting a lot of pests. Look out for the following signs of insect infestation:
- Fronds and leaflets turn yellow.
- Visible bugs on the leaves, especially underneath
- Brown or black spots on affected foliage
- Sooty mold or presence of ants due to honeydew
- Delicate webbing in case of spider mites
- Rub the affected parts gently using alcohol-containing cotton swaps. This is effective against soft-skinned bugs like thrips.
- Wash off pests using a blast of water.
- Apply horticultural oils or insecticidal soap. I highly recommend neem oil; it’s non-toxic and quite effective against most bugs.
- Repeat this treatment routine every 7-10 days until they’re gone.
Philodendrons, like all tropical plants, are happy in humid environments. However, dry air, low humidity, and poor soil moisture are a recipe for decline.
- Leaves will start drooping and turn brown on the tips or margins
- When advanced, the whole leaves will start yellowing
- Leaves will become dry, crispy, and wilt
- Eventually, leaves will fall off.
Your philodendron will appreciate a humidity boost. You can do it in various ways: use a humidifier, set up a humidity tray (water tray with pebbles) nearby, or mist the leaves.
For a cultural method, try pulling your plants closer to create a humid microclimate.
Watering in Dormant Period
When fall arrives, philodendrons reduce growth significantly. In fact, some slow down during winter to the point of dormancy. So, they don’t longer use nutrients and water as before.
For this reason, the soil will remain moist for longer than during the growth season. If you water during the dormant period, you’re inviting root rot and cause your philodendron to die.
You’ll first see signs of overwatering, such as leaf wilting, drooping, yellowing, browning, and falling off. Then, if it goes on for long, you’ll notice signs of root rot.
You should cut watering by more than half when the dormancy period arrives. Then, again, practice the aforementioned watering habits, such as avoiding overhead irrigation.
Do a quick finger test every ten or so days. Only water when at least the top three inches of the soil are dry.
Lack of Nutrients in Soil
Your philodendron will do well in rich, well-drained soil. However, if it lacks nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, or magnesium, it’ll show signs of dying:
- Leaves turn yellow, brown, or pale
- Stunted or distorted growth
- Leaves start to wilt, droop and drop.
- If the soil is depleted of nutrients, repot with a fresh potting mix
- Otherwise, feed your plant a balanced water-soluble or liquid houseplant fertilizer. Make sure it has macro-nutrients as needed.
- The best way is to water with fertilizer every month during the growth season (spring through summer). Reduce feeding to every 6-8 weeks in low growth season (fall & winter)
When the root ball fills the container completely, it settles in tightly. This makes your philodendron root-bound. The soil’s water retention and ability to hold nutrients will be affected, resulting in signs of dying.
- Roots protrude through the drainage holes
- Pot starts to bulge at the sides
- Roots flow over the pot’s brim
You have no choice but to repot your philodendron in a bigger container.
How to Revive Dying Philodendron
Now that you’ve recognized the cause of your philodendron dying, it’s time to revive it. When the case of overwatering is mild, you can simply cease irrigation for a while and let the soil dry out. Your plant should recover in due time.
However, in severe cases, I highly recommend repotting or propagation depending on the severity.
Step #1: Unpot your Overwatered Philodendron
Simply tip your philodendron out of the container. A gentle tap to the sides of the pot should do the trick. Next, check the root system for signs of root rot.
Step #2: Trim Job
If root rot has pitched a tent, you will find rusty brown or black, soft, and mushy roots. You won’t be able to ignore that unpleasant odor. Trim these unhealthy, diseased roots, leaving white, firm ones.
Similarly, you must prune back some foliage. This will help balance out the loss of roots. Go for the lower, old, or affected leaves. Don’t forget to sterilize the scissors, razor, or shears in alcohol after each trim.
Step #3: Treat Root System
Wash away as much soil as possible from the root system. Be gentle, lest you cause more damage. Treat by dipping in copper-, captan, or sulfur-based fungicide solution. Hydrogen peroxide will also suffice.
Step #4: Choose the Right Container
Make sure it has proper drainage holes. It should be appropriate for the size of your plant. If you will reuse, ensure to clean using disinfectant solution then let it dry completely.
Step #5: Prepare Soil Mix
Philodendrons love a well-drained potting mix that’s fairly acidic (pH 4.5-6) and rich in organic matter. Use three parts organic potting and 1 part vermiculite, perlite, pumice, or coconut coir.
Sprinkle in a little hydrogen peroxide and blend thoroughly. Add fresh soil three-quarters way, then fill with peat moss.
Step #6: Watering after Repotting
Water your repotted philodendron until the soil is evenly moist. Let excess water drain out the holes. Avoid watering for at least a week, giving the root system ample time to recover.
Step #7: Care after Repotting
Refrain feeding your plant fertilizer for at least four weeks or until new growth emerges. Instead, give filtered bright light, proper aeration, and avoid direct sunlight.
Propagate to Save Your Dying Philodendron
When the root rot is fatal or too severe, propagation is your only resort
- For a vining philodendron, use 6” cuttings from the stems to propagate
- Apply rooting hormone and place the cuttings in a container of water
- Once you see several roots sprouting, pot in new soil.
- Overwatering is the most common cause of philodendron dying. It leads to root rot that causes the leaves to turn yellow, brown, and droop.
- To save an overwatered philodendron, trim away affected roots, treat with fungicides, and repot in fresh soil
- If the root rot is too severe, you can propagate using cuttings.