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8 Causes of Polka Dot Plant Dying (And Solutions)

Polka dot (hypoestes) is a relatively hardy indoor plant, but it can start dying on you out of the blue. It can fall victim to cold injury, sunburn, malnutrition, root rot, pests, and other ills. The leaves often wilt, turn yellow, sag, and lose their beautiful pinkish patterns.

Overwatering (which causes root rot) is the leading cause of polka dot plant death. Remove the affected roots and treat the remaining ones with fungicide. Then, repot your plant with a fresh batch of all-purpose growing mixture. Ensure that it is organically rich and has good drainage.

Overwatering isn’t the only issue you should be concerned about with your polka dot plant. Keep an eye out for infestations as well as cultural issues. They can set off a chain reaction of potentially fatal symptoms.

Polka Dot Plant Dying
Polka Dot Plant Dying

How to Know If a Polka Dot Plant Is Dying

Polka dot plant is an evergreen, low-maintenance plant. It doesn’t require much more than warm, humid weather. When in bloom, it has a bush of lush green leaves with a spray of pink, red, and white freckles.

Even this stunningly beautiful and vigorous grower can succumb to adversity. An unhappy and stressed polka dot plant will typically exhibit a variety of symptoms, including:

[1] Loss of Variegation

Did you know there are over 100 different kinds of polka dot plants? You can’t miss them with their colorful foliage that is freckled, mottled or spotted. These patterns, however, become more visible when your plant is flourishing.

And they’re often the first to go if something isn’t right.

If your plant is leggy and losing variegation, it may be asking for more light. To optimize photosynthesis, entire leaves may turn green. It’s a reaction to ensure one’s survival.

Foliage bleaching can also be caused by an excess of water and direct sunlight. The beautiful colors of the leaves will fade and become dull. At the same time, they will begin to yellow, brown around the edges, and droop.

[2] Brown Crispy Leaves

Polka dot leaves have a pink, red, or white flush. However, they should not have any brown spots, blotches, or edges. Brown leaves are frequently brittle, dry, and crisped.

Another point of concern is browning at the leaf tips. This is particularly true if you notice some water-soaked lesions on the foliage.

Polka Dot Brown Crispy Leaves

[3] Soft Sick-looking Foliage

Soft yellowed foliage is frequently indicative of a critical nutrient deficiency. This can be caused by used potting mix, root damage, or overwatering.

Even worse are soggy leaves that appear blotched or blackened. This means they’re sick and dying. Bacterial blight or fungal rot diseases are frequently to blame.

[4] Soft, Swollen, or Weak Stems

It is concerning to notice your plant’s stems weakening. When handled, they should be strong, firm, and resilient.

Soft, swollen, or saggy stems are common in overwatered polka dot plants. They become soggy, rotten, and even stinky in severe cases. It will be difficult to resurrect them at this point.

[5] Leaves Falling Off

Another telltale sign of a dying, damaged, or sick plant is leaf drop. Your polka dot plant is taking precautions to increase its chances of survival. Dropping some leaves aids in the conservation of as much energy and water as possible.

Defoliation is frequently used as a last resort. Other symptoms such as yellowing, wilting, and drooping will appear first.

[6]Curling and Shriveling

A dying polka dot plant’s leaves may dry out, shrivel, and curl up. This is frequently the case when your plant is severely thirsty. Extreme dehydration, temperature stress, and drafts can all cause the same symptoms.

Polka Dot Leaves Curling

Reasons for Polka Dot Plants Dying

[1] Overwatering Is the Most Common Cause of Polka Dot Plant Dying

Polka dot plants thrive in moist conditions. That they are native to Madagascar’s humid climate isn’t surprising, given their size and shape. Giving them too much water, on the other hand, will do more harm than good.

If you find soggy or excessively damp soil, this indicates that the soil has been overwatered. It is likely that excess water will drip quickly from the drainage holes as soon as you lift the pot.

Roots require air to breathe and function properly in order to survive. As a result, overwatered conditions are detrimental to root health.

Excess irrigation water not only depletes the soil of oxygen, but also depletes the soil of nutrients. Fungal pathogens that cause root rot thrive in moist environments, which makes them a prime candidate for spreading.

As a result of these factors, the roots will become drowned, dieback, and eventually decay. As a result, your plant’s ability to absorb nutrients and water is severely restricted. Overwatering causes the growth medium to become depleted of essential minerals and nutrients as a result of repeated watering.

An overwatered polka dot plant often shows the following symptoms:

  • Yellowed leaves
  • Leaves drooping
  • Water-soaked bumps or blisters on the foliage
  • Browned leaf edges or tips
  • Rapid and sudden shedding of leaves
  • Sodden, weak, or swollen stems
  • Stunted growth (smaller leaves)

An over-watered polka dot plant is also weakened and vulnerable. Thus, it might not be able to fight off pest and disease invasions.

How to Fix a Polka Dot Plant Dying from Overwatering (and Root Rot)

First and foremost, I analyze the extent of root damage. As per the severity of the root rot or whether it is present, the most appropriate revival strategy will be chosen.

If it isn’t present, consider yourself fortunate. There is a good chance that almost all of the roots are still intact and in good health. Move your plant to a warmer location to aid in the rapid loss of moisture from the wet soil.

Wait until the growing mixture has dried to a depth of 1 inch before watering. You can remove the root ball from the pot and place it on a bed of dry magazines. This will aid in the speeding up of the soil’s drying process.

Repotting is in order for a completely drowned polka dot plant. The same goes if there’s root rot (mild or otherwise). Follow these simple steps:

  1. Remove your polka dot plant from its pot.
  2. To release soil, gently tease the root ball. Use a gentle water stream to rinse excess dirt from the roots.
  3. Remove any roots that appear to be dead, damaged, or soft. Healthy roots are firm and white, as opposed to rotten ones that are brown or black.
  4. Use a fungicide solution to treat the roots.
  5. Select a new pot with several drainage holes. A terracotta or clay container is ideal.
  6. I often use an all-purpose potting mix. However, you can prepare yours, but ensure it’s well-drained and rich in organic matter. You can add some perlite or pumice.
  7. Make sure the potting mix is sufficiently moist before repotting. It should sit at the same level as it did in the previous pot.
  8. Provide bright filtered or indirect light

Reduce the frequency of irrigation to avoid a recurrence of the problem. Once a half-inch of topsoil has dried slightly, water it again.

What if the rot disease has severed almost all of the roots? Your only and last-ditch effort is propagation. Use non-diseased cuttings to propagate the plant.

[2] Underwatering

Your polka dot plant dislikes being thirsty. When you allow the soil to dry completely, it will react aggressively. The most common cause of polka do plant death is a lack of water.

The leaves of a plant that has been submerged will turn brown without going through the yellowing phase. Browning often begins at the leaf’s edges and tips.

If the foliage is not watered, it will dry out, become crunchy, and curl up. This is most common during the hot summer months. It’s even worse if the air around you is dry, windy, or drafty.

Some drooping stems and light brown spots on the foliage are also possible. Of course, the pot is more lightweight. Pry your finger into the soil and you’ll discover a bone-dry growing medium.

Polka Dot Plant Dying Due to Underwatering

How to Save an Underwatered Polka Dot Plant

It’s easier to save an underwatered plant than it is to deal with root rot. First, ensure that the potting mix has adequate drainage.

It is worth noting that soil that has completely dried out has a low water retention capacity. The liquid will simply pass through if you irrigate from above.

Watering from below will do the trick:

  • Fill a sink or basin with roughly 4” of room temperature water. I highly recommend using filtered, rainwater, or distilled water.
  • Let the pot sit (without the saucer) in the bath. The water level should come at least halfway up the height of the pot.
  • The water level in the sink will drop as it’s being soaked. Add a little more water in the course of 45 or more minutes.
  • Drain the sink once the top inch of the potting mix is saturated with water.
  • Allow the excess liquid to drain for around 30 minutes. Once done, replace the saucer and return your plant to its default spot.

Keep a consistent irrigation schedule to avoid making the same mistake twice. Check the potting mix with your index finger every now and then. Allow half an inch to an inch of soil to dry out between irrigations.

[3] Improper Lighting

Light is essential for the growth and vigor of your plants. Leaf browning is a common symptom of poor lighting. Scorched leaves with browned edges are caused by overexposure to light, especially if it sits in direct sunlight.

A polka dot plant that has been exposed to direct sunlight will become bleached. The leaves will become brittle or crunchy as they crisp up. If nothing changes, the foliage will wither and fall.

However, most indoor polka dot plants will die from a lack of light. They will grow leggy or floppy and will eventually die. It frequently occurs during the winter, when the sun is weaker and shines for fewer hours each day.

Yellowing leaves will also be visible. It starts with older and lower foliage and works its way up to other leaves.

The overall growth of the plant will be slowed or stunted. This is because it does not receive enough light to produce the food and energy it requires.

Some, if not all, of the leaves will begin to pale or lose their vibrant variegation. Your ailing polka dot plant will shed most of its foliage as a last resort.

Overwatering is frequently accompanied by a lack of light. As a result, your plant is more vulnerable to pests, rot diseases, and other ailments.

How to Fix

It is critical to remove and dispose of any damaged or dead foliage as soon as possible.

Make sure to keep it out of direct sunlight. It thrives best in dappled light outside.

If it is getting too little light, the solution is straightforward. Relocate your polka dot plant to a location with plenty of bright, filtered light. A good location would be in front of an east-facing window.

However, I’ve found that placing my polka dot plants 2 to 3 feet away from a south-facing or west-facing window works well for me. These windows provide plenty of bright natural light.

[4] Polka Dot Plant Leaves Turning Yellow

In most indoor plants, yellow leaves are an early sign of decline. Your polka dot plant is no exception. In many cases, the leaves closest to the soil are the first to perish.

It’s worth noting that older leaves can yellow and fall off naturally. They are allowing room for new growth. This also improves the appearance of your plant and allows it to make the best use of its resources.

However, if all of your leaves are turning yellow, you have a more serious problem. You may have overwatered your plant. Other culprits include nutrient deficiencies, pests, and bacterial diseases.

The yellowed leaves frequently wilt, turn brown, or blacken. If they are not treated, they will fall off and cause your plant to die.

Polka Dot Leaves Turning Yellow
Polka Dot Leaves Turning Yellow

How to Revive a Polka Dot Plant with Yellow Leaves

Remove any yellowed leaves that are severely damaged.

A polka dot plant with yellow leaves frequently requires more light. Place it in a location where it will receive both direct and indirect light.

Look for signs of overwatering in the soil. Follow the steps I described above if it is overwatered.

[5] Pest Infestation

While hardy, your polka dot plant isn’t immune to pests. Large infestations of sap-suckers like mealybugs can cause serious damage to your plant.

Type of InsectDescription
AphidsAphids are tiny sap-sucking bugs that love lounging on the backs of the leaves. They invade primarily in spring. Watch out for sooty mold and ants that ‘farm’ honeydew secreted by aphids. They can deform, wither, or even kill your plant.
MealybugsMealybugs are sap-suckers that multiply quickly. They thrive in warm, humid conditions. Watch out for white waxy or cottony sticky colonies on the leaves, stems, and even roots. Symptoms include stunted growth, black sooty mold, and sticky honeydew. Affected leaves typically yellow out and fall off. 
WhitefliesWhiteflies often cluster undersides of the leaves, where they lay white eggs. Though rarely fatal, whitefly invasion can affect the aesthetic value of your plant. Shake your plant. They will get scared, and a cloud of adult whiteflies will appear around it.
Spider MitesThese tiny bugs weave fine silky webbing on the textured backs of the leaves. They drink nutrient-rich fluids from foliage and stems. As such, they cause stunted growth and leave drill holes. Symptoms include brown or yellow foliage.
Vine WeevilsVine weevils are long black bugs that sport dirty yellow markings on the wings. They’re mostly nocturnal, so inspect them at night. Symptoms include brown leaves with irregular notches at the edges.
Mealybug on Polka Dot Plant
Mealybug on Polka Dot Plant

How to Get Rid of Polka Dot Plant Pests

First, isolate your affected polka dot plant.

If the population of bugs is small, it’s easy. Simply wipe them down using alcohol-dipped cotton balls or swabs.

You can also hose down your polka dot plant. A strong water jet will help knock off mealybugs, whiteflies, aphids, and spider mites.

For large invasions, use horticultural oil or insecticidal soap spray. I prefer neem oil (Check the latest price on Amazon here). It’s indoor-safe, organic, and effective against most bugs.

Spray your polka dot plant once every week in the month. It should take a month or so to curb the infestation fully.

[6] Lack of Nutrients

Your polka dot plant requires a steady supply of nitrogen, potassium, and other nutrients. Yellowing leaves are a sure sign of nutrient deficiency.

A lack of nutrients means your plant will not grow properly. It will deteriorate and become vulnerable to diseases and pests. It won’t be long before it dies.

Solution

Avoid overwatering because it washes soil nutrients and minerals away.

Polka dot plants are prolific growers. Dilute organic fertilizer should be applied once a month.

Consider repotting your plant with a new organically rich growing medium.

 [7] Powdery Mildew

Powdery mildew is commonly found on overwatered polka dot plants. They start out as small, circular white powdery spots. They are mostly found on the upper sides of older foliage.

They will eventually spread and cover the entire leaf and even the stems. The foliage frequently loses its variegation, turns brown, and droops. Your plant will soon begin to die.

Solution

Make certain that your polka dot plant is not placed in a dark or shady area. Stop overwatering as well.

Powdery mildew thrives in damp, aerated environments. So, to improve air circulation, space out your plants and prune them. (Source: University of Maryland)

All heavily affected leaves should be removed and discarded.

Powdery mildew can also be controlled with neem oil or a copper-based fungicide.

[8] Southern Blight

An overwater polka dot plant is also affected by southern blight. Powdery mildew, rust, fungal leaf spots, and root rot are all possible companions.

It’s a severe disease caused by Sclerotium rolfsii fungus. It thrives in warm, moist conditions. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Water-soaked lesions on stems and leaves closer to the soil
  • Yellowed and wilting leaves
  • Lower leaves are usually discolored and lose variegation
  • Present of mycelia, hyphae, or small spherical structures (called sclerotia) on the soil or affected areas. They can be reddish-brown, tan, or black.

Control and Management

Polka dot plants with widespread southern blight infection should be destroyed immediately.

Improve aeration to prevent the spread of the disease

You can control a mild infection — even better if caught early. Use a mancozeb-based fungicide (Check the latest price on Amazon here).

How Not to Kill Your Polka Dot Plant? 

I must admit that polka dot plants are a family favorite. They bring a splash of color into our home. They’re also not too hazy when it comes to caring for them.

However, here are some essential tips I use to keep them thriving:

  • I grow them in a well-drained potting mix with plenty of pumice
  • I only irrigate when ½ to an inch of topsoil has slightly dried out
  • I pinch back or prune top leaves regularly to encourage bushier growth. This also helps improve air circulation and stave off diseases.
  • I give them plenty of bright indirect light.
  • I fertilize once monthly during spring and summer. It helps encourage healthy growth. I recommend diluting regular houseplant fertilizer to half the concentration.