Why Are My Hydrangea Leaves Brown? (And How to Fix it)


Indoor potted hydrangea plant leaves turning brown.

The majority of indoor plants are characterized by being leafy. Hydrangea, on the other hand, is highly attractive because of its ball-like flower. 

Nevertheless, even when its leaves are a secondary attraction, browning is something that should not be taken for granted.

Browning is caused by external factors such as too much heat, sunburn, improper watering, poor drainage, inadequate light, inadequate humidity, and cold drafts. Other factors include fertilizer residue or salt buildup, pest infestation, diseases, and nutrient deficiency. Browning can be a result of a single factor or a combination of many.

Let’s know the details of what causes the problem and how to fix them.

Causes of Hydrangea Leaves Turning Brown

Too Much Heat

When there’s too much heat, plants lose more water. When this condition is prolonged and water has not been supplied immediately, the plant cells will shrink. That’s why you’d often observe that the leaves will start curling up and wilting.

Plant cells will die causing leaves to turn brown. These brown leaves are often crisp and dry when touched due to its dehydrated condition.

How to Fix:

  • Be wary of the varying temperature indoors especially the sudden increase. If you have a home thermometer, it would be good to check it daily. The ideal temperature is 60 to 65OF (16 to 18OC).
  • Place the hydrangea in a location that’s not too hot. Alternatively, you may remove the plant from its current location and place it somewhere cooler then bring it back when the temperature drops to a lower rate.
  • Add water supply during hotter days to compensate for the moisture loss caused by a higher transpiration rate.

Sunburn

Sunlight is a source of energy for leaves to perform photosynthesis. However, not all wavelengths in light are beneficial to plants. When leaves are exposed to high intensities of light for a long time, it poses a detrimental effect.

Too much light scalds the leaves causing it to appear burnt and brown in color.

How to Fix:

  • Avoid a location that has direct contact or prolonged exposure to sunlight. Windows are a good location for the hydrangea to acquire sunlight but make sure that the plants receive it in moderate amounts.
  • Add shades to your hydrangea when the sun is too bright.
  • Give sufficient water as needed to avoid dehydration.
  • Provide good ventilation for the plant.

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Improper Watering

In the same way that light is essential to plants, water is also necessary to maintain a good balance in the plant’s processes. Improper watering leads to excess or deficient water supply. When there is too little or too much water, plants will experience stress.

Nutrients will not be properly channeled without water. Photosynthesis will not occur without water. On the other hand, when water is too high, plant cells will burst and die.

These are adverse effects of an imbalance water supply that could eventually lead to the death of your hydrangea.

How to Fix:

  • Establish a watering schedule to avoid missing out. The best time to do it is in the morning to give enough time for water to evaporate.
  • Have a consistent amount of water volume to pour into each potted hydrangea. Adjustments can be done depending on the weather. More water should be given on hotter days and less water is needed if otherwise.
  • Watering can be done at the frequency of at most three times a week. But, always make sure that the soil is completely dry before watering again to prevent root rot.

Poor Drainage

One cause of browning in leaves is rotting roots. Rotting is a result of waterlogging in pots.

If your soil is not well-drained or the holes aren’t good enough to drain the water, then your hydrangea is prone to root rot.

Poor drainage can be a result of poor soil mix, especially if it has no good spaces to hold oxygen.

Limited or no draining holes at all can be another reason. A pot that is too large holding extra water can be another one.

How to Fix:

  • Start with a good soil mix. Always add organic matter especially if the soil has higher clay content. This will increase the soil’s draining capacity.
  • Use a pot that is size appropriate to your hydrangea. A size that is too large or too small is neither good.
  • Make sure the pots have enough holes to drain water freely. 

Inadequate Light

Light is a source of energy for plants. A plant that is sufficiently receiving light will have leaves that are bright green in color.

However, when light is lacking, leaves will start to appear pale or yellow.

With inadequate light supply, the leaves will have difficulty manufacturing its own food. If not treated well, the plant will starve and die.

You’ll notice that leaves will start to turn brown in color because the cells are dying.

How to Fix:

  • Provide just enough light. Although it’s an indoor plant, light is still necessary for photosynthesis. The morning sun is best for them.
  • Avoid direct contact with sunlight. Direct sunlight might be too harsh for the plant especially for an extended period of exposure.
  • Provide artificial light if needed. Seasons like winter will make it difficult for the hydrangea to have access to sunlight. You may add extra sources of light in the room to compensate for the plant’s need.

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Inadequate Humidity

The amount of water vapor suspended in the air is what we call humidity. Inadequate humidity means that there is a lower concentration of water vapor in the air. This leaves extra rooms for air to accommodate more vapors.

Plants have a tendency to evaporate more water when humidity is low. When water is lost faster than it is consumed by plants, the water stored in the soil will be easily depleted. This leads to wilting and drying up of the leaves.

Indoor plants need at least 50 to 60% humidity level. Maintaining such a level can be challenging but there are ways in which you can raise the humidity inside a room.

How to Fix:

  • Use a humidifier. The humidifier releases water vapor in the air causing it to increase humidity.
  • Mist around the leaves of the plants. This will increase the moisture of the environment and will lessen the rate of water loss in the leaves. Misting can be done frequently depending on the level of humidity in the room.
  • Relocate the plants somewhere in your room where humidity is higher.

Cold Drafts

Cold drafts can definitely harm the hydrangea. The constant cold air directly hitting it can cause the plant to freeze especially if it’s winter.

In this case, the plants will experience stress. Remember that hydrangea can only tolerate a certain temperature range.

The effects of cold drafts in plants include wilting, browning, and dying of the plant.

How to Fix:

  • Avoid a location where the cold air is directly hitting the plant like in front of an air conditioner, an open door, or a window.
  • Provide a hedge around your plant to serve as a shield.

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Soil Lacks Water Holding Capacity

The water holding capacity of the soil determines the amount of water it can hold for the plant’s consumption.

It will dictate how much water it absorbs and stores during watering so that the plants will have water to use in between.

When soil lacks water holding capacity, the tendency is it will easily lose water. When this happens, plants will suffer from drought. The plants will not receive enough water to sustain their processes.

The wilting of plants leads to the browning of the leaves in hydrangea. At first, you’d observe that the leaves are limping. Little by little, it will turn brown and crisp.

How to Fix:

  • Enhance the texture of the soil by adding more organic matter. Organic matter acts like a sponge that absorbs and holds more water in the soil. The ratio of organic matter needed will depend on the nature of the soil you are using for your hydrangea.
  • Add mulch on top of the soil. This will slow down the release of moisture and at the same time act as a source of organic matter for the plants to consume later in time.

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Fertilizer Residue or Salt Buildup

Hydrangea plant wilting and leaves turning brown.

Your hydrangea might need a little help so you’ve added fertilizer to aid its growth. It’s totally okay to add sources of nutrients because they need it. However, it has to be done carefully.

Too much fertilizer, especially those that are fast-release, present in the soil causes salt to build up. They also increase the soil’s acidity. High salt concentration causes cells to shrink and die.

This phenomenon leads to the browning of the leaves and death of the plants. That’s why you’d notice that after just a few days, leaves will start appearing burnt when there’s too much fertilizer applied.

How to Fix:

  • Apply fertilizer only when necessary. Hydrangea will need fertilizer only once a year and that’s during early or late spring or middle of summer.
  • Apply fertilizer based on recommendations. Generally, a complete fertilizer can be added around 2 to 3 inches on topsoil and should be covered. Manufacturers will surely have detailed instructions on how to do it so be careful to follow it.
  • Choose organic fertilizer. They are slow-release and do not harm the plants. You can put as much as you can without worrying about burning up your hydrangea.

Pest Infestation

Pests can be insects or any organism that destroys the plants. In hydrangea, common pests are scales, slugs, aphids, beetles, and fruit worms.

Most of them target the stems and the leaves by feeding on them, cutting them, or laying their eggs.

Pests suck the sap from the leaves. This produces lesions on the leaves which leads to its browning.

How to Fix:

  • Regularly check the plants and manually remove any pests that you see. Prevention is better than cure so it’s better to remove them before they cause more harm to your hydrangea.
  • Apply pesticides when necessary. When you find it difficult to manage the pests, you can apply pesticides to control them. Be careful though not to overdo its application as it may be harmful to the plants.
  • Create a healthy environment for your hydrangea. Pests do attack when the environment gets favorable for them to thrive.

Source: UConn Home & Garden Education Center;University of ConnecticutOpens in a new tab.

Diseases

Hydrangeas can also be prone to diseases especially if the plant is not that healthy.

Black spots, powdery mildew, and rust are common diseases of hydrangea plants. Most of them are caused by pathogens.

Leaves that are affected by these diseases will have spots, powder coats, and yellowing or browning. Severely damaged leaves can lead to the death of your hydrangea.

How to Fix:

  • Use clean and fresh soil. This is to make sure that there is no existing pathogen thriving in the soil that can potentially cause diseases. You can sterilize the soil to kill pathogens.
  • Avoid overwatering. A moist environment is favorable for fungi to multiply.
  • Keep your plants healthy by providing sufficient nutrients. A healthy plant is a strong plant. It has the capacity to withstand diseases.

Source: College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Sciences; Tennessee State UniversityOpens in a new tab.

Transplant Shock

It’s normal for plants to experience shock after transplanting. The roots will take time to get used and establish itself in the new environment. During this transition period, your hydrangea will appear to be wilting.

It’s also normal for the older leaves to turn brown, die, and shed off. That does not necessarily mean the plant is dying. Wait a little more time until new leaves sprout.

How to Fix:

  • Be careful not to damage the roots during transplanting.
  • Trim off the leaves above in proportion to the pruned portion of the root below ground.

Constricted Root

When roots aren’t as free as they should be, the plant’s health is at stake. This is because the plant’s ability to take-up water and nutrients are being limited.

Roots that are constricted will have difficulty coping with stressful environmental conditions.

Due to limited capacity, a hydrangea with constricted roots will either suffer from dehydration or nutrient deficiency.

Both of these phenomena can lead to browning of leaves and deterioration of the entire foliage of the plant.

How to Fix:

  • Make sure to transplant the hydrangea in a pot that is proportional to the size of the roots. Avoid using pots that are too small.
  • Trim off some of the roots before transplanting but be careful not to damage it.
  • Provide enough soil for the roots to anchor on.

Damaged Root

Browning of leaves is a common indication that the plant’s roots are damaged.

What happens below the ground is always reflected above. Root rot is the typical damage observed in potted plants like hydrangea.

When roots are damaged, their function is affected. They’ll no longer be able to channel water and nutrients needed by the plants.

In return, the physiological processes in the plants will soon stop. This leads to the death of the cells.

How to Fix:

  • Do not overwater because this leads to root rot. Be mindful of the amount of water you pour into the pots.
  • Do not over fertilize because they burn the roots.
  • Do not use soil that’s contaminated with pathogens because they can damage the roots.

Chlorotic leaves

Chlorotic leaves are the ones that are yellow in color. This is because chlorophyll, the green pigment, is lacking in the tissues.

Chlorosis can be a result of nutrient deficiency due to unhealthy soil or damaged roots.

When the lacking nutrient is not supplied, these chlorotic leaves will eventually die. Browning will occur in the leaves and it will eventually drop one by one.

How to Fix:

  • Provide sufficient nutrients by using healthy soil that’s rich in organic matter.
  • Add fertilizer in time. Nutrient needs also vary at different growing stages.  

Nutrient Deficiency

Plants that are deficient in nutrients will have symptoms in their leaves. When your hydrangea is lacking in nutrients specifically phosphorus, potassium, and calcium, their leaves will show yellowing, darkening, and browning.

How to Fix:

  • Feed the soil. It’s important that the soil is well amended with organic matter to make sure that it has sufficient nutrients to start with.
  • Fertilize when necessary. Through time, the nutrients in the soil get depleted. To sustain the growth of your hydrangea, a fertilizer supplement is needed.

How to Maintain Healthy Hydrangea Leaves?

Leaves are indicative of the plant’s health. It’s important to pay close attention to the symptoms it shows at the early stages to be able to find immediate solutions to its problems. A healthy plant will grow healthy leaves.

Whenever you notice any abnormalities, be quick to diagnose the problem and provide a quick fix.

Arifur Rahman

I'm the owner of gardenforindoor.com. After completing my bachelor of science in agriculture, I'm serving as a civil service officer at the Department of Agricultural Extension, Bangladesh. I started Garden For Indoor to make your indoor gardening journey easy and enjoyable.

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