Money trees (Pachira aquatica) are known and grown for their braided trunks and lush, glossy, green foliage. They’re thought to bring good luck and prosperity, but you may not feel so lucky when unsightly yellow spots appear on them. What could be causing yellow spots on your money tree?
Your money tree will likely develop yellow spots due to overwatering and underwatering. You should only water when the top 1-2″ of soil has dried out. Other common culprits include scorch, fungal/bacterial leaf spots, fertilizer burn, pests, nutrient deficiency, and edema.
As is evident, your money tree can develop yellow spots for a number of different reasons. Sometimes the problem is clear, requiring an easy fix. And, in other cases, the cause can be more of a puzzle.
Lucky for you, I’ll help you diagnose and fix the problem, so your precious plant can thrive again.
What Causes Yellow Spots on Money Trees?
Scorch Cause Damages to Green Chlorophyll
As with all green plants, money trees produce a pigment called chlorophyll. The chemical is responsible for its aesthetically pleasing green foliage.
When you expose your money tree to too much sunlight, the concentrated heat scorches and damages chloroplasts (cells that produce the green pigment). As a result, your plant becomes peppered with yellow spots.
This is especially aggressive when you let some water splash all over the leaves. The water droplets form tiny magnifying glasses that concentrate light on certain spots on the leaves. You’ll end up seeing an array of yellow spots on the scorched areas.
Your money tree tends to scorch due to sudden exposure to intense light. Move your plant to a brighter spot in gradual phases, instead.
If the current spot is scorching the leaves, move it to a partially-shaded area. Make sure it’ll get plenty of bright, indirect light.
Downy Mildew Cause Mottling on leaves
If you see yellow spots or mottling on your money tree, it can be an indication of downy mildew. The algal growth eats away tissue, leaving discolored spots.
The spotting can also be purple, black, brown, or light green. In severe cases of downy mildew, the mottling will turn into chlorosis. Other symptoms include:
- Lower leaves turn yellow and drop
- Stunted growth
- Soft, fuzzy growth on the foliage (it can be brown, white, or gray)
Unfortunately, there are no fungicides or chemicals that can work on downy mildew. That’s because it’s not a fungal disease. Your best bet is to use organic methods.
- Isolate the affected plant from the rest to prevent further spread
- Prune some leaves to improve air circulation
- Eliminate humidity and moisture around your money tree
- Prepare a spray mixture of ½ teaspoon liquid soap (non-detergent) and 1tablespoon baking soda in 1 gallon of water
- In mild cases, you can spray with mouthwash
Septoria Leaf Spot Infects the Older Leaves
Yellow spots on a money tree can also be a sign of Septoria leaf spots. The entire leaves, especially lower and older ones, may turn yellow. Over time, the leaves will turn brown, wilt, and eventually, die.
If Septoria leaf spot is pestering your money tree, these microorganisms will munch away plant tissue and cause numerous tiny (1/8-1/4-inch in diameter) brown spots. They usually have a white or tan center with a watery yellow halo around them.
According to the Extension and Outreach, Iowa State University, Septoria Leaf Spot thrives in warm, humid conditions.
- So, the first step is to eliminate moisture/humidity around your plant.
- Remove infected leaves and other diseased parts immediately. Make sure to sterilize your hands and trimmers before using them on healthy plants.
- You may consider using chemical fungicides. But these are usually toxic and often ineffective
- Your best option is to use organic fungicides. Those containing either potassium or copper bicarbonate will do the trick.
If your money tree is infected with bacterial leaf spots, you will likely see watery spots with a yellow halo around them. These water-soaked spots are typically uniform in size and often secrete a sticky ooze.
In damp conditions, the yellow haloed spots will enlarge and merge into larger blotches. In drier conditions, the spots won’t enlarge. Instead, they’ll dry out and become reddish-brown, resulting in a freckled appearance.
The leaf edges and tips may turn yellowish-brown, dry out, and break off.
- Get rid of all diseased plant materials
- Spray your money tree using a copper-based fungicides or bacteriocides
A fungal disease, Alternaria can cause yellow spots on money trees. Once the infection flares up, you will see tiny, circular dark-brown spots (roughly half-inch) in diameter.
As Alternaria leaf spots spread, they will turn from black/dark brown to gray or tan, with yellow halos around them. Over time, they’ll form a rainbow-like pattern of concentric rings. Eventually, the leaves will wilt and fall off.
- Naturally, you’ll want to eliminate all diseased foliage
- If you’re a fan of organic controls, use captan-, copper-, or sulfur-based fungicides
- You can also use chemical fungicides like iprodione, maneb, mancozeb, thiram, chlorothalonil, fludioxonil, or imazalil
Pale yellow spots on the leaves of your money tree are some of the early signs of powdery mildew. Soon they will turn into small circular white powdery spots.
As powdery mildew spreads, the fluffy white growth will cover almost the entire surface of affected leaves. If not controlled, they hop easily from one plant to the next.
The diseased plant may become sluggish and die.
- The disease spreads quickly in a humid environment, so stop watering in the meantime.
- Eliminate severely diseased plant material.
- Prune some leaves to enable better air circulation
- Spray your money tree with sulfur-based fungicides
- For chemical controls, you’ll find chlorothalonil, or myclobutanil to be effective
Improper watering is one of the most common causes of money tree leaves turning yellow. You will find that the soil is bone-dry.
If underwatering is the culprit, the yellow leaves will be dry, wilted, and crispy. Other signs of underwatering your money tree may include:
- Curled or wrinkled leaves
- Lower leaves may turn yellow, wilt, and fall off
- Lack of new leaves or other signs of new growth
- Brown leaf edges and tips
These symptoms will be worse if the pot is too small for your plant, there’s low humidity or exposure to too much direct light.
As a general rule of thumb, remove any heavily affected plant materials
Water your money tree thoroughly. Make sure water comes out of the bottom holes. Don’t forget to dumb out excess run-off from the saucer.
It’s very important that you ensure the soil is moist but not soggy. If your money root ball sits in waterlogged soil or standing water, this will most likely lead to root rot.
Yellow and brown spots on the leaves of the money tree are the early signs of root rot (and overwatering. You should check for other symptoms of overwatering.
- Leaf drooping, curling, and falling off
- Stunted or no new growth
- Brown, soft, and mushy roots that smell
The best solution will depend on the severity of overwatering. If it’s a mild case, you should dry out the soil by moving to a brighter area and stop watering for a while.
- Consider digging up your money tree and check for root rot
- Trim off diseased roots and affected foliage
- Treat roots with baking soda before repotting
You’d be forgiven for thinking feeding your money tree with a lot of fertilizer will speed up growth. But you’d be terribly wrong. In fact, your money will thrive better with less fertilizer than overfertilization.
I would highly recommend that you use a mild water-soluble fertilizer for houseplants. If you see yellow spots on your money tree, you may be dealing with fertilizer burn. Too much fertilizer not only scorch the roots but also makes it hard for them to absorb water and nutrients.
Fertilizer salts cause direct toxicity to the foliage. This results in yellow spots, intensely green foliage, and brown edges and/or tips. Other signs of fertilizer burn on your money tree include:
- Extremely slow growth or no growth at all
- Brown leaf tips and edges
- A white crust of fertilizer salts on topsoil
- Yellowing, wilting, and dropping of lower leaves
- You should plan to repot your money tree with fresh, fertile soil
- If it’s mild, consider flushing excess fertilizer salts out of the potting mix
From here on, you must fertilize your plant when it’s actively growing during the spring and summer months. Feed with a water-soluble or liquid houseplant fertilizer at half-strength according to the instructions.
Nutrient deficiency is one of the most likely reasons for chlorosis in houseplants. And, in money trees, iron, nitrogen, and magnesium are the most common deficiencies. All of these mineral deficiencies cause yellow spots on your money tree.
Nutrient deficiencies usually go hand in hand with water imbalances in the soil. That’s because soil moisture impacts your plant’s ability to take up nutrients.
If the leaves close to the central stems or the base of the plant are developing yellow, you may have zinc or magnesium deficiency in your hand.
If the leaves close to the central stems or the base of the plant are developing yellow spots, you may have zinc or magnesium deficiency in your hand.
- Your best option is to feed your plant with a water-soluble houseplant fertilizer that mentions these minerals and nutrients on the label.
- Your plant can reverse nitrogen deficiency if you place it in a spot that receives plenty of bright, indirect light.
- Another viable solution is to repot your money tree with a fresh potting mix. This will ensure that the soil around your money tree has enough moisture and nutrients.
- Treat magnesium deficiency using Epsom salts.
Edema is another common cause of yellow spots on money trees. You will find yellow halos surrounding brown, water-soaked patches.
During the late stages of edema, you will see raised, water-soaked patches on the leaf undersides. They usually attract fungal or bacterial leaf spots.
What causes edema in money trees? More often than not, edema is a result of too much water absorption due to overwatering or excess humidity. Poor airflow and cold drafts may exacerbate the situation.
The effects of edema on the tissue of the leaves are typically irreversible. So, your next step is to trim away severely affected materials. For quicker recovery:
- Improve ventilation or airflow around your money tree
- Stop watering until the top 1-2 inches of soil has dried out.
- Don’t uproot your affected money tree from the container
When grown as a houseplant, your money tree will grow robustly in an optimum temperature range of 60-90 ºF (15-32°C). However, it’s very finicky about colder temperatures below 45 ºF (7°C).
Frost damages the leaves’ tissue and worsens the adverse effects of overwatering, nutrient deficiency, edema, and low light. These conditions create the perfect storm for damage that causes yellow spots, wilting, and stunted growth.
Your money tree will also drop a significant number of leaves.
- Avoid watering your cold-shocked money tree
- Instead, put a warm steam vaporizer close to your plant
- Move your money tree away from cold drafts
Low humidity causes the soil to dry out quickly, so there’s little soil moisture available for uptake. Also, it directly causes the leaves of your money tree to droop and develop brown edges and tips. Later, yellow spots will emerge, followed by leaf browning and dropping.
- Your precious money tree will love a boost of humidity. Consider misting your plant daily.
- For a more permanent solution, place a humidity tray or humidifier near your money tree.
- Group your houseplants to create a humid microclimate
If your money tree is stressed, unhealthy, or weak, it will be more vulnerable to pest infestations. Sap-suckers like spider mites can usurp your money tree of nutrients and moisture. This will symptomize in the form of yellow spots and leaf browning.
Other bugs like whiteflies, aphids, scales, and mealybugs may also attack your money tree indoors. If they’re not eliminated sooner rather than later, they will spread quickly and drill numerous holes into your money tree foliage.
Some leave wounds that ooze sap and attract fungal infections. They also exhaust nutrients and water resources, accelerating yellowing and spots. This is particularly aggressive if your money tree is already suffering from improper watering or nutrient deficiencies.
- The first course of action is to wash off as many pests as possible.
- Once they are fairly eliminated, spray with insecticidal soap or any quality horticultural oil
(Source: Iowa State University)