Philodendrons are touted by many to be easy to care for houseplants that are a great choice for both beginners and experts. However, that does not mean they don’t suffer their fair share of care issues. If you see your Philodendron sporting leaves that look less-than-healthy, what should you do?
In cases where your Philodendron is suffering from a care issue, it is common to see unhealthy leaves on your plant, which can present as wilting or drooping, yellow or brown discoloration, curling, or even actual leaf drop. In most cases, overwatering tends to be the culprit, although other care issues can also cause leaf problems.
It can be distressing to find distorted or discolored leaves on your beloved houseplants, but the good news is that healthy growth tends to resume quickly once you diagnose and fix the cause of the problem. In this article, we’ll go over some of the common leaf symptoms you may find on your Philodendron. We will also discuss the most likely cause and how to go about fixing the issue.
What Do Healthy Philodendron Leaves Look Like?
Before we dive into some of the leaf issues you might find on your Philodendron, let’s quickly discuss what a healthy leaf should look like. Although there are so many different varieties of Philodendron that vary in leaf shape, size, color, and habit, there are a few attributes you should pay attention to in order to make sure your plant is healthy.
Regardless of leaf size and shape, Philodendron leaves should generally be pliable yet firm, with a thin protective cuticle covering their surfaces. In most cases, all leaves from a single plant should be fairly uniform, without any deformed or stunted growth.
The color of the leaves should be uniform, as well. Yellowing or brown leaves are a sign of distress and should be absent across the entire plant. Variegated or colorful varieties will obviously have uneven pattering, but there should never be large sections that are discolored or stand out against the normal variegation pattern.
In vining varieties, it is common for internodes (the space between leaves) to get longer as the vine grows, so that isn’t necessarily a sign that your plant is in peril. However, this can sometimes give the look that your plant is losing leaves or looking bare. Regular pruning of longer vines helps promote the growth of new leaves and can make your plant more attractive.
Common Leaf Issues on Philodendrons
While it’s true that Philodendrons are often classified as low maintenance plants, the reality is they are still susceptible to the same care issues many other houseplants struggle with. Also, just like other plants, they tend to communicate these stresses through their leaves.
If you come across some strange-looking or unhealthy leaves on your Philodendron, it’s time to investigate. By diagnosing the issue quickly, you can save your plant a lot of stress and get it back to full health in no time.
But First, Do Not Rule Out Aging
As we dive into some common leaf issues with Philodendrons, I just want to point out that you might not have an issue at all. Sometimes one yellow or dropped leaf is just an old leaf. Plants regularly shed the oldest leaves that do not serve them any longer to make room for new growth, so keep that in mind when reading over the following issues.
As a Philodendron matures, it will likely drop one of its lowest leaves from time to time. Or, a leaf may hang on for a long time but will begin to turn yellow, or even dry up, before finally falling off. This is totally normal.
If your plant has one or two problem leaves, but otherwise looks totally fine, you may just be dealing with a couple of older leaves that have run their course. No need to panic!
However, if a condition ever seems to be spreading or is affecting many leaves at once, there is likely something else going on. This is when you need to review your care habits and see if you can diagnose the issue, so as not to let the problem continue to spread.
Wilting or Drooping Leaves
A common leaf condition seen in many varieties of Philodendron has to do with wilting or drooping. This is not a common state for leaves to be in, even in old age, so if you witness this on your plant, you can assume there is something bad causing it.
Underwatering is the most likely cause of wilted leaves. We’ve all probably seen a plant that hasn’t been watered well enough. As the soil dries out, the plant can’t absorb enough moisture through the roots, and the water content of the plant drops. The leaves are the first part of the plant that are affected and will begin to shrivel and look limp all over the plant.
Luckily, there is an easy solution for this. It’s time to water! Give your Philodendron a deep drink of water, allowing all the soil to be saturated. Any excess water should be allowed to escape through a drainage hole in the bottom of the container. Moving forward, you should check your plant’s soil more often and water again when the top two inches of soil are dry to the touch. Wilted leaves should recover quickly once you provide the plant with adequate water.
Drooping leaves look slightly different than wilted leaves. Rather than looking shriveled and desiccated, drooping leaves will still look firm and full but tend to hang limp from their petioles and droop from the stems.
Drooping leaves are actually caused by the opposite problem. Overwatering your plant results in waterlogged soil, which inhibits nutrient uptake, disrupts gas exchange, and hinders respiration. All of this leads to a Philodendron that can’t regulate itself well and results in sagging stems and droopy leaves.
Overwatering is a serious issue, as it can cause all sorts of health concerns for your plant, so if you notice drooping leaves, you should act quickly. First things first…do not water your plant. Allow the soil to dry out well before you even consider watering again. Wait until several inches of soil are dry to the touch before you give your plant another drink.
In serious cases of overwatering, you may need to remove the plant from its waterlogged container and either allow the soil ball to dry out or repot the plant in new, well-draining soil.
You also need to make sure your plant always has good drainage. Apart from planting it in well-aerated soil, you must ensure you have an appropriately sized container for the root ball. Plant your Philodendron in a pot with about one to two inches of space around the roots. Anything bigger requires too much additional soil that holds onto excess moisture.
Once you have corrected any overwatering issues and made sure there is proper drainage for your Philodendron, monitor your plant carefully to make sure the leaves perk back up. It may take a few days before they recover, but the problem should never worsen if proper action has been taken.
There’s probably nothing more distressing to a plant enthusiast than walking into a room and finding several leaves of a favorite plant strewn across the floor. Panic-inducing, to say the least. Although it is quite normal for plants to shed leaves in moderation if your Philodendron is dropping them frequently or several at once, you likely have a bigger issue you need to address.
Again, overwatering is the most common cause. As you know from above, overwatering can disrupt many essential systems within the plant, shutting down nutrient absorption and respiration. If in a chronic state of water saturation, your Philodendron will begin shedding leaves, usually starting lower on the plant, to help minimize where it needs to distribute its dwindling resources.
Suppose your Philodendron is dropping its leaves due to overwatering. In that case, you need to act quickly, as this is usually a sign the plant is beyond experiencing normal stress and has switched into survival mode. Stop watering the plant immediately and allow it ample time to dry out. If necessary, remove it from waterlogged soil and replant it into fresh potting soil. Once it has had time to recover, use the finger test to determine if the soil is dry enough to resume proper watering.
Another relevant, yet less common, reason your Philodendron might be dropping its leaves has to do with low light exposure. Philodendrons thrive on lots of bright, indirect light but will slow their growth if their requirements aren’t met. In severe cases of low light exposure, photosynthesis slows down to a point where food and other resources become a limiting factor and the plant needs to shed leaves it can no longer support.
If you suspect any leaf drop is associated with low sunlight, you need to find a brighter spot for your Philodendron. Aim for a spot near an east or south-facing window that receives plenty of ambient light, but is still protected from the harsh heat of direct sun.
Once your plant is getting proper amounts of sunlight, you should see the leaf drop slow and eventually stop, as normal growth resumes from the top of the plant.
A common issue seen across many different Philodendron varieties, especially the vining types, is leaf curl. While some varieties have lobed or frilled edges to their leaves, in most cases, Philodendron leaves should be relatively flat, without much more than a slight curve to them. Curled leaves can be a sign of a few different things, but most commonly, it has something to do with how much water the plant is receiving.
If your Philodendron has leaves that are curling up onto themselves, or “cupping”, you are likely looking at a case of underwatering. Many houseplants utilize upward leave curl as a way to lessen the amount of surface area exposed to the elements as a way to retain moisture. When your plant gets thirsty, you will often see leaves beginning to curl before more serious symptoms like wilt.
If you come across your Philodendron showing upward leaf curl, check the soil immediately and see if it’s dry. You’ll want to water your plant deeply, again, allowing excess liquid to drain from the pot. Once watered, your plant should recover its normal leaf shape within a matter of hours.
Downward leaf curl can often be attributed to too much water. Think of this type of curl as the precursor to drooping leaves and stems. This can be the earliest warning sign that your plant is being overwatered, perhaps even causing serious issues like root rot.
Just like with drooping leaves, you need to stop watering your plant immediately and allow the soil to dry out to a point where the root system isn’t waterlogged and can resume normal function. With ample time to dry out and a better watering schedule, you should see your Philodendron recover from the curled leaves, resuming their normal flattened shape.
You may see a trend forming here, realizing that overwatering seems to cause a bulk of the issues involving Philodendron leaves. Well, yellowing leaves are no different. Perhaps one of the most obvious of leaf issues that regularly impact Philodendrons is yellowing leaves. Typically, you’ll begin to notice that one or a few leaves near the bottom of the plant are beginning to lose their normal, green coloring and have turned a pale or deep yellow.
This is a pretty sure sign that your plant is being overwatered. As the roots become waterlogged, they stop absorbing nutrients efficiently, causing a lack of resources in the plant. Older leaves are typically impacted first and begin to lose their green color due to the nutrient deficiency. This symptom is often found on its own but can also be accompanied by other issues like leave curl, drop, or drooping.
Once again, to fix this problem, you need to change your watering habits to make sure you aren’t creating soggy conditions for the plant and ensure there is good drainage to avoid further complications. In many cases, leaves that have yellowed significantly will most likely drop off at some point; however, as long as you’ve addressed the issue, new growth should remain healthy, and no other lower leaves should start turning yellow.
Yellowing leaves can be caused by other, less likely scenarios, as well. If your watering game is on point, but you are still seeing yellow leaves, you might have issues with underwatering, low light exposure, or nutrient deficiencies. Rule out these potential causes one at a time, starting with checking to see if the soil is too dry, and then consider moving your plant to better lighting.
Because Philodendrons aren’t considered heavy feeders, nutrition issues are usually the least likely cause of yellowing leaves. However, if you suspect a deficiency, use a well-balanced liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength about once every six to eight weeks to see if your plant’s normal color returns.
On par with drooping stems, the appearance of brown leaves or brown spots should be taken seriously, as it could be a sign of a significant health issue.
If you find your Philodendron has mushy, brown spots on its leaves or stems, or if an entire leaf has turned to a pulpy brown mess, your plant likely has a rot issue. Rot is caused by overwatering a plant to the point where opportunistic fungi and other microorganisms take advantage of the wet conditions to attack the root system.
Root rot can be an underlying cause of yellowing leaves, but can also spread up to other parts of the plant, causing brown, mushy spots of dead tissue. This typically starts near the bottom of the plant and can spread upward to eventually infect the entire plant.
Quick action needs to be taken in order to stop the rot from spreading; you’ll need to stop watering your Philodendron. Cut away any infected leaves or other portions of the plant that are sporting brown spots. You’ll also need to cut away any roots that have died in the soil.
Remove the root ball from the pot and throw away the soil. Gently wash away as much soil as you can so you can see the entire root structure. Any brown or black, mushy roots need to be clipped away with clean shears or scissors. Any white, plump roots should be left, as they are still healthy.
Once all rot is removed, repot your Philodendron into a clean pot with new soil. If reusing the same pot, we recommend that you sterilize it by soaking it in a diluted bleach solution to avoid contaminating your plant again.
Your Philodendron might be a bit shocked by all of this pruning and replanting, but it is all necessary to stop rot issues. Within a matter of weeks, your plant should resume growth of its root ball to reestablish itself in the new soil before pushing any new leafy growth. Be patient and keep an eye out for any discoloration or rot during this time.
If you tend to be more prone to underwatering, you may also see some brown leaves on your plant, but they will look much different than rot.
Underwatering causes your plant to make efforts to retain moisture. You will likely see the leaves curling up or “cupping”, as well as leaf wilt, as an early sign that it is thirsty. Eventually, the plant will begin to dry out, typically starting with the tips of its leaves beginning to brown and turn crispy. The leaf tissue will continue to dry out from the outside, working towards the center until the plant receives water.
In severe cases of underwatering, a plant will begin to shed highly desiccated leaves in order to retain what little moisture is left.
If you find your Philodendron has burnt leaf tips or is dropping dried out leaves, it is definitely time to water. Give your plant a deep watering, allowing all the potting soil to be fully saturated while any excess liquid drains from the bottom of the pot.
Any damage caused by dehydration will not recover, so any leaves that are severely burned should just be removed to avoid the plant wasting energy on trying to repair them. Once your plant has recovered and seems properly watered, consider removing any larger damaged portions of the plant to redirect energy into creating new, healthy, hydrated growth.
Putting It All Together
As you’ve already pieced together, many of the most common leaf issues you encounter with Philodendrons are likely caused by watering issues, most notably, overwatering. By really taking the time to dial in how much you water these houseplants, you can entirely avoid most of these issues, allowing your Philodendron to thrive. Be super mindful of overwatering; always checking the soil’s moisture content rather than watering on a set schedule.
If you are sure you aren’t dealing with a watering issue but are still seeing leaf problems, be logical about how you diagnose the situation by checking your plant’s light exposure first and then rule out potential nutrient deficiencies. By keeping an eye on your Philodendron’s leaf health, you’ll have insight into how well your plant is performing. In times when the plant is struggling, in most cases, all it takes is a slight tweak in your care routine to set it back on the right course.