Petunias are some of the easiest flowers to grow and care for. They come in over thirty different varieties, so there’s a flower for just about everyone.
Petunias are native to the warmth of South America, so keeping them year-round is challenging for those living in colder climates. Their brightly colored, trumpet-shaped flowers attract insects and hummingbirds, and make a fantastic showpiece for any garden or window display.
While they’re easy to care for, petunias can still suffer from several different ailments, causing them to wilt and lose their luster. If your petunia leaves are turning brown, here are four potential causes and their cures.
1 – Incorrect Watering
If the leaves on any plant begin to turn brown, the cause is usually inadequate watering. Brown leaves can be a sign of too little water or too much.
If you’re a busy person like most, it’s easy to forget to water your plants amidst the daily slew of more pressing responsibilities. It would be nice if your petunias could speak. Then all you’d have to do is listen to their requests.
However, this isn’t possible, so it’s essential to keep your plants on a regular watering schedule. The best practice is to water them first thing in the morning, making sure to water the soil and not the plants themselves, as they absorb nutrients through the roots and not their foliage.
Leaving water on the plants themselves can result in mold and mildew developing, making them even more difficult to care for, so only water the soil.
If you know that you’re not underwatering your petunias, another potential cause of brown leaves is overwatering. This might seem surprising, but it’s actually more common for plants to suffer from overwatering.
Watering too much or too often can cause the plant to begin retaining more moisture than it can handle. When plants hold too much water, the cell walls in the plant leaves can burst, causing brown spots on the leaves themselves.
Overwatering also keeps the soil overly moist, creating the perfect environment for fungus to grow and cause even greater damage to the roots and ultimately the plant.
If you think that you might be overwatering your petunias, give them a few days to a full week off of water and allow the soil to dry out to see how things change.
Petunias need to be watered once a week, so get yourself on a watering schedule and stick to it. Set a reminder on your phone if you need to — your petunias will thank you!
2 – Root Damage
As we mentioned earlier, petunias absorb moisture through their roots, not their leaves, so if something is wrong with the roots, you’ll see it reflected in how the plant itself behaves.
Root damage is a serious problem in all plants, but especially in delicate petunias. Damaged roots can hinder absorption, making it impossible for the plant to get the water and nutrients that it needs to survive.
If you think that your petunias might be suffering from root damage, there are still some things you can do to reverse it.
Check to see if the roots are actually damaged. The first sign of root damage is brown coloring near the base of the plant. If you see this, it may be time to do some root pruning and repotting.
Keeping petunias in small pots can also place a lot of stress on their root systems, as they have less space to stretch and grow. A simple solution would be to repot your petunias either in a larger pot or in a garden. Repotting is stressful for any plant, but once they resettle in the new location, your petunias will bounce back. They’re resilient!
3 – Fungal Infection
Fungal infections are the last thing you want to happen to your petunias, but if they are neglected or overwatered, it’s definitely a possibility. Whether it’s white mold, gray mold, or black root rot, fungus is a threat to your precious petunias.
Fungus thrives and spreads in moist environments, so if you’re using a soil that retains water very easily, there’s a good chance that your petunias are at risk.
If your petunias are suffering from a fungal infestation, the first thing you’ll notice are small brown spots or wilting throughout the plant or in one specific area of it.
Finding a fungal infection in your petunias doesn’t mean that you have to throw the entire thing out right away. If one part of the plant is affected, simply remove it from the plant using sharp gardening shears, allowing for at least an inch of space between the cut and where the fungus starts.
If your entire petunia plant is wilting and improper watering can be ruled out, it may be affected by black root rot. Black root rot can only be seen if you dig up your petunias to investigate.
To check for black root rot, unearth your plant and feel the roots. If they’re black and mushy, they’re infected with root rot. Healthy roots may be pale or black, but will be firm and springy.
Infected roots can be removed in an attempt to salvage the plant, but the stress it will cause may prevent the plant from recovering.
If your petunias are infected with fungi, you can try using an antifungal product.
4 – Pests
Pests are known as pests for a reason. If you’ve noticed brown leaves on your petunias and ruled out the above possibilities, you could be dealing with pests.
The most common pests that attack petunias are spider mites, caterpillars, and thrips.
Spider mites are almost microscopic and feed on the moisture from the plant’s cells, leaving devastation behind. Signs of spider mites are curling, brown leaves, and thin webs left behind. Spray your petunias with neem oil weekly to treat spider mite infestations.
Caterpillars simply eat petunia leaves, so making sure they stay out of your garden is important. Since they’re easy to spot, simply remove them from your garden.
Thrips can potentially carry diseases to your petunias, so if you spot them, begin spraying neem oil on your petunias once per week. They’re also easy to spot, as they resemble tiny elongated ants with wings.
Caring for petunias doesn’t need to be a burden. If you notice your petunia leaves turning brown, there’s no need to panic. If you follow the guidelines above, you’ll be able to identify the cause and treat it accordingly so your petunias can get back to looking as bright and colorful as they’re meant to be.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.