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Don’t Ignore This: Why Your Air Plant’s Brown Leaves Are a Red Flag

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Air plants are stunning and intriguing plants that will catch the eye of your guests as they do not require soil to survive. However, these plants can still suffer from a few problems that may turn the plant brown.

So, why is your air plant turning brown?

Air plants can begin turning brown due to various causes; some include underwatering or overwatering your plant, your plant is exposed to too much sunlight, a lack of air circulation around your plant, and many more! You need to fix these problems to ensure your air plant survives and grows well.

Having your air plant start to turn brown can be a worrying sight for plant owners; thankfully, the cause of this problem can usually be fixed. Let’s go through what could cause this to happen and how you can fix it to ensure your plant’s survival!

Why Air Plant’s Leaves May Turn Brown

The leaves of your air plant can begin to turn brown due to several stresses that can arise in the plant’s environment.

These stresses can be caused by several things, some of which you may not even think about as they are contradictory to what you think an air plant can handle, and they can be less common, making it difficult to identify the problem.

The causes for this problem are not vast, but it can be difficult to identify as many of the reasons show similar symptoms. Here are the possible causes of your air plant turning brown:

  • Improper watering of your air plant
  • Your air plant is being exposed to too much sunlight
  • Lack Of air circulation around your air plant
  • Improper fertilization of your air plant
  • Your air plant encountering certain toxins
  • Your air plant may not have adequate growing space

The first step in identifying the reason for this problem with your air plant is to take a close look at your air plant and how it’s behaving apart from it turning brown. Are there any other strange signs that you did not see before?

Let’s go through these causes in more detail, and what other symptoms each cause may have, so you can diagnose the problem faster and fix it before there are any long-lasting negative effects on your air plant.

1 – Improper Watering

Believe it or not, improper watering practices can be a problem for your air plants. It is a wide misconception that air plants do not need to be watered to survive, making the underwatering of air plants a common problem that causes them to turn brown.

This is a more common problem for air plants kept under a roof than those kept out in a garden. air plants will generally receive enough moisture from high humidity levels and rain when outdoors in your garden.

However, if the plant is kept undercover, it will not receive the moisture they need from the rain, and if you don’t water the plant, it will become dehydrated after a while. This can cause the air plant to dry out and turn brown.

Another form of improper watering of your air plant is overwatering the plant. This can do more damage to the plant than underwatering it, and it can turn your air plant brown.

If you have been overwatering your air plant, other symptoms will include a bad smell coming from your plant, the base of the plant’s leaves will be mushy, and mold may even begin growing on your air plant if left in this condition for too long.


If your air plant has been underwatered for a while, then this is an easier fix than overwatering your plant, and you can still revive your plant. To help revive your underwatered plant, you can soak your air plant in some water for an hour or two to get the plant rehydrated.

Ensure you use filtered water or rainwater for this, and when you begin to water your air plant more regularly, you need to ensure you use this type of water. Tap water or unfiltered water can contain chemicals and minerals toxic to air plants.

Once your air plant has been soaked, ensure you shack off all the excess water from the plant to prevent your plant from rotting.

If your air plant has been overwatered, this will be a bit more challenging to fix. You need to examine your plant closely for any rot or mold that may have grown.

If you notice any rot, you need to prune off the leaves that the rot is affecting to ensure it does not spread to the rest of the plant. If you notice mold growing on your plant, you will need to prune off the affected leaves and buy an anti-fungal spray specific to air plants to help stop the spread of the mold.

Once the affected leaves have been removed, you will need to help dry your plant out. So, place your plant in a sunny location where it will receive direct sun for at least 6 hours. Leave your plant there for two days and return it to its usual location.

Moving forward, only mist or water your air plant once a week, or if you live in low humidity areas, you should water it twice a week in the spring and summer. Ensure you use filtered water or rainwater with your air plant.

2 – Too Much Sunlight

Another reason your air plant turns brown could be that your plant receives too much sunlight. Most air plants naturally grow in the boughs of trees and do not receive direct sunlight.

Air plants require bright but indirect sunlight to thrive in your home or garden. If your air plant receives direct sunlight, even for a few hours throughout the day, this can begin to dehydrate your air plant and cause it to dry out, turning it brown.

You need to be careful with this problem, as the sun can begin to scorch your air plant and cause permanent damage. So, when you identify this as the problem, you need to fix it with urgency to ensure the survival of your air plant.


To help ensure the survival of your air plant, you need to keep them out of direct sunlight, unless you are trying to help it recover from being overwatered, as this can cause your air plant to dry out completely and turn brown, eventually killing your plant.

If your plant has been receiving too much sunlight, you need to relocate your air plant to a more suitable area—you need to place your plant in a location where it will receive bright indirect sunlight.

Areas where this light is more prominent are east-facing windows and a few feet away from an unobstructed western or southern window.

If the southern or western window has some form of covering like a tree creating shade outside or a sheer curtain, then you can place your air plant closer to the window. You can also keep your air plant in a bough of a tree in your garden.

3 – Lack of Good Air Circulation

As the name of this plant suggests, air plants need good air circulation around them for them to thrive in your home or garden. These plants will not survive in a location with good airflow.

So, if you keep your air plant in a container that is airtight or does not have a large hole or opening in it, then this can cause your plant to turn brown over time.

These types of containers can also cause the humidity to rise within the containers, which can cause the air plant to start rotting as it is too moist inside the containers.


When you have an air plant, you need to ensure that there is enough air movement to keep the plant happy wherever you are keeping the plant. If you want to keep your air plant in a container, then go for an open container like a terrarium with a nice big opening at the top.

This will ensure that the plant receives all the air it needs to stay healthy, and you will not have all the fuss of trying to save a rotting plant later down the line.

You need to ensure that you dry your air plants properly before you place them in the container, as this will help control the humidity level in the container and keep it at a level that will not cause harm to your plants.

4 – Improper Fertilisation of Your Air Plant

Air plants cannot survive on air alone, even though it seems like they can most of the time. Air plants require some nutrients to survive and grow well, not just some water and good air circulation.

Even though air plants don’t have traditional root systems like regular soil-based plants, they do have cells called trichomes that help the plant collect the nutrients they need to live.

If your air plant does not have the nutrients it requires to stay healthy, it can start turning brown, and your plant could start dying soon after this color change occurs.


If you keep your air plant outdoors, they will collect these nutrients from the reside of decaying insects and plants around them, and you won’t need to feed the plant, but it would still appreciate food once every few months to give it a boost if needed.

However, if you keep your air plant indoors, you will need to feed it regularly to keep it healthy. There are many fertilizers available specifically for Air plants, but ensure you closely follow the instructions on the packaging as each fertilizer will have different strengths.

Do not use fertilizer on your air plant that is not specifically made for air plants. Regular fertilizers contain certain minerals and chemicals that will poison and potentially kill your air plant.

5 – Certain Toxins Can Turn Air Plants Brown

Air plants are sensitive to certain chemicals and minerals, and they can be quite toxic to the plant. You can find certain toxins in the wrong fertilizers, with the main culprits being Boron and Zinc, so stay away from fertilizers that contain these ingredients.

There are many other toxins to air plants regularly kept in houses that we do not think of. These include air freshener sprays, insecticides, exhausts from vehicles, certain soaps, certain dyes, colognes and perfume sprays, grease and heat from a kitchen, chlorine, copper, and rust.

If your air plant comes into contact with any of these toxins, it can start to turn brown, which could lead to your air plant’s death.


You need to ensure that your air plant never encounters any toxic elements that could lead to its death. Relocate your plant to a different room if you have automatic air fresheners going off at certain intervals in the room the plant is currently in.

Water your air plant with filtered water or rainwater so that it does not absorb any chlorine that may have been added to your tap water. If you keep your air plant in a metal container, ensure the container doesn’t rust as this could poison your plant.

Keep your air plant a good distance away from your kitchen. The bottom line is, you need to keep your plant away from any of the toxins mentioned above to ensure it stays happy and healthy.

6 – Your Air Plant May Not Have Adequate Space

Air plants grow as they mature; even though this growth can be very slow and you may not notice it, the plant can begin to outgrow the contain you keep it in.

If your air plant has been in one container for a long time and is not beginning to turn brown, this could indicate that your plant is running out of space to grow comfortably.


If your air plant is beginning to turn brown due to its container being too small, you will need to place your air plant into a bigger container that will support its growth better. Ensure the container you use offers a good amount of airflow, then your plant should recover within a week or two.

Final Thoughts

Air plants are very interesting to keep as part of your plant collection as they can survive outside of a soil base. However, these plants still require some care from you for them to remain happy and grow well in your care.

They do not require a lot from you, and their care will not take you long to complete, but ensure you care for them properly to avoid any possible problems from developing later on. Good luck with your air plant!

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