Two of the most frequently cited questions by spider plant owners are 1) Why is my spider plant turning brown or yellow, and the other is why won’t my spider plant produce pups? They are both related issues because discoloring on the leaves of a spider plant is a sign of something wrong with its growing conditions. Until that’s addressed, getting it to produce pups will be more difficult.
To get the best benefits of a spider plant, it needs the right nutrition and adequate growing conditions. Not perfect conditions because it is quite versatile and can take some rough and tumble, but it does need to be nourished correctly to be able to cope with more harsh conditions such as low light growing areas.
7 Things that Cause the Leaves on Spider Plants to Turn Yellow and Brown
1 – Water Stress Caused by Cramped Growing Conditions
Water stress is often the main culprit, and while most owners of these plants know not to leave them in standing water, what can happen is the roots become so overgrown for the pot it’s in that the roots block the drainage holes.
Blocked drainage holes in a spider plant container can lead to water logging and will stress the plant. As soon you notice the leaves on a spider plant yellowing, check the underside to make sure the roots aren’t poking through the drainage holes. If they are, it’s only a matter of time before the leaves turn brown and the plant takes a turn for the worse.
If the plant is left in a container that’s too small for the roots of the plants, the leaves will eventually turn a dark brown color, before darkening to the shade of death – black!
Prevent the worst-case scenario by repotting your spider plant into a more suitable size of container when you notice the roots affecting the drainage holes on the underside of your plant pot.
2 – Over Fertilization
It is common (and wise) for indoor growers to fertilize their spider plant, as it helps with plant growth. If you are using fertilizer on an indoor grown spider plant, chances are you’re feeding it a liquid fertilizer once per month during the growing season. For spider plants grown outdoors, such as in hanging baskets, those are better suited to a slow-release pellet fertilizer that’s placed in the soil at the start of the growing season and you only need to fertilize once per year.
It doesn’t take an overdose of fertilizer for the plant to be affected by over fertilization issues. Each time you add fertilizer to the soil, it’s adding minerals and one of those is salt. The levels can accumulate to the extent it prevents the plant from drawing water from the soil.
One way to tell if this is happening is to look for a build-up of white salt-like speckles on the soil’s surface or around the drainage holes of the plant. If those are present, it is likely the soil needs to be leached to remove toxic levels of salt.
Ideally, when you’re using fertilizer to boost the growth of spider plants, the soil should be leached annually. When there is a toxic salt accumulation in the soil preventing the plant from absorbing water from below, it will start drawing water from the tips of the leaves, which may be why you’re seeing your spider plant yellow or brown at the tips only rather than across the entire leaf.
How to Leach Salt out of Your Spider Plant’s Soil
All you need is warm water and somewhere to run that water through the plant so it doesn’t make a mess of your floors. Indoors, you can use the bath, shower or a sink if it’s large enough to accommodate your spider plant.
If you have a large plant, it may be best to use a wheeled container to move it outdoors to a patio where you can hose it down with warm water. If you’re using a garden hose, you will need to have it connected to a hot water supply. It’s not recommended to flush the soil with cold water as that could cause plant shock.
The pot needs to be raised above the surface to allow the water to freely drain through the drainage holes. As you flush the warm water through the soil, it will carry the salts out of the drainage holes so make sure there is enough space below the container for water to flow out unobstructed.
The recommended amount of water to use is twice the amount the container holds. As an example, if you’re using a 2.5-gallon nursery pot, you’d use 5 gallons of water to leach the salts out of the soil. Warm water should be applied slowly to allow sufficient time for it to drain.
If you water it too fast, it is likely the water will sit on the top soil. To avoid standing water on the soil, water slowly and only to a maximum of double the amount of water the container size holds.
Flushing the soil should be done once per year at least, however, it is better to do it two to three times annually to prevent salt accumulating to the point that it causes the spider plant to yellow or brown.
Leaching your spider plant is both a fix for discoloration and also for preventative maintenance to keep the soil fresh.
3 – Low Humidity Indoors in the Winter
Spider plants need a moderate humidity level. That’s easily done in the summer months by regular watering, and misting on the warmer days. In the winter months though, humidity lowers and that can cause brown tips on spider plants.
For indoor spider plants, or those being overwintered indoors, if you notice brown tips on the leaves, consider whether the humidity levels are too low. If they are, mist the plant more frequently, and if the size/weight of the plant is manageable, consider moving it to the bathroom when the shower or bath is in use so it can benefit from the higher humidity.
4 – Sun Burn
Spider plants can get sun burn and when they do, it’s the tips that turn brown. This is because the leaves are blade-shaped so moisture runs down to the tips.
When the plant is exposed to direct sunlight, water accumulation at the leaf tips heats up causing the leaf tip to burn, which is what the brown tips are. The only way to prevent this is to minimize exposure to direct sunlight. Spider plants prefer to grow in the shade and are best positioned in a spot that receives indirect sunlight.
Higher temperatures can also have a bleaching effect on the leaves of spider plants, causing the centers to yellow or whiten. If you notice yellowing or whitening happening at the center of the leaves, it is a sign that the room temperature is too high, or the plant is being exposed to too much bright and direct lighting. To avoid heat scorching the leaves on a spider plant, maintain a room temperature no higher than 80oF.
5 – Plant Pests
Mealybugs, spider mites, aphids, and whiteflies are common culprits for feeding on the sap of spider plants. Most are easy to spot, with the exception of the spider mite as those are tiny. If there are spider mites present, there will also be silk threads left behind as they spin their webs as they feed.
If your spider plant is yellowing or browning across more than the tips, inspect the plant for a pest problem. Areas to look for pests are the crown of the plant, and the underside of leaves.
As pests crawl over the plant, they will suck the sap from various parts of the leaves, causing more of the leaves to yellow than just the tips. Curling leaves on a spider plant are another indicator of a pest problem.
Most of the problem pests for spider plants are managed easily by taking the plant outdoors and spraying the leaves with a garden hose or spraying it in a shower. Spraying water is effective at eradicating live pests, but because insects lay eggs, the process will need repeated every few days to eradicate all the insects from the plants as the water will not have any effect on unhatched eggs.
Spider mites are a little trickier to get rid of as water alone isn’t effective. Use neem oil diluted at a ratio of one tablespoon per quart of water and apply that weekly to the plant until the mites are eliminated.
6 – Household Cleaning Chemicals
Spraying any aerosol in close proximity to the plant can burn it but not from the heat, but from the freezing cold temperatures that aerosols spray at. A number of sprays are used around the home, including fly and bee killer sprays. Also, if you have a spider plant at a dressing table and spray hair spray, it’s likely to land on the plant too.
Aerosols are best sprayed as far away from plants as possible, especially the spider plant as it is an air plant and will absorb everything in its surrounding environment. The more the air around the plant is contaminated, the more toxins the plant consumes. Sprays are the simplest to be careful with as you only need to spray them away from the plant. If you see flies around it, definitely do not reach for a can of fly killer.
While spider plants are air purifying plants, if you live in the city where air pollution is high, it may be beneficial to use an air purifier to give the plant a helping hand so it can absorb cleaner air.
7 – The Location of Your Spider Plant
The positioning of a spider plant needs to be somewhere with a constant temperature and no bursts of hot or cold air. Overwintering temperatures should be constantly above 35°F and during the growth season, the room temperature for indoor spider plants should preferably be above 70°F to support healthy growth. If there is a cooler period, try to maintain temperatures at least above 50°F.
Areas spider plants do not do well are close to door openings, up against glass panes where the leaves can be in direct contact with frozen glass or in too close proximity to indoor heating or air conditioning appliances.
When a plant is placed too close to exterior drafts in the winter, the short bursts of freezing cold air can slowly kill them. Yellowing or browning leaves is a sign that the plant is struggling and one of the reasons for that could be temperature fluctuations.
When trying to determine what is causing your spider plant’s leaves to yellow or brown, there are number of things to consider. Is it the environment (too warm or too cold), perhaps there’s an over or under watering issue, or maybe the plant needs the soil to be leached of toxic levels of salt. Temperatures being either too high or too low can discolor the leaves of spider plants as can the humidity levels for indoor grown spider plants.
The simplest cause to rule out first is the sap-sucking insects as you will can see those on the plant and the symptom of it is different from the rest of the conditions as the yellowing and browning will affect the entirety of the leaves rather than just the tip.
Anything relating to the humidity, temperature and ultimately the watering frequency can be identified by the yellowing and browning of the leaf tips on spider plants because when they can’t get their feed from the soil, they will draw moisture from the tips of the leaves. This is why it’s that area that discolors before the rest of the leaf, unless it’s pest insects that are feeding on the sap of the leaf.