Many owners of air plants (tillandsia) have experienced an unpleasant surprise when they notice brown spots or curling on the leaves.
It’s unsightly and indicates that your beloved plant’s health might be in danger.
But before you make any rash decisions, it’s important to figure out the cause of the problem.
We’ll be going over a few of the common reasons for a browning plant and the steps you can take to fix them.
Too Much or Too Little Water
The first and most common reason for brown leaves is improper watering.
Signs of your air plant not getting enough water will be dry, brown leaves that feel papery to the touch. Curling at the tip of the leaves is an early sign of this issue. If you think this might be the problem, increase the frequency of your watering schedule.
You should also ensure that you’re using distilled water or rainwater if your tap water is high in minerals.
On the other hand, overwatering can also cause brown leaves.
If the leaves are soft and mushy to the touch, mold growth, or the plant emits a musty smell – these are all signs that the air plant is getting excess water. Reduce your watering schedule and monitor accordingly.
Proper Ventilation & Humidity
Air plants thrive in a humid environment. However, they still need proper air circulation to prevent fungal growth. So make sure to place your air plants in an area where they will get plenty of fresh air.
You can also increase the humidity around your plant by misting it with water or setting it on a pebble tray.
A pebble tray is simply a tray filled with gravel or rocks and water. The evaporation of the water will increase the humidity around your plant. A terrarium is also a great way to create a humid environment for your air plant.
During the wintertime, the dry air from your heater can cause the leaves to turn brown and crispy. To combat this, you can mist your plant with water or set it on a pebble tray, as mentioned earlier.
You can also move your plant to a more humid room in your house or invest in a humidifier.
During the summertime, the air may be more humid and the sun much harsher. If you notice your plant’s leaves are starting to brown, it’s best to move it to a shady spot or filter the light with a sheer curtain.
Overly dry conditions and direct sunlight can cause your air plant to have brown leaf tips. Avoid placing an air plant in a spot with full sun exposure, as this can cause the leaves to scorch (such as a southern-facing windowsill).
Wild air plants are used to growing in shaded conditions, and this is what you should be aiming for when growing them outdoors or in your home.
Check for Pests
Your air plant may be under attack from pests such as mealybugs, spider mites, or scale. These pests are attracted to the moisture in the air plant leaves and can quickly cause extensive damage.
Fixing this problem can be tough but doable.
You can use a cotton swab dipped in alcohol to wipe the pests away to get rid of them. You can also introduce beneficial bugs like ladybugs, lacewings, or thrips to your air plant collection to help keep the pests under control.
Lack of Nutrients
While air plants are low-maintenance, they still need some help to stay healthy. Adding nutrients isn’t the same process as you may do with potted plants, as air plants lack roots.
However, there exist air plant fertilizer sprays that can be used to give them the nutrients they need. These should be used sparingly as too much fertilizer can cause leaf burn, just like too much sun exposure.
If you don’t have a fertilizer readily available, that’s okay; try bringing your air plant outdoors into a shaded area and let it soak up some natural nutrients from the surrounding environment.
This one can be a problem, especially if you have a curious toddler. The delicate leaves of air plants can be easily damaged, so make sure you handle them with care.
If your air plant has browned due to too much handling, simply place it in an area that can be left alone to grow.
Some pets, such as cats, dogs, and rodents, can be destructive to air plants. If you have a pet that likes to chew on things, keep your air plants out of their reach – don’t worry, the air plant is non-toxic to pets.
Leaves turning brown can also be a natural part of an air plant’s growth cycle. Many plants will exhibit these signs when nearing their end of life and needing to be replaced. You can confirm this by checking for other signs of aging, such as a yellowing root or a lack of new growth.
While sad, you can use your old air plant as a fertilizer for your flower bed outside or find a way to reuse it in your home décor.
Can you revive a dead air plant?
Unfortunately, once an air plant has died, there’s no coming back. So the best thing to do is to focus on preventing future problems, so it doesn’t happen again.
Can air plants get too much light?
Yes, they can! While they are used to growing in shaded conditions, too much sun can cause leaf burn. To prevent this is recommended that you place your air plants in a spot with indirect sunlight – especially if you live in a sunny climate.
What is root rot?
Root rot is a condition that affects air plants and many other types of plants. It occurs when the roots are overwatered or not watered enough, causing them to become diseased and die. Symptoms of root rot include discolored, mushy roots and browned leaves. We discuss this topic more in-depth in our article on air plant root rot.
Samantha Taylor is the Senior Editor of airplantcentral.com. Her love for plants goes back to her childhood when she spent hours in the garden with her dear grandfather. As an aspiring botanist, she started her own business specializing in air plants.