Why Do Peace Lilies Get Brown Leaves and Tips

Does your peace lily have brown tips? That question is a popular one we receive daily. It usually goes something like the one below from Sandra.

Question: I have brown tips on my peace lily plant (Spathiphyllum). In fact, many of my plants seem to have or get brown tips. Can you tell me why? Sandra

brown tips on peace lily is a common issue with homeowners

Answer: Sandra, your question or condition is not an unusual one. It is one question we get many times. There are many reasons why tips turn brown on peace lily and many houseplants in general like bamboo palm, Dracaena, and spider plants.

  • Houseplant Fertilizer – more correctly – over fertilizing causing salts to burn.
  • Excess water or over-watering and under-watering
  • Pests – (I prefer natural pesticides for control)

or a combination of these factors and others. Throw into the mix the different varieties and its gets very confusing on why many indoor plants get brown tips.

Did you know the Peace Lily or Spathiphyllum is a great plant along with the mother-in-law tongue for a healthier home and cleaning indoor air?

Peace Lily Varieties Grown for Flowers

Today, many varieties of spathiphyllum are grown for the abundance of flowers they produce. Others, for the large floor plants they become and look beautiful without flowers.

But flowers come at some expense. The cost? Nutrients going to the flowers do not go to the plant. When plants hold a lot of foliage, they may require more water to support the foliage.

You may notice lighter colored leaves and if the plants dry out too much you can get browning tips.

The older leaves at the bottom… If that is where the brown tips are occurring. The leaves are not “pulling” food the same way, new rapidly growing leaves do. Brown tips and leaf loss in this case may be natural.

Peace Lily Foliage Varieties

What about varieties grown more for foliage like Lynise, Supreme and Sensation. These plants usually grow in 10 inch and larger pots, but may present the same problem in looks, but for a different cause.

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In the nursery these plants are watered and fertilized on a regular basis. They may be watered every day or every other day. All of a sudden the plant is shipped to a nursery or garden center where it does not receive the same treatment and care.

They may get less water and the fertilizers (salts) which remain in the pot become more concentrated. This higher concentration due to reduced moisture and can cause burning the roots.

Speaking of under-watering, there are two ways (and probably more) to do this.

The first is just not watering the plant enough and allowing the plant to wilt down before watering. A little droop may be OK, but not laying on the ground. I will admit this is rarely the case with house owners.

The second method is what I’ll term “fake watering.” We think we water but we really don’t.

This occurs when the soil dries out, the soil may even be pulling away from the pot and the plant is re-watered. The water will take the path of least resistance and heads to the bottom of the pot.

The soil may become moist in areas but the root ball or soil mass doesn’t become sufficiently moist. It may be moist enough to let the plant perk up but the soil is still too dry.

Again, this can be salts or the plant protecting itself by reducing the amount of foliage it needs to support. Result – Brown tips.

Homeowners And Brown Tips

Let’s look at each of the three items mentioned at the beginning of the article to help you determine what could be causing the brown tips. This could be a sign of what is to come or the result of one or all three situations.

Houseplant Fertilizer

We briefly discussed fertilizer and how the salts can cause the brown or burning tips. Most indoor plants you purchase at the nursery or garden center come “equipped” with enough fertilizer in the soil to provide for the plant for a long time.

Once the plant arrives at its new home – the light will be reduced, water needs reduced and therefore the need for “feeding” reduced. The plant will also undergo some acclimating. Some leaf drop may occur as the plant now has less light to support all the leaves.

The first place to start reducing the conditions to promote brown tips is to STOP FERTILIZING your plants. Wait a while before starting any type of fertilizing – I recommend 6 months to a year.

If you are going to fertilize using a liquid feed do it correctly.

Here’s how to do it. Copy the way it’s done at the nursery using these steps.

  • Thoroughly water the plant
  • I take a 5-gallon bucket filled about 1/3 full with water and completely submerge the entire root ball, pot soil and all. Add more water if needed.
  • Soak the root ball until no more bubbles come to the surface.
  • Remove the plant from the bucket and allow all the water to drain off through the drainage hole.

Now your plant is completely and thoroughly watered. Every third or fourth watering repeat the process but add a water soluble balanced fertilizer to the water at 1/4 to 1/3 strength after thoroughly watering.

Excess Water or Over-Watering and Under-Watering

You’ll notice in the watering example above the plant was thoroughly watered and the excess water drained off. Many homeowners continue to water their houseplants and the water collects at the bottom of the pot.

The root system cannot use all the water provided. The roots may be swimming in water and over time the roots begin to experience root rot. The plant responds first with some brown tips alerting you of some potential stress issues the plant is undergoing.

Less roots mean less leaves, and the plant will usually begin by losing the oldest leaves first. If not addressed more root rot occurs, the plant begins to lose leaves and some basal rot sets in and the whole plant falls apart.

Water thoroughly, make sure the drainage holes are not covered and DO NOT allow the plant to sit in a puddle of water. This is why sub-irrigation planters work so well.

Under-watering puts stress on the plant as the roots need the water to support the foliage above the soil line. When plants do not receive enough water they respond by reducing the amount of leaves they can support.

When plants go through a repeated under-watering cycle the result begins with brown tips.

Pest and Disease

Pest such as spider mites can suck the juices out of your plants and reduce their vigor. The pest issue begins to show up with the foliage having an almost grayish look and tips begin to brown. The root system may be fine but what’s happening above the soil line is where the problem lies.

Excess Heat

Too much heat is another possibility. You may be asking yourself how can I have too much heat, it’s 72 degrees in the house.

That may be true but a plant sitting next to the window can be heating up more than you realize. We all have hot and cold spots indoors.

Why do I have brown tips on my Spathphyllum? There are many reasons!!!

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Plants are great communicators and they really re-act in ways that we can understand if we stop and look at the situation.

Plants may not tell us what is wrong BUT they do tell us to LOOK something is wrong.

When you’re looking for answers to WHY, on your plants, ask some questions.

I find many times that it is the little things that we may not pay attention to that have caused the problems.

Did anything change in the Peace Lily environment?

Something as simple as – Yes we opened the house up after a long winter to air things out. The temperature was still a little cool but a light sweater was all I needed. Did the plants get a sweater?

  • Did you move the plant?
  • Has the watering changed?
  • Is the plant new and getting acclimated?
  • What is the root system like?
  • What variety is it?
  • Is the plant actively growing? Putting out new leaves with good color.

ALL valid questions.

Don’t assume that because you have some brown tips that your plant may need to be repotted or need fertilizer. It may be just the opposite. Another question we get all the time is: why does my peace lily not flower – that’s another topic altogether.