Why Do House Plant Leaves Turn Yellow? [7 Reasons & Fixes]

If you are a house plant hoarder, you must have come across the common problem of house plant leaves turning yellow. It is troubling to see that happening to the house plants we put so much effort into growing. We must understand why house plant leaves turn yellow to stop this problem once and for all.

Yellow leaves mean that, for some reason, the leaf is unable to undergo the process of photosynthesis. The reason leaves are green is because they have green photosynthetic pigments.

Reasons Why House Plant’s Leaves Turn Yellow

If these pigments cannot be formed or fail to perform their function, the leaves essentially lose all their pigment, and yellow remains as a blank space. Leaves cannot make their food for assorted reasons.

1. Lack of Sunlight

Sunlight provides the energy that powers the process of photosynthesis or how plants make their food. Without it, the carbon dioxide and water molecules the plant absorbed cannot be broken down and rearranged into sugar for the plant to consume.

Indoor plant leaves turning yellow is common because people tend to put plants where they look the best, whether natural light reaches the area or not. Unfortunately, you can’t put a houseplant just anywhere on a whim.

If you want it in a corner with no natural light, you can use indoor grow lamps to supplement its need for sunlight. However, if you do not want to buy them or they won’t look nice, you can place them in front of a sunlit window for a few hours every day.

2. Lack of Water and Poor Water Drainage

Water is an essential element for plants to flourish and grow. It is a part of their food and provides rigidity for structure. If you do not water your plant enough or your potted plant has poor drainage, then it will not be able to grow correctly.

Along with being a part of a plant’s food, water carries many essential minerals and nutrients. However, if your plant has improper drainage, its roots will sit in the same water too long and rot.

If the roots begin rotting, they will not be able to adequately draw up water and nutrients to the leaves, and thus the leaves become malnourished and yellow.

To guarantee that your plant gets enough water and drains well, water it regularly and ensure that your indoor pots have superb drainage.

 An excellent way to provide good drainage for indoor plants is to use a terracotta pot with plenty of drainage holes. That can be placed inside a decorative pot with gravel at the bottom.

The excess water will drain into the bottom of the decorative pot, and the gravel will keep the functional pot away from sitting in the water. This way, you can enjoy function with beauty, and you do not have to compromise one for the other.

Read How to Care for Houseplants While On Vacation

3. Overwatering and Pot Size

Are the leaves of your plants start falling after turning yellow? That is a sign they are overwatered. Sometimes we get a little over-excited when watering our indoor plants.

United Nursery Ponytail Palm Plant Live Elephants Foot Indoor Houseplant in 6 inch White Decor Pot

We are worried that the plants aren’t getting enough water to prosper, and we water again before the soil has dried out from the last watering. We face the same issue unintentionally if the pot is too big for the plant.

You may be watering the plant the right amount, but since the pot is too big, the plant does not have enough roots to suck the water out soon enough, and the soil stays wet too long. Thus it has the same result as being overwatered.

It is important to understand your plants watering needs. Some need a lot of water, and some like to go a while between watering. Some can grow very tall while staying in a tiny pot others need a large pot even when small.

To become an expert home gardener, you must attune your senses to your plants. According to the famous gardener Russel Page, green fingers are the extensions of a verdant heart.

Read How Often Should I Water a Houseplant?

4. Lack of Minerals

If your plant is getting enough sunlight and water, but you still face the problem of house plant leaves turning yellow and brown, then your plants may not be getting enough nourishment from the soil. Potted plants have it rough since the plant cannot spread its roots far and wide to keep getting nutrients.

The soil outside gets nutrients from a lot of different sources. Good insects and bacteria break natural waste and debris to refine the soil. Potted plants have to rely solely on its owner to renew the nutrient content of the soil. 

To accomplish that, you can re-pot your plant once or twice a year to expose it to fresh soil and mulch and add organic or chemical fertilizer to it once a month. This way, plants have a regular supply of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, molybdenum, copper, boron, zinc, etc., to help them thrive.

5. Pests

You’re doing everything right. You’re basically a plant mama, but your babies are still turning yellow? Take a closer look. It might be the work of tiny little pests. Unwanted guests like whiteflies, spider mites, aphids, and scale, to name a few, suck the lifeblood of your plants, the sap.

These menacing little critters usually avoid detection because they are so small. If you see other signs like little holes in the leaves, you can be sure it’s a plant vampire!

These insects suck away the vital nutrients and food your plants need. The first thing to show any signs of being affected are the leaves. You can regularly use store-bought pesticides or neem oil to avoid a pest infestation.

Read Best Potting Soil for Houseplants

6. Plant Viruses

Plants can get infected with viruses just like us. If you see an abnormal pattern of yellowing, yellow rings, bumps, light green molting patterns, or abnormal light or dark streaks, you should suspect it is the work of a virus.

Viruses can spread from other plants, soil, gardening tools, the gardener’s hands, and sucking insects like aphids. Aphids transmit diseases in plants like mosquitos do in humans.

If you see any of these signs or have a sixth sense that a plant might be sick, you should immediately quarantine it from the rest of the plants. Unfortunately, you can’t cure a plant infected by a virus. You will have to dispose of the plant in a way it does not spread to other plants outside.

A thing to note is that tobacco plants and products may have dormant viruses hiding in them, and people who partake in them should wash their hands before interacting with their plants.

You can test any plant for forty of the most common viruses in thirty minutes at home, including the tobacco mosaic virus. It’s a simple strip test similar to the ones used for Covid.

The most common virus is the Mosaic virus. It primarily attacks aroids and can be identified by yellow spots all over the leaves. It can easily be mistaken for nutrient deficiency or the impact of too much sun exposure.

Thoroughly inspects any plant you want to buy from a shop and do your best to avoid disease-carrying pests.

Read How to Care for Houseplants in Summer

7. Other Plant Diseases

While viruses directly cause yellow patches or spots on leaves, plants can get affected by bacteria and mold. As the plants suffer, their leaves can turn yellow from stress and lack of nutrition.

Common indoor plant illnesses include:

  1. Fungal Leaf Spots
  2. Bacterial leaf spots
  3. Botrytis or grey mold
  4. White mold
  5. Powdery mildew
  6. Rust
  7. Sooty mold
  8. Anthracnose
  9. Stem rot

While you may want to treat the plants that have developed these illnesses, it is best to give up on problem plants so that the diseases don’t spread to the rest of your plants.

To avoid infections, always purchase healthy plants, sterilize your tools, never reuse potting soil for another plant, and manage the humidity in your home.

Read How to Clean House Plant Leaves

Can You Save a Yellowing Leaf?

Unfortunately, you cannot save any leaves that have started to turn yellow. These leaves are not fulfilling their purpose of making food for the plant and are just hogging nutrients.

The resources used by these leaves are better off helping new leaves grow. That’s why you should cut any leaves that have started to turn yellow.

It won’t affect plant growth if it’s close to the bottom. However, if it is close to the top, you can wait for a few new leaves to grow before cutting it off.

If the plant is not suffering from a virus or other illness, your plant should be better once you figure out what is causing the yellowing and solve it. Removing problematic leaves in a timely matter ensures no valuable energy is wasted.

Plants That Don’t Turn Yellow

While we can’t guarantee that a plant will never turn yellow, there are hardy plants that resist turning yellow more than others. If you are a beginner gardener, you will want a plant that can handle a little neglect.

It is advisable to start with succulents since they are the easiest to manage. There is very little chance they will turn yellow due to watering issues because they evolved to handle irregular waterings. 

As long as they get enough sun, they will thrive. You can also opt for indoor palms with indirect sunlight like the Lady palm or a colorful peperomia that stores water in its leaves.

 I understand if you want more than just succulents and tropical plants in your home. After all, no one likes a one-trick peony. When you care for hardier plants, you can move on to a more decorative and delicate variety like hoyas or hydrangeas.

Talk to your local nurseryman about the best indoor plants and flowers for beginners in your region. Of course, the same plant won’t thrive both in front of a north-facing window in an Arizona home and on a shelf in a New York studio apartment in the winter.

Why Do House Plant Leaves Turn Yellow
Why Do House Plant Leaves Turn Yellow

Read How to Care for Houseplants in Winter

The Take-Away

Gardening is an art and a science. You have to know what plant needs, how much water, sunlight, and fertilization. However, administering these things to your plants correctly takes trial and error.

Plants are a great addition to your space. They provide oxygen for the soul as much as the lungs.

We put a lot of time, effort, and money into this hobby, and seeing leaves turn yellow can make us want to pull out our hair. Along with trimming any yellow leaves right away, we need to understand what we are doing wrong and fix the problem from the root cause.

We could be watering too much or too little. The pot could be too big or too small. We may not be exposing it to enough sunlight or giving it too much sunlight.

Each plant has different individualized plant needs. If these needs are met correctly, there is no reason for any leaves to turn yellow. Once our senses are attuned to our plants and closer to nature, our plants will thrive alongside us.

It’s vital to watch different plant illnesses that can quickly spread to other plants. Plants with illnesses have to be disposed of properly. Do not throw them in the compost bin since the virus will remain active.

Seal any diseased part in a plastic bag before throwing it in the trash so that no infectious debris reaches any healthy plants in your house or outside.

Now you know why house plants leaves turn yellow and feel empowered to tackle any problems with your plants. Nothing can also stop you from creating the garden of your dreams inside your home.

If you live in the city, you won’t have to go to a park to enjoy nature since you can have plants at home without being afraid of them turning yellow or brown. Good luck gardening!

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