Brown Leaves on Elephant Ear Plants – Causes and Solutions

Last Updated: March 17, 2023

Elephant Ear plants really bring the tropics right into your home with their incredible large leaves.

However, if something isn’t how your plant would like it, your Elephant Ear plant might start to develop brown leaves. This can often start as just brown tips or brown edges on the leaves, but if the issue is progressing you might notice larger brown patches or entire leaves turning brown.

It’s important that you try to diagnose the issue as soon as you see it so that you can take the needed steps to resolve the issue before it kills your plant.

In this article, we will cover not only the causes of brown leaves on an Elephant Ear Plant but also how to fix it and prevent it from occurring again in future.

Causes of brown leaves on Elephant Ear Plants

Overwatering is a common cause of brown foliage

Too much water is probably the most damaging of houseplant issues and is quite a common reason why Elephant Ear plants develop brown leaves. Your Elephant Ear plant won’t like it if the soil is waterlogged and it can very quickly mean that the roots will start to rot. Once the root system is damaged, it will cause the leaves to turn brown, as well as droop down and turn soft. 

To figure out if overwatering is the reason your Elephant Ear is turning brown, check the moisture levels in the soil immediately. The most reliable way to do this is to use a moisture meter but you can also use the chopstick method or lifting method (if you’re plant is still quite small) to determine if the soil has dried out yet. 

Consistent underwatering could also be to blame

Although your plant can deal with a little bit of dry soil and the odd lack of water, it will struggle to go for several weeks or months without any moisture. This will start to dry out the root system, making it go crispy. 

The next thing that will happen if the issue continues is the leaves will begin to dry out and turn light brown in colour. It will usually show up as patches across the leaves, or begin at the tips and edges first. However, if the issue isn’t rectified it can start to cause entire leaves to turn brown. 

Like with overwatering, check the soil moisture in the soil before adjusting anything about how you are watering. 

Check for cold temperatures

Drafts that come through cracks in windows or doors can be pretty damaging to your Elephant Ear and will cause brown leaves among other issues such as leaves falling off. 

Whilst cold temperatures won’t cause issues from one day to the next, over time they can start to impact your plant’s health. Although you might think that the temperature is fine, there might be little spots in your home that are too cold (or even too hot if near radiators or in a hotspot formed by sunshine) for your Elephant Ear plant. 

Using a digital thermometer to monitor the air around your plant can help you determine if there are any drafts or if the temperature drops too much at night, for example.

Brown tips can be caused by dry air

If your Elephant Ear plant has started to develop brown and crispy leaf tips or edges, it might be caused by dry air. 

During winter, the air in your home can become quite dry as we have the heating on for a lot of the day. Paired with less ventilation, it could be drying out your plant, causing brown leaf tips. 

It’s important to note that brown leaves as a result of dry air is quite a slow problem to develop. You won’t see a new brown leaf tip pop up every day but it will over time become more visible.

Too much direct sunlight

Your Elephant Ear plant may also be developing brown leaves because it’s receiving a lot of intense direct sunlight. This is only a real issue during summer as the sun is a lot stronger than in winter. 

You can tell if your Elephant Ear is receiving too much sunlight if it is showing sights of sunspots. These are brown spots that start to show up across each leaf. THey will mostly form on the side of the plant that is most exposed to the sunlight. This can be a great way to diagnose the issue as most other problems will cause brown leaves across the plant. 

Unfortunately, once the leaves have been burnt by the sun, there is no going back so it’s best to remove any leaves that have been significantly damaged. 

Solutions for brown leaves on Elephant Ear Plants

Adjust your watering habits

If you have diagnosed the issue as being caused by underwatering or overwatering, then it’s crucial that you adjust your watering schedule accordingly. You either want to change how often you are watering your Elephant Ear Plant, or how deeply you are watering it each time. By adjusting one of these factors, you can avoid over or underwatering your plant moving forward. 

If you have underwatered your plant, your first instinct might be to give it loads of water straight away. However, we recommend against this as it can actually be harmful to your Elephant Ear if the soil goes from one extreme to the other. Instead, you want to reintroduce frequent watering for a week or two and this should solve the problem.

Replace any waterlogged soil

If you have been giving your Elephant Ear plant too much water, replace the potting mix if it is still waterlogged. You might want to just wait for it to naturally dry out but this only risks there being more damage in the next few days. 

Instead, replace with fresh high-quality well-draining soil so that your plant can begin to recover. 

Alongside replacing the soil, it’s also important to cut away any rotten roots. These will appear dark brown or black in colour and will be soft to touch. Once a root has started to rot, there is no reversing this so removing them is the only option. 

Mist your plant’s leaves

If humidity is the issue then it’s a good idea to get into the habit of misting your plant’s leaves. Use a spray bottle to mist the leaves at least a few times per week as this will boost the humidity for your plant. It’s best to do this in the morning to allow enough time for the water droplets to evaporate before it gets dark. You want to avoid the leaves still being damp when it gets colder as this increases the risk of leaf rot. 

Misting the leaves is also a great way to remove dust from the leaves, which can be a big problem for Elephant Ear plants as their leaves are so big! 

Prune any damaged leaves

We recommend pruning off the worst affected leaves. This will allow your Elephant Ear Plant to focus its energy on producing new, healthy leaves rather than wasting energy trying to revive dying ones. 

Once a leaf has turned brown, there is unfortunately nothing you can do to make it green again, so pruning away the worst affected leaves is the best option.

Draftproof your home

If cold air is what’s causing the brown leaves on your plant, make sure to draft-proof any windows or doors that are within 1 metre of your Elephant Ear or any other houseplants. 

We also recommend getting a thermometer to measure how the temperature changes throughout the day and across the year.

How to prevent brown leaves on an Elephant Ear Plant

Keep adjusting your watering schedule

To prevent the problem from happening again, we recommend continuously monitoring the moisture levels in the soil. This will help you figure out how you need to adapt your watering schedule so that you are not overwatering or underwatering. 

Your watering habits need to be adapted throughout the seasons to account for environmental changes as you’ll need to cut back on how much water you give your plant during winter.

Another option is to pick up a self-watering pot, these handy pots take all of the guesswork out of watering and make everything so much easier! 

It’s also a good idea to get into the habit of removing any excess water that has run out of the drainage holes (or is still left in the saucer if you are bottom watering) 20 minutes after watering. This allows enough time for your plant to take up as much moisture as it needs and prevents the roots from swimming in water. 

Keep up a moderate humidity level

Alongside misting, there are other great ways to increase the humidity for your Elephant Ear Plant.  If you have good lighting in your kitchen or bathroom then we recommend moving your Elephant Ear in there. The humidity level in those rooms is naturally higher because of the steam released from showering and cooking.

If you’re worried about the lack of humidity becoming a real problem, then buying a humidifier is the most reliable method of increasing the humidity and keeping it at a stable, consistent level.

They are super affordable devices that also have benefits for us, as well as our plants. They are thought to help to clear our skin as well as improve our quality of sleep. So as well as preventing any more brown leaves from developing on your Elephant Ear, humidifiers are great for our other plants as well as us too!

Frequently Asked Questions

To make sure that you can make the right changes to solve the brown leaves on your Elephant Ear, we recommend going through each of the issues whilst with your plant, so you can check out the soil, the type of brown leaves that are on your plant and other environmental factors. 

This will allow you to make the right fixes to ensure no more brown leaves form on your plant. 

Check out our Elephant Ear care guide for more information on how to best care for your plant and prevent any more issues from forming in future.

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