How to diagnose natural leaf drop in houseplants

If you’ve noticed that your houseplant has started to lose some leaves then you might be starting to panic a little and worrying that it’s slowly dying.

If you’ve noticed that your houseplant has started to lose some leaves then you might be starting to panic a little and worrying that it’s slowly dying. Whilst leaf drop is a symptom of a range of issues, some loss of leaves is natural on houseplants and is absolutely nothing to worry about. 

However, knowing the difference between natural leaf drop and there being an issue is crucial because you don’t want to leave an undiagnosed issue to get worse. You also don’t want to start changing things about how you care for your plant, or the environment it is in when there really wasn’t an issue in the first place. 

In this article, we will take you through the different things you need to look out for to help you diagnose natural leaf drop in houseplants.

Your plant is losing its smallest leaves 

When natural leaf drop occurs, the reason for it is simply that your plant is maturing. As it gets bigger, it will sacrifice its oldest, smallest leaves in favour of growing new and bigger leaves. This is a very natural process and happens with nearly all plant types. 

If your houseplant is dropping its oldest, smallest (and on many plants, its lowest) leaves, then this indicates natural leaf drop. These leaves will often turn yellow before falling off the plant.

The frequency of leaf drop is low 

If your plant is only losing a leaf every couple of months here and there then this also indicates that it’s nothing to worry about. Natural leaf drop doesn’t occur all in one week and is very slow and steady.

This is why it’s important to monitor the rate at which your plants are losing leaves. If the rate is more than one every few months, or the rate of leaf drop is increasing, then we recommend taking a very close look at your plant and its environment to diagnose the issue that’s causing it before it’s too late. 

Natural leaf drop can happen a little bit faster in winter as your plant begins to conserve more energy as the sun isn’t giving as much light and warmth. But even if your plant is losing the odd leaf in summer, this can just mean it’s maturing and getting ready to grow new bigger leaves which is exciting!

There are no other signs of unhappiness 

Whenever you spot any of your plants losing leaves, it’s really important that you fully check over the leaves, stems and potting mix. 

When looking at your plant, check for any yellow or brown patches throughout the leaves. Remember that if the issue is solely on the bottom smallest leaves, this can be part of that natural ageing process. You also want to check for any signs of pests. This includes small spots across the leaves, holes in the leaves, white webbing or powder and of course visible insects. 

You should also remove your plant from its pot to inspect the soil and root system to check for any watering issues that might be going on. Overwatering and underwatering can really impact the root system and cause your plant to drop leaves as a result. This is why you need to eliminate watering issues straight away. 

Another top tip is to really inspect the leaves that have fallen off your plant to see if you can spot any telltale signs as to what’s happening. Signs of pests or sickly patches across the leaves can let you know that it’s not the natural ageing process but in fact, a problem that needs addressing. 

Nothing in the environment has changed 

Alongside taking a look over your plant and soil, checking environmental factors is also vital when trying to figure out why your plant is losing leaves. If there are even small changes in temperature or light levels, your plant may begin to drop leaves. 

Most houseplant types are quite sensitive to cold drafts so you want to make sure that all windows and external doors that are close to your plant are draft-proof. Using a digital thermometer can really help with spotting any fluctuations. You might not notice a small draft from outside but if your plant is sitting right next to it, over time this can cause real issues. 

If you have recently moved your plant to a new spot then this might also mean it’s not getting as much light as it previously did. Low light can mean a lot of plant types become quite leggy and drop leaves.

Moving your plant to a new spot may have also caused some shock which can result in your plant temporarily losing a handful of leaves. As long as the environment is right for your plant and it’s getting enough water, light and warmth then this should only result in your plant losing the odd leaf across a week or two before returning to normal.

Those are the main ways to check if your plant is losing leaves due to the natural ageing process or if there is something else going on that is making your plant unhappy. Leaf drop can be a really serious problem if it’s not natural as it means the problem has progressed for long enough that it’s causing your plant to actually drop leaves. This can make fixing the issue slightly trickier but often not impossible. 

Moving forward, it’s important to monitor the rate of leaf drop even if you have come to the conclusion that it’s natural and nothing to be worried about. If the rate increases steadily then you know that something else might be going on. Whilst the rate of natural leaf drop will fluctuate from time to time, it won’t steadily increase unless there is a problem. 

Check out our Plant Index for all of our care guides so you can figure out exactly what environment and watering routine each of your houseplants needs. This will help you diagnose natural leaf drop a little easier if you are able to determine if the care and environmental factors are right for your individual plant.


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