Why is my African Milk Tree (Euphorbia Trigona) losing leaves?

Last Updated: May 18, 2022

These unique succulent plants (yes, they look like cacti but are actually succulents) are becoming more and more popular in the houseplant world and we are seeing them in houseplant shops a lot more regularly than a few years ago. African Milk Trees aren’t the hardest plant to look after but they can often suffer from leaf drop which is their most common way of saying something is wrong. 

If you have noticed leaves falling off your African Milk Tree, then don’t worry because below we will be going through all of the different causes. We will also help you understand if and how to treat the problem and prevent it from happening again in future. 

Natural leaf cycle can result in leaf drop

If you have noticed that your African Milk Tree is starting to lose leaves during autumn and winter, then this might simply be part of the natural growth cycle. African Milk Trees commonly drop quite a lot of their leaves during the dormant period to preserve energy. This is totally normal and is absolutely nothing to worry about. The leaves will start to grow back as spring appears. 

You want to make sure, however, that no other factors are causing your African Milk Tree to lose leaves as if anything goes undiagnosed, it can lead to serious problems for your plant. Give your plant a good check-up to see if you spot any other signs of unhappiness, disease or anything else that might mean your plant is suffering.

Underwatering will lead to your plant losing leaves

If your African Milk Tree is losing leaves in the height of spring or summer, then it suggests that something else is wrong, in particular, to do with the watering. Funnily enough both over- and underwatering can lead to your African Milk Tree losing leaves. So it’s really important you figure out which is the cause as you don’t want to be adjusting your watering schedule in the wrong way.

Here’s how to spot if your African Milk Tree is underwatered:

  • Leaves are dry and crispy

    If the leaves that are falling off are very dry and crispy to touch and look quite dehydrated, then the problem is probably a lack of water.

  • The potting mix feels very dry

    An easy way to see if your African Milk Tree is losing leaves due to underwatering is by (very carefully) taking the plant out of its pot whilst inspecting the potting mix. It’s important you use gloves to do this as it can cause skin irritation and serious problems if accidentally ingested. If the soil feels very dry to touch, almost like dust, then your plant needs more water.

  • The soil is coming away from the sides of the pot

    This is a great method to be able to tell if your African Milk Tree is being underwatered just by looking at it. If you notice that the soil has compacted and is actually coming away from the sides of your pot, then it indicates that you need to increase watering and this may be the cause of your African Milk Tree losing leaves. This is a great tip to keep in mind for all of your plants as it can help to figure out when your plants are being underwatered.

  • Use a moisture meter

    This will help figure out how dry the potting mix is and if you need to water more to stop your African Milk Tree from losing any more leaves.

How do I fix an underwatered African Milk Tree?

Once you have figured out that your African Milk Tree is losing leaves due to underwatering, it’s important that you solve the issue properly and don’t cause any more damage to an already suffering plant. You might think that the best way would be to drown your African Milk Tree in water but this can actually cause your plant to go into shock if its environment suddenly changes. 

Instead, to help your plant recover from the underwatering and prevent any more leavings from falling off your African Milk Tree, we recommend slowly reintroducing water by giving it a little bit once a day for a week. This will slowly dampen the potting mix.

Too much water can also cause leaves to fall off

If you notice your African Milk Tree is a little softer than usual, it might indicate that your plant is suffering from overwatering. This can also result in the entire plant being a little bit unstable so watch out for that too! 

To figure out if overwatering is the cause of the loss of leaves on your African Milk Tree, check the moisture levels in the soil immediately. If the soil feels very waterlogged then replace it with fresh dry mix which will allow the plant to start to recover. Trim away the rotten roots and hold off on watering as much as you did before.

Top tip: waterlogged soil tends to smell quite damp and musty so get up close to your plants every once in a while to check as this can help you spot overwatering before it has severely impacted your plant. 

Those are the most common reasons why African Milk Trees lose their leaves. We recommend establishing whether or not it is simply the natural shedding process, or if something else is causing the leaves to fall off. You should also consider if you want to take a section from your plant to propagate it as this can help you save at least some of the plant. 

In future, we recommend giving your plants a regular check-up to spot any early signs that they are unhappy with something. This doesn’t just apply to your African Milk Tree, but to all of your houseplants as spotting and fixing the issues early, means it’s easier to treat them and gives you the best chance at reviving them. 

Check out our African Milk Tree care guide for more information on how to look after your plant and treat any other issues that might arise.

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