Although Air Plants are pretty unique compared to the usual houseplants, as they don’t need soil to grow in, this doesn’t mean they are exempt from the usual problems. Brown leaves, and brown leaf tips are quite common on Air Plants as their sensitive nature makes them react quite dramatically to their environment.
In the post below, we will be going over the different causes of brown leaves and brown leaf tips on Air Plants.
Too much sunlight
Your Air Plant may be developing brown leaves due to it receiving too much direct sunlight. Air Plants do like areas with bright light, but it needs to be indirect. South-facing windows can give your Air Plant too much direct light during the warmest summer months, so try moving them to a different window. In those hottest months, it’s also a good idea to move your Air Plant a little further away from the window to avoid any leaf burn.
You can tell if your Air Plant is receiving too much sunlight if it is showing sights of sunspots. These are brown spots that start to show up across each leaf, rather than the base of the plant turning brown, for example. Unfortunately, once the leaves have been burnt by the sun, there is no going back. Relocating your Air Plant should however mean it starts to produce healthy new growth.
Underwatering – increased concave of the plant
This is another common cause of brown leaves on an Air Plant and can be spotted by an increased concave in your plant’s overall shape. Although Air Plants don’t need soil to grow, they do need water so must be misted and bathed regularly. If your Air Plant dries out, the leaves will start to turn brown and crispy.
Your initial thought might be to submerge your Air Plant in water for ages immediately to compensate for the lack of it. However, plants get shocked by rapid and sudden changes in their environment. Therefore drowning them in water is actually the wrong this to do. Instead, you want to mist the leaves twice a day for a few days, and then bathe your plant.
As with underwatering, too much water can also cause a whole range of issues for your Air Plant, including brown leaves. However, the appearance and feel of the leaf will be different from underwatering. The leaves will turn dark brown/black and look and feel a little softer, rather than dry and crispy.
Trim away all of the soggy leaves and let your plant recover. Hold off misting or bathing your Air Plant and after a few weeks, you should start to see your plant look a little healthier.
Make sure to adjust your care in the long term to avoid the problem happening again. Hold of the misting and bathing in winter as the risk of root rot is so much higher.
Most generic plant foods and fertilisers will recommend a dosage for your plants, but it’s often far too much for an Air Plant and can result in the leaves turning brown. The best thing to do here is to try out feeding at half the recommended dosage and see how your Air Plant reacts. You may also be able to pick up some Air Plant specific fertiliser. If you notice any browning, remove the affected leaves, wash your Air Plant and hold off fertiliser for several months. Once you are ready to start fertilising again, do it carefully with a well-balanced fertiliser. Our plants have always liked the liquid fertiliser from Miracle Gro which is available on Amazon here.
Air Plants can sometimes be sensitive when it comes to using tap water. If you live in an area with hard water then it means there is a higher level of fluoride, chlorine, salts and minerals in the water. Over time this can cause your plant to develop brown leaves or leaf tips.
If you don’t want to invest in a water purifying system (we don’t blame you as they are very expensive) then there are two free and easy ways you can solve this problem.
Leave the water 24 hours before watering
If you leave your watering can full of water out for a full day then most of the chemicals should evaporate leaving your tap water pure for your Air Plant.
Another method is to collect rainwater as the chemicals are much lower than the treated water that comes out of your tap.
It may take a little bit of time for the effects of this change to come through but it should prevent any further leaves on your Air Plant from turning brown.
Another potential cause of brown leaves on Air Plants is stress caused by a sudden change in the environment. If you have recently changed the care you are giving your Air Plant, or the environment it is in, this might be the reason why your Air Plant has brown leaves. As long as the care/environment is still right for your Air Plant, the initial shock will fade after a week or two and you shouldn’t see too many more brown leaves.
Those are the most common reasons why Air Plants develop brown leaves. If you have caught the problem early, then you should have quite a good chance of bringing it back to full health. However, if most of the plant has already turned brown, then reviving Air Plants at this stage can become more difficult.
Check out our Air Plant care guide for more information about how to care for your plant, as well as propagation tips and how to spot other common problems.
Written by Joanna Turner