Monstera is one of the most beautiful and interesting houseplants with its glorious, characteristic leaves with holes (fenestrations). But what if your leaves turn brown? Can it be saved? In my job as a commercial grower of houseplants, I encounter this problem frequently, and I have personal experience in nursing these big-leafed beauties back to full health after the leaves begin to turn brown.
In this article, I share with you the steps that I took to alleviate the problems that caused the leaves to turn brown and to ensure your monstera thrives…
Monstera leaves turn brown at the tips and edges if the humidity is too low. Monstera are native to humid tropical jungles and need high humidity. If the humidity is too low, this saps moisture from the leaves, causing them to turn brown and curl.
However, I have seen Monstera (Deliciosa, Adansonii, Obliqua) leaves and stems can turn brown for a variety of reasons, so I have summarized the most common symptoms and reasons for browning leaves in the table below:
|Symptoms of a Monstera Turning Brown:
|Reasons for Browning Monstera Leaves:
|Leaves turning brown at the tips and edges:
|Low humidity is the primary cause, with underwatering, air currents, high temperatures, and too much sun being contributing factors.
|Scorched brown areas of the leaf:
|Most often due to too much direct sunlight (Monstera needs bright indirect light).
|Monstera leaves turning yellow and brown:
|Overwatering, slow-draining soils, and cold temperatures cause yellow and brown leaves.
|Brown spots on Monstera leaves:
|Brown spots are either oedemas (caused by overwatering) or bacterial leaf spot (also caused by overwatering and spreading infection from other plants or tools).
|Monstera stems turning brown (and yellow and black)
|Ariel roots emerge from the vine and turn brown, and protective sheaths turn brown when the developing leaf matures (both of which are natural parts of the life cycle). Overwatering and cold temperatures in Winter can cause stem rot which turns the stem brown, black, and yellow with a rotten appearance and texture.
Keep reading for to learn how I pinpoint why a monstera may turn brown and how I would fit it…
1. Monstera Leaves Turning Brown at the Tips and Edges (Low Humidity)
- Symptoms. Monstera leaves turn brown and crispy at the tips, around the edges, and sometimes patches in the middle.
- Causes. Low humidity from draughts, and air conditioning. Too much sun, high temperatures from indoor heating, and underwatering can be contributing factors.
To understand why your monstera is turning brown, it is important that we know how monstera grows in the wild and replicate these conditions in our homes…
Monstera plants are native to tropical regions in the Americas, where they grow in warm, humid forests.
Therefore monstera prefer humidity levels of around 30% when cultivated as a houseplant. However, the humidity indoors can be as low as 10% (depending on your climate) and can fluctuate dramatically due to the use of indoor heating or air conditioning.
My monstera plants tended to suffer when I lived in New York due to the low humidity in the Summer from my air co and the dry air in Winter exacerbated by my indoor heating
This discrepancy in humidity saps too much moisture from the monstera’s leaves which causes them to curl and turn brown at the edges. This can also manifest as brown patches or just brown tips to the leaves, depending on how dry the air is and how long it has been in dry conditions.
Monster plants do prefer warm temperatures (with an ideal temperature range of 60°F to 85°F (15°C and 30°C), but if the temperature is too high or increases suddenly (think turning on the heating in the evening), then this can dry out the air and dry the potting soil too quickly which can result in the browning of the leaves.
Whilst underwatering can be a contributing factor, usually the symptoms of chronic underwatering are the leaves turning yellow, but if the soil dries out too much between bouts of watering or the soil is watered too lightly. I find this can contribute to brown leaves.
(Read my article, How to Save a Monstera with Yellow Leaves).
- I Increased the humidity by regularly misting the monstera’s leaves or buying a plant humidifier. By misting the leaves regularly, you can increase the relative humidity around the plant. This creates a humid micro-climate that mimics the conditions of the monstera’s native environment in the tropical Americas and reduces the rate of water loss from the leaves, which prevents them from turning brown. I recommend misting the leaves every day whilst the leaves are brown. If you are in a particularly arid climate, then my preferred solution is to buy a plant humidifier, which can be adjusted to ensure the right humidity for the monstera.
- Locate your monstera away from any direct sources of heat or any air currents. Air conditioning or forced air saps moisture from the air and lowers humidity to uncomfortable levels for your monstera. Whilst Monstera prefers a warmer temperature range, indoor heating can cause fluctuations in temperature that can dry out the leaves and turn them brown, which is a more prominent problem in Winter. I just locate your monstera on the other side of the room from the source of heat and keep it misted to help it revive.
- Monstera need a generous soak each time they are watered. Water the soil so that excess water trickles from the drainage holes in the base to ensure the water has infiltrated properly to reach the monstera’s roots. However, it is important to note that the top inch of soil should dry out between bouts of watering to avoid root rot.
Useful tip: Move your monstera to your bathroom. The naturally humid air and bright light emulate the conditions in the monstera’s natural habitat.
Once you have recreated some of the conditions of the monstera’s natural habitat, then this alleviates the stress on your plant, and normal growth should resume.
(Read my article, how to water monstera plants).
Should I Prune Browning Monstera Leaves?
Once the monstera’s leaves have turned brown and crispy, they do not turn green again. If just the margins of the leaves have turned brown, trim them back with a pair of scissors to a natural shape. If large sections have turned brown then you can pruner them back to where the stems meet the main vine.
It is not necessary to cut off monstera leaves if they have turned brown due to low humidity or due to too much direct sunlight, as the remaining sections of the leaf can still photosynthesize and contribute energy to the plant.
If the browning of the leaves is quite subtle, then I would recommend leaving the leaf as it is until the following Spring.
Once you see new growth beginning to emerge in the Spring, this indicates the plant is healthy and resilient and is more likely to tolerate pruning as more leaves are growing that can provide the energy the monstera needs to thrive.
2. Monstera Leaves Scorched Brown Because of Too Much Sunlight
Monstera is a semi-epiphytic climbing vine that grows up trees, and their leaves are generally shaded by the canopy overhead.
This means the monstera’s leaves are very sensitive to direct sunlight, which can scorch the leaves brown.
Monstera leaves grow best in bright, indirect light. Bright light increases the growth rate and increases the number of perforations or holes in the leaves, particularly as the plant matures.
However, it must always be shaded from any direct sunlight, so do not locate your monstera on a south-facing window sill where it is likely to scorch.
I have grown monstera in a bathroom which I found worked really well as the light was diffused by frosted glass, which was perfect. However, I often recommend growing monstera in a room that is nice and bright but with a sheer curtain, which again softens the light.
It is in these settings that I have seen Monstera grow to their most specular with the largest number of Swiss cheese-like leaves!
3. Why are My Monstera Leaves Turning Brown and Yellow?
- Symptoms. Leaves wilting, turning brown and yellow with a dying appearance.
- Causes. Overwatering, slow-draining soils, or cold temperatures, some leaves turn yellow and brown as the plant grows.
From experience, most often, the reason for a monstera leaf turning yellow and then brown is simply just. apart of the monstera’s life cycle, and I can assure you it is nothing to worry about. Wait for the leaf to turn brown and crispy before you trim it back with pruners.
However, if the monstera leaves are turning brown and yellow simultaneously, then this is because the temperature is too cold and the soil is too damp.
It is important that your Monstera is growing in well-draining soil and that you let the top inch of the soil dry slightly between each bout of watering.
If the soil is consistently boggy and does not dry at all, then this can exclude oxygen from the soil, which prevents root respiration.
If the roots cannot respire then they cannot uptake nutrients and moisture properly. Without moisture and nutrients being drawn up, the leaves start to turn yellow and brown.
If the roots are in damp soil for too long, then this is likely to result in root rot which is one of the most common causes of a dying monstera.
I should highlight boggy soil may not only be due to overwatering but also due to:
- Slow-draining or compacted soils.
- Excess water pooling around the pot’s base in saucers, trays, or decorative outer pots.
As monstera is adapted to growing in warm tropical climates, it does not typically tolerate cold temperatures very well.
Cold temperatures can also reduce the rate at which the soil dries out, promoting the conditions that cause the monstera’s leaves to turn brown and yellow.
- I always allow the top inch of the potting soil to dry between each bout of watering. This cycle of watering creates the optimal cycle of soil moisture that Monstera prefers, providing enough moisture to meet its requirements whilst mitigating the risk of root rot.
- Always empty any saucers, trays, and decorative outer pots of excess water after watering. Good drainage is critical for reviving the monstera.
- If it is Spring, then I recommend repotting the monstera (if the soil appears to be slow draining). Compacted soil is not very porous, which can cause it to retain too much moisture for the monstera to tolerate.
- My preferred potting medium for monstera is 75% regular potting soil, and 25% horticultural grit or perlite creates the porous, well-draining soil structure that the monstera needs to thrive. I would only recommend this step if it is Spring, as this is the best time of year for repotting because the plant is at its most resilient and, therefore, can cope better with the stress of repotting. If it is not Spring, then wait until the following Spring, as repotting the monstera whilst the leaves are yellow and brown and under stress is likely to cause the plant to die back.
- Always maintain a temperature range of 60°F to 85°F (15°C and 30°C) and avoid temperatures cooler than 50°F (10°C). Window sills can often be a bit cold and draughty, especially in the Winter. If your monstera is on a window sill, then avoid any leaves being in contact with the cold surface of the window, as this is often significantly colder than the air temperature of the room.
With a good water schedule, well-draining soil, and the optimal temperature range, the monstera can possibly revive.
I would avoid pruning the leaves until you can see new growth in Spring, which should indicate the plant is recovering. When new growth is evident, then I advise you to cut back any unsightly brown and yellow leaves.
However, if it has been exposed to the cold or overwatered significantly, then it is unlikely to recover.
4. Brown Spots on Monstera Leaves
If you notice brown spots on your monstera leaves, then this is likely oedemas or bacterial leaf spot both of which can be caused by overwatering or, in the bacterial leaf spot’s case, it can be infected by other plants or even from unsterilized tools that have perhaps been used on infected plants in the garden and then are passed to the monstera if you have been pruning it back.
The first step to resolving brown spots on your monstera leaves (whether it is edema or bacterial leaf spot) is to water your monstera optimally by waiting until the first inch of the potting has dried before watering again.
Read the steps above pertaining to saving a yellow/brown monstera regarding how to create the optimal drainage conditions to prevent the soil from being too damp for the monstera to tolerate, as the same information applies here.
To resolve the bacterial leaf spot, it is important to use sterilized pruning tools whenever you pruner your monstera. I always wipe my pruner blades with a cloth soaked in hand gel, which does a great job.
To save the leaves, mix approximately a teaspoon of baking soda in around 1 liter of water (1 quart) and add some liquid soap to the mixture, which acts as a mild adhesive so that the formula can stick to the leaves slightly, to more effectively treat the bacterial leaf spots.
Mix this formula into a spray bottle and spray all the leaves of your monstera.
Shake the bottle thoroughly to ensure the mixture is properly suspended in the water. Leave the plant for 2 weeks and then spray the leaves again.
Repeat this process until you start to see some improvement in the leaves.
Do not use baking soda at a higher concentration of 1 teaspoon or more often than once per week, as this can also have an adverse effect on your monstera.
Another good method is to use something called neem oil, which has antibacterial properties and is available from garden centers and online.
Top tip: I have actually seen better results from using neem oil when treating bacterial leaf spot compared with baking soda, but I find neem oil is more difficult to source, whereas you may have baking soda at home already.
The benefit of neem oil is that you can use it as often as you like, and there is no risk of overuse, unlike baking soda.
Mix 2 teaspoons of neem oil in 1 liter (1 quart) and add some soap to help the formula stick to the leaves for a more effective treatment which is why I love it.
I spray the leaves as often as twice a week with the neem oil formula (all the leaves and make sure they are thoroughly covered in the formula) until the problem goes away, then when it has gone, keep spraying the leaves once a week to ensure the leaf spot does not return again.
5. Why is my Monstera Stem Turning Brown? (or Yellow and Black)
- Symptoms. Stems can turn brown but remain firm (these are actually ariel roots), or they can turn brown, yellow, or black and soft.
- Causes. The natural growth of ariel roots or stem rot due to overwatering and cold temperatures.
There are 2 reasons for monstera stems to turn brown they are completely healthy and a natural part of the plant’s life cycle.
- The discarded sheath of an emerging new leaf is brown, crispy, and papery.
- The ariel roots harden and turn brown as they look to anchor themselves to a support structure.
Monstera are actually climbing vines, and once they reach a certain size, they require a moss or bamboo pole (wrapped in coconut coir) in the pot to simulate a tree in their natural environment. Without the support after a certain size, the monstera plant is likely to droop over due to its own weight.
To secure itself to the support, the monstera grows ariel roots, which primarily function as an anchor rather than a means of drawing up nutrients.
These ariel roots grow from the main vine and turn brown over time. This is nothing to be concerned about, and your monstera is actually investing energy into growth, which means it is most likely healthy.
Another example of the stem turning brown innocuously is when new leaves emerge, there can often be a discarded protective sheath that turns brown, dry, and crispy when the new leaf grows.
The protective sheath is initially green and is there to protect the new tender developing growth, but once the leaf is a certain size, the sheath is no longer needed, which is when it turns brown and dies back, which is completely natural, and your monstera is still likely healthy due to the fact it is investing energy in growing new leaves.
If the monstera’s stems are turning brown, yellow, or black with a more rotten appearance and texture, then this is likely an indication of stem rot.
Stem rot is more prevalent in Winter as it is often a result of cold temperatures and overwatering.
Monstera plants are often dormant over Winter in response to fewer hours of light and cooler temperatures. This means their demand for water reduces significantly which can increase the risk of root rot and stem rot.
To save a monstera with stem rot, it is important to address the environmental conditions that caused the problem in the first place by locating your monstera in a warmer room in the house (ideally above 60°F (25°C) at night) and avoid any cold, draughty locations such as window sills or areas near open doors or windows.
In terms of watering, I personally only water my monstera once a month in Winter. Before watering, I pick up the pot to assess the weight, which is a good way of estimating whether the soil is still moist (and therefore heavier) or whether the soil is dryer (and therefore much lighter).
I would also recommend checking the soil is dry to an inch depth by feeling the soil with your finger to detect moisture or with a moisture meter.
Once the environmental problems have been addressed then the monstera’s condition should improve, However, if the stem rot spreads then I would recommend taking leaf cuttings for propagation as this may be the only way to revive the plant.
Watch this YouTube video for how to propagate monstera from leaf cuttings.
(Read my article, how to revive a dying monstera plant).
- The reason for monstera leaves turning brown is usually because of low humidity. Monstera are native to warm, humid environments and do not tolerate dry air. If the humidity is too low, the leaves turn brown at the tips and edges and often curl up.
- Monstera leaves develop brown patches if they are exposed to too much direct sunlight. Monstera plants are adapted to growing in the shade of a jungle canopy, and their sensitive leaves scorch brown due to too much sun.
- Monstera leaves turn brown and yellow due to overwatering, slow-draining soils, and cold temperatures. Monstera needs the first inch of soil to dry between bouts of watering and prefers warm temperatures. In temperatures lower than 60°F, the leaves turn yellow and brown with a dying appearance.
- Brown spots on monstera leaves are either a result of oedemas or bacterial leaf spots, usually due to overwatering and slow-draining soils. Bacterial leaf spot can be transferred from other plants or garden tools and infect your monstera’s leaves.
- Monstera stems can turn brown and rotten in appearance and texture due to stem rot from overwatering. Ariel roots that emerge from the monstera’s vines can also appear brown and are used to anchor the plant as it climbs a tree, moss pole, or similar structure.
- To save your monstera with brown leaves, recreate the conditions of its natural habitat by increasing the humidity by misting the leaves, reducing watering so that the top inch of soil dries before watering again, and trimming back any brown leaves back with a sharp pair of pruners.