Why is My Philodendron Plant Dying? (How to Save it)


How to water philodendrons

One of my first houseplants was a split leaf philodendron, which is alive to this day 15 years later, so I have lots of first hand experience looking after these beauties!

I have encountered lots of the problems that I cover in this article and have helped revive some of my friend’s philodendrons, too, so I’ve developed methods for diagnosing the problem and solving it!

In this article, I’ll share with you all the secrets and tips that I learned from my own experience, my research, and countless hours of reading books on all my favorite houseplants!

Most often, I find the reason for philodendron dying is because of too much water around the root ball due to overwatering and a lack of good drainage. Philodendrons require evenly moist soil to grow. In boggy or saturated soil, philodendrons develop root rot, with leaves turning yellow, drooping, and dying back.

If your philodendron leaves are turning brown and drooping, then I have identified this is due to under-watering, low humidity, and too much sun and can die back in temperatures lower than 50°F (10°C).

To save a dying philodendron, we need to emulate some of the growing conditions of its native environment in our homes, with evenly moist soil (but not saturated), regular mist spraying to increase humidity, and locating your philodendron in an area with bright, indirect light and relatively warm temperatures.

Keep reading for all my tips to save your plant…

Why are My Philodendron Leaves Turning Yellow and Drooping?

  • Symptoms. Leaves of the philodendron turn yellow and droop downwards with an overall dying appearance.
  • Causes. Overwatering is the most common cause of leaves turning yellow and drooping. Underwatering can also cause the leaves to turn yellow, often with brown leaf margins.

This is a problem I have encountered myself!

From my research, discovered that by far the most common cause of philodendron leaves turning yellow is due to too much moisture around the roots which can be caused by overwatering, slow-draining soils, pots without drainage holes in the base, or because the use of saucers, trays, and decorative pots underneath the philodendrons pot which prevents excess water escaping.

To diagnose and save our plants I find it is helpful to know how they grow in the wild (so that we can create these conditions in our homes)…

Philodendrons are tropical plants that are native to hot and humid climates with frequent rainfall, but crucially they always grow in soil that retains moisture but is well draining.

If your philodendron is in soil that is boggy or saturated, then this excludes oxygen from the soil, which prevents root respiration and interferes with the root’s ability to uptake water and nutrients, causing the leaves to turn yellow and droopy.

If the roots have been in saturated soil for too long, they can develop root rot, so it is important we address the issue.

My Tips for Saving Dying Philodendron with Yellow Drooping Leaves

  • Scale back the watering immediately. Philodendrons require evenly moist soil, not damp and boggy. So I’d let the soil drain properly for several days until you feel that the top inch of the soil is dry.
  • Lift the philodendron out of the soil and inspect the root ball. If the roots look dark brown and have a rotten or mushy texture, then this indicates root rot. I would snip off any rotten-looking roots with a pair of sterile pruners back to healthy growth. I wipe the blades with a cloth soaked in disinfectant (I use hand gel) after each cut to prevent spreading fungal disease to otherwise healthy tissue and replant it in a new pot with new potting soil. If the roots are in good condition and have a lighter color, then there is no need to cut back any roots.
  • Ensure that your philodendron is planted in well-draining potting soil. I’ve observed that some potting mixes contain wetting agents that can keep the soil too damp for long periods. If your potting soil drains slowly and feels boggy rather than evenly moist, I replaced my soil with 3 parts regular potting soil and 1 part perlite to help improve drainage and ensure the soil stays porous and aerated with a good structure.
  • Philodendrons should always be planted in pots with drainage holes in their base to allow excess water to escape and prevent water from pooling around the roots.
  • Saucers, trays, and decorative outer pots can prevent excess water from spilling in the home but it can also cause water to pool around the roots causing the philodendron leaves to turn yellow. Empty saucers, trays, and decorative outer pots regularly after watering to allow the soil to drain properly.

My problem was that my potting soil was too compacted when I firmed it too much after repotting. I learned that philodendrons prefer much lighter, treated soil. I experimented with lots of different potting mediums with several philodendrons and concluded that 3 parts potting soil to 1 part perlite was the best as it kept the soil porous and well draining.

If your philodendron has root rot then snipping away diseased root and replanting it in new soil is the only way to save it, however, this is a fairly drastic step and the philodendron could still die back due to shock.

Keep the soil moist (but not saturated) if you have had to replant the philodendron in new soil due to root rot or slow-draining soils as this helps to mitigate any transplant shock.

What I actually prefer to do in this scenario is to propagate my philodendron from any remaining healthy growth, as this is often the only way to save your plant if it has root rot. Here is the video that I follow when I want to propagate my philodendron:

The philodendron should show signs of recovery when new growth emerges, at which point you can cut back any yellow leaves that have died.

When you have the right soil profile, and the philodendron is planted in a pot with drainage holes so that excess water can escape after watering, then philodendrons should be watered as frequently as required to keep the soil moist, which can vary according to climate and conditions in your home but typically watering once every week in Winter and Fall and watering 1 or 2 times per week during active growth in the Spring and Summer keeps the plant healthy.

(For all the best watering practices read my article, how often and how much to water philodendrons).

Bear in mind that philodendron leaves can also turn yellow due to underwatering and low humidity, often with brown leaf margins…

Why is My Philodendron Leaves Turning Brown and Drooping?

  • Symptoms. Leaf margins turn brown, or the entire leaf turn brown. Leaves can also curl or droop.
  • Causes. Underwatering, low humidity, cold temperatures, or too much direct sunlight.

As we discussed, philodendrons are native to tropical climates, where they thrive in relatively high humidity, warm temperatures, frequent rainfall, and often under the canopy of trees with bright, indirect sunlight.

If your philodendron is in a location with lots of direct then the leaves tend to turn brown in patches or have a generally scorched appearance. Too much sun can also dry out moisture from the leaves causing them to shrivel and turn brown due to drought stress.

Our philodendrons typically grow in relatively high humidity in their native range, so if the plant’s leaves are in the direct path of air conditioning, forced air, draughts, or convection currents from sources of heat when indoors then this can sap excess moisture from the leaves quicker, then the roots can uptake water which causes them to turn brown as a sign of stress.

Philodendron grows in soils that are well-draining but evenly moist in their native environment due to the frequent rainfall and high humidity.

If our philodendrons are not watered often enough or watered too lightly then the leaves can droop and turn brown which is symptomatic of drought stress.

Cool temperatures lower than 50°F (10°C) can also cause your philodendron to die back. The optimal temperature for growing philodendron is between 65°F to 85°F (18°C to 30°C).

I had this problem when my philodendron was on my window sill in the Winter. Some of the leaves were in contact with the glass (which was much colder than the ambient temperature of the room), which caused them to turn brown and look droopy.

Step-by-step: How I Save Dying Philodendron With Brown Leaves and a Drooping Appearance

  • Give the philodendron pot a generous soak so that water trickles from the drainage holes in the base. I always do this to ensure that I have watered sufficiently so that the moisture reaches the roots further in the soil. I learned that if you water too lightly, then only the surface of the soil becomes moist, and the roots underneath can suffer drought stress.
  • Water your philodendron as often as is required to keep the soil evenly moist (but not saturated). My method to determine how often to water philodendron, is to give the soil a generous soak then monitor the soil moisture by touch over a week. As soon as the top inch of the soil starts to dry out I give the philodendron a good soak. This creates the optimal balance of moisture so that the plant has access to the water it requires without being too damp and causing root rot.
  • Mist the philodendron once or twice per week. I learned firsthand how important this is. Misting your philodendron helps to create a humid microclimate that effectively mimics the higher levels of humidity of the philodendron’s native environment. If the leaves are turning brown and drooping, keep the philodendron out of the way of draughts and air currents (I had to move mine to my bathroom).
  • Always locate the philodendron in bright, indirect light. Too much sunlight causes the leaves to turn brown in patches with a scorched appearance. These scorched leaves do not recover after being sun burnt, but they do not necessarily kill the philodendron either, as long as you move it from the area of full sun to a more shaded location. I experimented with several locations for my philodendron and found they thrived in my bathroom due to the frosted glass diffusing the light.
  • Trim back any sun burnt brown leaves for aesthetic purposes, however, if the majority of the philodendrons leaves are brown due to sunburn then I would wait till new growth emerges before cutting back too many leaves as cutting back most of the foliage could also cause the plant to die of shock.
  • Ideally, locate the philodendron in an area of the home between 65°F to 85°F (18°C to 30°C) and avoid temperatures lower than 50°F (10°C) whilst the plant is recovering. Avoid locating your philodendron in a draughty area of the house, and ensure that the leaves are not in contact with a cold window, which can cause the plant to die back.

Pro tip: If you do not have a spare space for your philodendron in bright, indirect, then you can do what I did, which was to use a sheer curtain in front of a south-facing window. This has a similar effect as frosted glass in that it diffuses direct sunlight so that it does not burn your philodendron leaves.

My best tip: If you can’t mist your philodendron frequently or, perhaps you live in a really dry climate as I did, then I can recommend buying a humidifier that creates a humid micro-climate around your philodendron to prevent it from turning brown. I find it is especially useful in the Winter to counteract the dry air from indoor heating.

Philodendrons often recover well after a period of drought stress when they are properly watered and should show signs of recovery after 2 or 3 cycles of watering.

Why is My Philodendron not Growing?

  • Symptoms. The philodendron leaves are not growing, and the plant generally appears to be dormant or even dying.
  • Causes. Too shady an area with not enough bright light, a lack of water, pot-bound roots, lack of fertilizer, lack of aeration in the soil around the roots.

We need to remember that whilst our philodendrons are valued for their ability to grow indoors, they prefer bright, indirect light, and in my experience, the growth can slow considerably if they are in a shady location.

My own philodendron that was in too much shade grew smaller, and the stems grew leggy as the plant searches for more light. Once I discovered my mistake, I relocated my philodendron is a brighter area of the home to stimulate more growth.

Pro tip: To be honest, once it grew leggy, there wasn’t much I could do to rejuvenate the appearance apart from propagating it from a cutting of healthy growth. I love propagating as its super easy!

What really worked for me was to always keep the soil moist and the air around the philodendrons leaves relatively humid by misting once or twice per week (or using a humidifier).

Philodendrons can stop growing due to drought stress so it is important to water as frequently as required to keep the potting soil moist (but not saturated) to promote good, healthy foliage growth.

Once my philodendron had been in the same pot for a long time and it out grew the pot and the roots can become pot-bound which can exhaust the availability of nutrients in the soil.

What I had to do to resolve it was to re-pot my philodendron in a larger pot with new soil to improve the condition of your philodendron. Some all-purpose house plant fertilizers can provide the philodendron with the nutrients it requires to stimulate growth.

I recommend that you only feed your philodendron in the Spring and Summer when the plant is actively growing. Typically, feeding philodendron once per month is optimal for growth and a healthy plant.

I also had a problem with my philodendron when the potting soil was too compacted around the root ball, which I learned can exclude oxygen from the soil, which prevents root respiration and interferes with the philodendron’s ability to function properly. This can cause the philodendron to stop growing.

If the soil is too compacted in your pot, then I suggest re-potting your philodendron in 3 parts ordinary potting soil to 1 parts perlite. The perlite helps to improve the porous structure of the potting soil to allow water to drain effectively and increase the aeration in the soil so that the plant can grow properly.

Key Takeaways:

  • The reason for a dying philodendron is over watering, under watering, cold temperatures, or too much sun. Philodendron leaves turn yellow, droop due to saturated soil, and brown because of underwatering or sunburn. Temperatures cooler than 50°F can cause a dying philodendron.
  • Philodendrons are tropical plants that prefer hot and humid environments. Ideally, your philodendron should be located in a room with temperatures between 65°F and 85°F (18°C to 30°C). Mist the leaves once or twice per week to create a humid micro-climate that replicates the conditions of the philodendron’s native environment.
  • Water the philodendron as often as required to keep the soil evenly moist. Add perlite to the potting mix to help improve drainage for the optimal balance of moisture.
  • To save your philodendron locate the plant in bright indirect light, in moist yet well-draining soil, in warm temperatures, and mist the leaves regularly. The plant should show signs of recovery with new growth emerging in the active growing season of Spring and Summer.

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