Why Indoor Plants Turn Yellow and What to Do about It


Yellow Peace Lily Leaves Fallen on the Floor

You love marveling at your indoor plants, until one day you notice they’ve turned yellow. They definitely weren’t like that before, which has you concerned. You keep your plants indoors, so what could have made them yellow? What can you do to fix it? We did some exploring to bring you the answer.

Why do indoor plants turn yellow? Indoor plants may be yellow for the following reasons:

  • Moisture stress
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Stuck in a pot that’s too small
  • Temperature extremes
  • Pest invasion
  • Lack of light

To treat yellowing plants, consider modifying your watering schedule, fertilizing as needed, adjusting temperatures so they’re more comfortable for the plant, and providing adequate light.

In this article, will explore the above issues in more depth as well as provide solutions for each one. By the time you finish reading, you should have no problems pinpointing why your plant has turned yellow and remedying it.

Causes and Solutions for Yellowing Indoor Plants

When plant leaves turn yellow, they rarely look the same in every instance. Depending on what’s causing the issue, the leaves might be very bright yellow or just a bit tinged. In some cases, you may even notice the yellow appears, disappears, and then reappears again. This color change may be accompanied by deformities or curling leaves that fall off the plant.

As we said in the intro, you can treat most plant yellowing issues, as scary as they can look. Let’s talk about how to get to the bottom of your yellow indoor plant problems now.

Problem: Moisture stress

We recently introduced the concept of moisture stress on this blog, but let’s talk about it again. When you water your plant too little (underwatering) or too much (overwatering), you hurt it. Namely, you affect the cells in the plant.

An underwatered plant is one that’s starving for water. If you touch the soil, you’ll feel it’s bone dry. The leaves may turn yellow, droop, and look and feel crispy. The leaves could curl as well, normally in the direction of the plant.

If you’ve put your plant somewhere in the house where you’ve forgotten about it, then you might come back to it and find it in such an underwatered state.

Just as you can water your plant too little, you can also water it too much. It becomes tempting to overwater because you see your indoor plant so often.

An overwatered plant will also look yellow, often a bright hue. Sometimes it’s yellow in parts and green in others. The leaves will again fall off the plant, and in some cases, you can see the stems on some of the leaves are black. Fungus gnats may linger around the plant, and the leaves and soil can also develop mold. It’s a mess.

Solution: Adjust your watering schedule

Instead of watering on a particular day, check the state of the soil before dousing your plant with water. If the soil feels damp or moist, then you shouldn’t add more water, as this would be considered overwatering. Only when the soil is dry (and not bone dry, just drier than moist), it’s time for some water.

Problem: Nutrient deficiency

Sadly, your indoor plant may have nutrient deficiencies if you don’t fertilize it enough.

Through fertilization, you can give your plant nutrients like zinc, molybdenum, manganese, iron, copper, and boron. Plants also require a slew of macronutrients, among them magnesium, sulfur, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and nitrogen. These keep your plant growing strong and healthy.

When your plant lacks nutrients, the leaves may look yellow at times and greener at others. To confirm a nutrient deficiency, look for leaf deformities as well as small insects. Both are symptoms that your plant is desperate for more nutrients.

Solution: Fertilize more, but not too much

If you’re not fertilizing your plant already, it’s high time you start. Make sure your fertilizer has boron and calcium in the formula. Once your plant has recovered, get into a habit of monthly fertilization. That should be enough.

Problem: The roots can’t grow anymore

Plants can become potbound with time. What does this mean? It’s what happens when your plant’s roots grow to the point where they’re too big for the pot. They have nowhere to go but out, and the roots might poke out of the drainage holes if they can get there.

These plants retain their leaves and only look a little yellow, but don’t let that fool you. Your indoor plant is not in optimal health.

Solution: Repot

Plants can’t stay in the same pot their whole lives. Roughly every year, sometimes every nine months, you want to consider upgrading your plant to a pot that fits it better. To recap this post on our blog, calculate the size of your new pot by taking your plant’s diameter and increasing that by two to four inches.

Beware of pots that are too big, as they tend to have stability issues. Plus, it takes longer for the soil to become dry, which can set you up for overwatering.

Problem: The indoor temperatures are too much for your plant

By growing your plant inside, you should avoid temperature extremes, or so you’d think. However, if you positioned your plant by an air conditioning unit, the radiator, or something similar, the excess temps can harm your plant. Even putting your plant on a sill by a drafty window isn’t a good idea, as all the outdoor air comes right in.

You can tell your plant is affected by the temperatures if the entire plant goes yellow. This shade of yellow is often almost white.

Solution: Control temperatures better and/or fertilize

Move your plant to a part of the home where the temperatures don’t fluctuate quite as wildly. Patch up a drafty window as well. Not only will it make a world of difference to your plant, but you can save money on your energy bill, too.

If the plant yellowing persists, you might treat your plant to an early fertilizing session.

Problem: Pests have invaded the plant

There are two reasons you might have little insects in your home lingering around your plants. The first is the abovementioned nutrient deficiency, a serious issue for your plant. The second reason is that you’ve overwatered the plant for quite a while.

Solution: Use a natural remedy for shooing pests

By treating one or both root causes of pests as described above, the tiny bugs should disappear on their own. If you by chance haven’t overwatered your plant and it doesn’t have a nutrient deficiency, then try one of these natural remedies for getting rid of small pests:

  • Alcohol spray made from water and isopropyl alcohol
  • Herbal water spray with lavender, rue, mint, rosemary, basil, thyme, sage, and other essential oils
  • Pepper spray made from water, dish soap, and red pepper (you can also use paprika, ginger, dill, chili pepper, or black pepper)
  • Garlic cloves
  • Pyrethrum spray with dish soap, water, and died chrysanthemums
  • Neem oil spray
  • Water and dish soap

Problem: Your plant doesn’t get enough light

Plants must photosynthesize, or transfer energy for use. They need light to do this, ideally from the sun, but they will photosynthesize even when light conditions aren’t exactly ideal, like in a dark room. That said, the less light a plant has, the better the chances it will turn yellow.

Solution: Move it to a brighter area or use grow lights

Brighter lights allow for more efficient photosynthesis, promoting a healthy, green plant. Keep your plant in a sunny area if that’s what it requires. If you can’t provide any natural light to your plants, then a grow light works almost as well.

Will Yellow Plants Die?

When a plant turns yellow, it’s a sign something’s wrong. The plant can’t talk, so it shows you in other ways, such as changing color. If you can catch the problem fast enough, then most of the time the plant’s leaves should become green once more. Nutrient deficiencies and moisture stress are more serious issues in which your plant’s survival isn’t as certain, but with attention and care, your plant could overcome these.

Related Questions

My indoor plant’s leaves are brown now. What does this mean?

If the leaves of your indoor plant went from yellow to green and now brown, you may be guilty of shallow watering. This is especially likely if only the tips of the leaves are brown. With shallow watering, only the top surface of the soil gets the water, so it can’t travel to the roots.

You want to ensure you water your plant well enough that the soil is moistened but not soaking through. If water comes out of the drainage holes, that’s okay, but standing water is not. Also, check your humidity, as too little can make a plant brown.

Should you mist a plant’s leaves?

Misting your indoor plants is one way to bump up the humidity. It also keeps the leaves moist so they lose water at a slower rate.

If you do get into the habit of misting, you can do so at either a downward or upward angle (from below or above). A lower angle moistens the soil. This moisture may reach the roots. By misting at a higher angle, you can boost your plant’s humidity. However, experts agree that it’s better to change your humidity settings at home rather than mist for humidity, because you’d have to do it very frequently for it to be effective for your plant.

Fred Zimmer

I'm a lover of plants, animals, photography, & people, not necessarily in that order. Currently, I'm focused on photographing indoor plants & chachkies. I write & rewrite articles about creating an environment where indoor plants can thrive. I'm good at listening to music but bad at shopping to muzak.

Recent Content