Brown Tips on Houseplants Leaves – A Reason Why!

While running some errands recently, I notice a Chlorophytum – “spider plant” in a hanging basket.

From a distance it looked great. Lots of foliage and “pups” hanging down. Looking at it closer I noticed a lot of brown tips on leaves.

Why Brown Tips on Plant Leaves?

Growers don’t seem to have the same problem with brown leaf tips while growing the plants.

What is different from the growing end and moving indoors?

Yes, the plant does move inside and there is some stress from reduced lighting (using addition indoor lighting helps) and the plant acclimating. But, one answer may not seem quite so obvious.

What is it? – Water

Water is water – right?

Not so fast. Let’s take a quick look at the differences in the water a grower uses and the water most people use on their plants at home.

Growers Water

Most growers (producing indoor houseplants) have wells with electric or diesel pumps. The pumps draw water directly from the ground.

Unlike the water that is found in most cities, this water hasn’t been treated by the local water treatment plant.

Some growers are beginning to collect and “clean” water before using it on their plants.

I didn’t say add chemicals but clean the water. They are doing this through REVERSE OSMOSIS. Water is pumped through a screen that is fine enough to allow water molecules to pass, but stops dissolved solids, such as salts (fertilizer) and other chemicals.

This “clean” water helps growers produce plants that have less problems with disease and they have cleaner foliage.

Homeowner or City Water

Tap water or city water is different. The water that comes out of your kitchen faucet has most likely been treated.

Years ago cities began to add chlorine and fluoride to the water supply. Fluoride may be fine for your teeth but many indoor plants are not fond of it.

Lynn Griffith from A & L Labs states:

“Fluoridated city water usually has 1 ppm (parts per million) of fluoride, four times the amount considered safe for sensitive plants.”

His book is a MUST HAVE and MUST READ for any commercial grower of plants.

Don’t get the idea that if you water your plants with water from the kitchen they are going to die. What does this have to do with brown tips on your plants anyway?

Over time some of these minor chemicals such as boron and fluoride build up in the leaves.

This build up shows itself in the form of brown leaves on plants pr tip burn on dracaenas, and spider plants. Spathiphyllums – the Peace Lily plant show distorted leaves with high boron.

There are other reasons for tip burn:

  • Plant Pests
  • Too much fertilizer
  • Too much water
  • Not enough water
  • Chemical burn

Using good water on your plants is a great way to start.

How can You Get Good Water?

The easiest way to help yourself get “good” or “better” water for your plants, is by filling up a container with water from the sink, and let it sit overnight. This will allow at least the chlorine to dissipate.

Professional plantscapers must deal with using and moving water around all the time. Some of them have no problems and others it’s a battle.

If you face browning tips on your plants, try setting out some water the night before you water.

Helping to stop the possible headache of brown tips caused by chlorine and fluoride is just one more way for you to enjoy your plants more.


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

RJS June 28, 2010 at 9:36 pm

In my area I found that city water filtered at the sink mixed 50/50 with bottled water ( RO) is what makes my house plants flourish. I have so many trial and error seems to be the best teacher.

willcreed January 17, 2012 at 8:55 pm

Your article discusses the potential problems of fluoridated water but not chlorinated water. At the end you mention letting water stand to dissipate the chlorine. That may help the chorine problem, which was not discussed, but doesn’t address the fluoride problem because fluoride does not dissipate in the open air. I think this leads to confusion on the part of the lay person.

As a 25 year veteran of caring for 1000 plants per week in NYC, I have never observed a tipping problem that I can attribute to either chlorine or fluoride even though I use fluoridated/chlorinated NYC water exclusively.

Chlorine and fluoride may be issues for nursery growers, but I think this issue is overstated for the layperson. Leaf tipping is much more commonly caused by inadequate light, improper watering and excess fertilizing. This is where people need to focus. Fluoride/chlorine is a distraction from the more comon causes.

Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC