If you’re the proud owner of a beautiful spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum), it can be pretty disheartening to see your plant’s health seemingly decline. What causes brown tips on a spider plant? And what can you do about it?
Find out everything you need to know about brown tips on spider plants, their causes and solutions.
What causes brown tips on spider plants?
Although browning on houseplants tends to be associated with underwatering, a lot of the time it’s actually caused by the opposite.
Consistent overwatering and soggy soil can lead your spider plant to develop root rot, a serious problem. As the roots die off, the plant becomes unable to take up water and the necessary nutrients to survive. In the early stages, this can present as brown leaf tips.
If you think your spider plant is suffering from root rot, you’ll need to take it out of its container and cut off all afflicted areas. Then, repot into fresh soil, using a planter that has a drainage hole so excess water can flow out.
To make sure this doesn’t happen again, provide plenty of light and water when the top inch or so of your spider plant’s soil has gone dry.
Yours truly, the author of this article, can attest to the fact that underwatering a spider plant causes brown leaf tips. Whoops! I never seem to be able to remember my poor spider.
A spider plant likes its soil ever so lightly moist during the summer months and slightly drier during winter. Letting the soil go completely dry will result in a droopy, sad looking plant. If this happens repeatedly, brown leaf tips and dead foliage can be the result.
Tip: A healthy spider plant in a light location can dry out quicker than you think. These guys are pretty vigorous growers that can develop large, thirsty root systems.
Tap water mineral content
One cause of brown tips in houseplants like spider plants is frequently overlooked by beginners. It’s tap water.
As you might know, some municipalities add fluoride to their tap water to stimulate dental health in its citizens. There are also water supplies that are just naturally high in fluoride. And then there’s the chlorine/chloramine and sometimes very high levels of other dissolved solids.
Many houseplants don’t seem to react much to the presence of these substances in their water but spider plants definitely do. It won’t happen right away, but if you water your spider with water that’s high in total dissolved solids (including fluorides), you might see signs of trouble appearing after a few months.
A tell-tale sign of this issue is when there is a white, crusty looking layer on the soil surface or around the planter. Mineral salts are building up and can start to affect your spider plant!
The fluoride can inhibit photosynthesis and causes those typical unsightly brown tips.
What should you do?
Don’t panic: even if your tap water is high in fluoride and other dissolved solids, you can still use it. You just have to take some extra measures, which are good practice when it comes to houseplant care anyway.
First off, make sure you always have some distilled water handy. You can buy this in many places as CPAP water or ironing water. Rainwater also works. This is because both of these water types have a very low (almost non-existent) level of total dissolved solids, unlike your tap water.
Once every two months or so, thoroughly flush your spider plant’s soil with this water. As it flows out of the drainage hole at the bottom of the planter, it will hopefully take a portion of those damaging mineral salts with it.
Secondly, you might want to repot the more sensitive plants every spring. The fresh soil will be free of salt build-up, basically giving your plant a nice new start every year. This should be helpful in preventing brown tips on spider plants and also on other sensitive species like Calathea.
Tip: Many municipalities provide information about the make-up of their water supply. Try looking it up online or even sending in a sample of your water for testing purposes.
If you’re seeing brown tips on your spider plant, it can be tempting to apply some extra fertilizer. After all, it can look like the plant is lacking some kind of nutrient.
Just be sure not to overdo it when it comes to fertilizer, as an overdose of plant food can actually be a cause of brown leaf tips on spider plants. It’s called fertilizer burn and primarily affects the roots, which will begin to have trouble taking up water.
Fertilizer burn often presents in the form of brown leaf tips in the initial stages as your spider plant starts to become thirsty and (somewhat ironically) nutrient-starved.
The solution is simple: flushing the soil. As explained above in the section on mineral build-up, flushing with distilled or rain water can help leach out excess nutrients. If you feel you need a more drastic solution, you can also repot your spider plant into fresh soil.
To prevent the issue from returning, keep in mind that a houseplant only needs to be fertilized when it’s actively growing (late spring through early fall).
You can use a general houseplant fertilizer at half the recommended strength every few months. Spider plants really don’t need much!
Tip: Check whether your potting mix includes fertilizer. Many mixes do, which means you likely won’t even need to use any fertilizer at all during the first few months after repotting. You can also opt for a more natural fertilization method, like watering with pond- or aquarium water.
Spider plants are generally not too demanding when it comes to their environment. This applies to humidity as well: you won’t have to imitate a rainforest to be able to grow this houseplant.
This being said, even a spider plant will start to struggle if the air is very dry. The same goes for humans, by the way, so if your houseplants appear to be gasping for moisture then your body might be as well.
A simple humidity meter can be very helpful in keeping an eye on things. This especially applies during the winter months, when our homes are often dryer. For humans, during winter, you’re aiming for a humidity of around 30-40% (during summer, around 50% is great). Your spider plant will really appreciate at least 40%.
In reality, in many homes during winter, humidity can drop below 30%. So what can you do to prevent brown tips on your spider plant and nosebleeds/sinus problems affecting your own body?
- Have houseplants. So really, you’re on the right track! They help stabilize and provide humidity.
- Use a humidity tray. A simple one can consists of a dish with a layer of pebbles and some water, which will provide humidity as it evaporates.
- Using a humidifier. They can be very helpful.
Spider plants are naturally found in Africa, where they grow in forested habitats as part of the undergrowth. This means that naturally, they would be shielded from direct sun.
A spider plant placed in an overly sunny spot, especially if it’s moved suddenly, can start developing brown tips. In part, this will be due to the plant’s thin leaves burning; the fact that the soil will dry out much quicker doesn’t help either.
This species is better suited to a location that gets bright but indirect light, and if you do want to move it to a higher light position then make sure to acclimate it slowly.
Tip: Remember that even if you fix the problem that’s causing the brown tips on your spider plant, its affected leaves will not recover. You can cut off the unsightly brown tips if you want, but other than that, all you can do is wait for new, healthy foliage to replace the affected leaves.
General spider plant care
All of the possible problems listed above can make it seem like the spider plant is a challenging plant to grow. Don’t worry, it’s really not! It’s actually one of the easiest houseplants out there. Despite its tendency to develop brown tips when something is wrong, it’s a great option for beginners.
The most important thing for any houseplant is to provide a stable environment that provides a good balance between water and light.
Here are some general spider plant care tips:
- Water: The species likes their soil ever so lightly moist, so don’t let it dry out entirely.
- Light: As it’s naturally part of undergrowth vegetation, a spider plant will like bright but indirect light.
- Soil: Normal houseplant potting soil should actually work just fine, although mixing in a handful of perlite does really help with drainage. Be sure to use a planter with drainage holes.
- Propagation: There are few houseplants that are as easy to multiply as the spider plant! Check out the full spider plant propagation guide.
- Pet safety: Spider plants are safe to grow if you have pets in the home. Cats actually seem to have a particular liking for them, possibly due to hallucinogenic effects similar to catnip. Read more in the article on spider plant for cats.
Tip: If you’d still like to know more about keeping your spider plant happy and healthy, don’t forget to check out the full spider plant care guide.
If you have any more questions about brown tips on spider plants or if you want to share your own experiences with this super easy houseplant, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below! 🌱