Problems with Philodendron | Yellowing, reverting & more

The genus Philodendron contains a bunch of very popular houseplants, and it doesn’t look like this is about to change any time soon. In fact, with plenty of new cultivars being produced (‘Rojo Congo’, ‘Prince of Orange’, ‘Pink Princess’, ‘Birkin’), it looks like this plant is sure to maintain its top spot!

Although Philodendron care is not too challenging and the species can be grown by beginners, there’s always a chance you’ll run into problems. Let’s discuss a few of the most common issues with Philodendron to help get your plant back on track.

Although there are many different Philodendron cultivars and species, these tips roughly apply to all of them. If we’re discussing an issue specific to one type of Philodendron, I’ll make that clear.

Philodendron ‘Birkin’ or ‘Pink Princess’ reverting

Problem: Philodendron losing variegation
Causes: Light, spontaneous

Reverting, also known as losing variegation, is an issue that can pop up with variegated and multicolored cultivars like Philodendron ‘Birkin’ and Philodendron ‘Pink Princess’.

There can be different reasons for this happening, and luckily, usually it’s just a tweak to get your plant back on track for beautiful coloration.

  • Philodendron ‘Birkin’ or ‘Pink Princess’ losing variegation due to lack of light: Yep, these guys do like things bright. If the new leaves on your plant are coming out green(er), the first thing you should do is check whether it’s close enough to a window. It should be able to see the sky from where it’s placed!
  • Philodendron ‘Birkin’ or ‘Pink Princess’ losing variegation spontaneously: Unfortunately, this is something that can happen. Cultivars like this one aren’t always 100% stable. If the non-variegated leaves keep coming and/or bother you, you can always cut at the last variegated leaf. New variegated foliage might pop up.
  • Philodendron ‘Birkin’ or ‘Pink Princess’ changing color: Unless it’s turning brown or yellow, then this is also nothing to worry about. A ‘Birkin’, for example, can produce half-variegated, half-normal (green or brownish red) leaves, (almost) fully cream leaves, partly pink foliage or even differently shaped ones. Cut them away if it bothers you or sit back and enjoy the ride!
Philodendron 'Birkin' houseplant in a hanging planter.
Philodendron ‘Birkin’ (top) might lose its leaf variegation if you don’t take care to provide enough light. Worry not: switch it to a higher light spot and new leaves will come out better.

Philodendron leaves curling

Problem: Leaves curling inward or outward
Causes: Cold, lack of humidity

A certain degree of leaf curl seems to be normal for some Philodendron cultivars, like ‘Birkin’. If it seems excessive, though, you might want to ask yourself if something is off. Could your Philodendron be cold? This can happen next to a single-paned or drafty window. It might also pop up if you use an air-con unit.

Another common reason for Philodendron leaf curl is lack of humidity. They are tropicals, after all! An overly dry home hurts you as well (sinus issues, etc.), so you could check where you’re at using a humidity meter.

Too little water can contribute to the issue, but overwatering tends to be more common than underwatering with houseplants.

Leaves of Philodendron houseplant | Problems with Philodendron

Yellow leaves on Philodendron

Problem: Yellowing at a worrying rate
Causes: Overwatering, sunburn, bugs, lack of fertilizer

If your Philodendron has a yellowing leaf or two at the bottom, this is not always a reason for worry. As long as it’s growing well at the top and the yellowing isn’t happening at an overly rapid rate, it’s likely just the normal leaf replacement process.

Seeing a disturbing amount of yellowing? Or are newer leaves turning yellow? The most common cause is overwatering, which can damage the roots and in turn the leaves. Head to the section on root rot below for more about that.

Other common causes of yellowing leaves on Philodendron include:

  • Too much direct sun without proper acclimation. The leaves can burn if they’re suddenly exposed to strong sunlight.
  • Bugs. Be sure to check the underside of the leaves for unwelcome visitors.
  • Nutrient deficiency. Has it been a while since you repotted your Philodendron or given it a dash of fertilizer? If it’s actively growing, it might need a little extra.
Yellowing and browning large leaves of Philodendron, a popular houseplant.

Philodendron root rot

Problem: Roots are rotting
Causes: Overwatering, bad drainage, lack of light

Are your Philodendron’s leaves yellowing, blackening, drooping? Is your plant just looking miserable? You might be dealing with root rot, which is a serious issue generally caused by overwatering a plant. If the soil has been waterlogged recently and/or there’s an odor, it’s probably time for action.

If you suspect your Philodendron may be suffering from root rot, you’ll have to uproot it in order to try to save it. Most cases don’t go away on their own and can eventually lead to the entire plant dying off when the rot spreads up the stem, turning everything soft and squishy and gross.

Here’s what to do:

  • Take your Philodendron out of its planter and look for roots that look snotty or soft, brownish or black and smell bad. This might include the bottom of the stem if the issue is further along.
  • Cut off any and all affected tissue. If this means removing all the roots, so be it. Your plant will regrow. It’s better to take off too much than too little, seriously.
  • You can dip the roots in a mix of 1/3 3% hydrogen peroxide and 2/3 water and let them dry. Studies, like one by Ali (2018), suggest hydrogen peroxide is helpful in killing off the fungi and pathogens that cause root rot.

    Some plant enthusiasts also swear by cinnamon or cinnamon oil, and there is some scientific indication that this can be useful (Ma et al., 2019; Al-Askar & Rashad, 2010).
  • Repot your Philodendron into dry soil, using a planter with a drainage hole. Don’t forget to go over the species’ care guidelines to prevent this from happening again.

    Proper lighting, good drainage and knowing when to water, rather than doing so on a schedule, are great allies in the prevention of root rot issues in the future.

Did you know? Overwatering isn’t always just ‘adding too much water’. It can also be due to soil not draining properly, lack of a drainage hole in the planter, not enough light (and therefore lower water needs), a planter that’s too large and combinations of these.

Two leaves of Philodendron hederaceum houseplant among dead foliage.
My own Philodendron hederaceum suffered a little “incident” and was forgotten by a plant sitter. Amazingly, it’s not dead! Don’t discount a sad plant too quickly, it might still have life inside.

Philodendron brown tips

Problem: Leaves develop brown tips
Causes: Low humidity, fertilizer issues, thirst, sunburn

It’s pretty annoying when your Philodendron seems to be doing more or less OK, but brown tips keep appearing on the leaves. It’s worrisome and doesn’t help your plant’s appearance.

Unfortunately, leaves that already have brown tips won’t recover. If you can figure out what’s causing the brown tips, though, you can prevent new leaves from being affected from here on out.

The main causes of brown tips on Philodendron are:

  • Lack of humidity. These are jungle plants that don’t like overly dry homes.
  • Fertilizer toxicity. Is it possible you’ve overdone it with the fertilizer? Flush with distilled water to remove the excess nutrients.
  • Tap water. If your tap water is low in quality, you may want to switch to bottled or regularly flush with distilled water.
  • Lack of water. If you tend to regularly leave your plant to dry out just a bit too much, brown tips can start appearing.
  • Sunburn. If you just moved your Philodendron to a much sunnier spot, you may not have acclimated it slowly enough.
Close-up of Philodendron houseplant leave with brown and yellowing edges.

Philodendron not growing

Problem: No new growth
Causes: New plant, winter dormancy, lack of light

If you excitedly bought a Philodendron, it can be pretty disappointing if your plant just kind of… sits there. Why aren’t there any new leaves?! Or why are new leaves coming out small, or spaced very far apart, making for an ugly-looking plant?

Luckily, this one is not too difficult to solve. First off, remember that plants need a while to recover from any sort of shock, like from shipping or repotting. Newly propagated cuttings may be hard at work on their roots rather than their leaves. Additionally, our houseplants tend to go inactive during the winter months.

If your plant hasn’t been through any shocks lately and it’s not the dead of winter, check your light levels. Houseplants need more light than people tend to think! If your Philodendron is not directly on a windowsill, you may want to download a light meter app and check if it’s getting at least around 400 foot-candles.

Philodendron squamiferum houseplant in the sun.
Yes, houseplant bloggers do it too. My Philodendron squamiferum was upset with me for not providing enough light, resulting in very small leaves growing quite far apart. Now that I’ve moved it, we’re back in business with gorgeous foliage.

Bugs & pests on Philodendron

Problem: Infestation
Causes: Mealybugs, thrips, spider mites & more

What do yellowing, brown spots, drooping, and curling on a Philodendron have in common? One of the main suspects for all of them are pests. Unfortunately, all sorts of unwanted guests can reside on our plants, and some spell very bad news.

Regularly check the underside of your Philodendron’s leaves for bugs like mealybugs, aphids, thrips, spider mites and scale, especially if the plant isn’t looking its best. Fungus gnats can pop up in the soil, especially if it’s kept too wet.

If you do encounter suspicious activity, there are a few different things you can try. Some have success with household solutions like water + neem oil or water + dish soap. There are also various pesticides available, both natural and not, and you can even employ predator bugs against some pests if you have a large plant collection.


If you have any more questions about Philodendron reverting, brown tips, root rot or yellow leaves on Philodendron (as well as any other issues), feel free to leave a comment below! Also, feel free to share your own experiences with this amazing houseplant genus. 🌿

Sources

Al-Askar, A. A., & Rashad, Y. M. (2010). Efficacy of some plant extracts against Rhizoctonia solani on pea. Journal of Plant Protection Research.

Ali, A. A. M. (2018). Role of hydrogen peroxide in management of root rot and wilt disease of thyme plant. Journal of Phytopathology and Pest Management, 1-13.

Ma, Y. N., Chen, C. J., Li, Q., Wang, W., Xu, F. R., Cheng, Y. X., & Dong, X. (2019). Fungicidal activity of essential oils from Cinnamomum cassia against the Pathogenic Fungi of Panax notoginseng Diseases. Chemistry & biodiversity16(11), e1900416.

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