University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
WHY HOUSEPLANTS DROP LEAVES
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
University of Vermont
Houseplants drop leaves for
many reasons, but most are related to improper care or poor growing
Often just giving plants the correct light and temperature, or
pests, is all that is needed to prevent future leaf drop.
too much or too little watering may cause leaf drop. A common
problem is that
when you see leaves droop or even fall off, you may be tempted to
plant is thirsty and needs more water.
This could lead to overwatering and even more leaves dropping. Make
sure when watering, especially in
northern climates in winter, to use lukewarm water. Icy cold water
can chill the soil and injure
roots of tropical plants, leading to root rots, leaves dropping, and
even dead plants.
low humidity will cause sensitive plants, such as gardenia, to drop
although most common houseplants will not show leaf drop in response
or rather lack of sufficient nutrients, can lead to leaf drop. With
this, usually you will notice leaves
lighter in color first, so you have a chance to correct this before
totally turn yellow and drop. Use a
houseplant fertilizer, according to label directions, particularly
are growing or flowering.
in pots that are too small may drop leaves. Why? Because there may
enough root room to support all the leaves the plant tries to form,
oldest leaves drop off. Because the space for the roots is
plant may not be able to absorb enough water and nutrients.
leaf drop occurs when plants are subjected to a big change in
environment. Such changes occur when plants grown outside for the
are brought inside for the winter. Greenhouse-grown plants may drop
placed in dimly lit house conditions, when they’ve been grown in
high light. Some
plants just may require higher light to grow and keep all their
drop brought on by a change in environment should be temporary and
threatening (to the plants), new leaves forming that are adapted to
is one cause of leaf drop related to environment. Tropical plants
to low, but above freezing, temperatures. Plants on windowsills may
to chilling temperatures. Hot or cold
drafts may be a problem for some plants. The poinsettia is a prime
example of a
plant that drops leaves due to exposure to cold drafts of air.
and diseases can cause leaf drop, but are not as common as the
listed causes. Recently I had a variegated English ivy that was
leaves. On closer inspection I found
leaves infested with spider mites. Washing plants well with mildly
is a good start, and often all that is needed, for pest control.
leaf drop on houseplants is normal. Older plants should be expected
to drop a
leaf or two occasionally. This is particularly the case with plants
upright like umbrella plant or cane plant, losing lower leaves as
form on the top. The only solutions for
this are to stake plants and live with this habit, to propagate new
air layering the canes, or to give away the plant and get a new more
If you’re not sure of the correct culture and
conditions for your houseplants, check any directions that came with
online or in books, or ask your local full-service garden center.