Brown Spider Plants

Kelly83(5)July 15, 2011

I need help, my variegated spider plant is turning brown and I have no idea what I'm doing wrong.... It's in a bright room, but doesn't get direct sunlight, I don't over water it (it's not rotting), I don't think I'm under watering it. I only use water from the dehumidifier in the basement, but it seems like every time I water it, more and more leaves turn brown. It's not just the tips, it's pretty much the entire edge of the leaves.

Does anyone have any tips or suggestions?

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Hi Kelly. Is the brown crispy or soft?

Since your Spider browns after watering with water from your dehumidifer, stop using it.

Instead, clean an old milk container, fill with regular tap water and save.
Let water in the milk container sit at least 24 hours before you plan on watering your Spider.

Second, are you trimming brown leaves? If so, when you trim, leave about 1/8th inch of the brown on. Sometimes, brown spreads, so don't cut into green, healthy growth.

Third. Are you using your dehumidifer now? If so, most likely the air in your house is dry. Aside from proper watering, mist your Spider daily..if possible, take to the sink/shower and hose leaves at least once a week. Believe me, you WILL notice a big difference.

Too hot a room can cause leaves to brown, as well as direct south or west summer sunlight. Leaves will either brown or pale. Brown, depending on amount of water.

Give it a try, it can't hurt, right Good luck, Toni

    Bookmark   July 16, 2011 at 3:15PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Hi, Kelly - how long has it been since your last repot, and what/how often are you fertilizing. Spider plants are not very tolerant of significant levels of dissolved solids from tapwater and fertilizers in the soil solution, so using water from the dehumidifier is an excellent choice, because as condensate, it will be entirely free of dissolved solids.

Some info from something I posted previously:

While necrotic leaf tips or margins can occur in this plant from over/under-watering, in fact, it's much more common for the actual cause to be a high level of soluble salts in soils. It's also commonly reported that this plant is particularly intolerant or fluoride, but it's still more common for the cause of leaf burn to be a high level of solubles, to which fluoride can be a contributor, than it is to be fluoride itself. WHEN there is a high level of salts in the soil, low humidity can be a contributor, but low humidity alone rarely presents an issue, it must be in combination with a high level of soluble salts in the soil and either over/under-watering.

Of course, you cannot correct the already burned tips (they won't 'heal'), but you can take steps to keep it from happening:

A) Most important is to use a soil that drains very freely. This allows you to water copiously, flushing the accumulating salts from the soil each time you water.

B) Fertilize frequently when the plant is growing well, but at low doses - perhaps 1/4 the recommended strength. This, in combination with the favorable watering habit described above, will keep soluble salts levels low, and keep levels from rising due to the accumulative effect we always see when we are forced to water in sips when plants are in water-retentive soils.

C) When watering, using rainwater, snow melt, water from your dehumidifiers, or distilled water also eliminates the soluble salts in your tap water and will go a long way toward eliminating or minimizing leaf burn.

D) If you make your own soils and use perlite, be sure the perlite is rinsed thoroughly, which removes most of the fluorides associated with it's use.

E) Allowing water to rest overnight doesn't/won�t do anything in the way of helping reduce the amount of fluoride (the compounds are not volatile), and it only helps with chlorine in a very few cases, depending on what method of chlorination was used to treat your tap water; but nearly all municipalities are currently using chlorination compounds that are entirely nonvolatile, which means they won�t dissipate into the air.

There are some things you can do - especially since you have deionized water at your disposal. Let me know if you'd like to open a dialog & figure things out.


    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 8:28PM
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The brown edges are crispy. I've not been trimming them because I'm afraid to make a new "edge" that will just get brown instead....

The dehumidifier is not in the main portion of the house. It is in our extremely damp basement. The main portion of the house is not climate controlled, we do not have central air. We've gotten some unusually warm weather these past few weeks (80s-90s), which results in the house being quite warm. I have no idea what the humidity is though.

I've not had this plant very long, just a month or two. I picked it up at a garden store, and it looked great when I first got it. The soil doesn't seem to stay too damp, and I try not to water it too often. The soil feels dry in between waterings (which I've done maybe once weekly on average).

I put some Osmocote for indoor/outdoor plants on it when I first got it, but it was only maybe a dozen or so pellets.

I also got a couple other varities from eBay which I couldn't find locally. Those are also starting to turn brown (even my curly 'Bonnie' is starting with a couple brownish spots, and I thought those were supposed to be more resistant to tip burn.... I did NOT put any Osmocote on those, so I dont know that that would have anything to do with the big one getting crispy.

This big one is in a South facing window, but directly outside the window is a large Birch tree that keeps direct sunlight from coming in. The room is bright, there's just no sun spots. The other smaller ones are an east facing window (same deal, street trees keep more direct sunlight out).

I guess I'd like to know what I'm doing wrong. I love Spider plants, but haven't had these problems before, so I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong.

Here's a pic of my big one that's having the most problems:

    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 9:10PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

This plant looks like it needs more light.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2011 at 11:02AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

It's still possible there may be a glaringly obvious problem that hasn't been mentioned. For instance, spraying a plant with an insecticide meant to be sprayed on hard surfaces might yield similar symptoms, as would softened water from an ionic exchange softening system (uses salt to replace Ca, Mg, Fe ..... ions with Na [sodium ions]); but from what you've said so far and by looking at the picture, it doesn't appear that issue is anything fungal that originates in/on the foliage, though a fungal root infection of any of the several damping-off diseases is a good possibility.

I think you need to look to watering habits or the level of solubles (salt accumulations from fertilizer and tap water) in the soil solution for your answer. There are drain holes in the bottom of the pot - yes? And the water that comes from your tap isn't 'softened?

If you go only by the odds, and can eliminate under-watering and over-fertilizing as possibilities, it starts to look more probable that the issue is over-watering.

Spider plants are really easy in fast soils that hold no, or very little perched water. You can water them copiously, which flushes the soil and keeps the level of soluble salts in the soil very low; and, when you DO water copiously, which is to your/the plant's advantage, you don't need to worry about the issues associated with impaired root function due to rot issues or lack of oxygen in the root zone.

I'm a very strong believer in giving your plant the best opportunity to grow to it's genetic potential by starting with a soil you won't have to battle for the life of the planting. It expands the margin for error significantly and makes it much easier to consistently produce attractive plants with unspoiled foliage.


    Bookmark   July 18, 2011 at 4:27PM
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I've not sprayed it with anything, pesticides or other....

There are drain holes on the bottom of the pot, when I water it (again, using the water from the dehumidifier in our basement) I soak it down pretty well to the point where there is a good amount of water flowing out the drainage holes. I try not to water too frequently either, I wait until the soil has dried out before I water again.

Wish I could figure out what I'm dong wrong here....

    Bookmark   July 18, 2011 at 7:29PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

What are you using for soil, and are the problem plants all in the same soil?


    Bookmark   July 18, 2011 at 10:15PM
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Kelly, I wouldn't place in brighter light..A couple of my Spiders bleached from too much light and heat.

Can you place your Spider/s in a cooler room or outdoors?

I'm not 100% sure, but I think your Spider has two problems. The leaves that are completely brown is due to either underwatering or heat stroke.

At first I thought it was the light, but a few leaves have brown in the center. I've never seen this before.

For the time being, if it was my Spider, I'd place in a cooler room, even a/c, as long as you spray daily. Water with room temp water. Withhold fertlizer.
Bright light is sufficent, especially during hot, sunny summer months.

Good luck, Toni

    Bookmark   July 19, 2011 at 4:48PM
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No idea what kind of soil they're in... I just recently acquired them from different sources.

The only cooler place I could really put them at this point is in our basement. It's been in the 90s all week (to get worse the next few days)... They'd be cooler, but then get NO sun at all.

Thanks for all the help everyone.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2011 at 9:41PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Are the variegated ones more sensitive to sunlight than the plain green ones (which can grow outside here all year, in full sun?)

    Bookmark   July 20, 2011 at 9:55AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Chlorophyll is a pigment that is sometimes referred to as nature's sunscreen for plants. Because the white tissue of variegated plants lacks significant amounts of the pigment, those portions of the plant are more vulnerable to the oxidation that occurs from free oxygen radicals that are released when molecules excited by the sun return to their normal state. The technical term used to describe this is photo-oxidation, and we commonly call it sunburn. These extremely reactive O2- radicals are the same as the O2- radicals found in H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide) that bleach (oxidize) the pigments in your hair, and readily destroy unprotected organic molecules, turning foliage first a silver or grey color (not red) before tissues turn brown or black.

Heat can have a significant impact on growth and root health/function, even causing the death of roots in instances where the temperatures rise high enough, Kelly, but it's a pretty sure bet heat stroke, something that affects only higher animals, isn't the cause of the spoiled foliage. We can actually draw some rough estimates as to the temperatures at which root function and photosynthesis is affected. Most houseplants grow best when actual soil temperatures are between 65-75*. After about 80*, photosynthesis and root function slows in most plants that aren't adapted to handle life in high temperature conditions. By 90*, root function is impaired, and by 95*, the root function of most plants is seriously impaired. Root death often occurs at temperatures between 100-120*, with only specially adapted plants being able to tolerate temperatures higher. It should be noted though, that ACTUAL root/soil temperatures usually lag air temperatures by up to 10*, because of the effects of evaporative cooling as water evaporates from the soil .... unless there is a direct sun load on the container, in which case root temperatures can soar up to as high as 40* higher than ambient air temps.


    Bookmark   July 20, 2011 at 6:47PM
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So this plant keeps doing worse...
Today I decided to just try repotting it. Turns out the container it's in, while it does have drainage holes, the shape of it lets water sit in a rim on the bottom, keeping water in. The roots had started to rot from the bottom up. There were no symptoms of rot on the surface (other than the dying leaves). I punched some new drainage holes, threw some wicks in there (as per Al's potting soil threads), pruned the rotted roots, and repotted it in new soil.

I really didn't think I'd been overwatering it. The soil would be bone dry an inch of two down into it, but I guess it had been staying fairly wet all the way down in the recessed rim like area. We'll see what happens with it now, hopefully it recovers ok.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2011 at 5:24PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

The wicks can be very helpful, in many cases allowing you to water correctly when using soils that would otherwise be too water retentive to risk fully saturating and flushing the soil.

Tip: Situate the wick in a hole through the bottom at the edge of the bottom near where the side and bottom meet. When you water, water thoroughly at the sink so you DO flush the soil, then tilt the pot at about a 45* angle and turn it so the wick hangs from the lowest part of the pot 2-3" below the bottom and wait until the water stops draining from the wick.


    Bookmark   August 7, 2011 at 5:59PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

A robust spider plant should have upright leaves, whether it is variegated or not. If the leaves are not upright, it wants more sun. Zero direct light is just not enough for a spider plant to be at its' best, even if it clings to life for years that way. I've not had this plant very long, just a month or two. I picked it up at a garden store, and it looked great when I first got it. Were the leaves all leaned-over when you bought it?

is hanging on my front porch but I took it down so I could get a picture with the color right. It gets sun until mid-morning. I've had it (or its' ancestors) for over 20 years. When I lived in OH, I would put it outside in the summer and discovered the more sun it got, the better it looked. After moving to AL, we've had spider babies take root in various flower beds and they are perennials. The particular plant in the photo was in a pot sitting on the ground last summer and it thrived in full sun, 95+ every day for at least 4 months. It stayed outside in the pot all winter. It makes tons of babies, and even seeds sometimes. It's hard to imagine that a variegated form of the same plant could be as healthy with no direct sun at all. Even if it's still shady, is there any place outside you can hang this plant until you start getting frost?

Correcting the standing water issue in this pot is a great thing to do. That kind of hanging pot that almost all hanging plants are sold in is either a blessing or a death warrant, depending on the plant's needs and the volume of roots in the pot. AND about a week after it becomes a blessing, it's usually time to repot and prune roots as needed. I usually take pruners and slice/chop holes in the corner/bottom of the pot and/or around the way-too-high drain hole. Many plants don't transpire enough to use this water before it causes rotting.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 11:41AM
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Kelly, although water accumulated in the pot explains the reason your variegated Spider is having problems, you said your other Spider Plants were browning, too.

There's something else going on, but I can't figure it out, unless your Spiders are in the same type of pots, and all are holding excess water.

Is there a silvery glow in the center of brown? Approximately, what percentage of rotted roots were there?

When you started this thread, you said you had no idea what you were doing, 'though I think you were being modest-you figured out part of the problem, ID'd rotted roots, and discussed proper watering.'

On the other hand, you still may need help. How long have you been growing plants?

You knew not to over-water, felt the soil, etc. Sometimes, checking the top two inches isn't enough. Inserting a stake deep within the soil, removing and checking the stake, 'like you would baking a cake,' to see if it comes out clean or muddy.
Another way is by lifting to test weight. A container with dry soil can feel weightless. 'almost, depending on pot size.'
Moist soil weighs more, wet soil is heavy. It takes a few tries to be accurate...test when soil is completely dry, and after a drink of water.

Another problem can be salt accumulation caused by fertilizer, or even water.
Although, I try watering my Spiders w/water that sits out at least 24 hours, 'they say, water straight from the tap will cause brown leaf tips,' soil should be leached every so often. I take mine to the sink, hose until water drains out of holes. At the same time, leaves are showered.

You mentioned fertilizing once, but who knows with what and how often plants were fertilized before hitting the stores..Or in two of your Spider's cases, the sellers you bought from.

One more thing I wanted to mention. Cutting brown tips without leaving a little brown on can spread..When I suggested clipping the ends, I think I suggested leaving about 1/8" of brown when you clipped. Don't be afraid of clipping tips, as long as a little brown is left on each leaf.

Before your Spiders next watering, 'check before giving a drink,' fill up an old container, (I save old, clean milk containers,) let sit overnight..Water 24 hours or later.

I really hope your Spiders make it. Toni

    Bookmark   August 9, 2011 at 12:08AM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

What no one has mentioned thus far is that the roots of Spider plants are rather succulent (fat & fleshy). In my experience w/ them, this dictated that I not water as often as one would think. I used to really let mine dry out btwn waterings, if not then it suffered.

I think checking w/ a chopstick or pencil (like checking a cake for doneness as Toni mentioned above) will help you 'til you learn the relative weight of the pot wet vs. dry. Good luck!

    Bookmark   August 9, 2011 at 11:20AM
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