It can be a real heartbreaker to watch a beloved succulent’s soft green and mauve leaves turn brown. Still, fixing the problem takes less effort than you’d think.
No matter what type of succulent you’re struggling with, it’s often the same set of culprits that cause succulents to have brown tips.
These resilient beauties take little effort to rehabilitate once you’ve fixed the root of the problem – no pun intended!
Below, we outline 9 of the most common causes of brown tips in succulents, outline some remedies for the causes, and walk through how to prevent succulent brown tips in the first place.
Welcome to the all-in-one troubleshooting resource for succulent growers. Let’s dig in.
Table of Contents
Main Cause for Succulents with Brown Tips (TLDR)
The most common causes of brown leaf tips in succulents come from issues with water. Overwatering, underwatering, and poor-quality water all result in brown leaf tips. Other causes include poor light levels, temperature stress, disease, pests, or fertilizer issues, to name a few.
9 Most Common Causes of Brown Leaf Tips in Succulents
Some novice succulent owners take a surprising amount of adjustment if they’re used to tending to more demanding plants. Succulents are a very low-care bunch, so it’s easy to give them too much water, light, or fertilizer.
Let’s break it down and work out the best approach to the most common problems that result in a succulent turning brown.
Easily the most common reason succulents turn brown is that they receive too much water.
Without exception, these are desert darlings. They’ve adapted to dry climates and long periods with little to no water at all. Those fat succulent leaves store water with astonishing efficiency, allowing the plant to survive long periods of time without much moisture.
On the downside, this means they are incredibly vulnerable to damage from excess water. Water too often, and the roots become overwhelmed. They need to dry out from time to time in order to function.
They also need little pockets of air in their soil. When you fill those pockets of air with water, the roots start to drown, no matter what’s happening above ground.
An overwatered succulent will have the following symptoms:
- Soft Brown or Yellow Leaves
- Slimy or Squishy Texture
- Blisters of Water on the Leaves
- A Foul Smell
- Soil that never Dries
Early detection is essential, as stressed drowning roots very often lead to root rot. It’s a good idea to check the state of the roots at the first sign of brown tips. If the soil is boggy, freeing the plant from the pot will take little effort.
Remove the old potting mix and have a good look.
Healthy roots will be pale in color. They’re wiry and tough and only smell of dirt.
Rotten roots are another story. They’re often brown, black, or even bright orange. They’ll be soft and slimy and disintegrate when handled. They stink to high heaven, too.
You’ll need to repot a succulent that has root rot, especially when the succulents have brown tips as well.
Often the best way to fix root rot is to completely behead the succulent and plant the top as if it were a whole new plant in fresh new soil and a pot with good drainage. While it seems drastic, it is the right way, and sometimes the only way, to save the plant in advanced cases.
If you’ve been using a consistent watering schedule, it’s worth re-evaluating how you do it. Check the soil in each pot before topping up. When you water succulents, be responsive, and you’ll see better results.
Be sure to check out our article on how to save overwatered succulents if you think overwatering is causing your succulent to turn brown.
2. Poor Quality Soil and Pot
The evil twin to too much water is potting soil or a pot that keeps that excess water from draining away. Even if you’re watering well, a potting blend that doesn’t drain or a pot with no drainage holes will turn a reasonable amount of water into a boggy mess.
Ensure your succulents are in a pot with free draining soil.
I like an equal mix of sand, potting mix, and perlite, with the odd handful of smooth gravel added for good measure. It allows excellent drainage while holding onto the right amount of water to keep them thriving.
The right pot has at least one good-sized drainage hole, and the more, the better.
Succulents also do best in pots made from terracotta and other porous materials, so if you’re thinking of getting new pots, aim for something porous. It allows excess moisture to evaporate through the pot’s walls and prevents patches of stagnant soil from developing.
While succulents prefer far less water than most plants, they still need enough water to thrive. Too little water results in dry, shriveled leaves that turn brown from the tip inwards. Depending on the type of succulent, the plant may drop leaves, starting with the older leaves at the bottom of the plant.
The plant may even become loose in its pot and can snap off at the ground level entirely.
The good news is the wonderful desert adaptions of succulents come to the rescue and make it very easy to revive. All they need is a good drink of water, and they’ll be back to their usual selves in no time.
The easiest way to get a lot of water into the roots all at once is to flood the pot entirely. This dramatic technique involved totally submerging the succulent for a period of ten to fifteen minutes. Every dry crumb of potting soil will be inundated, replenishing even the most rock-hard, dried-out dirt.
Once you’ve given the plant a good soak, let it drain completely. You don’t want that water hanging around and causing problems.
4. Disease (Brown Spots and Black Spots)
Disease can strike any plant, including our hardy succulent sweethearts. Fungal infection caused by high humidity can devour leaves, and poor watering can lead to root disease.
Fungal diseases appear as brown leaf tips or patches of leaf discoloration, like brown spots or black spots. Color change is almost always a sign that the plant is experiencing something out of the ordinary.
In addition to brown areas, it is also one of the main reasons that cause patches of rusty or moldy-looking tissue and black leaves that rot while still on the plant.
Fungal infections in the roots are much harder to spot. They cause weak patches on the stem and an overall lack of growth and vigor. The whole plant may snap away from the soil, leaving a weeping or oozing stump that’s more rotten than alive.
You can save a sick plant by applying a copper-based commercial fungicide, but not everyone wants to use commercial fungicides due to their secondary impacts on beneficial insects and their overall lack of natural ingredients.
Cooled cinnamon tea is a natural home remedy that can give an ailing succulent plant a better chance of pulling through. Cinnamon has good antifungal properties, so it can make a difference if caught early.
For severe infection, your last resort is propagating any remaining healthy leaves into new plants and discarding the rest of the plant.
5. Too Much Sun
You wouldn’t think a dry climate plant is vulnerable to sunburn, but it’s surprisingly common. Many species are best adapted to partial shade and can’t handle too much sunlight.
Aloes and Haworthia prefer a bit of shade. They also adapt to the light they’re grown in. Plants grown in the shade will burn if you too quickly pop them in full sun.
The most common signs of sunburn are sharply defined brown patches on the leaves closest to the light. They often turn black and begin to rot. The plant may drop the damaged leaf, as well as other lower leaves, at the base of the plant.
Move your sunburned plant to a shadier area and give it a good drink. Trim away any leaves with visible sun damage and watch for others that may fall.
If you want to move a suitable plant to higher light levels, do so gradually. This is known as ‘hardening off‘ and will help prepare your succulent for the new conditions.
6. Too Little Light
Too little light causes different sorts of brown leaves in succulents. Depending on the species, leaves curl inwards, both along the sides of the leaf and from the tip. The brown tips will be brittle or leathery.
You’ll also see little to no new growth. Without enough sunlight, the plant can’t keep its existing foliage alive nor the color of its foliage in case of black roses succulent, let alone make new leaves.
Some species may lose their foliage color also, for example, black rose succulent, which turns green in low light conditions.
Like too much light, this is easy to fix.
Move your little gem to a brighter location, being sure to harden off as you do. Most species need as much bright, indirect sunlight as possible. For most species, a south-facing or south-eastern-facing window is perfect.
You can also use a small LED lamp like a Plant Halo if your growing environment doesn’t have enough light from windows. Yet another good reason to collect more plant toys and gadgets!
7. Temperature Shock
Desert darlings don’t like cold temperatures. Chill them for too long, and they’ll pout, dropping leaves and refusing to grow.
The prognosis is even worse if you see brown patches after a cold spell. This is frost damage that kills your succulent outright.
Leaves that freeze and thaw will be more vibrant than usual at first, but tiny ice crystals shred the tissue from the inside, allowing the pigments to leak through the leaf. The foliage will then turn brown and black. Dead leaves are soft to the touch and will likely fall apart when handled.
Likewise, too much heat for extended periods can have a similarly fatal impact.
Long term exposure to hot, dry conditions causes the plant to enter a dormancy from which it may never awaken. The plant leaves dehydrate completely, turning a papery brown before falling away. High temperatures will cook what tissue remains, leaving it brown and soft.
The treatment for both is largely the same. Remove the damaged tissue, including roots that are soft or brittle. Water well with lukewarm water and place in a more appropriate climate.
While the preferred temperature for any specific plant is down to its species, for succulents you can safely assume they need temperatures not too different from the ones we like, just a little warmer.
Between 68 and 77 °F (20 to 25°C) is a good start for most varieties, but be sure to keep a close eye on them in the following weeks and adjust the temperature as needed.
8. Pest Infestation
Pests generally don’t like succulents, but even these tough treasures attract the attention of vermin from time to time.
One common pest that is notoriously associated with succulents is root aphids. Root aphids are pests that live and breed in plant soil and feed on the roots of the plant, eventually causing severe damage, root rot, and other hard-to-fix issues.
Be sure to read our article on how to identify and treat root aphids if you think that’s why your succulent is developing brown leaf tips.
Mealybugs and scale beetles love a bit of succulent sap. Mealybugs resemble small puffs of cotton and cluster under leaves and in nooks and crannies. Scale beetles resemble a small sequin or button. They also love to hide away from sight.
While not as common in my experience, spider mites are another pest you may find on your succulents every now and then. They’re tiny red mites that can be hard to see, so watch out for the fine threads they spin as they feed.
They don’t call them ‘spiders’ for nothing!
You can often deal with pests by simply scraping them off. You can also wash them off with a strong hose or showerhead. I sometimes just run smaller specimens under a tap.
You can also apply a commercial insecticide or wipe leaves with neem oil.
I’d also suggest you take a good look at your other plants – even your nearby air plants. One infested plant is usually a clear indication other little monstrosities may be nibbling away through your collection.
While air plants and succulents ask for totally different care requirements, they are often grown together in indoor and outdoor spaces!
9. Too Much Fertilizer
If your other mature plants are heavy feeders, giving your succulents regular doses of fertilizer can be tempting. After all, a lack of nutrients can cause all kinds of drama. Why would succulents be any different?
Succulents evolved to deal with low-resource environments. They don’t need fertilizer often, so the leftovers accumulate in the soil as mineral salts. It also builds up in leaves.
A firm, crisp brown edge on an otherwise well-tended plant shows the fertilizer in the soil is accumulating in the leaves. It’s effectively a chemical burn. It can also damage roots and cause them to snap off entirely.
The first thing to do is flush the pot with lots of water to remove the excess fertilizer. Allow it to dry out before watering again, and don’t fertilize at all for the rest of the growing season.
In general, a half- or even quarter-strength dose of all-purpose liquid fertilizer added to the watering can maybe once in spring is the best option.
How to Prevent Brown Tips in Succulents
Proper care will prevent most cases of brown leaf tips in succulents. Even disease and pests have a less dramatic impact when the right conditions are met. Quick results using control methods are a good sign that your plant is being taken care of well.
Every mealybug I’ve ever scraped from a succulent has been dining on a stressed-out plant. Keep them healthy, and they throw off a lot of problems on their own.
What your succulent needs will depend a lot on what species you’re growing. They’re such a fascinating bunch of low maintenance plants, and they all have their quirks.
But in general, the best care of your succulents requires that you:
- Provide Lots of Bright, Indirect Light
- Water Only when the Soil is Totally Dry
- Use a Pot of Well-Draining Soil with Lots of Drainage Holes at the Bottom of the Pot
- Fertilize Once a Year with Dilute Liquid Fertilizer
- Maintain an Even Temperature Between 68 and 77 °F (20 to 25°C)
- Aim for Low Humidity – Especially for Euphorbia Succulents