One of the most common complaints from Calathea owners is that even if the plant is otherwise surviving just fine, there may be some brown patches on the very tip of the leaf or along the outer edges of the leaf.
While brown edges & tips can be a symptom of a more significant, urgent problem, it is most often a minor issue that you can easily remedy.
In nearly all cases, your Calathea will develop brown tips and edges due to issues related to water and moisture, such as using chemically treated tap water to water your Calathea, insufficient humidity levels, or issues with over or underwatering. However, brown tips can sometimes form due to a pest problem, particularly on new growth.
Brown edges & tips can be prevented by understanding your Calathea’s natural environment and replicating those conditions. It includes giving them a more tropical climate, watering them correctly, treating them for pests, and giving them minimal exposure to chemicals.
1. Brown Tips and Edges Caused By Tap Water
In most cases, the biggest reason for brown edges and tips on Calatheas is the reaction to chemicals in the water.
Depending on your location and water supply, tap water is often treated with chemicals like chlorine, chloramine, and fluoride. This ensures that the water we drink is free of any diseases, but it can cause a problem for many houseplants that are sensitive to chemicals, including Calatheas.
Calatheas receive tropical rainwater in the wild, which contains many nutrients but none of the chemicals you would find in household tap water.
The best indicator that your Calathea is unhappy with chemical or excessive mineral exposure is that the tips of the leaves will turn brown. In addition, if you look carefully, you may even notice some of those minerals bordering the brown tips.
How to Prevent Brown Tips & Edges Caused By Chemical or Mineral Exposure
To avoid brown, crispy tips and edges on your Calathea, avoid using tap water as much as possible.
Instead, use filtered water, distilled or rainwater.
If you only have access to tap water, you can leave the water sitting overnight so some chemicals will evaporate from the water to reduce the appearance of brown tips.
You can also boil your tap water to reduce the chemicals, as long as you leave that water to completely cool off to room temperature before giving it to your Calathea.
The second most common reason for brown edges and brown tips on your Calathea is a lack of humidity.
Water will evaporate through their leaves in a process known as transpiration.
In their natural habitat, this helps contribute to overall humidity and is why grouping together many tropical houseplants may even increase the humidity in a particular space.
While transpiration is beneficial for tropical forests, it can be detrimental if your Calathea is living in a naturally dry environment.
Transpiration will cause the foliage to lose moisture. If the environment cannot replenish that moisture, the plant will start to dry out and become crispy.
Calatheas will allow parts of the leaf to die off to conserve water as much as possible by reducing the surface area where transpiration will occur, starting from the tip and working its way inward.
Calatheas need high humidity levels to replenish the moisture in their foliage.
At a minimum, they require 50% humidity in their space but ideally between 60% and 90% humidity.
If you aren’t sure what the humidity levels in your space are, a great way to measure them is with a hygrometer.
Unless you keep your Calathea in a terrarium or greenhouse, 60% humidity will avoid damage to your household.
Increase Humidity Levels To Prevent Crispy Edges
There are many online tricks to increase your space’s humidity levels, but none are more effective and efficient than a humidifier.
If you have a room in your home with higher humidity levels, like your kitchen, bathroom, or laundry room, you can also move your Calathea to that space if there is enough light.
Misting, using pebble trays and decorative jars filled with water can temporarily raise the humidity, but it isn’t quite as effective as a humidifier.
Avoid keeping your Calathea in drafty or dry spaces near a furnace or air conditioner vents, as these areas are naturally quite dry.
If you have multiple Calatheas or other tropical houseplants, you can also group them so they can benefit from each other’s transpiration.
Unlike more succulent plants, Calatheas cannot retain excess water in their foliage. Once their soil dries out, their foliage will quickly become dry and crispy.
The crisping may begin at the tips and edges, and eventually, entire leaves may turn yellow or brown.
In most cases, underwatering will also have other symptoms, such as curling and dropping leaves, and the entire plant may wilt.
How To Fix & Prevent Underwatered Calathea
A temporary solution to underwatering is to give your Calathea a thorough drink, ensuring that you evenly water the soil.
Ensure that your Calathea’s soil remains moist by watering it regularly. Water your Calathea when the soil is nearly dry but not completely dry.
The best method for watering your Calathea is to use a moisture meter. Use the probe on the moisture meter to measure how moist the soil is in your Calatheas pot, particularly closer to the roots.
Once the moisture meter reads around 1 or 2, then you are safe to water your Calathea. When it’s time to water your Calathea, make sure to water the plant thoroughly.
If the moisture meter reads over 2, you should hold off on watering as watering your Calathea too frequently may lead to root rot.
4. Overwatering and Root Rot
If you are watering your Calathea too frequently, your plant may end up with root rot caused by overwatering, resulting in leaves turning brown.
Root rot occurs when the outer layer of the root decays from sitting in wet soil. It can leave your plant vulnerable to a host of bacterial and fungal diseases that the outer portion of the root would filter out if it were healthy.
In most cases, the browning on your Calathea caused by root rot will be softer brown spots from an oversaturation of water. However, it is also possible that the brown spots will be dry and crispy, as overwatering symptoms are very similar to underwatering symptoms.
This is because once the roots have rotted, your Calathea can no longer use the roots to absorb water, which will dehydrate your plant. Mushy or brown stems may be another symptom that will indicate root rot.
How to Fix and Prevent Root Rot
To fix root rot, you must remove your Calathea from its soil.
First, trim any roots that are brown or mushy. If the root rot is severe, you may need to treat the roots with hydrogen peroxide to kill off bacteria. Then you can repot your Calathea into fresh soil.
Prevent root rot by only watering your Calathea when the soil is nearly dry. Use a pot with drainage holes so the excess water can drain from the pot. This will ensure that the roots are not sitting in saturated soil for too long.
5. Pests Causing Brown Edges and Tips on New Growth
If you notice that new growth on your Calathea is unfurling with brown or crispy tips, this can be a sign of a pest.
Two of the most common pests found on Calathea are spider mites and thrips.
Both of these types of pests will feast on new growth because the foliage tissue is tender and nutrient packed. As a result, you will notice new leaves emerging deformed and with crispy brown edges.
Both thrips and spider mites can often multiply without detection due to their size. These crispy edges can be an early warning sign to treat your Calathea for pests before the entire plant becomes infested.
Treating Your Calathea For Pests
If you suspect your Calathea has a pest, you should isolate the plant immediately and begin treatment.
- First, use a sink or shower to blast away any pests lingering on the leaves.
- If either spider mites or thrips are heavily infesting your Calathea, it is often best to trim and discard any heavily infested leaves.
- Then, you can treat your Calathea using an insecticidal soap or neem oil solution.
- Once your Calathea has been treated, place it in an isolated location where it will receive warm temperatures, high humidity, and medium light conditions.
If you use neem oil to treat your Calathea, ensure that you do not place your Calathea in a sunny location, as the neem oil can cause sunburn.
Brown or Crispy Spots in the Middle of Calathea Leaf
If you notice that your Calathea has crispy spots, but those spots are not exclusively on the edges or tips of the plant, it is likely a fungal problem.
Because Calatheas have tender foliage and enjoy higher humidity levels, they tend to be susceptible to fungi spores infiltrating the leaves (known as Alternia leaf spot or Helminthosporium leaf spot).
Both conditions can come from water sitting on the leaf until small lesions form, which allow the fungi to infiltrate the leaf. This means that people who mist their Calathea regularly or keep their Calathea under hanging plants that may drip water onto the leaves may find these brown spots on their plant from fungal problems.
The best way to prevent the fungi from spreading is to treat your Calathea with a fungicide solution, which you can find at most garden centers and greenhouses.
When choosing a fungicide, read the directions carefully to treat your plant effectively.
Instead of misting your Calathea, opt for using a humidifier instead. If your Calathea is kept on a lower shelf or underneath hanging plants, use a cloth to wipe any water sitting on the leaves.
Will The Crispy Edges on My Calathea Heal?
Brown spots and crisps are known as leaf necrosis, meaning the leaf tissue has died. Unfortunately, the damage on the leaf will not heal, and the brown spots will not reverse. However, these treatment methods will ensure no new brown tips or edges.
Should I Cut The Brown Tips/Edges Off My Calathea?
You can choose to cut the browning edges and tips off of your Calathea, but it isn’t always a good idea. Cutting the leaf will inevitably create a wound in the plant, which will make the leaf itself susceptible to bacterial or fungal infections.
If your leaf is more lance-shaped like Calathea Lancifolia or Calathea Crocata, the surface area exposed to potential infection is more reduced than the Calatheas with large, rounded leaves like the Roseopicta varieties.
Types of Calathea That Are More Susceptible To Brown Edges and Tips
While almost all Calathea varieties will experience brown tips and edges from the above conditions, a few types tend to be more sensitive than others, depending on their foliage structure.
Wide, Round Leaves
Calathea varieties with wide leaves with larger surface areas tend to be more susceptible to brown tips and edges because there will be more moisture transpiration. These varieties include:
- Calathea Orbifolia
- Calathea Roseopicta
- Calathea Medallion
Calatheas with more ornate foliage and variegation tend to develop brown tips because they are very sensitive to excessive chemical or mineral exposure. These varieties include:
- Calathea White Fusion
- Calathea Ornata
- Calathea Vittata
- Calathea Majestica/Calathea Whitestar
- Calathea Makoyana
Lastly, softer leaves with a more velvety texture are typically at a higher risk for pest problems, causing brown tips and edges. This type of foliage is more tender and appealing to thrips particularly. These varieties include:
- Calathea Zebrina
- Calathea Warscewiczii
- Calathea White Fusion