Tips of Corn Plant Leaves Turning Brown | How to Fix It

Corn plants, Dracaena fragrans, are attractive houseplants that are on the top of NASA’s clean air list. They are known to be ultra-tolerant of harm from well-meaning beginner gardeners, which is why browning leaves on your corn plants is so concerning. 

Quickly determining the cause of your corn plant’s browning leaf tips is pivotal in its long-term survival, so use this guide to help you figure out how to fix the browning leaves of your corn plants!

Reasons for Corn Plant Leaves Turning Brown

The browning of leaves on common houseplants is an indicator of stress and should be taken seriously or else your corn plant could quickly die. 

Environmental factors related to issues with soil moisture, nutrient deficiencies, and improper climate conditions are the most common reasons brown tips occur on corn plants and often lead to a severe decline in the corn plant’s overall health.

Leaf chlorosis, or the yellowing of leaves, is usually present before browning occurs, so keep an eye out for any discoloration of your corn plant’s leaves. 

What Causes Corn Plant Leaf Tips to Turn Brown

Underwatering, using unfiltered tap water, excessive salt build-up, nutrient deficiencies, and improper climate conditions are the most common culprits of browning corn plant leaf tips. 

Underwatering or Drought

Underwatering is the most common cause of browning leaf tips on tropical corn plants. The consistent lack of adequate soil moisture will lead to leaf tip browning, severe wilting, and the yellowing and dropping of lower leaves. 

How to Fix

Prevent dry soil issues by watering on a timely schedule, which is typically every week during the growing season, and only once every 2 – 3 weeks during times of winter dormancy.

If leaf tip browning is still occurring while sticking to a watering schedule, then try transplanting your corn plant into soil that is well-draining but still retains moisture. 

The following mix works well for tropical corn plants: 

  • 1-part Organic Potting Soil
  • 1-part Coco Coir 
  • 1-part Perlite
  • 1-part Vermiculite
  • 1-part Worm Castings 

Using Unfiltered Tap Water

Tap water typically contains chloride, fluoride, and hard minerals, while possibly carrying pollutants that can easily build up in the soil of your sensitive corn plants. This can cause pH imbalances, nutrient deficiencies, and other problems that ultimately lead to the browning of leaf tips and margins. 

How to Fix 

Due to corn plants’ sensitivity to fluoride, contamination can easily become too high. I recommend transplanting fresh soil and then switching to only watering with filtered water. 

Excessive Salt Build-Up 

Soluble salt can excessively build up in the soil of your corn plants from overuse of soluble fertilization formulas or watering with soft water. These imbalances in the soil will cause the leaf tips and margins of corn plants to brown. Crusty, white, salty residue might also be present on the surface of the soil or leaf edges of your plant. 

How to Fix

Leach out excess salt compounds from the soil of your corn plant by watering it 3 times at 30-minute intervals with filtered water. Use the same volume of water as the container the plant is in and make sure that it runs out of the drainage holes on the bottom.  

Nutrient Deficiencies

The lack of nutrients in the soil will quickly lead to leaf yellowing, wilting, stunted growth, and in the case of potassium and zinc, browning leaf tips as well. 

Potassium

Corn plants that are lacking potassium will have brown leaf edges and tips, with signs of interveinal chlorosis. As the deficiency worsens, purple spots can appear on the underside of the plant’s leaves. Potassium deficiencies tend to appear after periods of drought. 

How to Fix

To fix a potassium deficiency you should mix 1.5 teaspoons of soluble fertilizer with an N-P-K rating of 20-20-20 with 1 gallon of water and apply it to the soil of your corn plant every other watering session until it is gone. 

If potassium deficiencies become regular occurrences, then transplant your corn plant into soil that has been amended with Greensand (N-P-K of 0-0-3) at a rate of 1/3 cup per 10-inch container. This will serve as a slow-release source of potash that should last for 3 to 5 years. 

Zinc

Zinc deficiency in corn plants will cause the newest leaves to develop dark brown spots, especially near the tips. This will be coupled with interveinal chlorosis and an overall mottled appearance.

Zinc deficiencies can be exacerbated by acidic pH levels, so keep your corn plant’s soil pH between 5.5 and 6.5 to keep zinc available to your plant. 

How to Fix

Apply a foliar application of zinc sulfate (Zn) at 4.5 g/l. If the deficiency is severe, then repeat the foliar treatment 15 days after the initial application.  

Prevent zinc deficiencies by monitoring the pH of your soil and supplementing with at least 2 cups of compost tea each month. 

Make a compost tea by adding 2 cups of organic compost into a porous bag or cheesecloth and allow to soak in a gallon of filtered water for 24 – 48 hours. Aeration of the water using a bubble stone supports beneficial bacteria growth and will preserve the tea mixture for longer but is not necessary for the tea to form. 

Climate

Corn plants are tropical species that prefer bright indirect sunlight, temperatures between 70 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and relative humidity levels between 60 – 100%. 

Lack of Humidity

Corn plants that experience consistent humidity levels below 60% will likely have crinkly, brown leaf edges and tips. The damage will be especially visible on the newest, youngest leaves, and there will often be a yellow color that surrounds the browned leaf tips. 

How to fix

Cover the soil with a coco coir liner and increase the humidity in the room by adding a humidifier or relocating to a bathroom or kitchen. Then, mist your corn plants daily to help them recover. 

According to the University of Missouri, adding constantly moist sand or gravel to the drainage tray of your corn plant will help increase relative humidity when a humidifier cannot be used. 

Rapid or Frequent Temperature Fluctuations

If your tropical corn plants are exposed to too low of temperatures for even a short period, then they will develop brown, burned spots along the leaf tips and margins. 

Browning leaf tips and edges can also be signs of hot air being blown on your corn plant, and if not rectified, it often leads to leaf drop and plant death. 

How to Fix

Relocate your corn plant at least 9 feet away from main doors, furnace registers, or windows in the winter. Thoroughly water but wait to fertilize until your corn plant starts to recover. 

FAQ Corn Plant Leaf Tips Turning Brown

Should I remove the brown leaves from my corn plant?

Removing brown, dead leaves will prevent pests from being attracted to your corn plant, many of which bring with them serious and unmanageable bacterial or fungal diseases. But to prevent any additional stress, wait to trim any brown leaves until after your corn plant has fully recovered. 

Citations

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.