What Causes Money Tree Leaves To Turn Brown and How to Fix It

The money tree, Pachira aquatica, is a very popular tropical species used in many houses and gardens across the world. It is a hardy and low-maintenance plant that will reward its owner with a 6-foot tall, towering delight. But when its leaves begin to turn brown, it can be cause for alarm. The following article dives into the world of money trees, including why your money tree leaves are turning brown and what to do about it. 

Why Does My Money Tree Have Brown Leaves?

The untimely browning of leaves on any species is cause for concern, but when it happens to a hardy money tree, you will need to come up with a quick solution, or else your money tree could easily succumb to its issues. The most likely culprit of your money tree’s leaves turning brown is over or under-watering but could be caused by something much more serious. 

10 Reasons Money Tree Leaves Turn Brown

The following 10 reasons are the most common causes of money tree leaves turning brown.

1. Overwatering

Any amount of prolonged saturation of the soil will damage plant roots. Roots need oxygen to function properly, and overwatering can cause the soil to become waterlogged, depriving the roots of the oxygen they need. This can also progress into root rot and other complications.

If the damage is severe enough, then the money tree won’t be able to recover, so it’s important to air on the cautious side with watering. When the top one inch of the soil feels dry to the touch, then your money tree needs to be watered.

Signs of overwatering

Overwatered money trees will look soft, and wilted and generally display the early tell-tale signs of chlorosis, or yellowing, of the leaves. If the soil remains saturated, then the money plants’ leaves will turn brown and die, potentially leading to root rot. 

Overwatered money tree with yellow leaves
Overwatered money tree with yellow leaves browning at the tips
How to Fix

If your money tree is showing signs of overwatering, let the potting soil dry out completely and make sure the pot has good drainage to prevent the problem from occurring again. It is often a good idea to transplant it into a larger container with sandy loam potting soil with perlite or grit, to allow for better drainage. Be sure to use a saucer under your plant to catch the extra water, and make sure to empty it if you see signs of standing water in the tray. 

2. Dehydration Caused by Underwatering

Money trees require plenty of water and are much more susceptible to underwatering than overwatering. If the soil dries out, then the soil microorganisms and fungi that help support the plant die. When that happens, plants can experience nutrient deficiencies, and root decay, and ultimately the plant will die. 

Signs of underwatering 

Underwatered money trees will look wilted, and the leaves will show early signs of drooping and curling. If the soil remains dry, then the money plants’ leaves will turn brown and dry until they ultimately die. In the case of underwatering plants often look shriveled or feel dry or crispy, compared to soft and droopy when overwatered.

underwatered money tree
Underwatered money tree with dry leaves
How to Fix

Consistently sticking to a watering schedule is crucial in maintaining the health of these tropical species. Money trees will benefit from one weekly watering that soaks the entire container’s soil and shows signs of drainage in the saucer. If your money tree still shows signs of underwatering after following a proper schedule, then add a humidifier in the room.

If you’re still struggling then consider a soil moisture meter, for a few dollars, you can have confidence that the moisture levels are spot on.

3. Extreme Temperature Fluctuations

Extreme temperature fluctuations will cause shock to money plants, leading to browning leaves, especially near the edges. This can easily occur in plants grown outdoors, but most often occurs when indoor money trees that are growing in cooler regions are moved outside during the warmer months. Extreme temperature fluctuations easily have the potential to cause plant death.

How to Fix 

Harden your money tree before permanently moving it outdoors, especially in colder climates. Over a period of 2 weeks, bring the plant outside during the day for an increasing number of hours per day. Always bring the money tree back inside at night during this time. Start in a shaded location and work up to a few hours of direct sunlight per day.  

4. Excessive Sunlight

Money trees are understory species, so they prefer indirect sunlight. If money trees receive more than 6 hours of sunlight per day, then they are likely to become sunburnt. When this happens, large uneven brown spots appear on the top of the plant; and, if the conditions continue, then the money tree will likely die.

money tree scorched leaves - Money Tree Leaves To Turn Brown
Sun scorched leaves
How to Fix

Move your money tree into a location that will get more indirect sunlight and less than 6 hours of sunlight per day.

5. Nutrient Deficiencies

Money tree leaves turning brown can also indicate a lack of key nutrients in the soil. Potassium deficiencies will cause yellowing with browning leaf edges and brown spots, typically in older leaves first. Phosphorus deficiencies can also cause brown spots but will appear with dark green and purple leaves. 

money tree leaves nutrient deficiencies
Money tree leaves with potassium deficiency

Iron deficiencies cause a pale yellow-brownish color in between veins. Iron is essential for the production of chlorophyll, which gives leaves their green color. When there isn’t enough iron available, new growth may be yellow or pale green, with distinct green veins and display brown patches.

iron deficiencies in a money tree
Money tree leaves with iron deficiencies
How to Fix

For both potassium and phosphorus deficiencies, check that the pH of the soil is between 6 and 7.5, and amend if necessary. Follow with a general liquid fertilizer treatment. For Iron deficiencies, you can apply ferrous sulfate or chelated iron.

6. Over Fertilizing

While money trees do need fertilization during the growing season, excessive fertilization will easily cause a money tree’s leaves to turn brown and die. Use a general fertilizer diluted to half the strength recommended on the label. 

How to Fix 

Flush the soil with a large amount of water, then fertilize only once a month during the growing season with a diluted dosage, and then just once more during the dormancy of winter. 

7. Transplant Shock

If you want your money tree to grow several feet tall, then transplant it into a larger container every 2 years, but beware that you risk causing transplant shock every time you do so. 

Transplant shock refers to the stress and physiological changes that a plant may experience after being repotted into a new container or growing medium. When you move a plant from one pot to another, it can be disruptive to the root system, which can cause the plant to go into shock. This can lead to a range of symptoms, including wilting, browning, or yellowing leaves, and stunted growth.

How to Fix

While there is no way to fix transplant shock, you can help your money tree recover by keeping it watered, fertilized, and content. Transplanting during the spring or early summer is known to decrease the chances of transplant shock. 

8. Pests

Money trees are very susceptible to damage done by pests, so prevention of these inevitable critters is the best way to maintain the health of your long-living plant. Use sterilized potting soil, and water and fertilize on a regular schedule, and clean the leaves with water often. 

Mealy Bugs & Aphids

Mealy bugs and aphids are sap sucker insects that deplete the foliage of its nutrients, leaving it spotted with yellow and brown patches. These insects also secrete a substance that encourages the growth of sooty mold. 

Scales

Scales are small insects that attach themselves to the underside of money tree leaves. As they suck the sap from the leaves, brown spots on the leaves will slowly grow. 

Spider Mites

Spider mites are tiny insects that do a lot of damage in large infestations. They leave small yellowish-brown spots all over the leaves and eventually cover the entire plant with fine webbing. If not corrected, the spider mite infestation will kill the money tree. 

Fungus Gnats

Fungus gnats or soil gnats are very damaging to money trees. The larvae of the fungus gnat live in the soil and feed off the roots of the plant. The damage caused by a large infestation can result in leaf browning and plant death from stress.  

How to Fix

Using all-natural essential oil sprays that contain neem, lemongrass, and lavender is great at controlling and preventing mealy bugs, aphids, scales, and spider mites. Fungus gnats can be treated by adding topsoil mixed with diatomaceous earth. 

9. Diseases

Money trees are susceptible to a multitude of serious diseases, including Anthracnose leaf spot and root rot. All of which can cause your money tree’s leaves to turn brown and fall off. 

Anthracnose Leaf Spot

Anthracnose leaf spot is caused by a fungus and presents symptoms of dark brown spots on the green foliage and stems of the money plant. If left untreated, it will spread and kill the money tree. 

Root rot disease

This fungal infection is in the soil and attacks the roots and stem base of the money tree. The damage done will cause major stress on the plant, causing its leaves to turn brown and die. 

How to Fix 

Maintaining a healthy plant, ensuring proper air circulation, removing dead foliage, and using periodic essential oil sprays will prevent and treat most fungal diseases. Ensuring that proper soil drainage is occurring is the number one way to prevent root rot issues. 

10. Age

Money tree leaves will turn brown and fall off naturally as the tree grows. Removing old leaves will prevent pests and diseases while keeping your money tree healthy and aesthetically pleasing. 

Removing Brown Leaves

Leaves that have turned brown are no longer of any use to the plant, so make sure you remove them from your money tree. If the leaves easily pull off with a simple touch, then they are ready to be removed. But don’t prune more than 1/3 of its leaves at one time or it might stress the plant even more, which would leave it vulnerable to infections.  

Verdict: Money Tree Leaves Turning Brown

The most likely culprit of your money tree’s leaves turning brown is over or under-watering but could also be caused by extreme temperature fluctuations, excessive sunlight, nutrient deficiencies, over-fertilization, transplant shock, pests, diseases, or old age. 

Why not check out How To Propagate Money Tree | Pachira Aquatica

FAQ Brown Leaves on Money Tree

Can brown money tree leaves turn green again?

Can brown money tree leaves turn green again?

Browned leaves will not turn green again, so they should be removed to prevent pests from flocking to your money tree. 

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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.