Why Are My Money Tree Leaves Turning Yellow?

The money tree, or Pachira aquatica, is one of those quintessential houseplants that you can go your whole life never really noticing. But once you realize how rewarding this low-maintenance evergreen can be to cultivate, it’s hard not to add it to your collection.

Money tree leaves turning yellow can be caused by several factors, most of them environmental. In this article, I’ll break down the most common reasons for yellow money tree leaves and tell you the best ways I’ve found to fix this problem.

Why Do Money Tree Leaves Turn Yellow?

Yellowing leaves aren’t just unsightly. They’re a visible clue that your plant isn’t producing chlorophyll correctly or that the chlorophyll it does have is breaking down faster than it can be replaced.

Chlorophyll is a pigment contained within all green foliage. Its primary job is to absorb sunlight and transfer the energy to other metabolic structures within the plant’s cells. Without chlorophyll, plants can’t photosynthesize.

An inability to perform photosynthesis is a practical death sentence for any plant. This is why diagnosing and fixing the problem causing your money tree’s yellow leaves needs to be a top priority.

Most plant leaves contain other chemical compounds that may appear yellow, orange, or red to the human eye. In a healthy leaf, these compounds are overpowered by the green pigmentation of chlorophyll, making them invisible to us.

Deciduous trees — or those that shed their leaves annually — naturally lose chlorophyll in the fall, which reveals these other pigments inside the leaves. Since money trees are evergreen, however, it’s neither natural nor healthy for the leaves to change color.

According to the University of Illinois, the scientific term for an unusual lack of chlorophyll is ‘chlorosis’. Many people use this term to specifically refer to yellow leaves caused by nutrient deficiencies. But, technically speaking, chlorosis can be triggered by a vast number of health and environmental issues.

What Causes Money Tree Leaves To Turn Yellow

In some plant species, yellow leaves are almost always the result of one or two common problems. For money trees, the most likely culprits are improper watering or poor soil drainage.

But saying that a general symptom like yellowing leaves is always caused by a moisture imbalance would be like saying every sore throat you experience is the result of strep. 

Yes, it’s best to rule out the most likely triggers first. In practice, though, diagnosing yellow leaves often means analyzing several facets of your money tree’s care and overall environment.

Watering Problems

Plants need water to transfer nutrients and complete photosynthesis. However, watering more often than is needed or poor drainage can stop the roots from taking in oxygen, essentially suffocating the plant where it stands. 

Roots that are waterlogged, dried out, or affected by root rot also struggle to take up nutrients from the soil. 

Money trees thrive when their soil is allowed to dry out slightly between waterings. A good rule of thumb is to water only when the top 2 inches of soil are dry to the touch or when the soil is about 50% dry overall.

Underwatering

A dehydrated money tree will develop yellow leaves as the earliest symptom. The leaves will likely turn brown, develop a wrinkled texture, wilt, and/or curl inward if the issue isn’t addressed right away.

If your money tree receives regular care, underwatering is a rare problem to encounter. But it’s still a good idea to rule out the possibility if you notice yellow foliage beginning to appear.

I recommend checking the soil moisture to determine if underwatering is the true cause. It’s also a good idea to think back to the last time you remember watering the plant. If the soil feels slightly damp and you recall watering fairly recently, one of the factors below is the more likely cause.

money tree with slightly wrinkled foliage
Money tree with slightly wrinkled foliage from dehydration

Overwatering

I know from first-hand experience how easy it can be to forget to water houseplants. This leads many well-meaning gardeners to overwater in an attempt to undo any past damage and prevent future problems.

I’m sure you’ve heard what can happen if you have ‘too much of a good thing’. Well, for houseplants, water is often the ‘good thing’ that adage is referencing.

Common signs that a money tree is being overwatered include yellow or brown leaves and wilting. The latter symptom often tricks less-experienced growers into thinking their money tree needs MORE water but this isn’t the case!

Overwatered money tree with yellow leaves
Overwatered money tree with yellow leaves

Poor Drainage

Your watering schedule isn’t necessarily to blame for symptoms of overwatering. Yellow, drooping leaves can also be the result of poor drainage.

Well-draining soil releases excess moisture easily and holds onto just enough water to keep the plant hydrated. It should never be soggy or muddy, even immediately after watering.

Poor-draining soil may be compacted (packed down) or contain a large amount of clay. For the best results, money trees should be grown in loamy soil with a moderate amount of organic matter.

Another thing to consider is how well your money tree’s container drains. A pot without drainage holes, or with insufficient ones, won’t drain well regardless of the soil composition. I also recommend forgoing a saucer underneath the container to prevent excess water from pooling.

Root Rot

Root rot is a health condition that occurs when overly damp soil causes plant roots to deteriorate. While overwatering or poor drainage can trigger yellow leaves without the presence of root rot, I find that it plays a role more often than not.

Root rot is normally caused by bacteria or fungi in the soil that thrive in wet conditions. It’s possible to spread root rot via contaminated soil or tools but — at least in my experience — the condition can also happen spontaneously.

Mild cases of root rot may be treatable as long as you catch the disease early. For the best chance at recovery, remove your money tree from its container, wash away all soil, cut back damaged roots, and re-pot in a clean container.

Nutrient Deficiencies

Various nutrients go into the creation of chlorophyll, so it should come as no surprise that yellowing leaves are a common symptom of nutrient deficiency. 

According to the Royal Horticultural Society, chlorosis caused by specific deficiencies often has a tell-tale appearance that makes identification a little easier. If you want to narrow down the state of your money tree’s soil, though, I strongly suggest conducting a soil test as well.

Houseplant fertilizer is the best way to maintain the nutrients in the soil for prolonged health. For general maintenance, I recommend a balanced liquid formula that can be diluted in water. 

Nitrogen

Nitrogen is often considered the most important nutrient for plant health. It’s consumed in larger quantities than any other nutrient and plays a huge role in foliar growth. 

Common symptoms of a nitrogen deficiency include an even yellowing of the tree’s older leaves. You might also notice stunted growth overall.

Iron

Iron is a micronutrient that many — but not all — plant fertilizers provide. In my experience, it is the second most common nutrient deficiency to cause yellow leaves in most houseplants.

You can identify iron chlorosis by yellowing that occurs between the veins of the plant’s youngest leaves. The major veins of the leaves will remain dark green. This pattern of discoloration is known as interveinal yellowing.

iron deficiencies in a money tree
Iron Deficiency

Magnesium

Magnesium is another micronutrient that may or may not be included in your favorite houseplant fertilizer. It’s a key component of chlorophyll, so chlorosis is extremely common in cases of deficiency.

Magnesium chlorosis triggers interveinal yellowing that affects the oldest leaves first. In some cases, rust-like patches also appear on the leaf surface.

Fertilizer Burn

Fertilizer burn may be caused by over-applying an appropriate formula, using a formula that’s too strong, or when fertilizer builds up in the soil over time.

Most fertilizers rely on chemical salts to provide nutrients. The problem is that when these salts are too concentrated in the soil, they wick moisture away from the roots and cause serious damage.

Using a diluted liquid fertilizer is my favorite way to feed houseplants because it minimizes the risk of salt build-up in the soil. I also recommend routinely watering your money tree deeply — so that clean water flows from the bottom of the container — to flush out leftover fertilizer compounds.

Soil pH

Money trees grow best in soil that is neutral or slightly acidic, or with a pH between 6.0 and 7.5. Nearly all potting soils fall within this range but it’s a good idea to double-check the pH level before planting trees outdoors.

Soil pH matters because certain nutrients are only available to plant roots at specific levels of acidity or alkalinity. I’ve seen more than my fair share of nutrient deficiencies that were the result of a bad pH rather than a lack of actual nutrient molecules in the soil!

If a test reveals that the pH is too low or too high, you can amend the soil with sulfur (for acidity) or agricultural lime (for alkalinity). Note that amending native soil pH is a tricky process, so I recommend reaching out to your local extension office or a similar resource for further guidance.

Excessive Sunlight Exposure

One of the reasons money trees are so popular is that they can grow even in artificial light — though, admittedly, surviving off of fluorescent light alone is far from ideal. 

Potted money trees tend to grow best when given about 6 hours of bright, indirect light. Outdoor trees can adapt to full sun conditions.

If you leave an indoor money tree on an exposed porch or in a bright sunroom, it may develop yellow or brown patches on its leaves. This is a common symptom of sun scorch and simply means that the foliage received more sunlight than it could handle. You can think of it as the plant’s version of sunburnt skin.

Mild-to-moderate sun scorch is generally not fatal but you need to keep in mind that the tree will be stressed and weakened as it heals.b

Temperature Stress

Plants of all kinds rely on temperature to regulate growth. When the temperature is too high, too low, or constantly changing, it can send the plant’s internal systems into shock and trigger symptoms like yellow foliage.

Money trees can be planted outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 10 to 12. In cooler climates, they must be grown as potted houseplants. According to The University of Arizona, the ideal growing temperature for a money tree is 65 to 75°F.

While a money tree can survive brief exposure to temperatures as low as 28°F, you don’t want to test your luck. Indoor trees can even be damaged by over-exposure to AC units or drafty windows.

Rapidly changing temperatures can also place undue stress on your houseplant, even if they technically stay within the plant’s ideal range.

Old or Spent Leaves

Even though money trees are evergreen, it’s still normal for leaves to yellow and falls off as they age. 

How do you know if your money tree’s yellow leaves are normal? Here are a few things to look for:

  • Only a relatively small number of leaves are affected at once
  • Only the oldest leaves on the tree are affected
  • New leaves are growing at an equal or greater rate
  • The tree is otherwise completely healthy

If you notice a sudden increase in yellowing and leaf drop or the tree shows other symptoms, there’s probably an underlying health or environmental issue at play.

Pest Infestation

Leaf-piercing pests can quickly turn green houseplant leaves to a sickly yellow. Common offenders include spider mites, mealy bugs, and scale.

These pests may travel into your home on infested plants, on tools, or in potting soil. Always give new houseplants a once-over for any signs of infestation before purchasing.

Yellow leaves caused by pest damage tend to be mottled rather than solid yellow. The yellow spots are caused by the pests piercing the leaf surface and sucking out the sap.

Spraying the leaves of your money tree is a simple way to physically remove any pests. You can also use Neem oil as a preventative treatment. I only recommend the use of chemical pesticides in cases of extreme infestation and after you’ve positively ID’d the culprits.

FAQ Money Tree Turning Yellow

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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.