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How to trim dead plant leaves

Taking care of houseplants can be overwhelming. You want to treat them right, but might not know exactly what they want! Today we are talking about how to trim dead plant leaves, when to remove leaves, and how to do it!

Sometimes, leaves on your plants turn brown. I know, it can be scary – is the whole thing going to die next?

But, dying leaves are a part of the cycle of life.


Why are the leaves of my plant dying?

If leaves are suddenly changing – especially if a lot of them change at once – you are going to want to assess what has changed or might be happening to your plant.

  • Has it recently been watered? Yellowing leaves might be a sign of overwatering. Make sure the pot has good drainage.
  • Did you forget to water it? Sad or droopy leaves often mean a plant is thirsty.
  • Is it not getting enough light? Lack of light can cause leaves to die.

If we are just talking about one leaf and everything else seems fine, it might just have been that leaf’s time to go to make room for new growth.

dead monstera leaf

cutting yellow leaf off plant

How to trim dead plant leaves

It is easy to cut dead or dying leaves off of a houseplant. You will want to use clean, sharp scissors or pruning shears.

cutting Tradescantia plant with scissors

Here’s how to cut dead leaves off a plant:

  1. Identify the leaf or leaves that need to go.
  2. Gently tug on the leaf, where the stem attaches to the stem or branch of the plant. It might come off naturally if it is close enough to death.
  3. Use sharp clean scissors to cut the leaf off close to the stem.
  4. Add the leaf to your compost bin if you have one. Otherwise, trash it.
brown tips on fiddle leaf fig plant leaves

Why do you cut brown leaves off plants?

Anything that is attached to your plant is going to be taking nutrients and energy from it. Once a leaf dies, it is not coming back to life.

Having it hang on there is a waste of the house plants energy that could otherwise be used to grow new leaves, flowers, or roots.

Removing dead leaves allows the rest of the plant to flourish. Plus, it is the best way to help the plant instantly look healthier.

cutting leaves off of a polka dot plant

How do you trim a plant without killing it?

Focus on cutting off dead and brown leaves and leaf sections. If that’s the majority of the plant, you might need to cut it back a lot.

Once the dead material is gone, your plant can focus on growing what is still alive. Take time to make sure it’s getting proper light and water so it can really flourish.

cutting brown crispy leaf off plant

Can brown leaves turn green again?

No – brown, crunchy leaves are never going to be green and lush again. Sad, but a reality. Time for them to go so you can grow new healthy leaves!

hindu hoya rope plant yellow withered leaves

If a leaf on a plant is shriveling or yellowing, should you cut it off or leave it there? 

You can leave yellow leaves on a plant and wait for them to fall off naturally. Or, you can pull them off. Pulling them off is usually an aesthetic choice or choosing to speed up the inevitable.

You just want to be careful to be gentle and not damage any of the rest of the plant when removing a spent leaf.

Can yellow leaves turn green again?

Yellow leaves mean your plant is in stress – usually too much or too little water or sunlight. It is extremely unlikely that very yellow leaves will turn green again. Snip snip!

drooping waffle plant

How to tell if plant is dead

A dead plant is completely dead with the leaves, stem, and roots all being dead. You can check the parts of your plant as follows:

  • Leaves – dead leaves will be 100% brown and crispy or brown and mushy with no green parts left.
  • Stem – scratch the stem with your fingernail. If the inside is green, it is still alive. If it is all dried and brown, the stem is dead.
  • Roots – living roots are white and firm. Roots that are black and very mushy or brown and crispy are dead
dead pothos leaf

Can a dead plant come back to life?

An actual dead plant will not come back. But, some plants can appear to be dead but still be alive. Cut off any brown or crispy sections and give the plant proper lighting and water and a little time.

Some plants (like the purple waffle plant photoed above) are just dramatic and wilt easily. If they just look wilted, give your plant a deep water and it should perk back up!

The best time to cut back plants is late winter or early spring. This sets them up right at the beginning of growing season with lots of energy for new growth.

Can you cut off dead parts of leaves?

Yes – if part of a leaf is dead, you can use your sharp scissors to trim off just that section of the plant.

cutting brown spot off of fiddle leaf fig plant

How to Remove Brown Tips From the Leaves of Houseplants

Indoor plants often get brown tips on their leaves. It’s not the end of the world. To trim them off,

  1. Get a sharp pair of clean scissors
  2. Trim carefully along the brown edge of the leaf tip. Try to avoid cutting the healthy green part of the leaf – just get as close to it without cutting it as you can
  3. If more than half of a leaf is brown and crispy – just remove the whole leaf
  4. Wipe the scissor blade off with a disinfectant wipe
crispy leaf on hoya rope plant

Do dead leaves help plants grow?

No. Dead leaves and dead flowers will drain energy from the plant until they naturally fall off. Cutting them off yourself prevents them from ending up in the paws of your cat, batted under your sofa, not to be discovered for months. This leaves energy for new plant growth!

Any more questions about removing dead leaves from plants?

Thanks for reading!

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