Yellow Leaves: Can This Plant Be Saved?

Yellow Leaves: Can This Plant Be Saved?

Yellow leaves look lovely on autumn trees. But if your green-leafed houseplants are yellowing up, it’s time to take action.

Help! my plant's leaves are turning yellow!

Yellow leaves: they look lovely on autumn trees, such as quaking aspens and gingkoes. But if you see a lot of them on your green-leafed pothos, fern, or other houseplants, it can an alarming sight. But it's not necessarily a sign of bad things.

Tropical plants keep their leaves all year round. But houseplant leaves have a life cycle (like all living things). Each individual leaf grows old, turns yellow, then dies. One or two yellow leaves aren’t a problem. But if multiple leaves turn yellow, it’s time to take action.

Why do leaves turn yellow?

The most common reason for leaves to turn yellow are watering inconsistencies (too much, too little) or that the plant is getting the wrong lighting (too much, too little). To stop more leaves from turning yellow, you need to identify what the problem is. Read more about other causes for yellowing leaves.

Can yellow leaves turn green again?

Generally when a houseplant leaf turns yellow, that leaf is dying. Chlorophyll gives a leaf its green color. When the leaf loses its chlorophyll, the plant abandons it and begins to absorb leftover nutrients from the leaf. That’s why once the leaf turns yellow, you generally can’t make it turn back green again. (Although in cases of nutrient deficiencies, sometimes yellow leaf color can green back up again with treatment.)

Close-up of a variegated leaf with vibrant green brushstroke patterns on a bright yellow background,
   the leaf's red stem subtly visible, set against a soft-focus backdrop of other leaves.

Variegated leaves are healthy yellow leaves

There are many plant species that naturally produce leaves with yellow marks and splashes. This is called variegation and happens in healthy plants. Variegation may seem brighter when plants are exposed to higher light levels.

Bottom line: A few yellow leaves are nothing to freak out over. But you should heed the warning of the yellow leaf: it’s like a caution light. It could be a natural shedding or it's a sign that there is something amiss.

Written by Karen Weir-Jimerson