Bird of Paradise Leaves Turning Yellow

Bird of paradise leaves turn yellow when the plant is experiencing stress due to an environmental factor. This could be improper care, or an outside element such as disease or pests. It can be tricky to narrow down the reason your plant is turning yellow, but being able to correctly identify the cause is the first step in fixing the problem.

The most common causes of yellowing bird of paradise leaves are overwatering, underwatering,  lack of nutrients, pests, diseases, edema, too much sun and not enough light.

In this article, we will discuss the most common causes of yellowing bird of paradise leaves and how to remedy each one.

Why are my bird of paradise leaves turning yellow?

Overwatering

The most common cause of yellowing bird of paradise leaves is overwatering. The more leaves there are turning yellow, the more likely it is that your plant already has root rot.

When you water the soil in a plant’s pot too much or too often, the soil becomes soggy. The roots are unable to dry out between watering, so they cannot breathe and absorb oxygen.

You can check whether your plant is overwatered by tipping the plant out of the container and checking the soil and the roots. If the soil is wet, you may need to lessen your frequency of watering. If the roots have turned brown or black, it may be too late to save the plant from root rot. If there are still some roots that are white and firm, you may still be able to salvage it.

You can remedy an overwatered bird of paradise by digging it up to properly assess the extent of the root rot. As mentioned above, if most of the root is brown or black and mushy, the plant is too far gone, especially if there is a distinct smell of rotting vegetation coming from the roots.

If there are still roots that look healthy, the bird of paradise may be able to bounce back to full health. Wash the whole root ball to remove as much soil as you can, and use clean scissors to cut off any affected roots. Dip the remaining roots in fungicide or a solution of chamomile, cinnamon and activated charcoal. Lay the plant on a dry paper towel on a tray. When the roots have dried out, replant the bird of paradise in a pot with drainage holes, using well-draining soil mix.

The best way to know when you need to water your plant is by touching the top of the soil. If the soil is dry, you can water the plant; if the soil is still damp, wait one to two days and check the soil again.

Underwatering

As much as overwatering can turn the plant’s leaves yellow, so can underwatering. The leaves on the plant will turn yellow and drop off, especially those closer to the bottom and the more mature leaves. Other signs of underwatering include wrinkled and brown leaves, wilted leaves that feel scaly, and crispy, dry soil.

Fortunately, it is much easier to fix an underwatered bird of paradise than it is to fix an overwatered one. You just need to give the plant’s soil a good soaking. Keep pouring water onto the soil until you can see the excess water flowing from the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. This is to ensure that all of the soil in the pot has been drenched so that all the roots have access to moisture. If the soil is very dry, you can let the pot soak in a tray of water for ten minutes. If there is any excess water in the pot, dump it out so the soil does not become waterlogged.

Lack of nutrients

If your plant is lacking any of the essential nutrients that it needs, its leaves can also start to turn yellow. This is because the soil the plant is in has been depleted of the nutrients it once contained. The most common nutrient deficiencies for bird of paradise plants are zinc, magnesium, iron and nitrogen.

Zinc deficiency will turn new leaves yellow between the veins, while magnesium deficiency will cause the leaves to turn yellow on the edges, making them resemble arrowheads. Iron deficiency  will turn the edges, tips and veins of the leaves yellow. Nitrogen deficiency presents as yellowing on the lower leaves that works its ways upwards over time. This often affects older leaves, and may even stunt the growth of the plant.

You can correct magnesium and zinc deficiency by using a houseplant fertilizer that contains both these elements.

For iron deficiency, you do not need to add any fertilizer; all you need to do is make sure the soil is slightly acidic, since this is needed for the successful transport of iron into the plant.

For nitrogen deficiency, use a nitrogen-rich, water-soluble fertilizer.

Pests

The presence of pests can also cause yellowing of the bird of paradise leaves. Being able to spot the signs of specific insects can be helpful in determining the correct approach.

The opogona crown borer is an invertebrate that drills into the bracts of the bird of paradise flower. It damages the tissue of the leaves, causing them to turn yellow.

Whiteflies usually appear during the early spring, when you can see a fuzzy collection of eggs under the leaves of the plant. These insects suck the sap out of the plant and cause it to turn yellow.

Scale insects appear as small brown patches on the underside of the leaves. They also suck the sap from the leaves, making them turn yellow due to chlorosis.

Spider mites prefer dehydrated bird of paradise plants. They also appear as brown spots that leave the leaves yellow.

Aphids are small, but can be seen with the naked eye. They also drink the sap of the plant, while leaving honeydew behind. This honeydew attracts ants.

You can get rid of these insects by bringing the plant to an open space, such as the driveway or the shower, and hosing it down hard with water. This will help dislodge and wash away the insects that are hanging on to the plant. Dab the affected areas with cotton balls soaked in rubbing alcohol. You can also apply neem oil to the leaves to kill the insects. You might need to reapply the treatment once a week for a month to ensure that all the pests are eradicated. 

Make sure you keep the infested plants away from the other healthy plants throughout treatment, to make sure the infestation does not spread.

Diseases

Another reason for your bird of paradise leaves turning yellow is disease. The diseases can be caused either by fungi or bacteria that attack the plant’s tissue, leaving the plant discolored.

Leaf blight is a type of bacterial wilt that causes the leaves to become pale or yellow. Over time, the leaves will wilt and drop off.

Root rot has already been mentioned above, but this is actually caused by fungi. Because the roots are waterlogged and rotten, the fungi can easily infect the vulnerable plant, and the root rot can make its way up the stem and into the leaves.

Leaf spots are also caused by fungi that start out as small brown spots. The longer the infection, the larger the spots become, until they coalesce to form patches on the leaves.

It is much easier to treat the plant if the disease is caught in its early stages. You could use a fungicide or anti-bacterial spray, but these may do the plant more harm than good. You can also use a more organic material, such as baking soda. Make a solution and spray it on the plant until the disease is gone.

Edema

Edema is another effect of overwatering and high humidity. If the plant takes up too much water, its cells will fill with too much moisture and rupture. You can see signs on the leaves such as watery splotches surrounded by yellow halos.

You can remedy edema by following the steps on how to fix an overwatered plant. Stick to a working watering schedule to prevent overwatering. You can also remove the damaged leaves, because they cannot be salvaged.

Too much sun

Even though the bird of paradise is a tropical plant, it does not mean it should be out under the full sun for most of the day. When the plant gets too much sunlight, the leaves can get scalded and burnt. The tips of the leaves will turn brown, then the rest of the leaf will turn yellow.

You can remedy a sunburnt plant by moving it to a different location where it can get some shade during the day. You can remove any damaged leaves for aesthetic purposes. Make sure you water the plant when it should be watered.

Low light

Because it is a tropical plant, the bird of paradise still needs at least six hours of sunlight a day. Not enough light will cause chlorosis, turning the leaves yellow. If the plant is kept away from light, the soil will also not dry out as quickly as it needs to and may result in effects similar to overwatering.

You can remedy this by moving the plant to a well-lit area to make sure it gets the hours of light it needs every day.

Conclusion

When your bird of paradise plant’s leaves turn yellow, you need to identify the environmental factor that is stressing it in order to fix the problem.

The most common causes of yellowing bird of paradise leaves are overwatering, underwatering,  lack of nutrients, pests, diseases, edema, too much sun and not enough light.

Image: istockphoto.com / telev_cat