The 3 main reasons why plants lose their leaves, and how to fix it

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Lauren Geall
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A fiddle leaf fig in the sunlight

Has your plant started dropping its leaves? Here’s everything you need to know about dealing with this common houseplant problem. 

Whether you’re the proud owner of one or a hundred plants, you’ll know how satisfying it can be to watch your houseplant unfurl a new leaf. Keeping your plants happy isn’t always easy, but when your plant produces new growth, you at least know you’re doing something right.  

On the flip side, when a plant loses its leaves, it can be more than a little frustrating. 

Not only is it disheartening to see all your hard work fall away, but it can also be a sign that something is wrong – something no plant owner wants to hear.

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Of course, there are many reasons why plants might start dropping their leaves, and not all of them are bad. Plus, there are ways to deal with it, so don’t think finding a leaf on the ground spells the end of your beloved leafy friend. 

However, it is true that a plant dropping its leaves can be a sign that you need to take action – and that’s where this guide comes in.

To find out more about the main reasons why plants drop their leaves, why it happens, and what you can do to rectify the situation, we asked Jo Lambell, founder of the online plant shop Beards & Daisies, to share her expert advice. Here’s what she had to say. 

What are the main reasons why plants drop their leaves? 

A woman watering a monstera deliciosa
Over or underwatering your plants can lead to leaf droppage.

While plants dropping their leaves can sometimes be a sign that something is wrong with their care routine, often, it’s just a response to their environment. For example, it’s particularly common for plants to drop some leaves when they move location (either when you first bring them home or you move them to a different spot in the house).

“Plants are sensitive souls, so if you suddenly change the conditions they’re used to (this can be anything from light to temperature) or if they’re adjusting to a new home, they can experience stress,” Lambell explains.

“This shock is the most common cause of leaf drop, and the majority of the time this is only temporary. Eventually, once your plant has settled and adjusted to the new environment, it should return to good health.” 

In this way, if your plant has recently moved location, you can give it some time and see if any more leaves drop before panicking that something is wrong. 

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However, if your plant hasn’t been moved at all, and the temperature and lighting in your home has remained pretty stable, then something else could be wrong.

“Other causes of leaf drop include incorrect watering,” Lambell says. “A sign of overwatering is both yellowing leaves and leaf drop, while underwatering and dry soil can cause plants to feel the need to conserve water, resulting in them dropping foliage.”

She continues: “A final reason for leaf drop is due to plants having outgrown their container, which is a sign that it’s time to repot them.”

Is a plant dropping its leaves always a bad sign?

While seeing your plant dropping a couple of leaves can be concerning, it isn’t always something to worry about.

“It’s often just your plant’s way of reacting to change,” Lambell says. “Usually, this will stop when they adjust to new conditions.”

It’s also worth noting that leaf dropping can occur as part of a plant’s natural growth cycle in order to conserve energy during winter and make way for new growth in the spring, so the occasional leaf drop shouldn’t be cause for too much concern. 

Are some plants more prone to dropping leaves? 

Fiddle leaf fig
Plants like the fiddle leaf fig (pictured) are more susceptible to dropping their leaves.

While all plants with leaves are capable of dropping them, some are more sensitive than others.

“Ficus plants tend to be prone to leaf loss when they’re stressed or unhappy, in particular the fiddle leaf fig,” Lambell says. “Also, the money tree (the pachira aquatica) can experience this issue more frequently, too.” 

What action can you take to look after your plant if it’s dropping leaves?

The most important step you can take to look after your plant if it’s dropping its leaves is to provide it with suitable, consistent conditions.

“This extends through to watering, light and temperature,” Lambell explains. 

“Do your research on your particular plant to find out what environment they best respond to. Also, if this is a new plant that is dropping leaves, give it a few weeks to settle and adjust to its new home.” 

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Most plants come with a care guide when you first buy them, but if yours didn’t, you can find out the information you need by simply putting your plant’s name into Google. 

Online plant shops like Beards & Daisies often have specific care information for each of the plants they sell, which anyone can check out.

How can you prevent further leaves from dropping in the future?

In a similar way to the above, the best thing you can do to stop your plant from dropping leaves in the first place is to try and keep the conditions you keep it in suitable and consistent.

“We have a lot more in common with plants than we realise – they will always appreciate and thrive with consistency, care and attention,” Lambell says.

“Try not to mix up their living conditions too much or shock them, and you should have a happy plant.” 

New to plant parenthood? Check out Stylist’s guide to buying, styling and caring for plants to get started. 

You can find out more about the most common houseplant problems by checking out our range of plant care content, too.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.