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Pale Plant Leaves: Causes and Effective Fixes

Have you ever seen plant leaves that look pale or yellow than usual? Fortunately, pale leaves are caused by abnormal growing conditions that can be fixed.

Pale plant leaves can be caused by overwatering, lack of nutrients, and limited sunlight which all reduce the chlorophyll density which is responsible for green leaves. Pale plant leaves can also be a symptom of genetic disorders in plants, including phyllody and chloranthy. 

Phyllody occurs when flower parts develop into leaf parts instead of petals.

This and many other causal factors and corrective actions are what I am going to discuss further in this article.

What Causes Pale Plant Leaves?

Pale Plant leaves

Several environmental factors can contribute to pale leaves. Some of which are discussed below:

Too Much Sunlight:

Plants require adequate sunlight to function properly. However, too much of anything can do more harm than good. 

Plants that are exposed to direct sunlight for extended periods lose too much water through transpiration which can lead to dehydration. 

Too much exposure to sunlight can also put the plant under stress, and it might not be able to perform photosynthesis properly. 

The damage caused by stressful conditions and dehydration shows up as faded, bleached, or pale leaves. 

Other than the pale leaves, dark-burn-like spots might appear on the leaves. These are indications of sunburn and need to be addressed properly.  

Lack of Sunlight:

No exposure to the sun is one of the most prevalent factors contributing to pale leaves in plants. As we all know, chlorophyll is a pigment present in plants that plays a key role in photosynthesis.

Chlorophyll is responsible for the green color of leaves when actively working.

When a plant does not receive enough sunlight, the chlorophyll might not be able to perform its function fully. This leads to the pale plant leaves. 

Overwatering:

Just like sunlight, too much water can harm plant health. Adding water to plants too frequently or overwatering limits the oxygen supply causing the roots to rot and not let any water seep in. 

Furthermore, water does not reach the leaves and other plant parts. This leads to stunted growth and yellowing of leaves. 

Insufficient Watering:

When a plant doesn’t get enough water, all the essential nutrients fail to reach its leaves. This can cause a decrease in growth due to malnutrition and dehydration. 

All the flowers and leaves might start to drop. Flowers may not even grow at all. The leaves will most likely turn brittle and pale yellow. If the dehydration continues, the plant will dry up and eventually die.

Plant with pale leaves

Lack of Nutrients:

Plants need more than a dozen essential nutrients to function properly. If the soil is nutrient-deficient or the roots are damaged, the plant might not get enough nutrients. 

This can lead to nutritional deficiency, seen as leaves with greener veins but paler tissues. Some common types of nutrient deficiencies that can cause pale leaves are listed below: 

Nitrogen Deficiency:

A deficiency of nitrogen can lead to the complete paleness of older leaves. They appear small and might drop. Limited nitrogen can also cause stunted growth. As this condition progresses, the younger leaves will also turn pale. 

Magnesium Deficiency:

Magnesium is important for plant health. Its deficiency can cause yellowing of older and inner leaves. They may appear thin and brittle. Magnesium deficiency doesn’t cause the complete yellowing of leaves. Yellow spots and patches are seen between leaf veins while the midrib remains green. 

Iron Deficiency:

If a plant is suffering from iron deficiency, the younger leaves will turn pale. Light yellow color will be seen between veins of leaves with dark green veins. Iron deficiency can also cause stunted growth. 

Potassium Deficiency:  

Pale leaf edges with the inner leaf remaining green indicate a potassium deficiency. The margins of leaves might turn brown. Other signs of potassium deficiency include crinkling of leaves, reduced flowering, and premature death of young shoots. 

Zinc Deficiency:

Misshapen leaves and pale areas between leaf veins can be a common sign of zinc deficiency. 

Sulfur Deficiency:

Sulfur deficiency shows similar symptoms to nitrogen deficiency. The only exception is that sulfur deficiency causes yellowing or chlorosis in younger leaves. The older leaves might appear light green and smaller. Stunted growth of shoots is another indication of sulfur deficiency. 

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purvied for stronger leaves

Pests:

If any of the above is not the cause of pale plant leaves, pests might be the culprit. Another sign of pests can be small holes in leaves or missing parts of leaves. 

Aphids are the most common pests that mainly target small plants and young trees. They suck nutritional sap from the plant, which leads to slow growth. The leaves of the plant curl up and turn pale. 

Another example of a pest that might cause pale leaves is spider mites. Similar to a virus, spider mites cause the yellowing of leaves in a mottled pattern. 

Can Pale Leaves Turn Green Again?

The answer is NO. You can not turn your pale leaves green again. The yellowing of leaves is permanent and irreversible in most cases. You might have to cut these pale leaves off and wait for new leaves to grow. 

The damage might be reversible if the yellowing is new and small.

If pale leaves are caused by nutritional deficiency, the chances of a damaging reversal are pretty slim but not impossible. You can try adding nutrients to make up for the nutritional deficiency to ensure new leaves don’t exhibit the same symptoms. 

However, yellowing caused by lack of care can’t be helped, and the only solution is to start afresh. So, if your plant leaves are turning pale, you must figure out the cause of the problem as soon as possible. 

Do Pale Leaves Absorb Less Sunlight?

Yes, pale leaves absorb less sunlight but less than green leaves. Chlorophyll is a photosynthetic pigment present in plants. It is responsible for giving green color to leaves. It also captures most of the sunlight required for photosynthesis. 

Pale leaves have a limited amount of chlorophyll. However, some other pigments called carotenoids are still present in pale leaves. 

These pigments can also capture sunlight, although not as efficiently as chlorophyll. Hence, sunlight is absorbed in less amount by pale leaves. 

How to Make Pale Plant Leaves Greener?

Most gardeners freak out at the first sign of yellowing of leaves and don’t know what to do. Well, to prevent further damage and make pale plant leaves greener, here are a few things you can do:

Improve Watering Methods:

Overwatering can damage plant roots due to overflow and cause pale plant leaves. To stop this, start by using good quality soil and keeping it in a pot with an effective drainage system. 

If you grow your plants in your garden, choose a spot where rainwater doesn’t accumulate. 

Before watering your plants, remember to do the water test on the soil. Put your finger in the soil. If it feels parched, water it adequately. If it feels soft and wet, stop watering for a few days. Water only when it feels dry.

Use Fertilizer:

If your soil is not nutritionally rich in nitrogen, your plant can suffer that nutritional deficiency.

This can cause pale plant leaves due to the lack of chlorophyll which can be restored with the supplementation of nitrogen.

If you suspect a nutritional deficiency, it is crucial to get your soil tested. 

Then, you can use fertilizer to make up for the deficiency. A nitrogen-rich fertilizer can be used to supplement the nitrogen deficiency.

Nitrogen-rich fertilizers can be easily recognized with a higher “N” number in the N:P:K ratio. For example 20:10:10.

Foliar feeding is the most effective way to get nitrogen to the plant as it can be easily absorbed by the leaf through its stomata. See our detailed article on foliar feeding.

I have had the best results from using Miracle-Gro Soluble fertilizer. It’s great value for money and will last a long time. You can find it by clicking here.

Miracle-Gro 1001233 Water Soluble

Provide adequate lighting:

Another reason for pale plant leaves is too much sunlight or too little sunlight. Too much sunlight can bleach the leaves. Too little sunlight affects the growth of plants and causes the yellowing of leaves. 

Some plants require more sunlight, and some require less sunlight to survive. Before putting your plant under the sun, find out how much sunlight your plant actually needs. The key is to provide enough sunlight for the plant to perform its normal functions.

Use Pesticide:

Pests and insects can deteriorate the health of your plant. Pests can suck the sap out of your plant and stunt its growth. This can lead to pale plant leaves. You can use a pesticide on your plants to kill any bugs and prevent any future infestation. 

If you don’t want to use chemical pesticides, you can use neem oil, peppermint oil, or any DIY pesticides. These natural alternatives are cheap and have no side effects. 

Can Artificial Light Cause Pale Plant Leaves?

Sun exposure is the best source of light needed by plants for their growth. Artificial light cannot be compared to sunlight as it does not provide the full spectrum of natural light needed for holistic growth. A lack of sunlight and incorrect use of artificial light can cause pale plant leaves.

Providing balanced lighting is crucial, and we have found an effective and durable artificial grow light on amazon that provides the right spectrum of light to get the job done. You can find it by clicking here.

grow light

However, artificial light is not all bad. If the correct wavelength of the light is used in artificial light, it can replace sunlight. Plants having limited access to sunlight or indoor plants can greatly benefit from this.

Artificial light can help in photosynthesis and provide energy for growth. It can also support germination and prevent premature plant death. Some commonly used artificial lights for plant growth are LEDs, glow lights,  incandescent lamps, and fluorescent lamps. 

The Takeaway

Pale plant leaves can indicate that your plant is suffering from some sort of problem. It can be caused by a variety of environmental and genetic causes. These environmental causes include too much or insufficient sunlight, overwatering, insufficient watering, pests, or nutritional deficiency. 

Sufficient sunlight, proper watering, pest control, and the use of fertilizers can reverse the yellowing of leaves and make your pale plant leaves greener.

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