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Hibiscus Leaves Turns Brown/Yellow With Holes/Spots & Falls

When your hibiscus leaves start changing colors and growing holes, it can be scary. An otherwise resistant plant like hibiscus rarely develops these issues, but what to do when it happens. Why did your hibiscus leaves turn brown or yellow, grew holes, or started to fall?

Browning or yellowing in hibiscus leaves, as well as spots, holes, and falling of leaves, are usually a result of poor care such as underwatering, overwatering, sunburn, or nutrient deficiency. At the same time, it could be caused by common pests like spider mites and others. 

If you want to know how to recognize each of these conditions and how to resolve them and help your plant grow healthy and beautiful, read on. 

Nutrient Deficiency 

Hibiscus plant is not very demanding when it comes to food that it’s getting, but there are some things you have to be careful with. If you start noticing browning on your leaves and some instances of falling off, you may have a problem with not enough of certain nutrients and too much of other nutrients. 

Hibiscus needs ample potassium, as it is one of the key elements of its growth. It transmits water and nutrients to leaves and flowers, and it helps with photosynthesis. It’s not easily found in fertilizers, and they often don’t have enough of it, but you should ensure that this plant gets enough. Due to stress, potassium is easily lost in hibiscus, so you’ll have to make up for it by supplementing it. 

Other than that, keep an eye on how much phosphorus you are giving to your plant. It needs only the smallest amounts, so you should find a fertilizer that doesn’t have too much phosphorus. 

Otherwise, it could be very damaging. The leaves will start to turn yellow, and they might fall off. Too much phosphorus can ruin your plant in a matter of weeks, so be careful. This happens because of phosphorus stunting mineral and vitamin absorption. 

When it comes to nitrogen, it only needs medium amounts. It helps keep the plants alive and well, but in high amounts, it can turn the leaves yellow and then eventually black at the ends. It also causes root burn, which can end your plant if you are not careful. 

If you notice any damage to your plants, stop fertilizing for a few weeks and only water when necessary. Once you start fertilizing again, dilute your fertilizer, so it’s half as strong as it used to be or find an appropriate fertilizer for your plant. 

Keep in mind that your plant also needs vital minerals and vitamins, so make sure that it receives them through the fertilizer. Iron, magnesium, and others are vital, but only in small amounts. 

Weather Conditions

Another common cause of your hibiscus leaves falling, yellowing and browning is sunburn or other extreme weather conditions. While hibiscus loves the sun and needs a lot of it, too much heat can damage its leaves. 

If it’s warm and dry outside, the plant will need more water to survive. Dryness of the soil and the weather will soon turn into the yellowing and dryness of the leaves, as well as some of those leaves falling off. This plant can even die from the stress of heat, so make sure that you are doing enough to protect it from it. 

Freezing is also not a good idea for this plant. The leaves will yellow and fall off as soon as the weather gets too cold for this plant. In this sense, you need to take it inside your home and allow it to have enough warmth. Make sure that it’s not placed in a windy or drafty area, as this can also cause yellowing and leaves falling off. 

Even when inside, this plant should have enough light — at least 13 hours a day, so keep it next to a sunny window in your home. Sunburn is usually manifested in white or yellow spots, and when that happens, the leaves should be removed. Move the plant away from the area where it got sunburn and give it space where it can get sunshine, but not scorching heat. 

The point is to watch your plant, and if you notice these issues, react by providing something different, yet in the range of what works for this plant. 

When the plant goes dormant, you should move it to your home in an area that is darker and cooler than its previous spot. As the dormancy period ends, you should move your plant to an area where it can get enough sun and cut in a bit so that healthy, young parts can start to grow. 

Simultaneously, too much moving can cause stress to the plant — yellowing of the leaves and those leaves falling off. Plan your ideal conditions and minimize the movement. Don’t move the hibiscus every day, but rather gradually change its location. 


Photo by Mokkie, licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Spider Mites

Hibiscus plants can often get infested with spider mites, especially those plants that spend most of their time inside a house. The conditions in there work well for these pests, and you will have to protect your plant from them. 

Spider mites are especially tricky because they are so tiny that they can get through screen doors, get into your home through your clothes, and they reproduce pretty quickly once somewhere warm and dry. 

Spider mites don’t like water or wetness, so hibiscus works well for them as it’s not watered frequently. They need dry, warm conditions and plants. If you notice yellowing on your leaves, but the conditions are not dry and warm, then the problem is not the spider mites, but rather something else. 

They can eat through your leaves pretty quickly, and they won’t stop until the conditions change or the plant is dead. You’ll notice holes as well. The spider mites will go through the leaves to suck out chlorophyll. So, a sure sign of spider mites is yellow leaves that have holes and then start falling off the branches. 

You won’t be able to see these tiny critters, but you’ll know that they are there. They will form tiny webs around the branches, so it might even look like you have regular spiders. Use a magnifying glass and then look under the leaves in strong light. 

Spider mites will look like crabs — fat bodies and stubby legs. If there are spiders with lean bodies and long legs, these might be just regular spiders that could even be defending your plant against spider mites. 

Once you can see big webs, you have a big problem on your hands. But as long as you inspect frequently, you’ll be able to catch this problem before it gets out of hand. 

If your hibiscus is a houseplant, you can drown the spider mites. 

To do this, you will need to cover the plant with a material like cloth or aluminum. Secure it properly. Lay the pot in a bathtub to its side and fill the bathtub with water. It shouldn’t be too warm or cold but just right at around 90°F (32°C). The water should cover the plant completely, and you should press the plant down so that it stays put for around 45 minutes, although you can keep them there for an hour. 

After that, drain the tub and drain the water out of the pots just like you normally would. Remove the covers as well and return the soil to the pots. 

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Prevention of future spider mite instances is a good idea as well. 

For one, don’t put new plants next to your older ones. New plants can sometimes bring in spider mites. Wash your plants as described once a month. You can only shower them or hose them thoroughly during the summer as well. 


Mealybugs are not that common, but they are still worth mentioning as they might show up, and they can cause yellowing of the leaves, holes, and leaves falling off. They suck out the juices from the plant and leave it all over the leaves. They create a lot of stress for the plant. 

Mealybugs are not that easy to spot, but they will be noticeable once they are fully grown. They will look like small bugs covered with cotton balls. They won’t move as much, and they will suck on your plant, killing it effectively. 

Mealybugs are spread from plant to plant, and they will climb up and down all other plants. Especially so when young. These bugs won’t go away, and they will only spread around, ruining your plants. The cotton-like armor that they build is very strong, and it protects them against pesticides. 

But, you can eliminate them through a systemic pesticide process and through removing them by hand. Systemic pesticide means that you will add pesticides to the soil, meaning that the plant will absorb it, and when these bugs suck on the leaves, they will get poisoned as well. This process is slow, but it works. And it won’t harm your plant if done well. 

At the same time, begin physically removing these bugs from the plant. You will spot them easily, and you can easily remove them. They won’t move at all. 

Dab a bit of alcohol on the bug and the armor will dissolve, making it easy to remove. This may be slow, but it’s effective. Find eggs as well and remove them in the same way. Slowly, these bugs will start to disappear if you continue applying both of these methods. 

Dieback Disease

Dieback disease could be another reason why your leaves are wilting, changing color, and falling off. It comes around usually in early fall when other pests are fewer and far between. It usually looks like the tips of your leaves are growing dark with some holes. Sometimes it looks like wilt, but it’s usually not.

Wilt causes the leaves to droop, but they don’t change the color at all. Dieback disease will cause discoloration, though. When you notice this, check the bark along the base of hibiscus. It will normally have a rotten patch that should be removed. 

Dieback disease is often caused by bark wounds that allow the bacteria to enter it. So, you have to be careful when handling your plant so that you can avoid this disease. It’s not as dangerous as some other diseases from this list, but if left untreated, it can kill your plant as these fungi stop the water transmission to the leaves from the root. 

This disease can also be caused by a flower that hasn’t fallen off the hibiscus plant completely, but it is spent. It can cause the stem holding it to rot, and then it will spread around. This is why it’s important to remove any spent flowers if they don’t fall off. 

The best way to deal with dieback disease is to cut the part that’s been infected. Find the source of the infection as well and remove it. This is an easy process, and it can come at the same time as your pruning. Once you’re done cutting, you should take a look at the result. The area beneath the cut wood should be white and clean, just like on healthy plants. 

If it’s darker, cut a bit more until you get to the healthy part. Protect this with sterile wax. This way, no fungi or diseases will be able to get to your plant. The best way to prevent this disease, in general, is to follow proper hygiene practices and care for your plant — water it enough, give it enough sun and support vigorous growth. 


If your plant gets too much water or too little water, then the leaves can turn brown or yellow, get holes and eventually fall off. In high heat, remember to water your plant often, as often as the soil in the pot or its patch dries. Dig your finger into the ground, and if it’s slightly moist 1 inch down, you should water it. 

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During winter, the plant will need a lot less water, so you should be careful not to overwater it. Try to check the soil every time before watering. Too much water can cause root rot and destroy your plant. Root rot will be clear because your leaves will start to yellow, shrivel, and fall off. 

The soil should be moist but not soggy. The soil needs to drain well too. If it doesn’t, it will keep the plant too wet, and this will cause root rot. Check if it drains well, and if not, carefully repot the plant. 

Check the soil every day and note the changes. If it gets drier than when you watered it, it means that the soil is draining and that your plant will soon need more water. If your plant is potted, you should drain the tray too. 

Leaf Fungus

Leaf fungus, no matter how distressing it looks, is not a big issue. It happens during winter, and you can easily deal with it. It’s more common in areas where the hibiscus plant can survive outside through winter, so the dew gathers on the leaves, and then the leaf fungus develops.

They are not that dangerous, and they won’t affect the entire plant, though. They will stick to the spot that they initially appeared on, and they will grow there. The hibiscus can survive well with them; the only problem is the change in appearance, which annoys most people. 

As soon as the weather gets warmer, the fungi will go away. The leaves that have been infected will simply fall off, and that will be the end of this problem. So, it’s not something you have to solve immediately, although the holes and discoloration may annoy you. 

You can speed up removing these fungi by simply putting your hibiscus in a dry and warm spot, and you should notice changes within a week or two. Or you can simply remove the branches and leaves that have been infected. They would fall off on their own as soon as the warm weather came along either way. 

You can also spray the plant with a fungicide or just the affected area, and the problem should clear up. The spots will stay, though, but they won’t grow. In general, it’s best to remove infected parts and let the plant grow new, healthy leaves of branches. 

Final Thoughts

Hibiscus is a beautiful plant, but a lack of care and pests could cause many problems and deteriorate its appearance. Deal with issues as soon as you notice them and reduce their impact on your plant. 

If you apply proper watering techniques and give the plant enough sun and warmth, it will grow and be healthy for as long as you want it. 

ReadyToDIY is the owner of this article. This post was published on July 28, 2020.

Remember that hibiscus plants have high immunity during vigorous growth, so this is when you will experience no issues since the plant will be able to defend itself. Boost the growth by adding various nutrients that the plant needs and giving it great conditions for thriving.