Chinese Evergreens (Aglaonema) are fantastic houseplants, known for their versatile and colorful foliage, thanks to the different eye-catching varieties. Although generally easy to care for, a common problem is when a Chinese Evergreen turns yellow leaves.
Chinese evergreens most commonly develop yellow leaves due to overwatering, low light, pests or aging foliage. Yellowing foliage is normally a sign of plant stress unless it affects only a small number of lower leaves. The pattern of yellowing, as well as review of the care conditions can help you identify and correct the problem.
This article will help you identify why your Chinese wintergreen has yellow leaves and help you fix the problem and get your plant looking good again.
Chinese Evergreens are amazing plants. They come from Southeast Asia and have evolved into about 25 different cultivated varieties.
If your Chinese wintergreen is suffering due to the amount of water it receives, it is very likely that it is getting too much water rather than too little. Aglaonema plants are best watered when the top 1-2 inches of soil feels dry to the touch.
Symptoms of an overwatered Chinese wintergreen and how to fix it
Look for the following symptoms to identify if your Chinese wintergreen has yellow leaves due to overwatering.
- Falling foliage, despite wet soil.
- Generally the leaves turn yellow, often starting with the lower leaves first.
- Sheet edema.
- Brown infection spots on the leaves.
- A rotting smell from the soil – This indicates root rot and needs to be treated immediately.
Any factor that causes the soil to dry out slowly can increase the risk of overwatering. Planting in a pot that is too large, using poorly draining soil or a pot without drainage holes can cause major problems.
Keep in mind that your Aglaonema will need less water in winter, or when light levels or temperatures are low, due to a reduced growth rate. If you stick to the same watering schedule all year, chances are you’ll run into overwatering problems in the winter.
If you think your Chinese wintergreen has yellow leaves due to overwatering, check for any signs of root rot. You can do this by gently removing the plant from the pot temporarily.
If root rot occurs, remove all affected roots and repot the plant in a new pot with new, well-draining soil. Read my article on identifying and treating root rot for more info.
If there are no signs of root rot, the best course of action is to let it dry completely until the soil around it has no moisture to a depth of about two inches.
You can speed up this process by reducing the humidity and moving the plant to a brighter location. Consider whether the plant would do better in a different pot or soil, or if you need to adjust some other aspects of care.
Yellow Chinese evergreen leaves caused by submergence
This problem is easier to identify and much easier to fix. The yellowing will usually affect the lower leaves, as the plant decides to let these die off, favoring younger growth. You will also see brown tips and leaf edges that feel dry and crispy to the touch.
The plant will usually droop and look pretty bad, and the soil will feel very dry.
Although existing leaf damage cannot be fixed, the plant can usually be saved by repotting one regular watering schedule. If the soil dries out very quickly after watering, consider whether your plant needs repotting or if the temperature and lighting are too high.
You can read mine guide to replanting rooted houseplants for a step by step guide.
One of the characteristics of Chinese Evergreens that make them so popular for decorative indoor use is their ability to handle lower light conditions. However, there is some variation in the amount of light these plants require depending on the color of their leaves.
Variegated leaves require more light, while pure green or green and white varieties do well in lower light conditions, even artificial light.
Although Aglaonema plants can tolerate low light, they do better in bright, indirect light. In very low light conditions, variegated plants will lose their variety, while green varieties initially become more intensely green. If the lighting remains very poor, your Chinese Evergreen will develop generally yellow leaves, affecting the lower leaves first.
This pattern of change will help you distinguish a lighting problem from an overwatering problem. But because plants grow very slowly and use less water in low light, they are also at risk of being overwatered.
I have written one article on light levels for houseplants which can help ensure you are giving your plants all the light they need.
The only light conditions that Aglaonema plants do not tolerate are direct sunlight (source). When the plants receive too much direct sunlight, the leaves turn brown and curl as if burned.
Temperature and draft
When trying to figure out why your Chinese wintergreen has yellow leaves, consider temperature and draft. Prolonged or sudden changes in temperature can cause your plant considerable stress and result in yellowing of the leaves. You may also see wilting, new growth dying and leaf damage including brown edges and tips, and curling
Hot or cold drafts from heaters, air conditioners or drafty widows are the main causes of problems. Be careful when positioning your plant to keep it away from any sources of draft to prevent yellow leaves.
Apart from drafts, your Chinese Evergreen will remain healthy if the temperature does not drop below 55°F (13°C). They can also withstand temperatures up to 80°F (27°C) with ease. Unfavorable temperatures or drafts can also cause your plant to wilt.
Plants experience shock when they are suddenly moved. This is the reason why certain types of ornamental plants should be uprooted and replanted with care.
Chinese evergreens usually tolerate being repotted, but can develop yellow leaves and wilt if not done carefully.
Make sure the new pot is only 1-2 inches larger than the previous pot and plant in well-draining soil. A mixture of two parts potting soil and one part perlite is a good choice. Read more about choosing soil for houseplants in this article.
You may notice that your plant appears to be root-bound before replanting. You may be concerned that root-bound can cause Chinese evergreens to turn yellow leaves.
Thankfully, they don’t suffer too much from being root bound, so you should really only need to repot every few years, to give the plant more room to keep growing.
Pests are a danger to almost all types of houseplants. However, some plants tend to be more susceptible to insects than others, and certain insects seem to gravitate to certain types of plants.
If you notice that your plant looks sick, with mottled, yellow leaves, or if there are yellow spots or irregular holes in the leaves, you may have a pest problem.
As it happens, Chinese evergreens are an attractive target for several small predators: aphids, mealybugs and spider mites (source). An infestation of any of these three pests can be annoying and even fatal for your Aglaonema.
Therefore, it is important to know how to deal with these little bugs. While aphids are more likely to be found outdoors than indoors, they sometimes find their way inside and congregate on the edges of plant leaves, where they are easy to see as they feast on plant sap.
Mealybugs look like little cotton balls on the stem or leaves of Chinese Evergreens. Usually easy to spot, they will usually only cause major damage to your plant with a bad infestation.
The worst and most common offenders among pests are spider mites. These almost invisible insects first gather on the underside of Aglaonema leaves and then wander over every part of the plant. They reveal their presence through web-like structures.
The yellowing of Chinese wintergreen leaves is a result of the mites sucking away the plant’s internal fluids. Getting rid of these pests requires patience and persistence, especially with spider mites.
Read my guide to identifying and getting rid of houseplant bugs to get rid of these troublesome pests for good.
Chinese Evergreens are not only susceptible to insect pests, but they are also subject to bacterial infection. The most common is Bacterial Blight, a microscopic disease that has followed Aglaonema plants around the world (source).
Bacterial blight causes large, scattered black spots over the leaves. Affected plants may also develop yellowing of their leaves. Note that this condition occurs almost exclusively in overwatered plants.
You should treat an Aglaonema with Bacterial Blight by isolating it from all your other plants. Remove all infested leaves and discard carefully. Optimize the care conditions for your plant and you may be able to nurse it back to health. If all or most of the foliage is affected, it is better to discard the plant and start over with a healthy one.
Fungal infections of Chinese Evergreens are extremely rare. When they do occur, it is again always the result of overwatering.
Just as Chinese evergreens are not needy when it comes to water, they do not need frequent fertilization. Aglaonemas grow slowly anyway, so small doses of liquid fertilizer are sufficient.
If your Chinese wintergreen has yellow leaves, there’s a small chance it’s due to a nutrient deficiency, but only if the plant hasn’t been fertilized or repotted in years.
Nitrogen deficiency will cause generalized yellowing and reduced color in the leaves. Potassium and phosphorus deficiencies tend to cause more mottled leaf changes, with brown and yellow discoloration.
If you think a lack of fertilizer is causing your Chinese wintergreen to turn yellow leaves, you can solve the problem by resuming a normal fertilization schedule. The plant should burst into life, with new growth be alive and healthy. Damaged foliage may improve slightly, but is unlikely to fully recover.
You are much more likely to have problems with your Chinese wintergreen due to over fertilization, but these will only cause leaf yellowing in advanced stages when there is root toxicity. You can see salt crusts on top of the soil. In particular, you should avoid fertilizing during late fall and winter. These are the periods of the year when Chinese evergreens do not grow strongly and are thus less able to cope with being exposed to overfeeding.
It is not necessary to fertilize these plants more than once or twice a year during their growing season, from mid-spring to late summer. Read my guide to fertilizing houseplants for all the information you need to keep your plants thriving.
If your Chinese wintergreen only has a few yellow leaves at the bottom of the plant, you can consider this quite normal. Old leaves will die and shed from the plant over time, as the plant focuses its energy on new growth.
It is more common to get yellowing leaves in the fall and winter as light levels decrease and the plant has to make some sacrifices for overall plant health.
The last word
If your Chinese wintergreen has yellow leaves, examine your plant closely and consider the care conditions it has been kept in. Overwatering, low light, and pests are the most likely causes of yellow leaves, so check for problems here first.
Examine your plant closely and look for any available clues that might tell you what the problem is. It is so much easier to fix the problem when you know what has gone wrong.
It’s ok to have a plant that doesn’t look perfect all the time, so don’t worry about the odd yellow leaf here or there. Continue to follow your plant closely and notice how the conditions and your care of it affect the health of the plant.
If you want to grow healthy houseplants that thrive year after year, check out my book, Potted plants in a simple way. I cover everything you need to know to become an expert at growing beautiful indoor plants.