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Peace lily - thin discolored leaves

Cassie J.
January 11, 2019

My large peace lily has had better days. While it is blooming and putting out new leaves, most of the existing leaves are thin and have a metallic sheen to them. I'm curious how far back I could cut the leaves and the plant still survive. Is there anything you would suggest? I'm hoping more light will help too.

Comments (8)

  • christine

    You can cut back all the way down to the soil line, bright indirect sun would be great, she looks good. How often do you fertilize? I only fertilize my plants 2x a year.

  • Karen S. (7b, NYC)

    Looks good to me from here as well.

    I don't see a problem, the metallic sheen MAY have been from someone applying some leaf shine type product to it in the store. If it's blooming already I don't think it needs more light.

    If mine, I wouldn't cut it back.

  • Cassie J.

    It's been a while since I fertilized... I've given them a break during winter. I've also had this plant for at least 2 years (maybe 3). Can't figure out what's causing the weird color (you can see it on a leaf in the back in this photo). Some of the leaves are also bent/curled. The peace lilies I see new or online have such wide beautiful leaves and I just want to restore mine to it's natural glory. I did have this plant sitting down in a basket for a while, which blocked the sunlight from the new leaves. Could this have had an effect? Am I letting it dry out too long between watering without realizing it?

  • Izzy Mn

    It may have a sunburn. Possibly from to strong of sun plus maybe some leaf cleaner amplifying the sun, acting like a magnifying glass. Maybe it was a older leaf used to lower light then when moved to higher sunlight. It's probably just cosmetic, just cut leaf off if it bothers you, it won't hurt it.

  • PRO

    I don't think it's sunburn if it's been sitting in the same corner for more than a few days; and, if the affected leaves persist w/o the silvery spots becoming necrotic, it's not. Too, leaf sheen or any other oils or liquids, including water, that cling to a leaf's surface are incapable of producing a "magnifying glass effect". It's just not physically possible.

    I think one of the hints Cassie offers is how thin the leaves are, which is a consequence of how little light they are getting. Very often light can be reflected from surfaces within the leaf. We know that leaf color is the result of wavelengths (of light) reflected by the plant. The rest of the light passes through or is absorbed. What passes through a thin cuticle strikes another layer which reflects other wavelengths that when reflected back through the cuticle can mask the green color normally reflected. This is called structural coloring.

    What I'd plan for the plant:

    1) Start and continue to monitor water requirements, using a 'tell'

    2) Lift/ divide/ trim roots sometime in May, depending on where you live

    3) Repot into a soil that will allow you to water to beyond the saturation point w/o having to worry that the soil will remain wet/soggy so long it wrecks root health/ function.

    4) Establish a good plan for nutritional supplementation

    * Repeat steps 2 & 3 every 1-2 years as required & stick with the rest of the plan.


  • Mike the Fiddle Leaf Fig Guy
    it looks fine! get a sensation variety so the leaves are thicker. i wouldnt worry about a peace lily at all besides you can easily buy a new more established one for a dollar
  • Cassie J.
    Al, I think light has a lot to do with it. I imagine some of these leaves grew while I had the pot down in the basket... then reached and reached for light... then got a little but not a lot. I know it's just a peace lily, but it was a gift and I have a hard time letting it go.

    When you refer to a "tell," what do you mean? I generally stick my hand in the pot to see what's going on, or at least a bamboo chopstick.
  • PRO

    Mike - Because I've been in front of so many gardening groups with various presentations, I get asked a LOT of questions about sick plants, which usually ends up with a suggestion to bring them over to my home or business if they're manageable enough. If they're too big, I try to stop by their home to have a look. Once I see the plant, turning it around becomes a challenge I actually enjoy. I've noticed that almost everyone gets the 'sentimental value' thing, but many don't understand the challenge part. There IS much to be said about simply buying another plant to replace the sick one, but where's the sense of accomplishment in that? I'm not saying either view is right or wrong - replace it or fix it; and I recognize there are different facets that make up the growing experience, with a variety of perspectives from which we approach each of those facets.

    The more you learn about the hobby, the more personally rewarding it becomes, and I might point to pulling a sick back from the drain as a very rewarding experience for some of us.

    Cassie - I don't think it's even close to the point where it belongs on the compost pile. I'd review what you're doing in terms of watering and fertilizing, more specifically are you flushing the soil regularly and fertilizing with an appropriate fertilizer, and consider the lack of light as a big factor. Temperature, cold drafts, and proximity to a heat source (register/radiator/....) are things to evaluate, too. Might as well give it the once-over to make sure bugs aren't an issue.

    When you decide to repot, let me know what you intend to do about the soil you'll be using, and I'll suggest easy ways to help keep Mother Nature on your side, because she's obligated to side with the hidden flaw whenever there is one.


    Edited to answer your 'tell' question:

    Using a 'tell'

    Over-watering saps vitality and is one of the most common plant assassins, so learning to avoid it is worth the small effort. Plants make and store their own energy source – photosynthate - (sugar/glucose). Functioning roots need energy to drive their metabolic processes, and in order to get it, they use oxygen to burn (oxidize) their food. From this, we can see that terrestrial plants need air (oxygen) in the soil to drive root function. Many off-the-shelf soils hold too much water and not enough air to support good root health, which is a prerequisite to a healthy plant. Watering in small sips leads to a build-up of dissolved solids (salts) in the soil, which limits a plant's ability to absorb water – so watering in sips simply moves us to the other horn of a dilemma. It creates another problem that requires resolution. Better, would be to simply adopt a soil that drains well enough to allow watering to beyond the saturation point, so we're flushing the soil of accumulating dissolved solids whenever we water; this, w/o the plant being forced to pay a tax in the form of reduced vitality, due to prolong periods of soil saturation. Sometimes, though, that's not a course we can immediately steer, which makes controlling how often we water a very important factor.

    In many cases, we can judge whether or not a planting needs watering by hefting the pot. This is especially true if the pot is made from light material, like plastic, but doesn't work (as) well when the pot is made from heavier material, like clay, or when the size/weight of the pot precludes grabbing it with one hand to judge its weight and gauge the need for water.

    Fingers stuck an inch or two into the soil work ok for shallow pots, but not for deep pots. Deep pots might have 3 or more inches of soil that feels totally dry, while the lower several inches of the soil is 100% saturated. Obviously, the lack of oxygen in the root zone situation can wreak havoc with root health and cause the loss of a very notable measure of your plant's potential. Inexpensive watering meters don't even measure moisture levels, they measure electrical conductivity. Clean the tip and insert it into a cup of distilled water and witness the fact it reads 'DRY'.

    One of the most reliable methods of checking a planting's need for water is using a 'tell'. You can use a bamboo skewer in a pinch, but a wooden dowel rod of about 5/16” (75-85mm) would work better. They usually come 48” (120cm) long and can usually be cut in half and serve as a pair. Sharpen all 4 ends in a pencil sharpener and slightly blunt the tip so it's about the diameter of the head on a straight pin. Push the wooden tell deep into the soil. Don't worry, it won't harm the root system. If the plant is quite root-bound, you might need to try several places until you find one where you can push it all the way to the pot's bottom. Leave it a few seconds, then withdraw it and inspect the tip for moisture. For most plantings, withhold water until the tell comes out dry or nearly so. If you see signs of wilting, adjust the interval between waterings so drought stress isn't a recurring issue.

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