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Yellow Leaves on Cannabis Plants: Tips to Fix Common Grow Issues

Wednesday January 29, 2020

Y ou’ve taken great care of your cannabis plants; you water them, feed them nutrient-rich foods, provide the ideal light cycle for their different developmental phases, and prune them just enough to promote light exposure and optimum growth. You’ve done everything right and yet your marijuana plants just don’t look as lively as they should. Specifically, your cannabis plants are showing signs of stress through yellow leaves. Despite all the love and attention you’ve given them, they just aren’t growing into the bountiful beauties you had hoped.

Fear not fellow cannabis cultivators! Just because your cannabis leaves are turning yellow does not mean they are done-for. In fact, there are steps you can take right now to correct yellow cannabis leaves and prevent it from occurring again. But first, let’s discuss why cannabis leaves turn yellow in the first place

Why Cannabis Leaves Turn Yellow

The most common reason plant leaves turn yellow is because of stress. Whether due to inadequate watering, excessive heat, or pest infestations, yellow leaves are a sign of sickly cannabis plants and must therefore be addressed as soon as possible. To understand the science behind this, we must first look at the contents of a typical leaf and its relationship to the plant’s overall health.

Leaves are made up of plant cells. Plant cells are made up of organelles called chloroplasts. These chloroplasts contain pigments that absorb different wavelengths of light. Though most of these pigments are green chlorophyll, other pigments are also involved. Most notable are the yellow and orange carotenoids that hide under the dominant chlorophyll.

The roll of chlorophyll is to absorb sunlight and transform it into energy via a process called photosynthesis. When plants have ample access to resources, chlorophyll thrives. When plants are stressed, however, the chlorophyll begins to degrade revealing the yellow carotenoids below.

Note that carotenoids cannot directly transform light into energy via the photosynthetic pathway and must pass it onto chlorophyll to finish the job. Therefore, while a minor yellowing leaves will not stop photosynthesis, excessive or unaddressed yellowing can either stunt plant growth or kill the whole thing entirely.

Diagnosing and Curing Yellow Cannabis Leaves

If your marijuana leaves are turning yellow, don’t panic! This is just your plants’ way of telling you something is wrong. It is up to you to determine what that is so you can treat the problem without making it worse.

The first thing you should do when cannabis leaves start to turn yellow is to measure the pH of your grow medium (soil, water, rice hulls, expanded clay, etc.). That’s because an improper pH balance – whether too high or too low – can actually block nutrient absorption.

Watering Problems

After measuring and adjusting pH, take a look at your watering schedule. The most common cause of yellow leaves is either over- or under-watering. Plants that are over-watered will have leaves that seem swollen and droopy while under-watered plants (though much less common) will be thin and frail. Poor drainage can also contribute to overwatering so always grow your cannabis in pots with drain holes.

Nutrient Deficiencies

If the yellowing occurs primarily at the base of the plant, the issue is likely a nutrient deficiency. The most common nutrient deficiency in cannabis is nitrogen, though note that excessive nitrogen can also cause yellowing (plus curled, claw-like leaves). If the problem is caused by a deficiency, slowly increase the concentration of your cannabis-specific fertilizer until new growth appears. If the yellowing is caused by excessive nutrients, flush the root system with pure water then add a half-dose of your fertilizer instead. Magnesium deficiency, characterized by a yellowing around the leave’s green veins, is most commonly caused by an improper pH balance. Use magnesium supplements to correct this issue

Iron deficiency can also cause yellow leaves, though this occurs on new growth only (old leaves remain bright green). Iron deficiencies are also caused by improper pH and can be remedied with iron-fortified fertilizers. When iron is given to deficient plants, the leaves should start to turn green beginning along the edges until the whole leaf is bright green.

Light Burn

If you notice yellowing toward the top of the plant (specifically, nearest the light source), your plants are likely suffering from light burn. Light burn can happen in temperature-controlled environments as easily as those in high-heat if the leaves get too close to the lights. We liken this to getting a sunburn on the ski slopes.

The best way to correct light burn is to move you plant away from your light source, usually between eight and 20 inches depending on the watt and lighting type.

Excessive Temperatures

Temperatures outside of the ideal range of 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit also risk discoloration and curl leaves. These oddities are most common in leaves toward the top of the plant and can easily be remedied with a fan (if too hot) or root insulation (if too cold). We also recommend growing plants off a cold cement or tile floor; use a milk crate or stool to raise them off the ground when necessary.

Pests

If your yellow leaves come with spots or bite marks, they’re probably infested with pests. Though you can often see the infestation, this is not always the case – a tell-tail sign (aside from the remnants of the buffet) is a plant that lacks vigor in addition to other symptoms associated with things like overwatering or poor air circulation.

Unfortunately, pests are perhaps the hardest condition to correct, so it’s best to avoid try and avoid them all together. To start, never bring plants or clones from an outside grow into your sanitary grow space and try to avoid entering your grow space directly from the outdoors. Always wash hands, cover your hair and avoid letting pets anywhere near your grow space.

Fungus gnats, which live in wet soil and feed off roots, are the most common pest in cannabis gardens. The best way to rid your garden of fungus gnats is to restrict watering until absolutely necessary (this prevents the gnats from laying eggs in the soil). A general best practice is to only water your plants when the top inch of soil is dry.

Growing your own marijuana is very rewarding, but it can be really nerve wracking, too, especially when those bright green leaves start turning a worrisome yellow. If your cannabis leaves are turning yellow, use these steps to stop the yellowing before it’s too late.

What do you do to fix yellow cannabis leaves? Share your feedback in the comments below.

Does your cannabis grow have plants with yellow leaves? Yellowing marijuana leaves can indicate a variety of common ailments. Keep reading to learn more about cannabis plant health and tips to overcome yellow leaves.

Nitrogen Deficiency

Problem: A cannabis nitrogen deficiency will cause the older, lower leaves on your plant to turn yellow, wilt away and eventually die. The plant typically appears pale or lime-colored.

The yellow leaves of a nitrogen deficiency may show signs of brown, and they will usually become soft and sort of “fold” in, before possibly turning crispy but ultimately falling off on their own.

Example of cannabis Nitrogen deficiency – yellow bottom leaves. Almost all plant nutrients contain Nitrogen

Nitrogen-deficient plants often appear pale or lime-colored. The leaves on this marijuana plant don’t have obvious leaf symptoms like spots or markings, but they are pale all over the whole plant. Almost lime green. The light-colored leaves are a sign the plant needs more Nitrogen (and nutrients in general). On the flip side, plants that are receiving too much Nitrogen turn dark.

If the yellowing leaves are at the top of your plant or the yellow leaves are mostly new growth, then you probably don’t have a nitrogen deficiency. Nitrogen deficiencies usually affect the oldest, lowest leaves first, or the entire plant becomes light colored.

Nitrogen is a mobile nutrient, which means it can move throughout the plant as needed. Cannabis needs nitrogen to keep leaves green and make energy from light. All new leaves get plenty of nitrogen to make them green and help with photosynthesis. The leaves that get the most light are the newest, youngest leaves, so the plant “wants” to give those leaves priority for getting light.

If new leaves aren’t getting enough nitrogen, the plant will start to “steal” nitrogen from the older, lower leaves, so that it can give it to newer leaves. This is what causes the yellowing and wilting of a nitrogen deficiency.

It’s relatively normal for your cannabis plant’s leaves to start turning yellow towards the end of your flowering cycle as the plant becomes nitrogen deficient while creating buds.

However, if your cannabis plant is losing lower leaves fast due to yellowing (if yellowing and dying leaves is “climbing” up the plant from the bottom), especially in the vegetative stage before plant is making buds, you have a problem that you will need to fix as soon as possible.

You don’t want a nitrogen deficiency in the vegetative stage!

If you notice your lower cannabis leaves turning yellow in the vegetative stage or in the beginning part of the flowering stage, your plant may be experiencing a nitrogen deficiency which will need to be treated.

It is not good if your cannabis plant is showing signs of an advanced nitrogen deificiency while still in the vegetative stage. It’s normal to lose a few yellow leaves off the bottom of your plant here and there, especially with very big plants. But if you are losing a significant amount of yellow leaves, and the yellowing seems to be moving up the plant quickly, then you have a problem.

As a grower, you’re interested in how much nitrogen to give your plants at what time. The ratio of nitrogen to other nutrients has a huge effect on growth and bud formation.

Vegetative Stage – higher levels of Nitrogen (pretty much any plant food will do)

Most complete plant foods that you get at a gardening store contain high levels of nitrogen (N). These nutrient system tend to work well in the vegetative stage.

Some examples of cannabis-friendly one-part Vegetative nutrient systems…

Pretty much any complete plant food

Flowering Stage – lower levels of Nitrogen (use “Bloom” or Cactus nutrients)

It’s extra important to find a nutrient system with lower levels of nitrogen for the last part of your plant’s life. Many “Bloom” or “Flowering” style base nutrients are just the ticket.

Some examples of good one-part Flowering nutrient systems…

If you can’t order online and can’t find a good one-part base Bloom formula locally, you do have other choices. Though not an ideal choice, most Cactus plant foods will contain good nutrient ratios for growing cannabis during the budding stage. So in a pinch, you can use the cactus nutrients that can be found at most gardening stores.

The first cannabis plant pictured below is showing signs of nitrogen deficiency late in flowering; nitrogen deficiency in late flowering is completely normal and even desired. The last picture is an infographic about nitrogen and your marijuana plant.

It’s normal for plants to show signs of a nitrogen deficiency as the plant gets close to harvest. This is actually a good thing! Too much nitrogen can actually prevent proper budding, and can reduce the overall taste and smell of your plant. This is why all “bloom” and flowering nutrient formulas are relatively low in nitrogen.

Don’t worry about yellow leaves close to harvest! It’s normal to see a few Nitrogen-deficient leaves in the flowering stage. Nothing to worry about unless you see the yellowing leaves start climbing up the plant.

So don’t sweat it if you see your cannabis show some signs of nitrogen deficiency late in the flowering stage! Relatively low levels of nitrogen in the late flowering stage help promote proper cannabis bud development and will increase your yields!

Solution: You can find many pre-mixed nutrients from the store which contain nitrogen or you could use nitrate of soda or organic fertilizer which are both good sources of nitrogen. In fact almost all plant nutrients of any kind will include nitrogen. If you haven’t been providing any nutrient to your plants, try supplementing your regular nutrients with a bit more nitrogen and see if the plant starts recovering.

If you’ve already been using nutrients, then you probably don’t have a nitrogen deficiency. If you’re seeing the signs of spreading nitrogen deficiency even a week or two giving nitrogen to your plants through nutrients, then you need to figure out what else is causing the yellowing so you can stop it.

More About Nitrogen and Your Marijuana Plants

Sometimes you can get the signs of a cannabis nitrogen deficiency if the pH at the plant root zone is too low, even if the nitrogen is there. This is because when the pH at the roots is not right, your plant roots can’t properly absorb nutrients. If you aren’t sure about your root pH, learn more about pH & growing cannabis plants here.

Nitrogen is especially important during the vegetative stage of your cannabis plants. As your plants start flowering, they will need lower amounts of nitrogen.

Nitrogen is one of the 3 nutrients that is included in almost every kind of plant food.

When looking at plant nutrients, you’ll almost always see 3 numbers listed, like 3-12-6 or 5-10-5. These numbers represent the percentage of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K) contained in the bottle. Just about all plant life on Earth needs these 3 elements to grow.

The 3 numbers on the front of plant nutrient bottles list the amount of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium.

The very first number, “3” in the case of the picture to the right, always displays the proportion of nitrogen in this nutrient bottle compared to the other 2 nutrients (Phosphorus and Potassium respectively).

Nitrogen is in all plant nutrient formulations because it’s vital to plant processes.

Note: During the last few weeks before harvest, marijuana plants start pulling all the remaining nitrogen from her leaves as part of the bud-making process. This causes yellowing leaves starting towards the bottom of the plant. This is part of the natural flowering process and you don’t need to fight it. You may notice that marijuana leaves are yellowing in almost all pictures of marijuana plants with big buds that are close to harvest. You tend to get smaller yields from nitrogen-toxic plants with dark green leaves at harvest.

Remember: It’s Normal For Marijuana Leaves To Start Turning Yellow As Harvest Time Approaches

Occassionally a nitrogen toxicity is mistake for a deficiency. Could your plant actually be nitrogen toxic? (pictured below)

This picture shows a Nitrogen Toxicity

Plant Symptoms

  • Bronze or brown patches
  • Brown or slimy roots
  • Brown or yellow leaf tips/edges
  • Buds dying
  • Buds look odd
  • Bugs are visible
  • Curling or clawing leaves
  • Dark leaves
  • Drooping plant
  • Holes in leaves
  • Mold or powder
  • Pink or purple on leaves
  • Red stems
  • Shiny or smooth leaves
  • Spots or markings
  • Twisted growth
  • Webbing
  • Wilting leaves
  • Yellow between leaf veins
  • Yellow leaves

This page is part of our Plant Doctor series. You can use our tool to filter by symptom and help diagnose your plant.

A nitrogen deficiency causes the lower/older leaves of a cannabis plant to start yellowing, wilting, and dropping off on their own. Learn how to fix it.