How to Save a Dying Palm Tree

Is your palm tree dying and you don’t know what to do? This article will help you save your palm. Before getting to the saving part, you need to figure out why your palm tree is dying.

There are a lot of reasons why your palm might not be feeling  so well. It could be day-to-day palm tree care, climate, disease, insects or some kind of injury. Most people skip the “why” part and start with saving. They prune all the dead and dying leaves, add some fertilizer to the soil and start watering more often. If that doesn’t work, they transplant the palm to a new container with better soil. All of the above things create more stress for the palm and might weaken it even more.

Newly planted palms can suffer from a lot more things comparing to the established palms. It is very difficult to diagnose a problem at a distance, but it’s most likely one of the common causes.

Palm Tree Care Problems


First sign of over-watering is yellow or brown leaves that fall off before drying. Palms like moist but well drained soil. Just add 30% sand to the soil to provide a good drainage. Palms need to be watered more in the summer, during their growth season, and less in the winter.

Not enough water

Tips of the leaves will dry and start turning brown. Check the moist level of the soil the next day after watering. I use an electronic soil moister meter 5 Important Palm Tree Watering Q&A.  It provides accurate, easy to read results. If it shows you that soil is too dry, you need to water more often. For more information and watering tips read my article on Palm Tree Watering.

Low quality fertilizer

Providing palm with all the necessary nutrients, insures a healthy growth and development of the tree. Palms that don’t get enough nutrients are more susceptible to diseases.  Fertilize palms only during growth period 4-5 times a year. Avoid using cheap low quality fertilizers because they simply don’t work. You need a high quality fertilizer that has a slow release formula and won’t be washed away after few rains. Fore more information read my article on Fertilizing Palm Trees.

Fertilizer Burn

Palm trunk can be easily burn with fertilizer if you apply it too close. Keep 2 ft distance. You can also burn the roots if you use soil with mixed in fertilizer. Once the palm is damaged, it is more susceptible to diseases, fungi and insects. Protect it by spraying with Copper Fungicide which works very well against fungi and bacterial. If the damage is not sever, it should recover.

Bad Soil

This is probably more applicable to newly planted palms. If you had this palm for a while and it’s been doing fine, it’s probably not the soil. Good soil should absorb enough moister and have an excellent drainage. Soil with bad drainage can damage the roots. Palms like moist and well drained soil.  Avoid using soil mixed in with the fertilizer, since it might burn the roots.


I lot of gardeners start pruning their palms as soon as they see one brown tip. Over-pruning is a very common problem. Everybody wants to have a perfectly green palm without any sign of brown leaves. Palms move nutrients from dying leaves to the new growth. Cutting it off will result in nutrient loss.  Don’t cut leaves until they are completely dry. Pruning tips on some of the palms will stop the new growth on that frond. I found few articles online that recommend cutting brown tips to save palms from wasting nutrients on the dying fronds. Big mistake! If your palm tree has a rooster tail look, you over-pruned it.

Hurricane pruning

Some professionals (who probably don’t have enough work) will tell you to prune your palm before hurricane season to remove the extra weight. Please don’t do it. Your palm needs all the protection from the wind it can get. Removing a lot of green fronds will put the palm under stress. If you know that hurricane is coming, it is better to tie the fronds together.

Planting too deep

This problem is more applicable to the new planted palms. When planting, make sure the palm is at the same depth level it was grown before. Planting it too deep causes nutrients and water deprivation. The palm will appear sparse and thin on top. If you did plant it too deep, you need to replant it. If you can’t replant, take some soil off the top. For planting instructions read my article on Palm Tree Planting.

Environmental Problems

Not Enough Sunlight

If your palm needs more light, the leave will start turning brown. Established palm, that was growing in the shade for some time, has been already properly acclimatized and will not require more light. This is more applicable to the newly planted palms. Check palm specifications for light requirements.


Some palms need full sun in order to grow to their full potential.  But you have to be careful when planting a young tree in the full sun because it can easily get a sunburn. Palm leaves will turn yellow and start to look colorless in some areas. To avoid sunburn, it needs to be acclimatized first. There are few ways to do it. If it is a new palm, it is probably in the pot. Place the pot outside in the shady spot and keep increasing light levels every week by moving the pot closer to the sunny spot. Another way is to plant the palm in full sun and place a plastic cover above it. You can use 4 sticks to hold the plastic. Each week increase light levels by creating more holes in the plastic.

Wrong climate

Important factor for successful palm tree development is how much cold weather your palm will get during winter. Always check the cold hardiness zone before buying a palm tree. Not all palms can tolerate cold temperatures. If you leave in the cold climate, get one of the cold hardy palms. Most palms like high humidity, which makes it challenging to grow in dry conditions. Check palm requirement and drought tolerance before buying a palm if you leave in dry climate.

Cold Damage

In the last couple of years, the winters have been very cold. Even in the warm climates like Florida the temperatures dropped below the freezing point damaging a lot of palm trees. Some evidence of the cold damage might be palm wilting, crown flopping over due to internal trunk rot, soft lesions on outside of the trunk, new emerged leaves falling down around the trunk. Cold-damaged palm trees can become vulnerable to bacterial and fungal infections. To protect them from bacteria and fungi spray it with Bonide Products Copper Fungicide. Sometimes, the damage  is so sever, there is nothing you can do to save it. If you are expecting freezing temperatures, protect your palm in advance by spraying it with Freeze Pruf. Here is my article on How to Save Cold Damaged Palm Tree.


If your palm is water stressed, you will notice the tips of the leaves will start turning brown.  Provide your palm with more water, but don’t over-water. Deep watering works the best. Don’t fertilize. Mist the fronds with water in the evening after the sunset. For deep-watering instructions read my Watering Palm Trees article.


Transplanting and Transporting

The bark of the palm can be easily damaged leaving the tree vulnerable to insects and fungus. If you don’t notice the damage right away, it is a hard thing to diagnose. Be careful when transporting the palm. Between purchase and planting, make sure that the root ball is kept moist, but not soaking. Try to plant your tree shortly after purchase. If your palm comes in a plastic pot, don’t pull the palm tree out of it. Make sure that soil is dry and cut the plastic pot with a knife or scissors.


There have been some cases when the palm gets strike by lightning. Leaves will turn brown and start to wilt. Don’t fertilize it. Keep watering. Lightning damaged palm can become vulnerable to bacterial and fungal infections. To protect it from bacteria and fungi spray with Bonide Products Copper Fungicide. If the bud of the palm was severely damaged, the palm will not survive.

Nutrient Deficiency

Potassium Deficiency

If the palm leaves have small yellow, orange or bronze spots that cover almost entire blade, it is a sign of potassium deficiency. Get some slow release potassium fertilizer and also similar magnesium fertilizer to avoid imbalance in the soil. More on potassium deficiency.

Calcium Deficiency

The leaves might appear to be stunted and deformed if there is a calcium deficiency. This problem is easily corrected with Calcium Nitrate.

Magnesium Deficiency

Leaves could have yellow bands that run along the borders of the leaves if there is a magnesium deficiency. Use magnesium fertilizer spikes to correct the problem. More on magnesium deficiency.

Iron Deficiency

The sign of iron deficiency is leaves with thin green veins, green spotting and broken ends. This problem might be triggered by waterlogging because the palm was planted too deep. You can correct this problem temporary by applying iron fertilizer. To solve this problem permanently, you need to replant the palm. More on iron deficiency.

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  1. Grace says

    Thank you for such a great article my queen palms will do much better. I learned some key things such as not to over prune, freeze pruf…I use cloud cover here in California but haven’t tried it on my palms. Do you know if it would be equivalent to freeze pruf? Thanks for all your great info!

  2. Liz Giran says

    Thank you for all this information. I feel like my palms suffered from all of the above. Not sure where to start. Is it possible I could take some pictures and send them to you and you help figure a starting point to revive my palms or should I just toss them?

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