Top 10 Palm Tree Care Mistakes and How To Avoid Them

San Diego palm tree by the water
San Diego palm tree by the water. Photo by Flickr.

Palm Trees are very easy to grow but even easier to kill if you don’t know what you are doing. Here are the most common palm tree care mistakes that owners make:

1. Over Watering

Overwatering a newly planted palm is a common problem. You will notice the palm tree leaves turning brown or yellow and falling off quickly without drying first. To avoid this mistake, you need to make sure the palm soil has good drainage.

You can do it by adding 30%-50% sand to the soil mix when you plant your palm. A newly planted palm tree should be watered every day for the first week.

2. Providing Not Enough Water

If you don’t provide your palm tree with enough water, the tips of the leaves will start turning brown. Most of the palm trees like MOIST and WELL DRAINED soil.

To find out if your palm tree is getting enough water, check the moisture level of the soil the next day after watering. The soil should be moist down to the root of the palm tree. If you are not sure how to check the moisture level, go here Watering Palm Trees.

3. Root Damage

Adding fertilizer to the soil when planting a palm is a common mistake. This is almost guaranteed to kill your palm. Palm tree roots are very fragile, and adding fertilizer so close to the root ball could damage it.

A palm tree with damaged roots is more likely to get diseases and die. Newly planted palms should not be fertilized for the first 3-4 months. Give them some time to establish.

4. Fertilizer Burn

Burning a palm tree with a fertilizer by putting it too close to the trunk. It’s very easy to burn the palm tree trunk. Once the trunk is damaged it is harder for the palm tree to battle diseases. Keep a 2 feet distance from the trunk when fertilizing.

5. Under Fertilizing

Your palm tree needs nutrients for healthy growth. We take vitamins every day to be healthy. Palm trees are like us. They need their vitamins to get stronger, grow faster, and fight pests and diseases. During the warm months, fertilize your palm trees 4 – 5 times a year. More info about Fertilizing Palm Trees.

6. Bad Soil

Not providing a palm tree with good soil. Good soil will allow the palm tree root to develop properly, keep the moist so your palm gets enough water, and provide good drainage.

I always get asked – what is the best soil? Canadian peat moss. Cheap soil = poor results. No one asks me what is the absolutely worst soil you can buy, but I’ll tell you anyway – it is soil mixed with fertilizer.

Every gardener I know said it killed everything in their garden. These days it’s hard to find good soil because every soil has fertilizer added. I use Premier Pro-Mix because it provides a superior growing environment for palms by increasing drainage and oxygen.

7. Wrong Climate

Planting a palm tree in a climate that is too cold, hot, or dry. Many gardeners buy palms without checking if they can grow in their climate zone. Tropical palm trees that like warm and humid weather don’t do well in the desert, with dry winds in the summer and cold temperatures in the winter.

Just get a different palm tree. There are so many cold hardy palms that can tolerate drought and cold weather. All you need to do is to check which palms grow in your weather conditions. You can check it by going to the Hardiness Zone Map.

8. Sunburn

Planting a very young palm tree in the full sun without providing a cover. The palm leaves will start turning yellow and might look colorless in some areas. If you don’t cover your palm, the leaves will begin to dry and turn brown.

If your palm tree is from a greenhouse or shade-grown environment, it is NOT USED to full sun. It would help if you acclimatized it first. For acclimatizing instructions check this article Planting Palm Trees.

9. Over Pruning

I keep seeing articles online that tell people to cut the brown part of the leaf because it will save the palm tree from wasting nutrients on the dying leaf. Makes sense right? Wrong. Palm trees need dying leaves for nutrients, and when you cut them off, your palm tree doesn’t like it.

Palms move nutrients from the older fronds to the new growth. Palm fronds should be cut when they are as close as possible to the trunk. Do NOT remove any fronds that grow at a 45-degree angle or greater. If your palm tree looks like a rooster’s tail, you over-pruned it.

10. Hurricane Pruning

It is not unusual during hurricane season in Florida to get a knock on the door by a team of palm tree professionals, offering to prune your palms. They might say that removing extra weight from your palm tree will save it during a hurricane. That makes sense, right? Wrong. Your palm trees need all the leaves they can get to protect the new growing fronds from wind.

I think this covers the most common mistakes. I hope you find this article useful. Let me know if you would like to share your experience or have good tips to add to this list.

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31 thoughts on “Top 10 Palm Tree Care Mistakes and How To Avoid Them”

  1. We have 5 Fan Palms about 10 years old in coastal California. Someone is stealing the new middle frond at night. Will this kill the trees? Any suggestions for deterring this?

  2. I have a Triangle Palm. I live in Kentucky. How should I care for it this winter? Do I treat it like a banana tree? Should I cut the leaves off? Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.

  3. good morning. I have a question about my canary date palm tree.I live in Florida and bought a home that was vacant for many years. The pineapple palm tree, as I like to call it had been neglected for quite some time. Lately I have pruned it up and made it look very nice and it is doing well and looks very good. However, the palm tree does not seem to be growing upward. There is only about 2 feet of trunk before you can see where all of the other branches have been cut off. This is fine and it gives the appearance that I want however like I mentioned before it is not growing upward. the branches are continuing to grow because they continue to get near the ground and I have to cut them to keep it looking tidy. But now I’m getting towards the top of the crown and the tree still won’t grow up any. Any thoughts or suggestions?

  4. our European fan palm was set out by landscapers, 11/19/14. the trunk has turned black, stems are speckled but leaves look good and green. what would cause this blackening ? Thanks for your help

  5. Have learned much from your website over the years and have many different kinds of palms, some that are not supposed to do well in my zone, however I have never found out why my Bottle palms new fronds quickly brown and shrivel up before they even are fully developed. Neither tree has grown much since planted 3 yrs ago..I am afraid to ‘treat’ them with anything for fear of making the condition even worse. They weather the cold of our area fine but they do not grow, I’m perplexed as to what is wrong.
    Enjoy your very informative website

  6. Have learned much from your website over the years and have many different kinds of palms, some that are not supposed to do well in my zone, however I have never found out why my Bottle palms new fronds quickly brown and shrivel up before they even are fully developed. Neither tree has grown much since planted 3 yrs ago..I am afraid to ‘treat’ them with anything for fear of making the condition even worse. They weather the cold of our area fine but they do not grow, I’m perplexed as to what is wrong.
    Enjoy your very informative website
    p.s. Your Captcha value is finicky, i’ve had to re-enter the same correct number several times, you may get duplicates of my msg.

  7. My Mother is convinced her tall Palm Trees are dieing just because they are diseased or old, …. I told her it is because they are getting too much water, too frequently every day (because of the Florida Rainy Season starting early). Her one tall Palm has only two new shoots left on top of it. I told her told her to let it be and it will recover when the heavy long rains slow down.
    She also has a company that cuts like 80 percent of the leaves off of those palm trees during the early summer, which can’t be healthy to those palms.

    Your info in the artical was very helpful :]

  8. if i plant a mature royal palm and then cut off the head, will it die? i want it to be used by my wild macaws as a nest. therefore, the head has to come off. is this possible for me to do, in a sense i am trying to make a big bird house for macaws>


  9. The leaves on my fox tail Palm never open. The spear comes up but stays closed for months on end. What is up with this and is there a fix for this. The tree is only two years old.

  10. My Sylvester palm tree 8 month old is all yellow I don’t know how to treat it please help

  11. Good day,

    I lived in Mauritius, tropical climate I want to know why all my bottle palm leaf turn into yellow? What is the reason behind that? Is it over water or not enough water? Am just confuse.

    Thks to hear from you soon

  12. Place where I am staying for next 12 days, have just added soil around the base of 3 palms to a depth of 4 to 6 inches above the normal level in which the trees have grown.
    Having gone above the natural ground contact zone of the trees, is this harmful? I know that with deciduous trees in Canada this can kill a tree.
    Presently in PV area in Mexico.
    Thank you

  13. I never read anything on how to recover a over pruned Palm, please help my landscaper overprinted my Royal Palm, and now it is dying. ed

  14. My Chinese fan palm ‘s frawns are turning yellow. Will chelated palm nutritional turn them green again? If I remove them the tree will look horrible and spacy.

  15. I have 26 Mexican Palms. They were 6 ft tall when planted 3 yrs ago in central Az. All are beautiful except one, which the center started turning white and now every frond is brown and no new growth. There are 3 other palms planted in that circle that are healthy. What caused one to die.

  16. Yes, if you cut off the crown the palm will die. In fact it is a great way to kill the tree. A dead palm may not stand for long in areas where there are strong winds or tropical storms, so if you cut off the crown, then prop it up.

    Of course it will be ugly, too. At least most people would think of it as ugly. But to each her own.

  17. Hi there, I hope you can help. When we moved into our home we had a beautiful palm (I think it’s called a pineapple palm because that’s it’s shape.). We live near Tampa Florida. We had to leave for two years and the renters obviously did not take care of the landscaping because the base of the palm tree is now covered in ferns. We have tried to just pull them out, but they are firmly set. We are wondering whether we could spray the ferns with weed killer to make them easier to pull out, but are worried that may also kill the tree, which is beautiful.
    How can we remove the ferns without harming the palm tree? All advice will be very appreciated! Thank you in advance

  18. What causes fronds of a king palm to cup over or down? My king palm is in a container. Thank you, Dan

  19. I have a desert fan palm and i don’t water it very often it’s young i have had it for a 2 months idk what to do or how much water to give PLEASE RESPOND QUICKLY

  20. I’m located in central Florida. I have a Sylvester palm that has black mold and some ferns growing out of the trimmed frons area. Looks very unhealthy. Any suggestions? Maybe spritz with bleach/water mix? Thanks

  21. I have a three trunk robillini palm (about 11 years old). The tallest trunk is growing through the roof of my screen enclosure. Can I cut the top of it out or should I just cut that trunk off at the root line? Will this hurt the rest of the tree?

  22. I have three windmill palms. Two are in approx. 45 gallon pots. Six feet tall and 15 yeads old but never really look healthy with brown limbs often. The third is about 5 feet hall and in the ground. About 20 years old and placed in the ground last year. Never really look healthy. In use a palm Carl pool palm fertilizer. I just applied 2 cups to each palm and watered in until the pots started draining. Some of the fertilizer was added close to the trunk. The potscarevaboutv30 inch diameter.
    I water weekly and soak until the pots begin to drain and water lighter aboutv3-4 days later.
    Any advice is appreciated.

  23. I have 2 mule palms about 10 ft apart. transplanted 6 yrs ago. shorter one has grown beautifully; nice wide leaves, dart green right the ends. the taller has grown but slower. the leaves are narrower and the bottom branches end leaves are always brown the still shorter nice tree is now almost as tall as the other tree. same watering, same sun, same fertilizer. what’s happening ?????

  24. Hi,
    Any help diagnosing our pygmy date palm decline is greatly welcome. One of a cluster of double and triple trunk pygmy dates started Browning (zero yellow involved) fronds from tip to about quarter to half the frond. Then that progresses to total frond. This started about a row or 2 from the top/newest growth, and crown continues to look healthy as new fronds emerge. On that trunk, the new growth is all that’s left! A few days ago, we noticed quarter brown fronds on a 2nd trunk . . . Help! It’s not frizzy, we see no bugs, . . ????
    Thanks for any guidance.

  25. The soil in this part of Florida is not suitable for most of the palm species used here for landscaping. Except for native pals and coconut palms, imported species require special care.

    Most palms prefer acidic soil. The soil in this area is highly alkaline. High alkalinity makes it difficult for palm roots to absorb nutrients.

    The first thing you should do is to buy an inexpensive soil testing kit at Lowes or Home Depot. If it confirms the soil around your palms is alkaline, you can treat the problem in two similar ways. You can mix a cup of plain white vinegar in a five gallon bucket, and pour it around the roots, mainly along through drop line, but broadly. Then sprinkler sulfur granules (available at the above stores) around the ground under the tree.

    It is also imporant to fertilize palm trees three or four times per year. A good way to do this is to use an old broomstick or something simolar to make a hole in the ground along he dripline and fill it with Palm fertilizer. Initially you might want to add a little bit of your sulfur with the fertilizer. FI’ve or six locations should do the trick.

    If you are having stunted or distorted new fronds growing out of the top, you may also have a manganese deficiency. The same stores carry it, ad it can be added to your almost fertilizer.

    Here is a tip: For troubled trees like yours you might mix some of the sulfur in with the vinegar water. It will mix with the water and vinegar with a little time and some stirring. Pouring the dissolved mixture wi change your soil condition more rapidly. Manganese granules can also be dissolved in the mixture if your problem is frizzle top.

    If you need any help, let me know and I will stop by to give you a hand.

    David Sciacchitano

  26. I have Sylvester palms and they are starting to grow roots from the base of the trunk about a foot up the trunk. Is that normal ?

  27. Can somebody help me with the name of the palm(picture) that is on the top left of this page. Will be highly appreciated.

  28. I have a lady palm tree that when I brought home I transplanted into a bigger pot. In a very short time the leaves started shriveling up. They never did turn color they only seem to dry out. I have given it water as needed and have been only using distilled water. Is there any hope for this tree?

  29. We have a palm tree that has new fronds coming up from the bottom of the tree. Can we cut these off

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