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

Over-watering

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.

Over-Pruning

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.

Sunburn

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.

Drought

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.

Injury

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.

Lightning

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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73 thoughts on “How to Save a Dying Palm Tree”

  1. 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. 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?

  3. My palms trunk appears to be very damp, the leaves tat have fallen off or have been cut some time back can be easily pulled right off the tree. And it is very damp on this part of the trunk. Also, not sure what it’s called but it looks like a covering or hair on trunk. Falls out easily and under it is damp. Also ants under this. Is this normal? Please help!

  4. A neighbor cut a fan palm trunk, leaving the roots in the ground. Can this plant be saved? I have kept most of the plant wet since my rescue.
    Thanks!

  5. Hi Susan,
    I am really glad to have found out your website.
    Since I bought my house in Hollywood, Florida I thought to have a couple of Royal Palms at the front yard.
    After some research on the nurseries around my location, I bought two beautiful Royals Palm of about 20′.
    Install them was a nice experience, I never had palms like these. I was very happy.
    I was so excited that I did not paid too much attention to some details, the nursery’s owner and the crew were doing their job so, I just followed their directives and comments. .
    I remember they dig out two big holes where they had to break rock or clay I do not know really, but for sure it was not soil or sand. They planted my Royals on a clay rock bed. Without adding any fertilizer at the bottom. Very basic installation.
    The owner said to me: Fernando to have to water them for 6 month, 3 times a week and leave them to grow.after. Which I did .
    After 6 months I stopped watering my palms based on the nursery’s owner advice and after sometime they started to decay by getting yellow leaves, no new young branches, etc.
    I thought what is happening? I did was the guy told me and now my palm are fine and growing by themselves, they are getting water from the ground. But I was Wrong ! They were not getting water underground because the type of soil (rock) did not allow it
    After my watering for 6 months they started to die without enough water. It took me several months to realize the real problem and started again with the exterior water supply and they began recovering.
    I know my palms roots are not getting water in the right regular way because the clay rock is blocking their access down below.
    I also know too that nursery’s guy knew about this soil condition and did not say nothing to avoid abort the business.
    My question today based on your experience is What will happen with the palm roots. will they find their own source of water underground or will they need be watering for ever?
    They receive water from my irrigation system every day and manually by hose, three times a week ( 30 min each) .
    Is there any way to bring water directly to the roots ?
    I am looking to get information for this particular case I have.. I think a special irrigation system to the palm root is possible.

    Thank you for attention
    Fernando

  6. My parotous palm are slowly dying ..
    They have been in the ground for 12 years.. the really tall one are dying..
    Any ideas? others In the group are doing fine or at least look fine… I live in ft pierce Florida…

  7. Since I reported my medjool date palm the leaves have folded up like a straw. Can this be fixed, l spent 5 years going this from seed.

  8. My 40+foot 20 year old palm tree was over pruned by my bad choice of workers.No new growth since.Is there anything I can do except wait and hope..

  9. Live in NYC.. Wrapped tree with Christmas mini lights and burlap and garden bag.. Unwrapp ed tree and most leaves totally dried out. Can it come back?

  10. Bought this tall indoor cane palm and it’s in a sunny room, but some end bits look dry and turning brown , any advice ?

  11. This is a fantastic article! Well written and informative.

    I believe our majestic 50+ year old canary date palm was recently shocked by a nearby lightning strike. It was fine and now all of a sudden the finds are wilting and the bud is exposed.

    We lost a TV, security system and cable box in the same time frame. All the equipment is within 20 feet of the tree.

    We we’ll file your advice and spray the fungicide. In your opinion, how long will it take for us to know more about if the tree will survive our not?

    Thanks again! Robin

  12. Hi . I have an indoor travelers palm but its not feel well . and its new leave is somthing between yellow and light brown . and small leaf eadges turned insid . i newly bring it from other city . is it possible that the oroblem be a moving to new home . and if its what should i do . thanks

  13. I HAVE 2 WINDMILL PALM TREESBOTH ARE ABOUT 10 YEARS OLD ONE IS LOOKING REAL BAD IT HAS NO NEW GROWTH ON IT WHERE THE NEW COMES OUT OF THE TOP IS SOME REAL HARD MASS LOOKING GROWTH IT WAS LOOKING FINE UNTILL ABOUT A MONTH AGO DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT IS AND IF SO WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT

  14. My palms trees had very little Palm growth they did not shoot out much this year. Turned brown quick. I live in Fort Worth tx

  15. I think it’s interesting how you said that when you over-prune your palm tree, or use the wrong kind of fertilizer or soil, it can damage the tree and cause it to lose nutrients. I had no idea that so much care was required for palm trees! My husband and I moved into a home with palm trees in the backyard, but we want to take care of them correctly, we just don’t know how. I’ll have to look for a palm tree maintenance service in our area that can use their experience and skills to prune our trees adequately, so that they last us a long time.

  16. Can i save my 5mo old 5’ tall Pindo? Apparently its not draining the soild good enough. The first yellow fromd coming up and fromds starting to fall from center. Will raising and adding sand save it?

  17. Hello,
    Trying to save my Adonidia Palms. They are in a greenhouse in Northern NJ which is heated. Temps range from 35 deg at night to 85 deg in the day. I water them once per week. Leaves are now all brown. Even a new bud is now brown. do they have any chance to survive until spring?

  18. My Christmas palm developed a condition where the fron from one of the trunks started to die before it naturally did it’s self cleaning and then one day the whole top of the one trunk just fell off. My husband cut that trunk off and we thought everything would be ok. Now a couple of months later the same premature fron dying is starting on a second trunk. What is wrong with my tree and how should it be treated?. This tree is about 13 years old and has been very beautiful.

  19. Two years in a row, my bottle palms have been ravaged by winter. By the end of winter, I am sure the plant is dead, but then it spits out a few dead fronds in spring, and starts growing very small but healthy new fronds in summer. By winter they are almost back to the size they were when I bought them on sale not knowing what they were. It almost looks like the trunk\crown is dead and that a totally new plant is growing out of the old roots. Obviously, I need to work on winter protection, but in the mean time I’ve been told that the new growth would fair better in the shade. Is this true? If so, I can put my potted king palm next to it.

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