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In these kinds of articles, I usually say not to worry, your plant probably isn’t dying, it’s just sick and needs a little care and attention and a little love. But in the case of a palm tree, it may actually be on the verge of death. Here’s how to tell if your palm tree really is on the way out or whether it just needs some treatment and care. The first step to saving a dying palm tree is to recognize the signs of a problem. These can include yellowing or browning leaves, stunted growth, wilting, and unusual spots or discoloration. The symptoms can vary depending on the underlying cause, but with careful observation, you can often pinpoint the issue.
Your palm tree may be dying if…
You’ve over-pruned it and cut off the top of the tree
There are only a few reasons you should prune your palm tree. And all of them involve carefully cutting off fronds from the bottom of the main stem. Or taking away part of a leaf. In no circumstance should you cut anything away at the top of the tree.
A palm tree develops new foliage from its crown – that’s at the very top of the tree. Pruning and removing this seriously damages the tree and can even kill it.
If you’ve done this kind of pruning then, indeed, your tree may be dying. There’s nothing you can do about it.
To learn when and how to correctly prune a palm tree, read How to trim and prune a palm tree.
You planted a non-hardy species in the garden
Non-hardy varieties of palm tree just can’t tolerate harsh winters. The less hardy varieties really are indoor or house plants in colder climates. If you plant a non-hardy palm in a pot and place it in your garden and then bring it inside over winter, it will be OK. But leaving it outside through the cold temperatures and snow will likely kill it.
The tree is severely frost damaged
While hardy palm trees can tolerate low temperatures, depending on which variety you have, there’s a limit to what they can stand. If your (outside) palm tree is severely damaged by frost, it may well be dying and unable to recover from the damage caused, especially if the crown has been seriously damaged. I’ve seen this a lot with cordylines (cabbage palms). Continue to treat it as detailed in the article Can palm trees survive winter? until it recovers or until everything becomes brown and withered.
Your tree will probably recover if…
The leaves are yellow or brown
Quite a few issues, both natural and from how you care for it, can cause your palm tree leaves to turn brown or yellow. Most of these causes are treatable and don’t require you to discard the palm tree. Check out what these issues are and what to do about them in Why is my palm plant turning yellow or brown.
It’s infested by bugs or infected by disease
While bugs and disease can harm your palm plant, you can usually overcome them with some selective pruning and treatment, usually with an organic oil such as neem. If you think you have caught sight of a bug or too on your plant leaves or have seen a brown spot on it, check out the article Palm tree pests, diseases and other problems.