Why is my palm tree turning yellow or brown?

Why is my palm tree turning yellow or brown?

Our site is reader supported, this means we may earn a small commission from Amazon and other affiliates when you buy through links on our site.

One of the main questions I often get asked is why the leaves on their palm trees are turning yellow and even brown. Most of the time, it’s due to overwatering or lack of nutrients, especially if it’s a potted palm if it has not been repotted or had fertiliser recently. However, it can also be environmental such as sunburnt or even pests. Most problems can usually be fixed by proper care. I identify the main reasons for yellowing fronds here and let you know what to do about them.

Give it the best growing conditions, sunny/partial shade, and free-draining fertile soil.

The lower leaves naturally go yellow before eventually dropping

Older palm leaves/fronds, the ones closest to the base of the plant, turn yellow and then brown with age. They eventually drop off though this may take a while.

What to do

Always make sure you leave 2-3 inches of the base of the frond attached to the main trunk when pruning

Nothing, this is a natural process. If you want to remove the brown or yellow leaves, please don’t do anything until you’ve read How to trim and prune a palm tree. It’s easy to harm your palm tree when cutting things off it. The quick answer to this is to only prune if essential. Make sure you prune in spring and make clean cuts with a sharp pair of shears or a pruning saw for thicker branches, and leave 2-3 inches of the pruned frond on the trunk. Don’t cut right up to where the frond joins the main trunk.

Environmental factors that cause yellowing leaves

Yellowing leaves caused by lack of nutrients

Are your palm tree leaves turning yellow, and it seems to be happening everywhere on the frond? This might indicate a lack of essential nutrients. Palms require three important nutrients – nitrogen, potassium, and magnesium, to stay healthy. A shortage of any of these nutrients can lead to the yellowing of all the leaves. But don’t worry, the solution is simple! You just need to use a fertilizer that contains these three key nutrients to revive your palm tree’s health. Give your palm trees the right nourishment they need, and you should quickly start to see them turn green again. Be careful not to overfeed, I give them a dose of palm fertiliser in spring.

Brown spots with purple halos

If your palm tree is in a relatively shady spot and has brown spots with purple haloes on the leaves, it may have a fungal disease called leaf spot. Palm trees prefer a sunny or partly shaded position, so by providing the best position possible, it can help reduce the chances of many diseases.

Yellowing leaves in palm tree caused by pests

What to do

Head over to Palm tree pests, diseases and other problems for information on this disease and others you should know about.

Yellow leaves that are still quite full

If your palm tree leaves are still quite plump but have gone yellow, the problem could be root rot. This is a fungal disease that moves into the roots of plants that are overwatered. The stem of the palm may also feel quite soft. And if you touch the tree’s roots, they feel squishy.

What to do

Please read Phytophthora Root Rot – prevention and treatment. This is a difficult disease to deal with and is best prevented by making sure the soil is free-draining. If you grow them in pots, make sure the pot has holes in the bottom and is covered by crockery. Also, use a free-draining soil-based compost such as John Innes potting compost. You can learn more about growing palm trees in pots here.

Palm tree care that caused yellow/brown leaves

Palm trees with yellowing leaves and brown tips are the first sign of overwatering

Brown tips to the leaves

If the tips of all your palm’s leaves turn brown, over-fertilising could be the problem and is more common than you might think.

What to do

Are you using a fertiliser that’s made especially for palm trees? Check the instructions on the box the fertiliser came in to ensure the correct dose for your palm. If you’re doing things right, reduce the amount of fertiliser you give your tree as it can’t handle that dose anyway.

These same instructions apply if you’re using a general purpose balanced fertiliser which is where most people go wrong. Different varieties of palm trees need different care and amounts of fertiliser. You may need to use trial and error to see what suits your particular tree the best. Palm trees don’t need regular feeding, I like to do a feed in spring.

Dried brown tips to the leaves on the palm tree

If the tip of the leaf is brown but is also looking dried out, the reason could be under-watering or a lack of humidity. Cold winds and physical trauma can also cause this effect.

What to do

Put your finger in the soil and feel how far down the dryness goes. If it’s more than 3cm, the plant needs watering. You may still have under-watering problems if you’re giving your palm tree the correct amount of water. Maybe the soil isn’t hanging on to enough water for long enough. This is more common with palm trees grown in pots which is why I recommend soil based compost as it retains moisture better.

Water the plant thoroughly and see how quickly the water drains from the bottom of the pot or from the soil in the ground. If it’s too quickly and the soil remains fairly dry, add some compost to the soil or some other organic matter that retains water. Also check that potted palms are not root bound and need repotting.

As for humidity, make sure that you have moisture in the air around the palm tree. Use a humidifier or just a tray with rocks on that has water in it for palm trees grown indoors.

Check that the palm tree isn’t in an area in which breezes blow through.

Yellow leaves

If most of your palm plant is turning yellow, and the leaves look a bit crinkly, the cause could be under-watering.

What to do

See the section above on dried brown tips for what to do, basiclly water more deeply and frequently but be careful not to start overwatering.

Brown spots on the leaves

The first thing to spring to mind here should be over-watering. This is the most common cause of plant problems. Even if you have a good watering schedule for your palm tree, it could still be sitting in standing water if the pot it’s in or the soil around it isn’t draining enough water.

Along with brown spots on the leaves through over-watering , you may be having unseen trouble with your palm’s roots due to a fungal disease called root rot as discussed earlier.

What to do

Root rot is so commonplace that I devote a whole article to identifying and treating it. Check out Phytophthora Root Rot – prevention and treatment.

Brown spots on leaves – 2

A second reason that you may have brown spots on your palm tree leaves is that you’re watering with hard water.

What to do

Use rainwater if possible to water your plant, or at least boil the tap water first. You can usually check on the interest if you live in a hard water area.

Comments are closed.