Palm leaves turning brown

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Saturday – October 03, 2015

From: Anoka, MN
Region: Midwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders
Title: Palm Leaves Turning Brown
Answered by: Anne Van Nest


My palm plant leaves are turning brown starting at the tip and moving down the leaf. I’ve changed my watering amounts, and moved it from the direct light to partial light and back. It’s not by any vents or cold breeze.


Mr. Smarty Plants needs a little more information before we can definitively diagnose your palm problem. Without knowing the type of palm, it is more challenging to offer advice about what is causing the browning of the leaves. Also whether the plant is growing indoors (which I assume) and not outdoors would also assist with the diagnosis.

In any event, if it is growing indoors there are several general causes of leaf browning that deal with the root health and the frequency and type of watering that could be the problem. Indoor palms are extremely sensitive to chemicals in the tap water and should be watered after the water sits for 24 hours. Browning of the leaves could also be caused by underwatering (also caused by the roots being pot bound), overwatering, root rot and fertilizer buildup.

The University of Minnesota Extension has an informative webpage on growing indoor palms. Here’s what they say about brown leaves and watering for several palm types:

Though their light requirements may differ, all these palms have similar needs when it comes to water and fertilizer. In fact, dried brown leaf tips or leaf margins, two of the most common problems facing indoor palms, are related — directly or indirectly — to how they are watered and fertilized.

Keep palms relatively moist. In spring and summer, or when temperatures are warm and days are longer, water them as soon as their soil feels dry a little below the surface. Allow the soil to get slightly drier in winter.

It’s important that potting soil drains well and containers you use have functioning drain holes. Water palms thoroughly, then spill or siphon off excess water that collects in the tray or saucer below the pot.

Fertilize lightly from late winter through early autumn, the time when houseplants are likely to grow most actively. A build-up of fertilizer salts in the soil results in those dreaded brown tips and edges, especially if you allow the soil to get too dry between waterings. If you’re unsure about fertilizing, err on the side of too little rather than too much. You can always fertilize again, if necessary.

Finally, keep palm fronds clean. Spider mites are attracted to dusty foliage and can balloon into a serious problem, particularly in winter when relative humidity is low indoors.

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Q: I bought a new palm plant, and already it has brown branches.

How can I avoid getting brown branches? I have the plant in front of a window. When the sun shines in, it gets the sun.

—Marion Weaver, Bethlehem

A: Some reasons for browning:

•Browning of an older branch or two at a time while the plant continues to produce new foliage is normal.

•Brown tips and leaf edges may be a response to low humidity. Dry air during the heating season is fairly common. Increase humidity with a humidifier or by adding stone-filled trays beneath the pots and keeping the stones covered with water.

•Excess fertilizer also causes tip browning. Fertilize only during active growth and as directed on the package. Flush pots occasionally to reduce build up of fertilizer salts.

•Not enough water can cause the entire plant to turn brown. Palms need watering when the surface of the soil is dry. Water until the soil is moist and excess water drains out of the pot.

•Too much water or poor drainage also causes browning. Allow the soil to dry between waterings, use soil that drains quickly, a container with drain holes and empty excess water from the plant saucer.

•Cold temperatures can cause browning. Keep temperatures above 45 degrees.

•Don’t let fronds touch cold window glass and keep plants away from air conditioning ducts.

Palms have some general requirements:

•Most palms should be allowed to dry out between waterings. Lady palm (Raphis excelsa) is an exception. It prefers evenly moist soil.

•Most do best in medium or filtered bright light — not direct sun. The Lady palm and the Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifrizzi erumpens) do well in low light.

•Fertilize palms only during active growth. Feed them with a balanced fertilizer, such as 10-10-10.

•Common pest problems on palms include: scale, spider mite and mealy bugs. Check leafs and treat problems early.

•Palms rarely need repotting. Plant them in any well-drained potting soil.

•Palm fronds are easily damaged. Place plants in an area away from foot traffic and allow them plenty of room.

•Prune palms only to remove damaged or dead fronds.

More catalogs

Renee’s Garden ( or 888-880-7228): While not really a catalog, Renee’s does have an online store and seeds are available at some local stores. They offer an interesting mix of flower and vegetable seed, heirloom, open pollinators and hybrids.

New offerings for the season include: Astia zucchini, a container/small space bush variety; Cup of Sun nasturtiums, lemon yellow, gold with orange and pastel yellow fading to cream on a mounding plant with blue-green foliage; Little Jade baby Napa cabbage, dense, 8- to 10-inch heads of mini Napa or “Chinese” cabbage and Stardom Mix, edible landscape lettuce, small crispy leave of green and red, recommended for the border as well as the vegetable garden. I also found the Container Kitchen Garden collection with tomatoes, carrots, lettuce chard and basil — all selected for container growing, interesting.

New offerings that caught my attention include: Colocasia Black Coral, an elephant ear with jet-black, leathery leaves and blue veins. Borneo Giant Alocasia macrorrhiza is huge, averaging 7 to 10 feet, with leaves up to 5 feet wide. Cyclamen coum Something Magic is silver green with a bright green tree shape in the center of each leaf.

Boreas tree peony with double to semi-double fragrant burgundy flowers sold as 4-year plants in 1-gallon pots.

New tomatoes this year include: Tie-dye VFA hybrid — large bicolor (yellow-orange with red splashes) with a sweet flavor and Green Doctors — green cherry tomatoes, smaller and sweeter than Green Grape.

Also new: Pot Black — a compact glossy-black eggplant bred for container growing and Orange Blaze hybrid sweet pepper. Tomato Growers offers huge selection of tomatoes and peppers sorted by season and fruit type.

Upcoming Events

The Lehigh and Northampton Penn State Master Gardeners will again be offering their Spring Garden Series. This year’s topic is “Vegetable Gardening: From the Ground Up.” Classes are held in the evening starting on March 14 at the Bethlehem Community Center and March 22 at the Lehigh County Agricultural Center. The fee, $7 per class, covers program, handouts and refreshments.

Classes include:

•Plan Before You Plant: Covers garden basics: soil types, soil testing, garden locations and selecting plants.

•Seeds and Transplants: Decide if seeds or plants are right for your garden, when to start, and sun and space requirements.

•Garden Maintenance: The Endurance Stretch: Keep the garden healthy and the gardener motivated. Learn about the benefits of mulching, weeding, and feeding.

•Maximize Your Efforts: Succession planting, crop rotation, cold frames and harvesting.

Direct requests for additional information and registration forms to the Lehigh County Extension Office (Lehigh County Agricultural Center,4184 Dorney Park Road, Room 104, South Whitehall Township, PA 18104-5798 or [email protected], 610-391-9840).

Sue Kittek is a freelance garden writer. Send questions to Garden Keeper at [email protected] or mail: Garden Keeper, The Morning Call, P.O. Box 1260, Allentown, PA 18105.

This Week in the Garden

•Allow spent amaryllis plants to grow on; the greens replenish the bulbs. Do cut off the spent flower stalks, continue to water and move outdoors in the warm weather. Discard spent paperwhites.

•Order catalogs or mark websites for new introductions.

•Organize and inventory seed-starting supplies.

•Check germination rate of stored seeds; replace those that perform badly with fresh seed.

•Check for heaved plants on days when there is no snow cover. Push them back into the soil.

•Get seeds for plants that will be started soon: pansies, snapdragons, some hardy perennials, onions, leeks, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and other cool season crops.

•Use discarded Christmas trees as winter shelter for birds or cut boughs and use to cover tender perennials for added winter protection.

•Take cuttings of African violets and geraniums.

How To Bring A Dying Palm Tree Back To Life

1. Add The Right Amount Of Water

Watering your palm tree too much will cause the fronds of your to start turning brown or yellow and fall off before dying. Furthermore, not watering your palm tree enough will dry the leaves out and starting turning brown. Adding 30% sand to your soil will provide great drainage to prevent overwatering and using a soil meter will help you avoid not watering enough.

Tip – Palm trees should be watered less in the winter and more in the summer (Summer is when your palm tree will grow the most)

2. Use High-Quality Fertilizer

If your palm tree is not receiving enough nutrients it will be more susceptible to diseases. Giving the palm tree the nutrients it needs will ensure healthy development and growth of the palm tree. Avoid cheap fertilizer products and they will not work.

Tip – Get a high-quality slow-release fertilizer to avoid the nutrients being washed away by rain or watering.

3. Keep Fertilizer 2 Ft Away From Roots

If you add fertilizer too close to the roots you could actually burn them. You should always keep fertilizer at least 2 ft away from roots to avoid the tree becoming susceptible to insects, fungi and diseases. Copper fungicide offers great protection from bacteria and fungi.

4. Use High-Quality Soil

This step is for new palm tree owners only. Using the correct soil with a new palm tree should provide the right moisture and soil drainage the tree needs to grow happy and healthy. Do not mix fertilizer with soil as it can burn roots as we mentioned above.

5. Only Cut Fronds After They Are Completely Dead

Do not cut palm tree leaves right away after noticing tips turning brown. Cutting the leaves too soon will result in nutrient loss. Pruning too soon will prevent new growth. Only cut brown palm tree leaves once they are completely dead or brown colored.

6. Don’t Prune During Hurricane Season

Some Arborists will say you should prune palm trees before a hurricane or monsoon season to get rid of extra weight. This is false and you could be putting your palm tree under more stress by removing its fronds. The fronds actually provide protection from the wind.

Tip – Try tying the fronds together vs cutting them off.

7. Plant Palms Trees At The Right Level

This step is for planting a new palm tree or replacing an existing palm tree. When planting a new palm tree it is wise to plant the palm tree only deep enough to cover the root ball of the tree (the circular ball of roots at the bottom of the tree). However, Mexican Fan Palm trees can be buried 4-5 ft deeper than the root ball. This offers a great advantage to landscapers who want to match tree heights.

8. Make Sure It Has The Right Nutrients

Make sure your palm trees have enough potassium, calcium, magnesium, and iron. Without these nutrients, a palm tree can become deficient and experience a whole list of problems. Leaves will gain spots in the event of a potassium deficiency. Leaves will appear deformed and stunted in the event of a calcium deficiency. In the event of a magnesium deficiency, leaves will have yellow bands running along the border of the fronds. And in the case of an iron deficiency leaves will have broken ends, green spotting, and thin green veins.

9. Increase or Restrict Sunlight

New palm trees can become sunburned if left in direct sunlight. On the other hand, when not enough sunlight is present, the leaves will start turning brown. However, if your palm tree has been established in the shade for a long time, it has most likely acclimated to that amount of light.

Palms: Solving Brown Tips and Leaf Problems

Planted palms are generally very easy to maintain. They require little effort and only sufficient tender loving care. Some things to take care of include soil condition, leaf problems and brown tips.

Natural Browning

Before trying to solve browning in palms it is important to understand why palms go through a browning process. Basically, browning tips are natural. Palms produce new leaves throughout their growing period. As the plant reaches the end of its growth or life, its tips will start browning until it completely dries and then drops from the body of the plant. However, there are instances wherein browning is not just a natural occurrence.

When there are only one or two leaves browning and the rest of the plant and other leaves continue to grow then it is time to be concerned. There is clearly something wrong when the rest of the plant thrives while only parts of it do not. To properly address the problem, several steps need to be conducted for both diagnosis and treatment of the problem.

Determining the Problem

Initially, the first thing to do when there is an unusual browning in the palm is to examine the parts where the tips are brown. Try to see whether there is foliar tip burn or any damages to the roots. Some causes of browning in palms include excessive salt in the soil, over-watering and inability of the soil to drain properly or efficiently.

The next thing to do is to check for the fluoride level or toxicity. To do this, see if the tips of the palm leaf have dark brown colour. The problem can be caused by putting in too much fluoride in the palm’s potting mixture.

It is also important to see the copper toxicity level in the palm. If the browning is caused by the increase in copper toxicity level, there will be brown elliptical spots by the tip of the leaf. Browning caused by copper toxicity also appears as if the leaf is suffering from a fungal growth.

Solving the Problem

Depending on the cause, there are many ways to correct browning and leaf problems in palms For instance, it is possible to stop browning and similar leaf issues by re-potting the palm into a different type of soil. Preferably, the soil should have free draining capacities. Also water the palm less when it is in the ground.

As for excessive salt content, leach the soil using water. Pour water into the soil and then allow the water to completely drain. Repeat this step around two to three times to lessen the salt content. Since the majority of browning and leafing problems comes back to the soil, it is best to replace the current potting mixture. Clearly, because the palm is suffering from browning tips, there must be something wrong with the components of the mixture.

Make sure to maintain soil pH within 6.0 and 7.0. Likewise, potting mixtures that have super phosphate should not be used. This can only increase the toxicity level of the soil further worsening the condition of the plant.

Another essential thing to note is to be aware of the fertilizers used to enhance plant growth. Some fertilizers and similar components added to the soil of the plant can only render the soil condition more fatal than helpful to plant development. Make sure to grow the plant as natural as possible.

<< Previous Palms: Fast Growers and How to Care For Them | Back to Mullumbimby Palm Blog | Next >> Palms:Sun, Water and Soil

Indoor Palm Tree Tips for Leaves That Are Turning Brown

palm tree image by Wolszczak from

Palm trees add a tropical or exotic touch to any living space or landscape. Many types of palm trees are cultivated for container growth, making them a nice addition to a patio. In addition, some palm trees are grown indoors as houseplants. While palm trees generally are hardy and easy to care for, they sometimes develop problems, including browning leaves. Brown leaves on an indoor palm tree can signify a number of common care issues.


According to University of Minnesota horticulturist Deborah L. Brown, palm trees are tropical plants and need a lot of light in order to thrive. Even indoor palm trees should be exposed to a full day of sunlight–at least eight hours; more than that is preferable. If the browning leaves are located on the lower part of the trunk, and the palm tree is located in a dark area of your home, it likely is not being exposed to enough sunlight. Over time, leaves turn brown and fall off, moving from the lowest leaves to the youngest leaves on the crown of the tree. Move the tree to a brighter location.


Browning of the fronds, especially at the tips or along the edges of the leaves, can be an indication that the palm tree is not getting enough water. Palm trees need to be watered frequently during the growing season (spring and summer), and should be watered when the soil feels dry to the touch just below the surface. Slightly reduce the frequency of watering in the winter. Water slowly with warm water until the container is draining freely. Once the water has stopped draining, empty the water-catch tray so the pot is not sitting in water, as this can lead to root rot. With proper moisture, the leaves of the palm tree should stop turning brown.


Palm trees grown in containers need supplemental nutrients. In some cases, however, this can be too much of a good thing. Home gardeners who over-fertilize their palm trees can cause salt and minerals to build up in the soil, resulting in the leaves turning brown along the margins and on the tips. In extreme cases, the leaves turn completely brown.

Palm trees should be fertilized from late winter to early fall; after that, they should not be fertilized at all, allowing the tree to go dormant and rest. The best and easiest way to fertilize palm trees properly is to purchase palm spikes, which are formulated with the correct amount of nutrients and are made to release those nutrients for a set amount of time.

What Causes Brown Tips on Plant Leaves?

Brown leaf tips on palms may be caused by one or more of the following:

Dryness. If the palm is not getting enough water, or if the humidity is too low, the leaf tips will turn brown. Water more frequently and on a regular basis.

Salt. Salts from water accumulate in the soil over time. The salts may come from fertilizer dissolved in the water or from minerals in the water itself. Excess salts are taken up by the plant and deposited in the tips of the leaves, causing burning and browning. Prevent the salt buildup by leaching (flushing) the soil with distilled water periodically.

Chemicals. Some chemicals such as chloride and borate can accumulate in leaf tips and cause browning. If your water source has chloride or borate, use distilled or rainwater instead to water plants. You can trim the brown leaf tips to keep the plant more attractive. Avoid removing the entire frond before it turns completely brown. As long as the leaf has some green tissue, it’s photosynthesizing and contributing to plant growth.


There are so many types of palms that the first thing to do is figure out exactly what kind of palm that you have and investigate best care practices for that specific type.

Browning of leaves can indicate many things: too much or too little water, not enough humidity, insect infestations and possibly even lack of light. I suspect that it may be too much water, as you have mentioned that you water it each week. Palms require good soil drainage, should not sit in standing water and need to dry out between watering to ensure that they don’t get root rot. A water level monitor may assist you in knowing when the soil is sufficiently dry and the plant needs more water. It may not be every week, particularly in the winter months when light levels are lower.

Also you may want to consider ceasing the fertilizer application for the winter months and starting up again in the spring as over fertilization may be hurting the palm. If you have just turned your furnace on, perhaps the palm is suffering from lack of humidity and regular misting might help. Lack of humidity or air circulation may also cause insect infestations such as spider mites so check your plant thoroughly for bugs. But again different palms have different care needs so knowing what type you have would be a great place to start in understanding its specific needs.

Here are some sites which will help you identify your palm tree:

I wish your palm years of health!

Brown Tips On Sago: Reasons For Sago Palm Turning Brown

Sago palms are excellent landscape plants in warm to temperate climates and as interior potted specimens. Sagos are relatively easy to grow but have some specific growing requirements including soil pH, nutrient levels, lighting and moisture. If a sago palm has brown leaf tips, it could be a cultural, disease or pest issue. Sometimes the problem is as simple as too much harsh sunlight and relocation will cure the issue. Other reasons for brown tips on sago may take some sleuthing to identify the cause and rectify the problem.

Reasons for Brown Leaves on Sago Palm

Sago palms are not true palms but members of the cycad family, an ancient plant form that has been around since before the dinosaurs. These tough little plants can withstand a lot of punishment and still reward you with their large attractive leaves and compact form. Brown leaves on sago palm are most commonly caused by sun scorch and inadequate moisture but there are some sneaky little pests and disease issues that can also be the source of the problem.

Light – Sagos like well-drained soil in low light conditions. Soggy soil will result in yellowing leaves and overall diminishment of health. Excess light can burn the tips of the foliage, leaving brown, crinkled tips.

Nutrient deficiency – Manganese deficiency in soil can cause palm tips to turn yellowish brown and stunt new growth. Excess salts in potted plants occur when over fertilizing takes place. Brown tips on sago indicate the plant has too much salt in the soil. This can be corrected by giving the plant a good soil drench. These cycads do need occasional fertilizing with a slow release 8-8-8 balanced plant food. The slow release will gradually fertilize the plant, preventing salt build up.

Spider mites – A magnifying glass may be necessary when a sago palm has brown leaf tips. Spider mites are a common pest of both indoor and outdoor plants of many varieties. Sago palms with fine spider web type structures among the stems and fanned leaves may exhibit browning on foliage as a result of the feeding activity of these tiny insects.

Scale – Another insect pest you might spot is scale, particularly Aulacaspis scale. This pest is yellowish white, fairly flat and can be found on any part of the plant. It is a sucking insect which will cause leaf tips to turn yellow then brown over time. Horticultural oil is a good combative measure for both insects.

Other Causes of Sago Palm Turning Brown

Potted plants do well in close confines but will require repotting and new soil every few years. Choose a well-draining potting mix that is sterile to avoid transmitting fungal organisms that can affect plant health. In ground plants benefit from organic mulch that will gradually add nutrients to the soil while conserving moisture and preventing competitive weeds and other plants.

Leaves of sago palm turning brown are also a normal condition. Every season as the plant grows it produces new little fronds. These fans grow larger and the plant needs to make room for the new growth. It does this by sloughing off old fans. The lower older leaves turn brown and dry. You can simply cut these off to restore the appearance of the plant and help it as it gets bigger.

Most causes of brown leaves on sago are easy to handle and a simple matter of changing lighting, watering or nutrient delivery.

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