How Do I Treat Yellow Leaves On My Palm Tree?

Jessica Stone
by Jessica Stone

Whether you’re growing palm trees in your yard or a small palm plant inside your home, you likely selected them to enjoy their magnificent, lush green fronds. When palm trees flourish they are reminiscent of paradise and island getaways but have you noticed the leaves of your palm tree turning yellow?

Palm tree leaves can yellow from a lack of essential nutrients, low sunlight, or a pest problem. To treat yellow leaves on your palm tree, use plant food to rebalance the nitrogen, iron, potassium, magnesium, or manganese levels. Use a homemade remedy of mineral oil and baking soda to get rid of palm tree pests.

While sometimes the existence of yellow leaves can be natural, if the yellowing lingers, there’s likely a bigger issue at play. Since there is more than one reason why your palm tree fronds could be turning yellow, it’s important that you understand all the possibilities. We’ll provide all the necessary steps you should take for monitoring, diagnosing and fixing the problem.

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Why Are My Palm Tree Leaves Turning Yellow?

The first step in diagnosing your palm tree is to understand whether or not the presence of yellow leaves is natural or a cause for concern. Palm trees are considered evergreen, meaning they stay green throughout the year. As palms grow, old fronds may naturally turn yellow and fall off. This will typically occur at the base of the tree and as long as the majority of the leaves stay green, this is nothing to worry about.

However, if you’re noticing that the yellow leaves are lingering, this is typically a red flag. In this case, the reason your palm tree leaves are turning yellow could be due to a nutrient deficiency, pest infestation, improper light or inadequate moisture.

Palm Tree Nutrient and Mineral Deficiencies

A lack of nutrients or minerals is arguably the most common cause for yellowing in palm tree leaves. Let’s examine the most common nutrients and minerals that could be lacking in your palm tree’s soil.

  • Nitrogen – Nitrogen is an essential nutrient that supports the development and overall growth of palm trees. The most common cause of a nitrogen deficiency is not enough fertilizing or the wrong type of fertilizer. With a nitrogen deficiency, the yellowing will be present in old and new fronds on your palm tree.
  • Iron – Iron is an important mineral that serves the purpose of helping palm trees maintain their green hue year-round. A lack of iron will show itself in the new leaves first. The most common reason for an iron deficiency is over mulching or improper drainage.
  • Potassium – Low levels of potassium will cause the older leaves, closest to the bottom, to turn yellow. This issue may also be indicative of yellow-orange spots on the leaves. Potassium deficiency is an important problem to fix because if left unchecked it can lead to pest infestation and diseases.
  • Magnesium – A magnesium deficiency is probably the easiest one to detect. In this case, only the tops of the leaves on each frond will turn a bright, yellow color.
  • Manganese – You will notice a lack of manganese if the leaves have yellow streaks. This type of yellowing is progressive and will cause new fronds to have a singed look.

How to Fix Nutrient and Mineral Deficiencies in Palm Trees

If you’ve discovered that your palm’s yellow leaves are caused by some form of nutrient or mineral deficiency, you should place your tree on a regular fertilization schedule. For example, Majesty Palms can significantly benefit from being fertilized a few times in the spring and summer months.

When shopping for plant food, find one that contains the essential ingredients that your palm is lacking. Additionally, to provide sufficient magnesium, you can supplement with placing Epsom salts into the soil.

Insect Pests Causing Yellowing in Palm Trees

An infestation of pests is another common contributor to yellowing in palm tree leaves. Most insect pests will be the result of another underlying health issue related to mineral and nutrient deficiencies. An already stressed and weakened palm is very susceptible to pests.

Spider mites are sap-sucking insects that will appear as brown or yellow spots on the leaves. They can be difficult to detect as they are very tiny creatures. If your palm tree is infested with spider mites, they will drain it of its moisture resulting in yellowing and possibly halted growth.

Another common pest that can cause leaf yellowing are palm tree aphids. Aphids have no legs or head and will look like bumps on a leaf. They will attach themselves to the leaves and suck out the palm trees essential nutrients. Yellowing will only occur in the area where aphids are feeding.

How to Fix Palm Tree Pests

Make sure that you are regularly inspecting your palm tree and its leaves for any indication of pests. Thankfully, insect infestations are relatively simple to treat. You can use neem oil developed for house plants or a homemade concoction to thwart off bugs.

The homemade remedy involves mixing 1 to 2 tablespoons of baking soda and 1 to 2 teaspoons of mineral oil into a bottle of water and spraying it on all the areas of the palm that are infected. Keep your infested palm houseplant away from all of your other plants to prevent spread.

If you own an outdoor palm tree and notice sticky film or webbing on your leaves caused by pests, speak with an arborist to determine your best course of action for remedying the infestation.

Yellowing Palm Tree Caused by Improper Light

If you have a palm as a houseplant, it’s essential that it is getting the correct amount of sunlight throughout the day. Improper light could very well be the cause of your palm tree leaves turning yellow.

Intermittent sun is ideal for an indoor palm to flourish and prolonged direct exposure to sunlight will cause the leaves to burn. While palms can adapt to lower light, you should look for a medium to bright indirectly lit area in your home to provide the acceptable sunlight necessary for the palm tree’s long-term survival.

Palm Tree Diseases

When palm trees are grown in the landscape, they are not only susceptible to pests and nutritional concerns but can also catch diseases. Though these diseases may not be the direct cause of yellowing leaves, they can be a contributing factor. Some of the most common diseases that plague palm trees include:

  • Leaf Spots: Leaf-spotting fungi is a common issue that affects palms. These spots can appear circular, elongated, brown, and even oily. Unfortunately, in most cases, leaf spots will kill your tree. However, you can try copper fungicidal sprays and never allow irrigation to wet the foliage.
  • False Smut: Also referred to as Graphiola leaf, this disease is very common in areas with high humidity. Though, false smut only affects palms in the Arecaceae family. This disease is indicative of small, black, wart-like erections that form on the surfaces of the leaves. To remedy this issue, space out palms, avoid wetting fronds, and increase air circulation to reduce humidity.
  • Bud Rot: This particular disease can result from a variety of fungal pathogens. It often occurs after excessive rain, a tropical storm, or simply after damage from cold weather. Signs of bud rot include black lesions on buds and wilting of young leaves. To prevent disease spread, remove infected palms immediately. Unfortunately, recovering a plant with bud rot is highly unlikely.
  • Butt Rot or Ganoderma Root: The first sign of this type of disease is drooping and withering of old fronds. New growth will also appear pale green or yellow and be stunted. Since the fungus survives on plant tissue, remove any evidence of dead palms from your landscape.

Removing Damaged or Dead Leaves

For outdoor palm trees, old fronds will turn yellow and then brown before dropping or needing to be trimmed. If your palm tree is self-cleaning, the leaves will fall on their own but if you’re planning on removing them yourself make sure you’re not doing it too soon. Before trimming, wait until the leaves have turned completely brown.

For your palm tree houseplant, removal of dead or damaged areas will help the plant recover faster and keep looking its best. Always sanitize your tools and use pruning shears or very sharp scissors. For removal, follow these steps:

  • Using clean shears, trim the brown leaf tips. Only cut off the damaged leaves and leave a tiny sliver of brown to avoid any unnecessary damage to healthy foliage.
  • If the entire leaf is brown, remove the individual leaf at the plant’s base. Tug on the leaf gently and it may separate on its own. If not, snip the stem, at the base, using your clean sheers.

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Wrapping It Up

There are a variety of reasons why your palm tree may be turning yellow. We understand the desire to find a quick fix to maintain the health and beauty of your tree.

Whether it’s a nutrient deficiency, improper lighting, or an insect infestation, you now have the necessary tools to safeguard against additional yellowing from occurring in the future.

Jessica Stone
Jessica Stone

Jessica considers herself a home improvement and design enthusiast. She grew up surrounded by constant home improvement projects and owes most of what she knows to helping her dad renovate her childhood home. Being a Los Angeles resident, Jessica spends a lot of her time looking for her next DIY project and sharing her love for home design.

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