How to Revive a Dying Indoor Palm Tree


How to revive a dying indoor palm tree

Have you ever bought an elegant (and dare I say expensive) Indoor palm tree that has started to show signs of dying? I can understand the frustration, given how beautiful they are!

I have worked under the tutelage of expert palm tree growers for many years in my line of work, supplying garden centers with houseplants, and I have distilled all the tips, tricks, and knowledge into this article so you can identify what is causing your palm tree to die and how you can fix it!

From my experience, a dying indoor palm tree is usually because of root rot due to overwatering and poor drainage, which causes the leaves to turn yellow with a drooping, dying appearance. Low humidity and dry soil around the root ball causes the palm tree’s leaf tips to turn brown and droop, with a dying appearance.

My key tip is that indoor palms need to grow in bright, indirect light, or the leaves can scorch yellow and brown if they are in too much direct sunlight.

I should highlight that Indoor palms need soil that is well-draining and evenly moist. The leaves can turn yellow and brown as a result of both dry soils due to underwatering and boggy soil overwatering.

To revive a dying indoor palm tree, I always recommend recreating the conditions of the palm native environment by increasing the humidity with regular misting of the leaves, watering the soil thoroughly every 7 days, locating the palm tree in bright, indirect sunlight rather than direct sunlight and maintaining a temperature range of 65ºF to 75ºF (18ºC to 23ºC).

All the popular indoor palm tree species (Parlor palms, Areca palms, Kentia palms, Majesty Palms, Ponytail palms, etc.) are from humid tropical climates, and I can assure you they require the same conditions when grown indoors.

The bottom leaves of indoor palm trees can turn yellow or brown as the plant matures, even if the plant is healthy.

Keep reading for how I pinpoint the reason for the palm dying and my specific formula to fix it…

Why is My Indoor Palm Tree Leaf Tips Turning Brown?

Indoor palm tree leaf tips turning brown, due to low humidity and underwatering.
This is my firends Indoor palm tree and I was able to identify the leaf tips are turning brown due to low humidity and underwatering.
  • Symptoms. Leaf tips turning brown, dried out, and crispy.
  • Causes. Low humidity, underwatering, high temperatures, and too much fertilizer.

From my observations, it is almost always the case that the indoor palm tree leaf tips turn brown because of low humidity and underwatering. Indoor palm trees require the soil to be evenly and consistently moist and prefer high humidity. Low humidity saps moisture from the leaves quicker than the roots can draw up water, causing the leaf tips to turn brown.

When trying to diagnose the problem with your plant, I always find it is best if we understand how the plant grows in the wild so that we can replicate some of these conditions in our houses…

Most indoor palm tree species are native to tropical climates, where they grow with high levels of humidity.

The air indoors is usually much dryer which saps moisture from the leaves causing the leaf tips to turn brown, dried out and crispy.

As I’m sure you have noticed, humidity can also significantly decrease due to indoor heating and draughts from forced air or air conditioning, resulting in brown leaf tips.

I found this to be the case when I lived in an apartment, and my indoor heating in winter dried the air, and the air conditioner in the summer sapped moisture from the leaves.

Palm plants also require evenly moist yet well-draining potting soil to maintain a healthy appearance with green leaves.

If the soil around the root ball dries out, then this can also cause dying, dried-out, brown leaf tips.

Pro tip: When speaking to the experts, they advised me Indoor palm plants usually require watering with a thorough soaking every 7 days in the Spring and Summer during active growth and every 10-14 days in Winter when the palm is dormant.

It is important to water generously so that excess water trickles from the drainage holes in the pot’s base to ensure that the water is infiltrating the soil and reaching the roots where it is required.

If you are watering less often then this or watering too lightly then this is likely the cause of your indoor palm leaves turning brown.

Whilst indoor palm plants are native to tropical climates, the leaves can turn brown if they are located too close to indoor heating, as high temperatures increase evaporation and dry out the potting soil too quickly for the palm’s roots to draw up enough moisture, causing the leaf tips to turn brown.

In my case, the combination of underwatering, high temperatures, and low humidity caused the potting soil to bake hard and become hydrophobic (repels water), which causes water to trickle off the surface of the soil, down the side of the pot and out through the drainage holes without absorbing properly, which means the roots cannot access the moisture they require.

This, of course, causes drought stress and is often why indoor palm leaves turn brown starting at the tips.

Indoor palms are relatively sensitive to too much fertilizer which can cause the leaf tips to turn brown.

Whilst it is best practice to use a fertilizer for indoor palm plants, I recommend a specific palm tree fertilizer, (rather then a general fertilizer) as a specific product, contains all the nutrients and indoor palm tree needs at the right concentration to keep the tree healthy and avoid the leaf tips turning brown.

How to Fix Brown Tips

My method for reviving a palm tree with dying brown leaves is to increase the humidity by misting the plant regularly. Give the soil a thorough watering, keep the temperature between 65ºF to 75ºF (18ºC to 23ºC), and snip back brown dying leaves to stimulate the growth of new green, healthy leaves.

  • I placed my palm’s pot in a basin of water for 10 minutes or so and ensured that the root ball was fully submerged. If water runs off the surface of the soil and your indoor palm is chronically underwatered, this is my best method of hydrating the soil so that the roots can access the water they need. Once the soil had been soaked properly, my palm’s rootball was able to absorb water at the next bout of watering if you were consistent.
  • I always water indoor palms every 7 days with a generous soak. Water too lightly only moistens the top inch or so of the soil, whereas the roots are much further down in the soil and therefore cannot access the moisture, so always water until you see excess water trickling from the base of the pot to ensure the soil is evenly moist. Watering every 7 days ensures the right soil moisture balance to keep the palm hydrated and healthy without risking root rot (water every 10-14 days in Winter).
  • I recommend misting the leaves every other day to increase humidity. Misting the palm’s leaves helps to create a humid micro-climate that emulates the humid conditions of the palm’s native environment. This reduces water loss from the leaves and prevents the leaves from turning brown. You can also use a humidifier, which I have found works well if you have several houseplants that love humidity in the same room.
  • Keep indoor palm trees in a temperature range of 65ºF to 75ºF (18ºC to 23ºC) with around 10 degrees cooler at night. This is typically the preferred temperature range of indoor palms, and the stable temperature ensures consistent soil moisture. I advise keeping indoor palms away from air currents (from air conditions and forced air) and away from any sources of indoor heating, which can cause the temperature to fluctuate at night unfavorably.
  • If you have been applying fertilizer too often or in too high a concentration, then give the soil a generous soak. What I would do is water the soil thoroughly to help dissolve any excess salts that can build up due to excess fertilizer. Do not apply any more fertilizer until the following Spring. Always use a specific fertilizer for indoor palm trees as they contain all the nutrients that the palm tree requires at the right concentration to keep the indoor palm leaves healthy and avoid brown leaf tips.

My favorite tip: If brown leaf tips are a persistent problem for you (like they were for me), then I relocated my indoor plam plant into my bathroom. I found the natural humidity prevented any more leaves from turning brown.

Should I Cut Away Brown Palm Leaves?

Cut back any brown palm leaves back to healthy green growth. The brown leaves do not restore their appearance and turn green again, so cut the brown leaves back, which helps stimulate the growth of new healthy green leaves.

What I typically do is cut the brown tips back to healthy growth with my sharpest pair of pruners in a natural leaf shape to restore the natural appearance of the plants, and they look great.

Why are My Indoor Palm Tree Leaves Turning Brown?

  • Symptoms. Entire leaves turn brown and die. Sometimes, just the lower leaves turn brown with a dying appearance. Leaves can turn brown and yellow.
  • Causes. Lack of light, too much light, dry conditions, and palm leaves turn brown with a dying appearance as the plant matures. Overwatering and damp soil.

Indoor palm trees are most often tropical varieties that grow in the understory of a tree canopy, growing in bright light but protected from direct sunlight.

Therefore, palm trees grow best with lots of bright, indirect light when indoors.

If they do not have enough light, the leaves can turn brown. If the palm is in too much direct sunlight, it typically turns yellow but may also turn brown depending on the specific species of palm. We need to find that happy medium!

If the just the lower leaves of the indoor palm are turning brown, do not worry about this, I can asuure you this is usually because of the natural process of the plant as it matures.

As the palm tree grows, it redirects its energy and resources into growing the leaves at the top of the tree.

This is because palm trees grow their leaves closer to the source of light to gain a competitive advantage over other plants in their native environment.

As the palm tree matures, it invests less energy in sustaining the leaves at the bottom which typically is in less light, causing the dying leaves to turn brown.

If just the lower leaves are turn brown then this does not indicate the plant as a whole is dying and is a natural part of the palm’s growing cycle.

Dry conditions caused by high temperatures, underwatering, and low humidity typically turn the leaf tips brown at first, but all can contribute to the palm’s leaves turning brown and dying if the drought is severe enough.

However, if the soil is too damp, then this promotes the conditions for fungal disease, which can also turn indoor palm leaves brown with a drooping, dying appearance. (Again, it’s so important we find the happy medium with watering to keep our plans happy!)

Boggy soil can be caused by overwatering, poor drainage, pots without drainage holes in the base, and saucers, trays, or decorative pots that cause water to pool around the base of the pot.

How to Save Your Palm Tree With Brown Leaves

  • You first need to locate your indoor palm in a room with bright, indirect light away from direct sunlight. Bright indirect light is the optimal balance for indoor palms so that they have enough energy from growth and do not get scorched by the sun. If the room is somewhat low light (due to a north-facing window), then move your palm to a brighter room.
  • Increase the humidity with regular misting of the leaves, water the soil every 7 days during active growth, and maintain a temperature range of 65ºF to 75ºF (18ºC to 23ºC) with 10 degrees cooler at night. All these factors help to replicate the conditions of the palm tree’s native environment to alleviate the stress that is causing the leaves to turn brown.
  • If the lower leaves are turning brown and dying, then there is likely nothing wrong with your indoor palm. As the palm tree matures, it prioritizes new growth rather than sustaining the older leaves lower down the tree, causing them to turn brown. (phew!)

I have researched and tested every way of reviving houseplants, and I have conclusively found the best way is to try to research how they grow naturally and mimic these conditions indoors as best as you can.

I must caution that the brown leaves of your plan tree do not turn green again, so snip back any dying brown leaves to improve the plant’s appearance and help stimulate new growth.

However, if the indoor palm tree is turning brown due to damp soil, then this is due to fungal disease, at which point it can be very difficult to save your indoor palm, However from experience, these steps can help:

  • Scale back the watering. Indoor palms need evenly moist soil rather than saturated soil. Water every 7 days during active growth during Spring and Summer and every 10-14 in Fall and Winter.
  • Plant indoor palms in regular potting soil amended with grit or perlite to improve drainage. This helps to recreate the well-draining soil conditions of the palm tree’s native environment and mitigates the risk of root rot.
  • Plant indoor palms in pots with drainage holes in the base and empty saucers, trays, or decorative outer pots regularly to prevent water from pooling around the base of the pot.

Healthy roots are white with a firm texture. If most of the roots are brown, mushy with a rotten appearance and foul smell then this indicates fungal disease it can be too difficult to save the palm tree, particularly if all the leaves have turned brown.

However, what I found was that if there is only limited damage to the roots then I have gotten away with snipping back any roots that appear diseased back to healthy growth with a sharp pair of pruners.

You must use a cloth soaked in disinfectant to wipe the blades of the pruners between each cut to prevent spreading fungal disease pathogens from diseased roots to otherwise healthy roots. I use hand gel, which works great.

I then repotted the palm tree in new soil of 2/3’s potting soil to 1/3 grit or perlite, watered the palm thoroughly, misted the leaves regularly, and saved palms this way.

It really depends on how many roots are damaged, so if you can catch the rotting fungus early and snap back the roots, then you can increase the probability of saving your tree.

Why are My Indoor Palm Tree Leaves Turning Yellow?

  • Symptoms. Leaves turning yellow and dying back
  • Causes. The bottom leaves can turn yellow due to age. Overwatering, underwatering, poor drainage, too much direct sunlight, or low nutrients can all cause yellowing leaves.

Every time I have personally seen a palm with yellow leaves, it is because of overwatering and poor drainage. Indoor palm trees need well-draining soil conditions and do not tolerate boggy soil around the roots. Damp soil promotes the conditions for root rot, which turns the palm tree’s leaves yellow with a dying appearance.

Indoor palm trees require soil that is well-draining, porous, and aerated yet consistently moist.

I know that statement may seem somewhat contradictory, but if you imagine a sponge run under the tap and then rung out, that is the level of moisture we aim for. Not saturated but not dry. I hope that’s cleared things up?

If the potting soil is too damp, then this exudes oxygen from the soil and prevents root respiration, which interferes with the plant’s ability to draw up moisture and nutrients. If the palm cannot uptake water and nutrients, the leaves turn yellow, which is a sign of stress.

Remember that overwatering may not be why the soil is too damp (and therefore turning the leaves yellow). The soil may be too damp because of:

  • Compacted soil drains much more slowly, causing boggy conditions.
  • Pots without drainage holes in the base cause water to pool around the palm’s roots.
  • Saucers, trays, and decorative outer pots underneath the palm trees pot can cause water to pool around the base of the pot, which keeps the soil too damp.

However, suppose the soil around the roots dries out completely during active growth due to underwatering. In that case, the roots cannot uptake enough moisture to sustain the leaves, which also causes the leaves to turn yellow (and brown, depending on the severity of drought stress and the species of palm).

The species of palm trees commonly grown indoors are tropical plants that grow in the forest’s understory, protected from direct sunlight by a tree canopy overhead (indoor palms prefer bright, indirect light).

Therefore, their leaves are very sensitive to direct sunlight, which can cause them to turn yellow and brown, depending on their scorching severely. If the leaves are only slightly scorched, they turn brown, but severe scorching turns the leaves brown and yellow, with the leaves exposed to the most sunlight suffering much more.

Indoor palm leaves can also turn yellow due to a lack of nutrients in the soil. You are going to have this problem more commonly if you have a larger palm tree that has been in the same pot for a long time, as the roots can exhaust the soil of nutrients during active growth.

It is best practice to use a palm tree specific fertilizer twice a year to prevent the leaves turning yellow due to a lack of nutrients.

For some species of indoor palms, the lower leaves may turn yellow/brown due to age. This indicates that the palm tree is redirecting its energy from sustaining the larger lower leaves to growing new leaves at the top of the plant, which are more likely to have access to brighter light.

This is a natural process as the palm tree matures and does not indicate that the plant is dying.

My Tips for Saving a Palm with Yellow Leaves

As overwatering and underwatering are the most common reasons for indoor palm trees turning yellow, we need to determine whether it is a watering problem that is causing your palm tree to turn yellow, feel the soil at the fingers depth at the top of the pot and feel the soil at the base of the pot through the drainage holes.

The soil should feel evenly moist. If it feels dry, then drought stress is the cause of the yellowing leaves, whereas if the soil feels damp or boggy, then overwatering is causing the leaves to turn yellow.

If dry soil is causing your palm tree to turn yellow, then:

  • I would place the palm tree’s pot in a basin of water for 10 minutes, ensuring the root ball is submerged. This ensures water absorbs into the soil and reaches the roots where it is required to alleviate the drought stress.
  • Mist the palm tree’s leaves every other day. Misting the leaves creates a humid micro-climate, which emulates the humid tropical conditions of the palm tree’s native environment. This helps to counteract dry air that can sap moisture from the leaves. I also use a humidifier, or you can relocate your palm to a humid bathroom.
  • Keep the palm out of the direct path of air currents from air conditioning and away from sources of indoor heating which can dry the leaves and potting soil too quickly. From research, I found the precise, preferred temperature range of palm trees is 65ºF to 75ºF (18ºC to 23ºC), with 10 degrees cooler at night. Air currents lower humidity too much, which can contribute to the leaves turning yellow.
  • Water your palm tree every 7 days during active growth and every 10-14 days in Fall and Winter with a generous soak. I always water thoroughly so that excess water trickles from the base of the pot to ensure that the water infiltrates the soil and reaches the roots, where it is required. This helps to create the optimal balance of soil moisture (evenly moist but not boggy) that indoor palms need to stay healthy.

Once you correct the drought conditions so that they are more favorable for your indoor palm, then I typically find that you should see some signs of recovery in the following weeks. What you then have to do is snip back any individual leaves that turn brown and yellow to brown and crispy back to healthy growth with a sharp pair of pruners.

If you have determined that your indoor palm leaves are turning yellow due to boggy soil, then (these steps are very similar to the steps described under the previous subheading but with some subtle differences in care practices):

  • Scale back the watering to once a week. If you are watering your indoor palms more often than once a week, this is probably the reason for the leaves turning yellow. I water every 7 days during active growth and every 10- 14 days in Winter.
  • If the soil is compacted and draining slowly, then replace the potting soil. Indoor palms need porous, aerated potting soil rather than compacted soil, so take the palm out of the pot and amend the soil with around 30% horticultural grit or perlite to help recreate the well-draining soil conditions that palm trees prefer in their native environment.
  • When removing the palm from its pot inspect its roots for signs of disease. Healthy palm roots are white and feel firm. If the roots are diseased, then they are usually brown in color with a rotten appearance a mushy texture, and have a bad smell. If all of the roots are diseased then the palm does not revive.
  • If only some of the roots are rotting then trim back any diseased roots with a sharp pair of pruner back to healthy growth. Wipe the blades of the pruners with a cloth soaked in disinfectant to prevent spreading fungal pathogens from diseased roots to otherwise healthy growth. Re-pot the palm in new potting soil (amended with grit for drainage) and water the plant thoroughly.
  • Ensure that the palm is planted in a pot with drainage holes in the base, and empty any saucers, trays, or decorative outer pots of water regularly to prevent excess water from pooling around the potting of the pot, causing root rot.

It is far more difficult to save an overwatered indoor palm than an underwatered palm, particularly if there is significant root rot.

However, indoor palms do recover well from overwatering as long as the roots are intact and the drainage conditions are improved.

Indoor palms can also turn yellow due to too much direct sunlight or because the roots have exhausted the soil of nutrients (which is common during active growth in Spring and Summer), in which case:

  • Locate the indoor palm tree in bright, indirect, avoiding any direct sunlight. Brightly lit rooms give the palm tree enough energy to grow without scorching the leaves with direct sunlight. Mist the leaves and water once a week. Eventually, new green growth should emerge in the following weeks, after which you can trim back (with a sharp pair of pruners) any yellow parts of the palm that do not recover, as this should stimulate further growth so the plant can recover.
  • I use a palm-specific fertilizer once in the Spring and Summer to prevent yellowing leaves due to low nutrients. If the palm is yellow and has been in the same pot for a long time, then low nutrients likely cause the yellowing leaves. A specific palm tree fertilizer contains all the nutrients the palm requires at the right concentration. Indoor palm trees with yellowing leaves often recover well after applying fertilizer, and the palm should recover well.

Why is My Indoor Palm Tree Drooping?

  • Symptoms. Indoor palm leaves drooping or wilting. Leaves can also turn yellow or brown.
  • Causes. Underwatering, overwatering, low light, temperature too hot or cold, low humidity.

The most common reasons for indoor palm drooping are because of drought stress due to underwatering and low humidity. Drooping leaves are your palm tree’s first indication that the soil around the roots is too dry or the humidity causes the leaves to lose too much moisture, which results in a drooping, wilting appearance.

If the leaf tips are also turning brown as well as an overall drooping appearance, then this is symptomatic of low humidity, which saps too much moisture from the leaves at a faster rate than the roots can draw up moisture.

As I have stated, indoor palm trees also require the soil to be evenly moist. If the soil is start to dry around the roots then the first sign of stress is drooping leaves. If the soil dries out completely then the leaves also turn brown in as well as wilting.

The preferred temperature range for indoor palms is 65ºF to 75ºF (18ºC to 23ºC), with around 10 degrees cooler at night. If the temperature significantly exceeds 75ºF then the soil dries out too quickly, and the roots cannot uptake the water required to prevent the leaves from drooping.

All the common species of indoor palm trees are native to tropical climates. Excessively cold temperatures can stress an indoor palm and result in a drooping appearance.

If the soil is saturated or too compacted, then this can exclude oxygen from the soil and prevent root respiration, which interferes with the root’s ability to draw up moisture and nutrients, which results in drooping leaves that can eventually turn yellow or brown.

Boggy soil also promotes the conditions for fungal diseases such as root rot, which also causes leaves to droop.

Indoor palms require bright, indirect light. If the light is too low for the indoor palm tree then it does not have enough energy to support the leaves and stems and causes a drooping appearance.

How to Save Dooping Trees…

To revive a drooping indoor palm, ensure the potting soil is evenly moist, mist the leaves to increase humidity and maintain a temperature range of between 65ºF to 75ºF (18ºC to 23ºC), and locate the palm in bright light and the leaves should recover.

  • Again, mist the leaves every other day to increase the humidity. Indoor palm trees are all native to humid tropical climates, so misting the leaves regularly helps to create a humid micro-climate that emulates the palm’s native environment. This slows down water loss from the leaves and alleviates the drought stress that has caused the drooping leaves.
  • If the soil feels dry, place the indoor palm in a basin of water for 10 minutes, ensuring the root ball is submerged. Potting soil can often bake hard and become hydrophobic (repels water) if it has dried out, therefore it is best to soak the root ball for some time to ensure the water has absorbed properly. Water indoor palms every 7 days in Spring and Summer and every 10-14 days in Winter to ensure consistently moist soil and prevent drooping due to drought stress.
  • Indoor palms prefer a temperature range of 65ºF to 75ºF (18ºC to 23ºC) and 10 degrees cooler at night to prevent drooping. Keep your indoor palm tree away from sources of indoor heat and out of any direct air currents from air conditioning, forced air, or draught areas, which can sap moisture from the leaves and cause unfavorable temperature fluctuations.
  • Locate indoor palms in bright, indirect (rather than low light). A brighter room replicates the typical light levels of a forest under-story, with protection from harsh direct sunlight whilst still being bright enough so that the palm has enough energy to grow and remain healthy. A drooping indoor palm should perk up once the light levels are more favorable.

Indoor palm trees usually recover well from drought stress, and the drooping leaves should recover in the following days, as long as the conditions are adjusted to the preference of the indoor palm tree.

  • If the soil feels saturated, then this is the reason for the drooping leaves. Feel the palm’s soil to a fingers depth and the soil at the bottom of the pot through the drainage holes in the base to detect whether the soil feels boggy, rather than just evenly moist. If the soil is draining slowly due to compaction, take the palm out of the pot and amend the soil with around 1/3 horticultural grit or perlite to increase drainage.
  • Scale back the watering. Only water indoor palms every 7 days during Spring and Summer with a good soak and every 10-14 days in Fall and Winter. This ensures the right balance of moisture and drainage so that the roots can function properly, which alleviates the stress that causes the leaves to droop.
  • Ensure the indoor palm is planted in a pot with drainage holes in the base, and empty any saucers, trays, and decorative pots of excess water to ensure that water can drain freely without pooling around the base of the pot (which causes the soil to remain saturated).

From what I have seen personally, if your palm is drooping due to overwatering then it can usually be saved by just scaling back the watering. If it is just drooping, then it is likely that final diseases, such as root rot, have not occurred yet, and your palms should recover in around 3 weeks or so.

However, if the indoor palm has drooping, yellowing, or brown leaves, then the root rot or fungal disease may be severe, in which case it can be difficult to save the palm tree.

(Read my article, How to Care for an Indoor Potted Palm Tree).

Key Takeaways:

  • The reason for a dying indoor palm tree is usually because of low humidity, dry soil, and high temperatures, which cause the leaves to turn brown with a drooping, dying appearance. Indoor palm trees are tropical plants that need humid conditions, evenly moist soil, and temperatures between 65ºF and 75ºF to stay alive.
  • Indoor palm tree leaves turn yellow because of too much direct sunlight, overwatering, poor drainage, or low-nutrient soil. Indoor palm trees need bright, indirect light and well-draining, draining soil. Damp soil causes root rot, which turns the leaves yellow with a drooping appearance.
  • Indoor palm leaf tips turn brown because of low humidity due to air conditioning or indoor heating. Indoor palm trees are native to humid tropical climates. Low indoor humidity saps moisture from the leaves, causing the tips to dry and turn brown.
  • Indoor palm tree leaves turn brown and yellow with a drooping, dying appearance because of overwatering and poor drainage. Indoor palm trees need well-draining soil. If the soil is saturated, then this causes root rot, which causes the leaves to to turn yellow and brown and droop.

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