Indoor Palm Tree Leaves Turning Brown (5 Solutions)


Majesty Palm_ browning leaves

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When the green foliage of your indoor palm tree becomes brown, you want to figure out what’s going on not only for the tree’s beauty but for its health. After all, discoloration is indicative that something is wrong with your palm internally. What can you do for your plant?

What are some solutions for indoor palm tree leaves turning brown? Here are 5 solutions for indoor palm tree leaves turning brown:

  • Don’t fertilize too often
  • Maintain warm temperatures
  • Keep your palm moist but not soaking
  • Use rainwater or filtered water
  • Avoid exposure to direct sun

In this article, I’ll walk you through the above treatments for brown palm tree leaves in detail. You should find that your indoor palm’s leaves will naturally return to their former lustrous green! 

5 Great Solutions for Indoor Palm Leaf Browning

Don’t Fertilize Too Often

Fertilizer is a necessary component of any houseplant’s care, even indoor trees like the parlor palm or areca palm. Yet there are many fertilizer mistakes that can render your palm tree leaves brown if you’re not careful. 

For instance, perhaps the drainage medium you selected for your palm isn’t sufficient. This prevents the fertilizer from exiting the soil. When you add more fertilizer on top of it, the plant becomes overloaded with the stuff.  

Maybe you used slow-release fertilizer without realizing it. Perhaps you bought the right kind of fertilizer but you have no idea how much to use or how often, so you offer your palm tree a heaping helping of fertilizer whenever it feels right.

You’ll know you’ve gone way, way overboard if you can see a noticeable layer of fertilizer crust surrounding the base of your palm. The majestic fronds of your palm tree will have turned brown and maybe yellow as well. Growth will also generally come to a screeching halt. 

Palm trees require far less fertilizer than I’m sure you think they do. You shouldn’t fertilize monthly or even every couple of months. Instead, fertilize your palms between one and three times a year. Yes, a year.

You might administer fertilizer for the first time in the spring when your palm begins growing. Maybe that’s the only time or maybe you fertilize again in the summer, but don’t fertilize too many more times than that!   

While some houseplants will be a little worse for wear if you feed them fertilizer too often, palm trees are far more sensitive to this mistake. At best, you’ll see the above symptoms in addition to leaf burning. At worst, your palm will die.

Maintain Warm Temperatures

You associate palm trees with tropical islands or hot places in the United States such as Florida or California. It’s not just a coincidence that palms only pop up where it’s warm.

They cannot survive in colder climes. That goes for indoor and outdoor palms alike.

Palms can fall victim to three types of cold injuries depending on just how icy their conditions become. The least severe is a chilly injury, which occurs when temperatures are around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, sometimes even 45 degrees. 

Despite that chilly injuries are less serious, they can still lead to frond death. Before the fronds die, they’ll turn brown. The dead fronds may fall off the palm, but the tree will often survive if you get it in warmer weather, stat.

Frost injuries are the second most serious and take place when temps drop down into the low 30s. The palm tree fronds will die, maybe in greater quantities than with a chilly injury.

If the palm tree itself survives, which is likely, its recovery is going to take quite a long time, upwards of a year if not longer.

Hard freeze injuries are the most serious. These injuries arise not only from very cold temperatures but from prolonged exposure.

Older fronds will die off first, then new ones. The palm’s apical meristem–which is the region near its new leaves, shoots, and root tips–will also die. This is problematic since the meristem can’t grow back. 

Since your palm tree is an indoor plant, you shouldn’t have to worry about cold injuries more severe than those induced when temps are around 45 degrees. Do take care to ensure that your indoor palm’s environment never gets quite that cold. 

Keep Your Palm Moist but Not Soaking

If you’re confident that it’s not overfertilizing or cold temperatures that have made your indoor palm fronds turn brown, I’d bet there’s a good chance it’s due to the plant’s watering routine. Indoor palms have little tolerance for too little water or too much, so they’ll show signs of distress quickly in either scenario.

The correct rule of thumb is to water your indoor palm when only an inch of its soil is dry.

You can check the moisture levels of the soil by putting a clean finger in the palm’s pot and feeling around. If your fingertip comes away wet, then your palm doesn’t need water for another couple of days.

When you feel some moisture but not a lot, it’s still not time to water the palm tree, but it will be soon. If the top inch of the palm’s soil is dry, now you want to water it. Should the soil feel bone-dry, then you’ve waited too long.

When a palm tree is starved of water, the older fronds will turn brown first, but this discoloration can spread to the younger leaves as well. Your palm’s growth can also slow or stop entirely.

If the fronds go from brown to yellow, that’s not good either. This change in hue means you’re watering your palm tree too much. Recognizing the issue and cutting back on how much you water your plant now can save its life later. 

Like all indoor plants, palm trees can develop root rot. Not only do the roots begin dying, but the base of the tree will rot as well. Structurally, your tree may no longer be able to support itself. If it doesn’t fall down first, then its dead roots could lead to its death. 

Use Rainwater or Filtered Water

When you water your palm tree, where do you get your H2O from? If your answer is the tap, then it’s no wonder your palm tree’s leaves are brown.

Even though none of your other houseplants have ever protested when you’ve used tap water, many indoor palm trees can be a little more sensitive. Okay, a lot more sensitive. 

Tap water is full of chemicals, the number and quantity of which will vary depending on where in the country or world you call home. From pesticides to herbicides, mercury, chlorine, and lead, not to mention the possibility of copper, aluminum, barium, and arsenic, the contents of tap water can be pretty ugly.

What many indoor gardeners do is collect rainwater and use it to water their plants. Rainwater is not necessarily free of contaminants, but palms are more used to rainwater considering many species are suitable for outdoor growth as well as indoor. 

Whichever option you use, be it filtered water or rainwater, once you make the switch from chemical-laden tap water, your indoor palm tree should begin reacting much more favorably. 

Avoid Exposure to Direct Sun

The large, sweeping palm fronds of your majesty palm or Chinese fan palm must be treated with the same care as you’d handle a fern. Despite that you always see palms in the hottest climes, that doesn’t mean they’re suitable for direct sun exposure.

If anything, it’s the exact opposite.

The harsh rays of the bright sun can burn the tender fronds, turning them brown in a hurry. If you notice that your fronds also feel crispy, then it’s a good idea to review how much light your indoor palm receives. If it’s not a lighting issue, then underwatering the houseplant is likely your culprit. 

The best lighting conditions for most indoor palms are bright indirect light. How much light that is can be a little confusing for new indoor gardeners to figure out, so allow me to take a moment to explain what bright indirect light is. 

Bright indirect light doesn’t travel through a window directly to your indoor palm. First, the sunlight will bounce off or through something, then it will reach your plant.

In other words, there must be something obstructing the path between your palm and the sun. Perhaps that’s a curtain or a shade. Maybe your palm has the cover of a larger indoor plant over it. 

Once you’ve got your indoor palm into position so it gets bright indirect light, ensure it drinks in that light for four to six hours per day. This gets more difficult in the winter as the days are shorter and the sun comes out less often. Your palm won’t mind artificial light, so feel free to use grow lights to compensate for poor natural light! 

Can Palm Tree Leaves Turn Brown Naturally?

You racked your brains trying to figure out what you were doing wrong in caring for your indoor palm. After going through the above solutions, you were surprised that none of them applied to you.

Your palm’s fronds are still browner than they are green though, so what could be the issue?

Sometimes, the issue is nothing at all. As a palm tree matures, its leaves will naturally lose their color, becoming brown.

There’s no way to prevent this unless you have some sort of fountain of youth for houseplants (which would be nice, but sadly, does not exist). 

However, don’t just assume right off the bat that your palm tree is old and that’s why its fronds are brown. I implore you to go through each of the above solutions and try them one by one.

Only after you do that and you still see brown fronds can you rule out all the other problems. Your palm is just getting old, and that’s okay!  

Fred Zimmer

I'm a lover of plants, animals, photography, & people, not necessarily in that order. Currently, I'm focused on photographing indoor plants & chachkies. I write & rewrite articles about creating an environment where indoor plants can thrive. I'm good at listening to music but bad at shopping to muzak.

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