How to Revive A Dying Palm

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I don’t have any palm trees for two reasons.

  1. They bloody LOVE a bit of scale. Can’t get enough of them. And I hate scale.
  2. I’m a big fan of cutting plants right back if they look crap/get infested with bugs. You can’t do that with a lot of palms.

I should probably get one, so I can tell you how hard it is to care for.

I once bought one from Ikea and it stayed alive for a long time, despite really terrible care, and then succumbed to scale.

A little bit of research a few years later told me that scale is A Thing with palms.

I decided against getting another.

You’ve been warned.

There are loads of different types of palms out there that are commonly sold as house plants. I’m going to be mainly focusing on parlour palms because they’re the most common.

I read somewhere that they’re the most commonly grown house plant, but I have no idea how they can possibly know that.


Your palm may be dying due to lack of nutrition

You might think that there’s not a lot of point in doing separate ‘how to revive a dying [insert plant name here]’ for each different plant, but there are subtle differences between each plant species that can mean the difference between life and death.

Palms, for example, are heavy feeders, and a regular dose of fertiliser is necessary for healthy growth.

This isn’t true of a lot of other plants.

In fact, I usually advise that people hold off fertilising until you’re pretty much certain that lack of nutrition is the issue.

But with palms, underfeeding can quickly lead to dying/yellowing fronds, and getting them fed quickly could revive them quickly. Since they’re heavy feeders, you’re less likely (though not totally exempt from) to have issues with root burn.

I don’t think palms are fussy about the type of food they get – a regular house plant fertiliser will do fine. If it were me, I’d be tempted to add a small amount of fertiliser with every water rather than keeping to a fertilising schedule.

To stave of root burn, never add fertiliser to dry soil. Moisten the soil with plain water first, and then add the fertiliser water. This stops the plant from panic-absorbing too much water (which can happen if the soil is very dry) and risking root burn.

Your palm may be dying because of pests

This is the reason I don’t have palms: they seem to be prone to scale, which includes mealybugs.

Scale is a pain because they can hide in tiny crevices and are difficult to eradicate. Many of them are resistant to regular pesticides because they have a hard outer shell, though I’ve seen people have success with dish soap and horticultural oil.

The best way to get rid of scale is to pick off as many as you can see. Repeat every couple of days until no more remain. A cotton bud soaked in rubbing alcohol will kill them on contact, but it’s not exactly cost effective.

But palms have a TONNE of fronds. It’s ok if you only have a little one, but if you buy a big parlour palm with hundreds of fronds, picking off individual bugs will takes HOURS.

WHO HAS THE TIME (not to mention the inclination)??!!

Prevention is best, so spraying your palm regularly with diluted neem oil is a great idea. Not much use once the scale has taken hold though.

You can buy predatory insects that will eat the scale in its larval stage. You’ll still need to remove the adults, but at least no more will be adding to the problem.

Ladybirds/bugs and lacewing flies will work.

I’d advise you to keep the plant isolated from others so that the beneficial insects won’t fly off and find something else to eat. Once the scale is gone, leave the windows open and the bugs will fly off.

If the idea of releasing bugs in the house freaks you out, you could put your palm outside (in the shade). Some birds will eat scale insects, as well as wild predatory bugs.

Revive your palm by watering it properly

Palms, like many other house plants, like to dry out a bit between waterings.

This means that you should water when the soil is dry, NOT on a weekly basis or whatever schedule suits you.

Underwatering will lead to brown frond ends, but is usually easier to recover from than overwatering, which can lead to root rot.

Revive your palm by optimising photosynthesis

House plant palms are big fans of bright, indirect light, since young palm trees in the wild would typically live below the tree canopy of somewhere tropical.

You could gradually acclimate them to brighter light, but be sure you know what you’re doing and don’t rush it, because if you damage the growth point of your palm, it won’t regrow like a lot of other tropical plants.

I have some tips here that will help you increase the light in your house, but the first easy fix is to clean your windows (or hire a window cleaner, which is what I do – it may sound extravagant, but I’ll happily pay £10 for someone to clean all my windows; if I did it, it’d be smear city).

I know it doesn’t seem like dirty windows would make that much of a difference, but they definitely do.

Another way to increase the light your plant is getting without actually changing the light is to clean your plant’s leaves.

For larger leaved-plants, I’d recommend a cloth (I like to use old grey muslin face cloths) or a lint roller, but that’s hardly realistic for palms. By the time you’d cleaned every frond the first ones you did would be dusty again.

I’d either give the palm a shower (whenever it needs watering, take it to the shower and give it a good spray down – two birds, one stone etc) OR chuck it outside next time it rains (as long as it’s not too hot/cold).

Revive your palm by dividing it/repotting it

I’ve already mentioned that palms are heavy feeders, but having them in too small a pot can cause them to become deficient in nutrients even if you feed them regularly.

Basically, there are more roots than soil, so there isn’t anything for the nutrient water to be absorbed into. It’ll just run out of the bottom.

Usually, I like to wait until there are roots coming out of the bottom of the pot before I repot. I don’t repot plants as soon as I bring them home (it’s a stressful enough time for them) BUT if you notice that the soil is drying out much more quickly than usual, it might be time to repot.

Palms like well-draining soil, so either make your own potting mix, or buy a house plant potting soil and add some aeration, like perlite or orchid bark.

Revive your palm by increasing the humidity

Palms aren’t THAT fussy about high levels of humidity, but you might find that you get the odd brown frond if the air is very dry.

If your palm has been having a bad time – pests, or root rot or whatever, it might be a good idea to either invest in a humidifier or put it in a more humid area of your home to help out the fronds a bit.

Humidity by itself is unlikely to make a massive difference to the health of your palm, but it can help it along and help it look more aesthetically pleasing (i.e. not crispy and browned).

Can you revive a palm after your dog/cat/rabbit ate it?

Parlour palms are great plants for those of us with nibbly pets, BUT just because your cat won’t hurt if it eats your palm doesn’t mean that your palm is going to be ok with being eaten.

I have a few tips and tricks to help keep pets away from plants here, but by far the best way to keep plants safe from your pets (and vice versa) is to keep them separate.

For every cat that hates the feel tin foil on the top of the soil, there are a dozen more that genuinely couldn’t give a shit about it.

So what do you do if your pet eats your palm?

Firstly, if you notice that a lot of frond-ends are missing, you need to move the plant away.

In all likelihood, the plant will be FINE with a few missing leaf tips, BUT your pet is unlikely to have finished. They’ll keep nibbling until they reach the point of no return, so best move it asap.

Like I said, a few frond tips won’t hurt your plant, but if your pet eats the growth point on the plant, they could easily kill your palm.

If you live in a studio apartment and there is nowhere to put your nibbled plant, try offering up other tasty treats – cat grass is an option, or even a couple of cheap spider plants to use as deterrents.

Spider plants actually produce a small high in cats, so it just might work!

Final thoughts

Palms are a little trickier to revive than many other house plants because they don’t give you the option of lopping off all the leaves and starting again, which is, in all honestly, my preferred method of reviving plant (only because that’s the stage they usually get to before I notice they’re flagging).

If any palm experts have any tips for reviving sad-looking palms we’d love to hear them! Leave me a comment below!

Caroline Cocker

Caroline is the founder and writer (and plant keeper) of Planet Houseplant

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