The Q&A Archives: Dying Indoor Palms

Question: In December, I purchased two small (2')"Common Palm" trees and over the last few months they have developed some sort of disease. First I noticed a very fine webbing (looked like cobwebs) at the base of the fronds. I cleaned this off the best I could with a soft cloth, but then the fronds started turning brown. Some of them browned entirely and some only half (progressing from the tips). Originally, when they first started to show signs of browning, they were in a low to moderate sun area. I moved them to a sunnier location and they don't seem to have gotten any worse, but they haven't gotten any better. Any suggestions?

Answer: It does sound like you had or have an infestation of spider mites, which leave webs. Spider mites are tiny, live on the undersides of the leaves, and love hot, dry conditions. One of the best ways to deal with them is to literally spray them off with water or mist them regularly. Be sure to spray the bottoms of the leaves as well as the tops. If that doesn't work, you could try regular sprayings with insecticidal soap. Another technique is to make a froth of soap suds and dab it onto the plant being sure to cover it entirely-top and bottom of leaves. This will suffocate the mites and won't hurt the plant at all.

Here are some general guidelines for growing palms indoors: Give average household temperatures, with a minimum of 50F in the winter. Most palms will thrive in moderate to low light conditions, and should be shaded from direct sunlight.
Palms require good drainage. Provide enough water to keep the soil moist during the spring and summer months, but allow the top of the soil to dry out slightly between waterings in the winter time. If the room is heated, mist the leaves occasionally to compensate for the dry air. Misting or sponging helps keep dust off the leaves, as well. Palms are not heavy feeders, but appreciate one spring and one summer feeding with a half-strength solution of liquid
fertilizer in place of regular watering. It's difficult to explain low to moderate lighting conditions, but the light will be right if the plant is within 5-8 feet of a sunlit window, or if you can read newspaper print while standing in the spot. Sometimes dying tips can be from salt accumulation in the soil. Leach the salts out monthly by watering slowly and deeply and let the water run out of the bottom of the pot for several minutes. Hope this information helps!

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