The Q&A Archives: Dried Up Leaves On Madagascar Palm

Question: The new leaves and tips of the old leaves on my Madagascar Palm are drying up as soon as they emerge. I have had this palm in a container for about 6 years, having it profesionally repotted 2 years ago. It has always done beautifully until about 3 months ago. I had noticed the tips of the leaves turn crispy brown, and brittle. Now, the new growth turns brittle and brown as soon as it emerges. There are 3 babies growing from the bottom, about 4-6 inches tall. Should they be removed, and how? I looked in your library to read the requirements for such Palm. I have it in the ideal location.

Answer: When leaves brown around the edges, the problem is often salt burn. Salts in the water and in fertilizer build up over time. Browning usually occurs on the old leaves first. This excess salt accumulates in the leaf edges, where it kills the tissue and the leaf dries out and turns brown. It's important to water deeply and slowly. At least once a month, water deeply enough to "leach" or push salts well below the root zone and out the drainage holes in the pot. Frequent, light "sprinklings" allow salts to accumulate in the top layers of soil, where the roots are, which is bad news. Similar symptoms occur when too much fertilizer has been applied. Always water plants thoroughly before and after applying fertilizer to help prevent burn.

I'd start by flushing your plant with water under a hose or faucet and let the water run out the bottom to leach away possible salts. I'd hold off on fertilizer for a month to see if there's any improvement. Fertilizer "forces" a plant to grow, which can be stressful if the plant isn't healthy.

Whether to divide the offsets is up to you. If you do, you may as well repot the parent plant into fresh soil at the same time. Typically, the entire root ball is eased out of the pot, the offsets roots are gently separated away and then cut off with pruners as close to the parent plant as possible. The offset can be potted to start a new plant. Trim off any dead roots. Very lightly dust with sulfur dust to protect the cut. It should be planted at the same depth as it was growing in the first pot. I hope this info helps.

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