The Q&A Archives: Yellowing Leaves on Sago Palm

Question: What makes the leaves on a palm turn yellow? What can you do about it? Thanks.

Answer: Caryota, or Sago palms, are small to medium-sized palms that grow best in shady sites, in rich, moist soil. They can grow outdoors or as houseplants and should thrive in regular potting soil and regular moisture. Sago palms may or may not retain their old leaves, so if the lower leaves are turning yellow, it may be normal for the plant - the leaves will turn yellow, then brown. They can be cut off if they're unattractive to you. It's not unusual for palms to have just one row of leaves at the top of the trunk. If your palm is acting differently than it has in the past, it may need to be fed, or may need a deeper soaking than you are giving it. Periodic deep soakings will also leach salts away from the roots (which can build up in containers). If you can inspect the leaves, you may find spider mites (look for webbing between the leaf fans and the stem). An infestation of spider mites can turn leaves brown prematurely. To avoid the problem, hose the foliage down every few weeks to remove the dust and any spider mites that might have taken up residence. If you want to feed your palm, you can spread several inches of organic matter over the roots so the nutrients released as the organic matter decomposes will trickle down into the soil, or you can broadcast an 8-8-8 complete fertilizer over the root zone. Palms are sensitive to salts, so don't apply any more fertilizer than the label recommends or you'll burn the roots. Your palm may not start growing again until next spring, but if you feed it, and water it regularly, it should perform well.

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