Overwatered Palm Tree (Signs And Step By Step Solution)


Despite your best efforts, does your palm tree look thirsty all the time? Are its leaves turning brown and limp quickly, and you’re not sure what’s going on? 

Chances are you might be showing your palm tree too much love. Overwatering is a common problem all gardeners face, where too much water in the soil suffocates your palm tree’s roots, and stops vital minerals, nutrients, and oxygen from being absorbed. 

But don’t worry – all hope is not lost!

When caught in time, overwatering is easy to reverse. I have simple solutions that can help rescue your palm tree and revive it. 

To save an overwatered palm tree, you must stop watering it immediately and evaluate the situation. Carefully take your palm tree out of its container to examine the roots for rot. Trim away damaged portion of the roots, treat with a fungicide and repot with fresh soil. 

Underwatered vs Overwatered Palm Tree?

First, I strongly recommend you spend some time diagnosing the problem. Unfortunately, underwatering and overwatering share common signs and it can be difficult at first to figure out which problem you have.

But I am here to help! In my experience, there are common signs of overwatering that are easy to spot. Let’s take a closer look at your palm tree. 

SignsUnderwateredOverwatered
Texture of leavesDry, wilted and discoloredSoft and limp
Soil ConditionDry, brittle and hard to grabSoggy, moist and clumping together
PestsSpiders and mitesWhiteflies and fungus gnats
LeavesBrown edgesBrown with yellow circles
GrowthLeaves dropping and wiltingCanopy droops, and new leaves drop very quickly
DiseasesNutrient deficiencies, poor leaf growthWhite fuzz growing on soil suggests fungus growing
SmellStale or foul smell suggests roots rotting

Signs of Overwatered Palm Tree 

Signs of overwatered palm tree

Let’s quickly take a closer look at signs your palm tree has been overwatered, and I’ll explain why this needs to change.

Leaves are pale and limp

Usually, palm trees have luscious, vibrant foliage. However, one of the first symptoms of overwatering will be pale and limp palm tree leaves. 

The palm tree’s canopy will lose its shape and will droop down with little strength and vigor. It can be quite upsetting to see but don’t worry, as leaves will recover quickly if you change your ways.

Leaves are limp because roots are damaged, and thus cannot intake any nutrients. By reducing the amount of water you give, you’re allowing roots to absorb better and your plant’s circulation to work.

Root rot

Roots are the VIP of any plant, and even though we rarely see them, they must be kept in good health. Overwatering your palm tree suffocates its roots, denying oxygen, minerals, and more. This can lead to a devasting condition known as root rot.

As roots rot, fungi and disease can spread quickly, and the results can be devasting. You must act quickly to salvage happy, healthy roots.

Remove your palm tree from its pot or container and examine the root network. Pay close attention to:

  • Any foul smells you notice
  • Are roots brittle, frayed, or overly weak?
  • Are roots black, discolored, and mushy?

Pests

It wouldn’t be gardening without a pest or two, right? The type and amount of pests you have on your palm tree can help you identify problems.

For example, whiteflies and mealybugs enjoy humid, soggy environments, and their presence can suggest that your plant is watered too much. If there are fungus gnats, this too points to soggy soil and your plant being drowned.

Loss of color

Palm trees are known for their lush, vibrant green canopy. But overwatering these trees will bring on unsightly discoloration. 

This is known as chlorosis, where leaves turn yellow because of nutrient deficiencies brought upon by overwatering. Remember, overwatering suffocates roots and stops them from working properly.

If leaves are beginning to fade, are turning brown/yellow, or worst of all – falling off, it’s time to reduce your watering. Only prune and remove leaves that have completely turned brown.

Mold on soil 

If you’ve been overwatering, your soil may start sprouting a wool-like spool across its surface.

This mold thrives in damp, moist conditions and can be a breeding ground for disease, gnats, and more. Mold can grow out of control if not kept in check. 

I would highly recommend you replace potting soil if and when mold strikes.

How to Revive Overwatered Palm Tree 

If your palm tree has been overwatered, the most important thing you can do now is not to panic. You have options, and in my experience palm trees can recover if given the right supports.

Below are 3 ways you can tackle the situation, depending on how severe overwatering has been. Each one will help you make the best of the situation at hand.

How to Save a Mildly Overwatered Palm Tree

The first thing you should do is stop watering your palm tree – now! Although your palm tree may look thirsty, the opposite is true.

The first thing you should do is improve the aeration of the soil. If soil is clumped together and compact, it’s harder for roots to absorb nutrients.

More aeration improves oxygen flow, helps friendly microbes develop, and ensures water doesn’t stagnate around roots and rot them.

Before watering, ensure the soil at the root level is completely dry. I always find that a finger test works best, where you feel for any moisture at the bottom of your pot. Don’t water the palm tree until the bottom level is completely dry.

Next, let’s focus on the other ingredients needed for any healthy plant.

  • Distilled water – studies have shown that distilled water is ideal for watering plants and trees, including palm trees. This filtered water contains less salt, toxins, and chemical which can harm roots.
  • Humidity – palm trees can enjoy humid conditions. Misting leaves is a great way of keeping foliage vibrant without overwatering.
  • Light – most palm trees enjoy indirect sunlight. Place your palm tree in a nice, cool area in the shade. Too much sunlight, especially on wilted/browning leaves, will scorch and dehydrate them.
  • Fertilizer – Only use a fertilizer when the palm tree shows signs of new growth and recovery. Palm trees enjoy a slow-release mixture that gives them enough time to absorb nutrients and minerals. 

How to Save Seriously Overwatered Palm Tree

Okay, if you’re reading this part then chances are your poor palm tree is suffering. The good news is you’re starting to put a recovery plan in place!

I’m going to take you through each step you need to take to revive your tree.

Step #1: Remove the Palm Tree from the original container

You need to get a closer look at your palm tree to evaluate its condition. 

Lay down dry sheets of newspaper on a work surface and gently tip your palm tree out and onto its side. 

Step #2: Inspect roots for signs of rot and disease

Gently remove any clumped soil from roots and go in for a closer inspection. You can use a gentle stream of water if the soil is stuck or clumping together at the base.

As I’ve mentioned before, a major concern of overwatering is root rot, so checking root health is pivotal.

Rooted roots are easy to spot, and will be brownish/black, mushy, and may have a foul smell to them.

Step #3: Remove affected roots

With your trusty shears in hand, you should carefully clip away any damaged roots. 

Don’t pull or rip any roots by hand – you want clean cuts every time. Use sharp sheers and clean them after every clip. Cleaning is important because you don’t want to spread any disease or bacteria around the healthy parts of your palm tree.

Step #4: Reduce foliage

With fewer roots, your palm tree will not be able to support itself in its present form. You will need to take away some foliage so that the tree is not in any distress. 

I recommend taking 1/3 of the leaves away so that the palm tree can refocus its resources on recovering its roots.

Step #5: Food-grade fungicide and fertilizer

I highly recommend you consider a fungicide, which will kill parasitic fungi that are harming your plant. Always consider food-grade mixtures, so that the chemicals used are safe for indoor plants.

Also consider an appropriate fertilizer, as these can help boost your plant’s natural defenses. However, I would recommend only using fertilizer when you see new growth from the plant.

Step #6: Repot your palm tree

You must dispose of the old potting mix immediately and repot with new soil. This removes the chance of any bad fungi, bacteria, and mold from reappearing and damaging your plant again.

Empty your container and clean it thoroughly. Remove any debris with a wire brush and wipe with clean water. You can use a mixture of 1 part bleach, 9 parts water to sterilize the pot completely. Leave this for 10-30 minutes.

Use a brand new potting mixture for your palm tree. Ensure the soil has enough aeration – if in doubt, poke holes with a pen to de-compact soil. 

Propagation – The Last Resort

Sadly, sometimes despite your best efforts, the palm tree is beyond saving. But don’t worry, there is still something you can salvage from the situation.

Propagation is making a brand new plant from seeds, cuttings, and other plant parts. The quickest and easiest method I would recommend is cutting.

If you’ve never propagated before, here are some tips I use to get the best results:

  • Take your palm tree out of its container and lie it on its side.
  • Gently wash soil away from roots to expose them. Carefully select 4 to 6 healthy stems with roots
  • With a sharp knife, cleaning cut stems with root, ensuring there’s enough root growth present
  • Plant these cuttings in a small container of soil and sand, which helps with drainage and promotes healthy root growth
  • Water immediately. Continue to water them every day for up to 3 months.
  • Only water when the top 2 inches of the container are dry. If you’re worried about overwatering, young palm trees enjoy misting.
  • Ensure the pot has drainage holes at the bottom. You can check these regularly for signs of new root growth.

How to Water a Palm Tree

Watering Rules

There are two ways of watering a palm tree.

I would highly recommend watering from below for palm trees. Simply place the tree on top of a saucer or container filled with water. Only let the tree sit for a short while to moisten up before removing it. You can tip your tree over to one side to allow excess water to drain off.

If you want to water from the top, spray water from the top gently. Stop when you see excess water coming from the pot or container’s drainage holes.

How often should you water a palm tree?

Plants and trees grow best with a solid watering routine during their active growing season. For palm trees, this is from the start of spring till early summer.

Younger, infant palm trees may need daily watering for one or two weeks to establish roots. Afterward, you can relax watering anywhere from 2-3 times per week.

As temperatures fall and we approach the winter months, palm trees go into a dormant phase. You should cut down on your watering routine to once per week.

Factors that Influence Watering

Depending on your home setup, there may be some factors you should consider when deciding on how often to water your palm tree. For example:

  • Humidity – Low humidity equals drier air and more evaporation. Palm trees enjoy humid conditions. An easy way to achieve this is mist leaves with distilled water.
  • Temperature –  Palm trees will enjoy any temperatures above 40-50°F (4-10°C). The hotter the temperature, the more water you may need to provide. A strong palm fertilizer can help palm trees survive even the coldest winter months.
  • Light exposure – Palm trees enjoy the shade and indirect sunlight. Too much sun may scorch leaves and dehydrate the plant further.

What Kind of Water Does a Palm Tree need?

I consider filtered or distilled water to be the best choice for palm trees. Filtered water has less harmful chemicals, toxins, and less salt, which should help improve your plant’s hydration immeasurably.

When Should You Water a Palm Tree After Repotting?

Depending on how much damage your palm tree suffered by overwatering. It may take some time to develop a suitable routine for your palm tree. Generally speaking, you should begin watering it after the first signs of new growth. 

After that, I recommend you perform a quick finger-test on soil – if the top 2 or so inches are dry, your tree needs watering.

Common Mistakes in Watering A Palm Tree

The table below will show you the most common mistakes when it comes to watering, as well as ways to avoid them.

Common MistakesHow to Avoid
Inconsistent, sporadic wateringRegularly check your plant and soil for dryness. Water regularly and develop a routine.
Watering leaves and not the soilIt’s better to water palm trees from the base so that you avoid oversaturating the soil. 
Watering when it’s too hotPalm trees enjoy humid conditions. Consider misting their leaves. Avoid leaving the plant in direct sunlight where it might dehydrate. 
Watering too muchOnly water again when the top inch of soil has become dry.

Arifur Rahman

I'm the owner of gardenforindoor.com. After completing my bachelor of science in agriculture, I'm serving as a civil service officer at the Department of Agricultural Extension, Bangladesh. I started Garden For Indoor to make your indoor gardening journey easy and enjoyable.

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