Why Is My Kentia Palm Turning Brown? (And How to Fix It)

Your Kentia palm (Howea forsteriana) probably looked fabulous when you first saw it at the garden center.

But you can’t keep it looking great unless you pay close attention to maintaining its growing conditions and act promptly to correct problems. 

So why is your Kentia palm turning brown?

The most common challenge in taking care of a Kentia palm is giving it the right amount of water, but providing it with the right intensity of light is a close second. Both problems can result in drooping fronds, followed by yellowing, spotting, and turning brown.

Why Is My Kentia Palm Turning Brown?
Photo by Scot Nelson

Perfect Conditions for the Kentia Palm

Kentia palms are native to Lord Howe Island, a tiny crescent-shaped remnant of a marine volcano in the Tasman Sea, between Australia and New Zealand.

The soil in which Kentia palms grow is a mixture of well-worn volcanic rock, beach sand, coral fragments, and algae. Lord Howe Island has never recorded a temperature below 42° F (5.9° C) or above 88° F (31.3° C).

Most of the time, temperatures are in the 60s and 70s F (a little below or a little above 20° C). The island receives abundant rainfall throughout the year.

Kentia palms also thrive on Norfolk Island, which has similar conditions.

Kentia Palm

In nature, the roots of Kentia palms dry out thoroughly between frequent rains. They are very sensitive to disturbance. They have to anchor the palm in shifting sand.

Lord Howe Island did not have very many natural pests of Kentia palms, but in home cultivation they are susceptible to spider mites and mealybugs.

Fungal infections that so far have only been observed in Florida and Italy can make their stems “bleed.” There are some other bacterial and fungal infections that can cause spotty discoloration on Kentia palm fronds.

But we will start with the most common kind of discoloration in Kentia palms, browning at the tips of their leaves.

Brown Tips Can Result from Low Humidity

Browning at the tips of fronds is a common problem with Kentia palms grown indoors. In fact, brown tips are a common problem with all kinds of palms grown indoors.

The usual reason the tips of fronds turn brown is low humidity. Kentia palms pump water from their roots all the way to the tips of their leaves.

Along the way, water evaporates from the stoma, or openings, of cells in the trunk and the leaves themselves.

The lower the humidity, the greater the evaporation. Keeping a Kentia palm in a dry, overheated room robs the plant of water before it can travel all the way to the tips of its leaves.

You can stop this problem by using a hygrometer (a humidity meter) to make sure the relative humidity in the room where you keep your Kentia palm is always over 50 percent.

You can bring room humidity up to your palm’s comfort zone by using a humidifier or a humidity tray, or by grouping all of your plants together in the same room.

Growing your Kentia palm in a well-lighted bathroom or kitchen also ensures adequate humidity for healthy, green leaves.

Misting your Kentia palm is only a short-term solution for brown tips. If room humidity is low, you would still need to mist your plant about once an hour to keep it from drying out.

Excessive misting can cause a different set of problems, such as leaf spot diseases. 

Underwatering and Overwatering Can Cause Brown Tips, Too

If you don’t give your Kentia palm enough water, the tips of its leaves may turn brown. Its fronds will droop, turn brown, and die.

Kentia palms often suffer from underwatering even though their owners give them water every day, because the palm doesn’t get enough water to make a difference.

Underwatering results from “sip watering,” giving your Kentia palm just a little water at a time. Tiny amounts of water stay in the surface layer of the soil, evaporating before they reach the root zone where they are needed.

Or just a tiny section of the soil in the pot may get water, leaving the rest of the soil in the pot dry. You might think you are giving your Kentia palm all the water it needs, but when leaf tips begin to turn brown, it is crying out for more.

Overwatering can also cause browning in your Kentia palm. Part of the way water travels through the leaves is passive diffusion, from parts of the plant with lower concentrations of potassium to parts of the plant with higher concentrations of potassium.

If your plant gets so much water at its root zone that it cannot take up potassium, the above-ground parts of the palm may ironically die from thirst.

It is very important to use a light, easily draining potting mix when you are planting your Kentia palm.

It is also important to disturb roots as seldom as possible, so they grow throughout the pot. Your Kentia palm can suffer overwatering even when the soil in the pot is not obviously waterlogged, due to these common problems:

  • Inadequate lighting. Kentia palms need indirect, but bright sunlight, like they get on their cloudy, tropical island home. When Kentia palms don’t get enough light, they don’t lose as much water through the pores in their leaves, and less water evaporates from the soil. Keeping the potting mix too damp can also result in root rot.
  • The pot is too large. A Kentia palm in an excessively large pot cannot use all of the water in the potting mix. Since Kentia palms are set back when they are repotted, it is important to start when in the right size pot and to use a porous potting mix.
  • Poor drainage. Kentia palms love soil that is moist but not soggy. If you forget to empty the drip tray after watering your Kentia palm, or the pot does not have enough drainage holes, or you have not used a porous potting mix, your palm may become waterlogged.
  • Low temperatures. Cool conditions slow down evaporation from the potting soil and transpiration through the pores of your Kentia palm’s leaves. When the room temperature is too low, the potting soil will stay damp too long.
  • Repotting. Roots have to regrow after a palm is put in a new pot. While they are regrowing, soil may pull away from them until the root ball is completely reestablished. Be especially careful to give your Kentia palm enough water for a few months after your have moved it into a new pot,

What You Can Do to Keep Your Kentia Palm Green and Healthy

The most important thing you can do to prevent the browning of your Kentia palm is to make sure you water it correctly.

Wait until the top half of the potting soil feels dry to the touch. Better yet, use a moisture meter probe to verify that the potting mix is dry and in need of water. 

Once you have verified that the palm needs watering, then soak the soil so water runs out the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot.

Remove excess water so there is no visible water in the catch pan, and then wait until your Kentia palm needs watering again. Place your palm somewhere you will see it every day, so you won’t forget to water it.

Lighting for your Kentia palm also makes an important difference. Always place this palm in the brightest part of any room that receives only indirect sunlight.

Direct summer sun can cause Kentia palms to droop and wilt, especially if the sun’s rays are magnified through window glass.

There is one more thing that every fan of Kentia palms needs to know about dealing with browning:

Don’t prune brown leaves on your Kentia palm.

Let your Kentia palm recover naturally. Pruning only increases the stress on your plant caused by watering and lighting problems.

Related: 11 Kentia Palm Benefits