Broadleaf lady palms (Rhapis excelsa) are one of the best types of indoor plants for beginners.
However, just because they’re low maintenance does not mean they are not prone to drying out, nutritional deficiencies, or poor environments.
If you’re a new indoor plant owner and are asking yourself, “Why is my lady palm drying out,” there are several common reasons that can be easily addressed.
One of the main reasons for why your lady palm is drying out is due to under watering. Another reason could be your lady palm isn’t thriving in your home’s conditions, either due to temperature variations or due to low humidity levels. Finally, your leaves might not be dry at all, but exhibiting symptoms of nutrient deficiency.
Fortunately, simple changes to watering schedules, fertilizing, and increasing humidity levels can all help you revive your lady palm (more on that below).
What is a Lady Palm?
The broadleaf lady palm is a type of exotic plant that does not grow in the wild, but was cultivated for indoor use in China during the 1770s. Their popularity has since grown due to its ability to thrive in low to medium light conditions.
The leaves of the lady palm can be striped, such as in the Zuikonishki variety, which comes with green and cream striped leaves.
However, their leaves should be a dark green, glossy color, with four to ten leaves growing out of its thick, fibrous stem that’s around one inch in diameter.
It can also reach heights of up to seven feet indoors, while outdoors it can be grown up to 15 feet tall.
How to Tell if My Lady Palm is Drying Out
The leaves of the lady palm should be bold, glossy, and green. However, if you notice:
- Dried tips, known as tip necrosis
- Thinning leaves
- Entire yellow leaves, also known as chloritic leaves
- Yellow leaves that are green towards the middle
- Curled or frizzled leaf tips
These are all indicators that your plant may be dried out or it may be in need of some fertilization. In either case, it’s important to continuously check to make sure your leaves are bright and colorful.
On the other hand, it’s normal for the leaves of your lady palm to droop slightly when not watered enough. If the leaves perk up immediately after watering, and look good otherwise, it’s simply an indicator to water your lady palm more often.
Proper Temperature Conditions
This is a plant that does well in USDA cold hardy zones 9 to 11. This means your lady palm can thrive in conditions where the temperature drops as low as 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
Those conditions are pretty cold, meaning the lady palm can fit well in most households. However, keep this in mind if you want to move your lady palm outdoors or to a greenhouse that is not well-insulated.
Keeping them in cold conditions can damage the plant permanently.
Proper Lighting Conditions and Effect on Leaves
These plants can tolerate low light, and can be placed in corners of households or in foyers. Your plant will not grow as much as it would in brighter light conditions when left in a dark part of the home.
If left in extremely low light conditions, your leaves will start to thin at the bottom and towards the lower portion of your plant, since this part of the lady palm receives even less light than the top leaves.
The solution for this is quite simple – move your plant to a brighter area!
Make sure your palm doesn’t receive too much light, since this can dry out your plant’s soil quickly.
However, they can grow up to 5.9 inches (15cm) per year indoors, and grow best in indirect bright light, such as next to a window that receives lots of sun.
If you choose to plant your palm outdoors, it’s important to place them in a shady area to prevent loss of soil nutrients and to prevent them from drying out excessively.
Why Your Lady Palm is Drying Out
Below are some of the most common reasons for a dry lady palm, and ways to fix them.
One of the most common reasons why your lady palm is dry is simply because of underwatering. Dry lady palms will droop or experience tip necrosis.
Your lady palm’s soil should be kept moist, but not drenched. It’s best to water a lady palm according to your soil’s conditions. For instance, if your soil is in front of a brighter window, it will dry out quicker than if left in low-light conditions.
Lady palms grown in low light will need less watering throughout the year. Water your plant when the top 2 inch layer of soil feels dry during the spring and summer months.
It’s important to keep your plant watered during these seasons, since this is when they are growing most. However, reduce your watering during the winter to once a month or to once every couple of weeks.
It’s also good to know that your lady palm can tolerate some dry soil conditions, but only for a short time. Leaving the soil dry for longer leads to graying leaves and tip necrosis.
Make sure to never go too long without leaving its soil moist.
Proper Watering to Revive Dried Leaves
If you notice your lady palm is in need of water, only provide a bit of water, just enough to keep the soil moist. Make sure the soil drains completely by lifting the pot the plant is in and letting the water seep out from its drainage holes.
If the drainage holes are covered, or if you notice no water is coming out from the bottom of the pot, gently squeeze the sides of the pot to loosen the soil and allow water to flow freely throughout the soil.
How to Tell your Soil is Dry
If your leaves appear black or dry at the tips of your lady palm, check to see if your soil is dry, as this is the most common culprit. To do so:
- Place a finger about 2 to 3 inches deep into the plant. Make sure to not disturb any roots as you’re doing so. If your finger emerges with dry dirt on your nail, or if you feel the soil dry, water your plant about two-thirds of the way. Moist soil will not stick to your finger nail.
- Check the color of your soil. Soil that is most will be dark in color, while lighter-colored soil will be dry. In addition, feel the top layer of soil for dry conditions.
- Feel the weight of your pot for smaller lady palms. If your lady palm feels light, water it until the soil is moist.
- Use a moisture indicator tool if your plant pots are larger or if you’re growing your lady palm outdoors. If the gauge reads less than half, water your plant until the proper gauge reading is achieved.
Leaves might also appear dry and damaged due to overwatering your lady palm.
This will lead to root rot, which can be seen at the base of your stems, turning them brown, and in dried or dying leaves. Leave might appear yellow or with brown spots.
If you experience root rot, it’s best to simply discard your lady palm if there are no salvageable roots left, since this indicates complete plant death.
If you notice some firm roots that do not have any rot, you can revive your lady palm by:
- Putting these roots without rot in a new pot with new soil that has adequate drainage.
- Removing any roots that have rot along with dead plant material.
- Spraying your lady palm with a fungicide to prevent root rot from emerging again.
- Change your watering schedule to prevent root rot from affecting your lady palm, including watering your lady palm less.
Low Humidity Levels
Another reason you might notice the tips of your lady palm are browning is due to low humidity levels.
No one likes to be in a humid household, but these plants need slightly higher humidity in order to mimic exotic conditions and thrive.
They do well in humidity levels of 50%, which shouldn’t be an issue since most households reach 50% humidity during the summer months.
If you notice your plants are drying, increase the humidity by spraying your plant with a spray bottle. This is known as misting, and is an excellent way to keep your plant humid without overwatering it.
You can also place your lady palm on a bed of pebbles with water. This is also a good choice for lady palms that are quite large and cannot easily drain anymore.
The pebbles will capture the water and make sure to retain it to keep the area around your lady palm moist.
However, make sure your pebbles and the water beneath it are not directly touching your lady palm.
General Maintenance for Healthy Leaves
There are various maintenance tips you should also follow to ensure your plant stays healthy and the rest of your leaves do not dry out or become damaged.
It’s relatively normal for your lady palm to experience tip necrosis. However, you should still prune the tips of these leaves by using a sharp pair of shears or pruning tools.
Cutting off this dead part of your lady palm leaves will ensure your plant has enough energy to use on the rest of the plant.
Also, do not excessively prune yellow leaves, as pruning more leaves than necessary can negatively impact your lady palm’s health.
One of the biggest causes of dying, chloritic and wilting leaves is nutritional deficiencies. Palms are susceptible to being deficient in several minerals including:
This usually happens in outdoor lady palms due to too much sun exposure and valuable nutrients seeping out of the soil.
However, it is also common in potted indoor lady palms with poor soil aeration. This happens when the soil is too densely packed, or when overwatering leads to lack of oxygen flowing through and reaching the roots.
Fortunately, it’s quite easy to fix mineral deficiencies by using a fertilizer. Controlled-released fertilizers are best to use for lady palms, since they make sure the minerals release slowly into your soil and do not evaporate quickly.
Fertilize your lady palm during the growing months between April and September. You should use a fertilizer that is high in Nitrogen, but that also has supporting minerals like Manganese, Magnesium, and Iron.
You can also use a half-strength liquid fertilizer designed for houseplants.
It’s important to remember that lady palms do not need too much fertilizer, even if they have dry or yellowing leaves. These will be remedied once your lady palm receives the nutrients it needs.
Changing pots is crucial for lady palms, as it ensures your lady palm is getting new, healthy soil. You can change your pot once every two to three years until your lady palm reaches the desired size.
Changing pots can help improve your plant’s health if you plant is experiencing poor soil aeration. To change your lady palm, keep the roots intact, as they will form into a dense bell.
Shake off any excess dirt, and plant in new soil in a pot slightly bigger than the root ball. Keep it moist for the first couple weeks to avoid your plant dying of shock.
Related: 10 Lady Palm Benefits