Bamboo Palm leaf tips turning yellow brown

delidivaJanuary 8, 2013

Some of my bamboo palm's leaf tips are turning yellow brown and I'm not sure whether it is because of under watering, too much salt in the water or air (we're close to the ocean and the window next to the palm is usually open), the liquid fertilizer containing seaweed that I gave it or the stress from being transplanted (bought it about a month ago) The rest of the palm looks healthy. Any ideas would be appreciated !

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Hi Tanyak

I am not an expert but I know some about Bamboo palm
I think over-watering result in these yellow tips

maybe experts have another opinion :)

    Bookmark   January 8, 2013 at 11:13AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Is there any fertilizer in the soil you used for repotting? What kind of soil? How did the roots look when you changed pots?

    Bookmark   January 11, 2013 at 3:40PM
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cliff98(z6 OH)

Looks like over-watering to me too.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2013 at 7:28PM
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The Ficus Wrangler

We're close to the ocean here too - St Petersburg Fl - and I've cared for bamboo palms in places right on the water, never noticed a problem. They're pretty tough plants in that regard; I had 2 in an indoor pool enclosure, chlorine so thick in the air you could barely breathe, and they would live in that for a year.

And I don't think the fertilizer would bother them.

But I have heard people say that they've seen problems when they are repotted, palms in general, that is.

While the problem could originate in salt buildup, if you repotted recently, that is not likely to be the culprit.

The most likely cause of "tipping" in bamboo palms is over watering, or more precisely, inadequate aeration of the potting medium between waterings. Try to determine the soil moisture level before you pour in more water, by testing the soil with some kind of probe, and you need to test the soil all the way to the bottom of the pot. Push in your probe - a bamboo kebob skewer or wooden dowel will do - twist a bit, then pull it up. For bamboo palm, it should feel almost dry, only the barest trace of moisture. If it doesn't feel like that, don't water. Wait a few days or a week, then test again, and don't water until that moisture has been used.

You can cut off the discolored parts of the leaves with scissors. Cut so the leaf ends are still pointed, so they look nice. That way, you can see if the tipping stops - in which case you have found and corrected the problem - or not, in which case, you need to do more research.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2013 at 10:16PM
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I've got several of them in different parts of the garden. One clump is in a low poorly drained spot and it has that yellowing too. It still survives (been there about 4 years now) but the leaves are small and it flowers prolifically. When I have time I intend to move it, just that's it such a big clump it'll be a big job. Meantime it just looks poorly but survives. So I'd agree it's more an overwatering/soggy soil problem.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2013 at 6:03PM
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The Ficus Wrangler

Yea, that profuse flowering of a plant in a less than happy situation is a cool example of how sometimes plants will flower when they're in desperate straits - trying to spread their DNA before natural disaster brings them down. It would be interesting to know if any of the plants produced from those seeds would have an increased tolerance for soggy conditions.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2013 at 9:29AM
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Thank you very much for all the advice. I haven't watered it since the post and none of the other leaf tips have turned yellow brown. The soil still feels a bit moist when I dig down. It's in quite a large pot - about 25 inches high and 20 inches wide so quite difficult to feel right down but will try the skewer idea. I give it about 40 oz of water per watering which is maybe a bit much so will water less at the next watering as well. Thanks again

    Bookmark   January 15, 2013 at 9:59AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

It's not the amount of water that's applied that can be problematic. It's the amount of water held in the soil (at the expense of air pockets,) and the time it takes to dry. Watering until the water flows out of the drain holes is good, as long as excess moisture doesn't stay in the pot.

You may want to investigate a more coarse, chunky, airy soil for when your plant needs repotted. Then you wouldn't have to worry about excess water mucking things up for the roots. It probably came in a pot'o'peat.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2013 at 11:20AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Worth rereading and more than cursory consideration: "It's not the amount of water that's applied that can be problematic. It's the amount of water held in the soil (at the expense of air pockets,) and the time it takes to dry. Watering until the water flows out of the drain holes is good, as long as excess moisture doesn't stay in the pot."

At this time of year, we often see excessively wet and poorly aerated soils (plants use less water in the winter); working in concert with a high level of soluble salts accumulating in the soil as a result of watering in small sips to prevent the soggy conditions just described; along with humidity levels lower than the great deserts (really); to cause burned leaf tips and margins.

'Excessively wet', 'poorly aerated', 'salt accumulations', 'poor root function/health', can all be traced directly back to soil choice and the watering habits the choice demands - humidity is what it is, unless you can supplement it. It's important to understand though, that no amount of humidity in the air can 'make up' for poor root function/health. In improving root function/health lies the greatest potential for avoiding spoiled foliage. If you make improving root health your goal, you will be endlessly rewarded for your container gardening endeavors toward that end.


    Bookmark   January 15, 2013 at 2:26PM
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Theficuswrangler, Chamaedoreas are dioecious but I think all mine are the same sex. So I don't get seeds. But yes, the plant is on the 'brink' and not quite over the brink. It's the wet season now so probably the best time to move it.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2013 at 7:28AM
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The Ficus Wrangler


In all this speculation on soils, watering methods, etc, etc, did anyone ever consider the leaf might simply be old, or have a stem break? I was looking at the palm outside my kitchen window (yes, bamboo palms grow outside here in FLA,) and I realized the old leaves could look like that.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 9:19AM
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Thanks - it could well be leaf damage as it could have gotten a bit damaged in the backseat of my car when I came home with it from the nursery (big plant - small backseat)
The rest of the plant looks healthy - sending pic. I used the same potting soil as with my pot plants which are doing fine . My biggest problem with watering is that the pot is so large and heavy that I can't lift it to see whether there's water coming out - didn't think of that when I bought this nice big pot on special :-( The root system of the plant is not even at the bottom of the pot so at least I know that the roots are not sitting in the water. But will enlist husband's help with next watering session to see after how much water I can give it before it starts flowing out of the drainage holes so that I know I'm not giving it so much water so that it's standing in water. Funny enough it's summer and hot here in Cape Town and my house plants seem to retain their moisture longer (and it's not a humid area of the country) Thanks again for all your help!

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 11:36AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

What is shown in the pictures, including the original picture, isn't typical of a disruption of water movement due to a stem break, blockage of vasculature due to a fungal infection, or natural leaf senescence; but it IS typical of chronically soggy soil or an accumulation of soluble salts in the soil - which is probably why people are tending to 'go there'. I would actually put 'other' possible causes, like things related to nutrient deficiencies/toxicities ahead of mechanical damage or natural senescence, based on the pictures.

A very large % of the problems people show up here seeking remediation for are directly related to soil choice, and then by default - watering habits, so even though it's not good science to automatically assume this problem is soil related, the likelihood that it IS, makes it a very good bet. Educating posters about the considerable impact soil choice has on the degree and ease of success the grower might enjoy is always a good thing. Also, having eliminated the probability that it is related to mechanical injury or senescence simply increases the probability that it is soil-related.

The next place I would go, after soil choice/watering habits, would be 'things related to nutrition' - like what fertilizer (brand and NPK %s), how much, how often?


    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 2:44PM
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The Ficus Wrangler

I agree with Al, the leaf damage you're seeing looks more like that associated with soggy soil than anything else. Al and I have a bit of a debate going on here - he feels that plant problems originate with problematic soil mixtures, I feel they originate with not correctly evaluating the moisture in whatever soil you have. But it all comes down to plant roots and the fact that if they're too wet, they don't function correctly and then they die.

Your particular plant doesn't seem to be next to a window - therefore you have what is at best a medium light. Palms in this light condition (by the way, I think this may be an areca palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens) rather than bamboo palm (Chamaedorea spp.); bamboo palm will live in slightly lower light than areca. It will be necessary for you to allow the soil to aerate as I outlined above.

Or, of course, you could repot your plant in a gritty mix such as Al and many others use. One problem I see with that in your case - maybe you'll answer this, Al - is how you would water by completely flushing the soil, then pouring off, or allowing to run off, the water that flows out. This is such a big heavy plant.

May I insert one more point? Interior landcapers use a potting method called "double-potting", that is the plant is not removed from its grow pot, it is placed into a plastic liner, and both are then placed into the decorative container. This allows you to check the amount of run-off that collects in the liner, without worries about water running onto the floor, because the decorative container has no hole in the bottom.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2013 at 10:24PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

What I think is, a very large % of issues that people come here looking for solutions for, are related directly to the results of soil choice and either the watering habits necessitated by those choices, or just plain poor watering habits. Because choosing a soil that supports little or no perched water makes it difficult for a grower to water poorly (unless they just don't water) most of the blame for poor watering practices is rightly assigned as the result of the dilemma excessively water-retentive soil present the grower. Do I water thoroughly enough to flush the soil of accumulating salts and risk the soil remaining wet for so long it affects root health/function; or do I water in sips, so the soil is appropriately moist, and suffer the consequences of a build-up of solubles in the soil.

For me, it's a no-brainer. I want the soil that allows me to water appropriately any time I want to, without my having to worry about the soil remaining wet for so long it affects root health/function - no worries about root health - no worries about salt build-up ...... what's not to like?

It's easy to suggest that inappropriately evaluating the level of soil moisture is the cause of these problems, but when you look realistically at the issue of how difficult it is to maintain adequate aeration in soils that support perched water, we see clearly that the bulk of the blame lies with a soil's measure of water retention, and more specifically with the ht of the perched water table.

Even when you use small sips of water to water soils that support significant volumes of perched water, the water tends to accumulate at the bottom of the pot - not to mention the fact that watering in sips very often leaves the root mass dry in some places and too wet in others. IOW, it's extremely difficult to keep soils evenly moist when they support perched water. The norm is a layer of soil at the bottom of the pot that remains soggy until the water is used. It's DURING this period when the soil supports too much water that root death and depression of root function occurs. Neither of these things are desirable and should be avoided whenever possible. One robs energy from the plant because the plant has to expend energy to replace lost rootage, and the other inhibits the plant's ability to function normally.

Well-aerated soils that support no or minimal amounts of perched water, do away with these negatives entirely, and offer the grower much greater latitude in the areas of fertilizing and (over)watering.


There are 2 ways to look at growing. Placing grower convenience at the forefront will find you growing much differently than if you place the plant's well-being foremost. Neither way is right or wrong, it's just two different ways of looking at growing. One grower might look at 'what to do with the effluent after watering a big plant in the gritty mix' as an insurmountable obstacle because it requires more effort than using a soil that absorbs and holds onto all that excess water. I don't look at it as an obstacle at all - just something that needs to be dealt with in my pursuit of maximizing plant health.

Large plants are set above drainage saucers on small blocks, so after the effluent leaves the pot it cannot find its way back into the soil. All my plants, even the small ones, are watered so 15-20% of the total volume of water applied exits the drain. The effluent goes into the drainage saucer and evaporates - usually within 2-3 days, depending on the weather (humidity levels). If, for some reason, it didn't all evaporate between waterings, I'd make a note of that and remove some of the water with a turkey baster or similar after watering. So far, that hasn't been an issue.


    Bookmark   January 20, 2013 at 1:11PM
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Thanks guys - learning a lot here - thought I was clever to have worked out exactly how much water to give my other plants before it flows out the drainage holes and never knew about flushing the soil which I shall now be doing.
Will also be careful about using just any potting soil in future. How do you make up the "gritty mix" that you talk about or do you buy it like that in the US ? I've only seen normal potting soil with no specifications of what's in it over here...
The garden center I go to has also recommended re-potting and layering the bottom of the pot with drainage chips, then a thick layer of river sand on top of that and then potting soil on top of that. Has anyone ever done that ?

    Bookmark   January 21, 2013 at 8:33AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Yes, I've done all kinds of desperate things trying to get "potting soil" to drain/behave correctly. IMO/IME, it's just not possible. The layer of sand would do exactly the opposite of what you want, filtering down into all of the spaces between the rocks at the bottom, with a lot of it just washing out of the holes the first few times you watered. Nothing that is not suitable for roots to grow in belongs in a pot.

There are a lot of soil discussions around here, but this one is very recent.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2013 at 9:24AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

T - if you'd like to go into more depth on the topic of soils, you can gain a working knowledge of several concepts you can put to work for you at the link below, along with some soil recipes that illustrate a couple of basic ways the concept can be implemented. I think the information you'll find there is probably the most important piece of the container gardening puzzle.


Here is a link that might be useful: Click me to see what he's talking about ....

    Bookmark   January 21, 2013 at 2:16PM
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Thank you very much !

    Bookmark   January 24, 2013 at 8:10AM
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