Dying Pygmy Date Palm – 5 Most Common Causes & How To Fix

Is your pygmy date palm or seedling showing signs of death? Symptoms of dying pygmy date palms could appear in many forms including leaf discoloration, changes in leaf shape (wilting, drooping), slowing or stunted plant growth, and the surfacing of roots. Here are the main causes of dying pygmy date palms and remedies that may help with the plant’s revival.

1. Incorrect watering and soil drainage

Incorrect watering tends to be the most common reasons for dying pygmy date palms. It’s easy to get the watering frequency and volume wrong as how much water a pygmy date palm needs will be different per season.

Generally speaking, pygmy date palms need to be watered once a week. They are evergreen plants that originate from southeastern Asia, from southwestern China, northern Laos and northern Vietnam where rainfall is seasonal but heavy. Overwatering can suffocate the plant roots and lead to its demise, while underwatering will cause the pygmy date palm to dry out and prevent it from absorbing and distributing important nutrients from the soil.

How you water the pygmy date palm now, however, is not going to be consistent for the rest of the year. You will need to up the watering frequency when the weather gets hotter (or sunnier) as well as reduce the frequency when the weather gets cooler.

The state of the soil is also important in this context. Soil with drainage problems, for example, would cause overwatering problems even if you were to only pour a small amount of water. Repotting might be necessary if the soil is too compacted or soil aeration might be needed if the plant is too heavy or big to be easily moved.

2. Lack of nutrients in the soil

Plants like pygmy date palms also need a healthy balance of nutrients to thrive. There isn’t an infinite amount of nutrient in the soil. You will need to replenish the nutrient from time to time. Otherwise, the nutrient deficiency will cause many of the visual symptoms that appear when pygmy date palms start to die.

Fertilizer or plant food is usually selected based on the NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) ratio. For pygmy date palms, the preferred NPK ratio is 8-2-12. How often you fertilize the soil will depend on a number of factors such as the soil medium and the maturity of the plant. It’s important to note that over-fertilizing can also be a bad thing and may indirectly contribute to a plant’s death. You could use a soil testing kit if you want to learn more about the current state of the soil.

3. Too much or too little sunlight

Here’s another case where too much of something we perceive as good can be a bad thing. Too much sunlight, especially if it’s full or direct sun, can cause the pygmy date palm to die off. The stress from prolonged exposure to sunlight can dehydrate the plant and also lead to leaf scorching or leaf tip burn.

As a general rule of thumb, pygmy date palms prefer about partial shade to full sun, with at least 4 hours of direct light a day. On the flip side, too little sunlight can also cause plants to die as it would inhibit their ability to photosynthesize and produce energy. Keep this mind when the days get shorter. In such cases, it may help to re-position the plant in an area that gets more sunlight exposure.

4. Damage from pests

Pest control is part and parcel of growing pygmy date palms. There are a number of pests that are known to attack pygmy date palms including scales and weevils. The pest control solution you use would depend on the type of pest you are dealing with. There are a number of natural remedies available if you want to grow the pygmy date palm via organic means. This may include the use of products such as food-grade diatomaceous earth, which has exploded in popularity in recent years.

5. Infected by plant disease

Your plant could be dying because it’s infected with some form of plant or fungal disease. Root rot, for example, is dangerous and it’s hard to revive a plant that has it. Your pygmy date palm could also be affected by other diseases like powdery mildew, rust, and black spots.


  • Victoria:

    I bought a pretty sick pygmy date palm on clearance at a big box store, hoping I could save it, and I am certain I am just killing it more quickly. I have seen nothing anywhere about the bottom of the trunk feeling a little softer than I would expect. I’m certain it was too tightly in “sticky” brown soil, not well draining at all. But I have given it a few months after repotting, and it has 3 new spikes in the middle, but like I said, the trunk is spongey at the very bottom, and the open fronds are dying!! I think I tried to rescue it too late?

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